Ben Murray - letter on the death of Alec Muir

Socorro Rojo
161 Playa del Acl??
April 8th 1937

Dear Cde H????

As you may well guess from the Springhall-Kerrigan report the lads are feeling the strain a bit – but I have had occasion to notice that some of those who appeared to be suffering most – had a sudden and remarkable change after having received letters from home. I have read – or heard extracts read from many of these – and like the letters I have received from you they are all eloquent with a courage and faith – as great if not greater – than our own. News of grievous loss is accepted without a murmur of complaint – although one can read ‘heartbreak’ between the lines and all of them express the same sentiment of confidence and trust in ourselves – and the Brigade as a whole. I can only say comrade – if you are proud of us – we are no less proud of you and your letters are one of the most important factors in maintaining morale in the face of the discomforts and dangers which beset us.

About [Alec Muir – KIA Feb. 1937 at Jarama] – the details are briefly told. After an unsuccessful attempt to take a strongly fortified fascist position, having advanced some distances from tree to tree through an open olive grove (the trees are planted in even rows approximately 20 paves apart) the order was given to return. [Alec] was still safe at this time – behind one of the trees – and unencumbered might have been able to get back to our original position without harm – but there was a wounded comrade (I’m sorry, I have not been able to find out his name yet) lying near him in an exposed position and as you know – [Alec] was not the sort of man to leave him there and there are very few in our Battalion who would have done so) and in assisting him to cover – received a bullet which passed clear through his body piercing his heart.

This is the information as I got it on the same day from a comrade who was in his particular group. I was with a different company on this day and did not see this incident – but I took the greatest pains to verify just what had taken place.

Not knowing whether or not Alec was dead – another comrade, or more than one – managed to get him back shortly afterwards – and a chap who knew of my acquaintance with him - came to me almost at once with the information.

That night – with the help of another comrade I dug out his grave under an olive tree - and when the mound over his blanket shrouded body was complete two other comrades and myself conducted the simply ceremony of standing in silence and giving the clenched fist salute. The only words spoken were in a repetition of the pledge ‘They shall not pass.’

[Alec’s] grave is now surrounded by others – comrades of many nationalities lying side by side and symbolically on each grave has been planted an olive branch.

All of your parcels did not reach him – but he was delighted to get the socks and the chocolate in particular.

He was very concerned about your position. Knowing how anxious you would be in your desire to get out here – and being obliged to stay at home. He was thinking of arguments to show that because of your working class connections in the trade unions, etc. your service at home was vastly more significant and valuable – than even the valuable work you might accomplish over here.

His last notable action that I remember was when he handed £3-0-0 over to Kerrigan to be sent home to you – or to his sisters. I’m sorry I have so little information to give you – but this is due to the excitement of continuous action which lasted during the three days after I had joined the battalion up till his death.

There is a blazing hot sun today and most of the boys have been stripped to the waist – I wonder what it’s going to be like when the summer comes in? Heat does not bother me – I was used to it in Canada – but it may well make it difficult for some of the chaps.

I suppose you see some of the friends in Kilburn once in a while. If so you will have heard some news of me. I try to write one or two letters a week – some of which must get through. It is good to read of the fine work being done at home – the ‘Unity’ Campaign in particular seems to be making marvellous progress. ‘More power to your elbow.’

The job you are doing is our guarantee – that Franco’s day will soon be done.

With deepest sympathy,

Yours fraternally,

Ben Murray