RUC Report 19 April 1937

Updated: April 13th 2006

SUBJECT: Northern Ireland Socialist Party Lecture and Film Show

in Labour Hall, York St., On Sunday, 18/4/37 City of Belfast.

DETECTIVE DEPARTMENT, (Crime Special Branch)
Royal Ulster Constabulary,
Chichester Street.
19th April, 1937
Head Constable C.S. Branch.

I beg to report that under the auspices of the Northern and Socialist Party the film entitled "Defence of Madrid" was shown in the ILP Hall, 48 York Street, Belfast, on Sunday night, l8th April, 1937. Prior to the film show a short lecture was given by Lieut. William Scott, late of the International Column in Spain, who described conditions during his stay there.

About 400 persons were present and the proceedings which commenced at 7.45 p.m. and terminated at 9-30 p.m. passed over quietly.

A collection was taken up for the Relief the Workers in Spain, and it was announced that a sum of 7.3.6d had been raised, 2.10 of this amount being handed to the Secretary at the door, prior to the meeting.

Comrade Fred McMahon, Ravenhill St., Belfast, acted as chairman and Comrade Scott was the only speaker.

In opening the meeting the chairman said:-

"We are favoured this evening in having Captain Wm. Scott, late of the International Column, who recently returned from Spain. Capt. Scott fought on the Aragon front for two and a half months and he took part in the famous march on Madrid of the International Column which was responsible for keeping Franco out of Madrid and saving Spain from Fascism. For four months he fought with the International Column in Madrid itself and I am sure he will have many interesting stories to tell us of the glorious defence of Madrid. The film "The Defence of Madrid", which is being shown tonight, will be preceded by his lecture after which an interval will be provided for questions and discussion. His lecture will, deal mainly with his own experiences in Spain, and I am sure there could be no better authority on the situation in Spain than a Comrade who fought for six months in the ranks of the Spanish Forces.

"The Socialist Party of Northern Ireland under whose auspices this lecture is being held, has provided a platform and raised money for the defence of Democracy in Spain. We propose to take up a collection to-night in connection with relief in Spain. We make no apology for taking up this collection. The Socialist Party has been instrumental in raising 350 for Spanish Relief, and the supply of comforts, such as cigarettes, clothing, etc. for the International Column. Comrade Scott, with his six months in Spain, will give you the situation as he has taken part in it."

Comrade Scott said:- "First of all I want to correct the Chairman; he has made a slight error. I held the rank of Lieutenant in the Spanish Army. I was not a Captain. I am not a public speaker, in fact this is only the second occasion on which I have ever spoken to an audience.

"You are going to see the film "Defence of Madrid", and lest you go away disappointed I want to tell you, you are not going to see a picture of anything like the defence of Madrid. I saw the film in Madrid; it was shown there for propaganda purposes. It is all snapshots of scenes in and around Madrid. You will understand it was impossible for Cameramen to approach the battle-fields so as to photograph the men in action. You will see men going up to the front and if the film had been a "sound" film instead of silent you would hear the "Internationale" being sung in twenty different languages as the International Column went up to the front. You will see the trail of death and destruction left by Franco's raiders and you will see Government aircraft defending Madrid against the aircraft of Hitler and Mussolini.

"On a hill, near Madrid, is a spot which is as sacred to the people of Belfast and all Ireland as the spot where Wolf Tone lies in Bodenstown; unfortunately you will not see in the picture the last resting place of Wm. McHenry of Belfast. He died defending the most sacred cause in history. His memory will live forever in the minds of the people in Spain. You will not see young Tony Fox of Dublin, 18 years of age, rushing out into "No Man's Land" to rescue two of his comrades. While dressing the wounded he fell and is buried at the spot where he saved the lives of his two friends - one Irish and the other a Spaniard.

"Another Dublin lad, Michael May, who came from the same street as Fox, heroically gave his life to save his comrades. When all the others had retreated May stood his ground saying: "I'll hold them back as long as I can". Nobody ever seen Michael May since that day. The last words of this hero should inspire every Irishman and woman to do as he did, "hold them back".

"The lads who saved Madrid from Franco, and the example they set, will ultimately save democracy for the world. A victory for Fascism in Spain means a victory for Fascism in Ireland."

"Six months ago I left Dublin. At that time there was no such a thing as an International Column, though many foreigners had got into Spain. Fifteen of us - all Germans but myself - arrived together in Spain. We started a few enquiries and we were told that there were no arms for the Spanish Militiamen. We told them that we had military experience. We were kept for three weeks in Barcelona with still no sign of arms. While in Barcelona we saw crowds of young men going to the front marching in what they call "centurias" that is 100 men, and out of every 100 men not more than 30 had rifles and these were of every description from the long barrelled sporting gun to the Mauser rifle. Cohen, leader of the English group, who spoke Spanish, enquired about the scarcity of rifles, and he was told that when the men with the arms fell the others were there to take up their arms. After our three weeks in Barcelona, a ship which was later to become famous, arrived on the scene from the Soviet Union. The Spanish militiamen at the front were relieved of their hunger. I remember the demonstration and the scenes of enthusiasm as the crowds of women, boys and girls, went down to welcome the food ship. The ship was sunk on its third voyage to Barcelona. Not alone had the Militia-men at the front not got arms but they had got no blankets. One day another ship arrived from another "Bolshie" State - Mexico. The Mexican Government was the first Government in the world to have the courage to send arms into Spain. I don't know whether the Soviet Union was waiting on some other country to move or not but after that shipload of arms was brought, shipments of arms were brought from the Soviet Union and since that the Spanish Militia-men have become an army.

"I was a member of the Thalmann "centuria" which was later to become the formation of the International Column. We went to the front but were called back to Barcelona, for what - we don't know. When we got back we were told that a mobilisation Order had gone out all over Spain for every man to mobilise. We went to Albacete, 80 of us, and we met 5,000 men, foreigners, who had been mobilised, and it was here that the International Column went into action.

"A lot of people have asked why should Irishmen go out to Spain, why not stop at home, there is plenty of fighting to be done in our own country? I, and I am sure my comrades in Spain never had any desire to go to a foreign country to fight. Twelve months ago it was the last thing I would have thought of, but when our friend O'Duffy started his Irish Christian Front and went crusading around the country calling for recruits, and then went to Spain to interview Franca and Franco raised the cause of Ireland all over Spain, telling his Moors to "carry on, Ireland will support us and is sending out and Irish Brigade". The reply of Republican Ireland to that was not to call for recruits. When Frank Ryan in December decided to go to Spain he gathered a small band of men around him. He was confronted by 400 Irishmen already there waiting to be organised, and so the Irish Column was formed, but nobody will ever know the number of Irishmen fighting in Spain. They came from Belfast, Dublin, Cork, Donegal, Australia, America, England, Scotland and Wales.

"Ryan had no trouble organising them. Our Irish Column completely outnumbered O'Duffy's Christian Crusaders. We had no Press to recruit the Irish Column nor was it likely we would get any help from the pulpit, as O'Duffy did.

"It might interest you if I told you the part played by the Catholic Church in Spain. I never thought, I never believed that I could condemn a Church, either Catholic or Protestant, but I have experience of it and I am not going to hide it. You have heard a lot about atrocities in Spain. I say they are damned lies.

"Spain was a Catholic country and will always be a Catholic country as far as I know, on the 18th July, last, the people went to Mass as usual. On the 20th they did not go to Mass because the Fascists were in occupation of the Churches. In Barcelona, the City in which I had most experience, when the Fascists were combed out of the big buildings, the Bishops came out and invited them into the Churches from the very altars of which they mowed down women and children with machine guns. The people went and got bombs and bombed them out of the Churches. I have never attempted to deny that Churches were bombed; they were bombed and that is why Barcelona today is free of Fascists; they were bombed out of the Churches. If you call that an atrocity then that atrocity was committed.

"Belfast has something to be proud of in the number of men from the City who are fighting in the cause of Democracy in Spain. For many years men from Belfast and Dublin have gathered at Sallins and marched to Bodenstown to pay tribute to the memory of Tone and his United Ireland policy. Well, once again Belfast men met Dublin men in Barcelona and marched to battle when they fought side by side in the International Column for to save Madrid and Democracy in Europe".

The speaker then went on to tell of the different Irishmen whom he had met in Spain, including Alex Donegan of Belfast, and said that everywhere the International Column went they were enthusiastically received with shouts of "LONG LIVE THE INTERNATIONAL".

In conclusion the speaker said: - "No film ever made, nor no story that will ever be written will do justice to the Defence of Madrid.

"I have lived in the National Palace and some day I hope to live in Merrion Square, the Government Buildings in Dublin. I might even spend a night or two in Stormont I will close by asking you to support the appeal made by the Chairman, and I think it is splendid to see Mrs. Sheehy Skeffington, Lil O'Donnell and some others doing their best to send comforts to the fighting men in Spain."

At the conclusion of the meeting the following resolution was passed by acclamation, the Chairman stating that it would be sent to Mr. James Maxton, MP, who was organising a food ship for Bilbao.


"That this meeting of Belfast Democrats congratulate you on your efforts to organise relief for the Basque people, and pledge our support in this worthy object".

Signature of Shorthand Notetaker. J Mooney, Constable 3924.

[Note by C Crossey - This report is taken from the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland files, ref. number PRONI HA/32/1/555, CC, 5/8/2004]