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Articles by Eugene Downing, one of the last International Brigadiers from Ireland. Eugene has written a number of articles on the Spanish Civil War, plus his memoir of the war.
The memoir, written in Irish using the Irish version of his name, Eoghan O Duinnin, La Nina Bonita agus an Roisin Dubh, 1985, Dublin, is still available from the Gaelic League offices, 6 Harcourt Street, Dublin.
So, if you can read Irish, or if you want to have a complete collection of material on Ireland and the SCW, buy it. There are some pieces in English.


The Plaque on the Wall

When I visited the town of Mataro, north of Barcelona, in 1976 it was my first journey to Spain since the end of the Civil War. The military hospital where I had spent some months in the summer of 1938 had reverted to its former use as El Colegio de Valdemio run by the Marist Brothers.
During the war the hospital was one of a number in Catalonia which received the casualties from the battle of the Ebro which had been launched in July 1938 and which lasted for four months.

The hospital was run by American doctors and nurses with a mixed medical staff including refugees from Hitler's Germany. Mataro itself was a quiet seaside town and only once during the months I was there do I remember the sound of war reaching us - explosions which we were told came from an air-raid on Barcelona about 20 miles further south.

Not having been fortunate enough to have been one of the walking wounded (always a source of envy to the bedridden) I was unable to visit the town during that period but have many memories of the hospital itself - even the most inconsequential details lodging firmly in the mind. For instance, I still remember my bed number - triente cuarto, thirty four. A piece of trivia indeed.

As the Ebro battle got under way there was a steady intake of wounded which kept the staff busy. Many of the  casualties were from my own company, number 4 of the British Battalion.

I remember particularly Morris Davies, a Welsh miner and commander of the company, Michael Economides, a Greek Cypriot who was the Political commissar of the company, and Jim O'Regan of Cork.

Sam Wild, the Battalion Commander, who, in spite of being wounded had to be persuaded to leave the front line, came to see me and, in a typically gruff, unsentimental way, gave me some hardboiled eggs - a great treat.

The Austrian doctor in the ward liked to brush up his English. "How you say 'more good'? Ah, 'better'. So, you are better?"

I remember his sadness when the news came through in September of the Government's decision to withdraw all International Brigadiers from the front and to repatriate all foreigners. He would now become a displaced person.

"You have a country to go? Yes? You are lucky."

Just as the patients were of all nationalities so were the nurses. In my ward, in addition to the Spanish nurses, there were an English girl, an American and a Rumanian. Dora, the Rumanian, was very forthright and explosive - in several languages. On hearing someone boast, in Spanish, that he could learn any language in a week she burst out in a loud voice, "No possible aprender una lengua en una semana."

The American nurse, who never stopped informing all and sundry that she was 'fully qualified' was indignant that she spent most of her time in routine duties instead of attending to casualties at the front. "I keep telling them I want to be a frontline nurse."

But of the Spanish nurses Josefina was the real centre of our lives - the calm, even-tempered, soft-spoken one who never erupted, whatever the pressures, into streams of explosive language and wild gesticulations.

I liked to think that I was her special concern and that when she addressed me as 'Rubito' that wasn't just a nickname for any eejit with red hair but, in my case, a term of endearment. (A capacity for self-deception is very therapeutic.)

Her mother came on a visit one day and, as a result, I found myself in possession of a bottle of champagne. It seemed amusing to me then, and still does, that the first and only time I ever tasted champagne, which I had always associated with high living, degeneracy and bloated capitalists, was in Spain during a period when the very staff of life was rationed.

The last time I saw Josefina was in the following December when, with other Brigadiers, I was departing from the scene. On the train to the French border town of Cerbere she was one of a group of nurses accompanying those who still required medical attention. We drank coffee together in the station restaurant - a brief encounter.

During my visit to Mataro in 1976 I noticed on the wall of the Town Hall a plaque commemorating the entry into the town of Franco's troops early in 1939, shortly before the end. I asked the civil guard on duty for permission to take a picture. Why I should have thought this necessary I can't explain except that although Franco was dead his spirit seemed to hover balefully over the land. perhaps this was just my own imagination.

In 1983 while holidaying in Salou, near Tarragona, I paid a second visit to Mataro. There was still a civil guard on duty outside the Town Hall but the plaque had been removed. 

I knew then that not only was Franco dead but Francoism itself and all the trappings of Francoism were in the process of being dismantled and that the whole system was destined for the dustbin of history.

The bloodless revolution of 1931, when Alfonso XIII had abdicated, had taken place again nearly half a century later.
The intervening bloodshed of the Civil War in 1936-9 had been caused by those who succeeded temporarily in turning back the clock of history.

This time too, in February 1981, six years after Franco's death, some mad army officers tried, by forcibly occupying the Cortes, to revive the ghosts of the past but Spanish society had developed beyond the stage of military adventurism and the change-over from dictatorship to democracy has been accomplished without bloodshed.

E Downing, Dublin 1981.


 


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More material by/about Eugene is
also available on this site:

 

 

There are 3 obituaries available about him:
The first one by
Manus O'Riordan, the second appeared on the Indymedia site.

Manus also wrote a further one in <i>Saothar</i>, journal of the Irish Labour History Society, No.28, 2003 Manus O'Riordan<br>
"Eugene Downing, who died on July 25, 2003, was not only a veteran of the Spanish Anti-Fascist War's International Brigades, he was also a keen labour historian."

Read the rest of that one here...

 

In addition to this piece, Eugene has written several few other pieces.
Here are some that are now online on this site.


In September 2000 Eugene was interviewed by Ciaran Crossey and John Quinn
about the SCW. Here is Eugene's
5 page version of the notes from that discussion.

 

A [funny] article about Eugene's street politics in the mid 1930's -
Street Journalism.


 

A letter to the Irish Times about Mattie Ryan, Pandit Nehru and a
shooting exhibition.

 

Letters from Josefina [about his time in hospital and letters between him
and Josefina, one of the nurses.]

 

An interesting piece from Saothar, on Moscow's International Lenin School,
attended by Bill McGregor, an IB volunteer.

 

A funny piece about a brief period when  Eugene was in charge.


The IB and the Ebro

 

The Siege of Connolly House. An interesting piece about a siege of the
place the CP offices.

 

A letter to the Irish Times about the catholic church's refusal to
allow a funeral service for IB volunteer Tony Fox.

 	Would anyone who knows of further articles 
by Eugene please get in touch.

 

Ciaran Crossey

Belfast, 6th August 2003. irelandscw@yahoo.co.uk




 
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