Volunteer, Vol. XIX, No. 1, Winter 1996-97
I was among a group of some forty replacements sent to Jarama
from the Madrigueras IB training base in April 1937 to replace the
heavy casualties suffered by the Lincolns in the battles of February
23rd and 27th. Even on that first day, I heard from Charles Nusser
and Irving Chocoles about the extraordinary courage of Paul
Burns. They told about how he had repeatedly gone into no-man's land
under fire to bring in wounded.
A couple of weeks later, Pat Reade, one of the Madrigueras
replacements, introduced me to Paul who was his company commander.
Pat liked Paul for a couple of reasons: he knew he was Irish
and he had learned of his bravery. My first impression of Paul
was that he was too gentle to be a soldier. He spoke more like an
observer than a participant. His voice was low and his stories
stressed the bravery of other soldiers. He had action tales of the
Flaherty brothers, and of Joe Scott and Joe Gordon.
I had little contact with Paul until the Brunete offensive in July.
He was then commander of Company One. On the first day, when
Oliver Law, the battalion commander,
gave the order to go over the
top, Paul was right behind Law.
There were many casualties, but
Law and Burns came through
We went over the top again on
July 9th at Mosquito Ridge. Law
had assigned John Power and me
as Paul's runners for that action.
I was amazed by Paul's calm
during the ten minutes we waited
to begin the attack. Law had told
us that there would be no cover fire
from our artillery or aircraft. The
fascists were on higher ground and
we knew that our casualties would
When Oliver Law gave the
order to attack and charged up the
hill, Paul raised his pistol over his
head and said, "Let's go fellows."
He was wounded within seconds.
Law was hit two minutes later and
died within the hour. Paul certainly
would have been chosen to succeed
I next saw Paul, six weeks
later at an impressive rest home -
the mansion that had belonged to
the magnate Juan March, the
wealthiest man in Spain, then
holed up in France awaiting a fascist
victory. The mansion overlooking
the Mediterranean had been
requisitioned as a rest home for the
Paul told me that he expected
to return to the battalion in a few
weeks. The severity of his knee
wound, however, resulted in his
During the post war years Paul
and I were colleagues as correspondents
at the UN. I came to know
him then as the gentlest person I
After recent housebound years,
devotedly cared for by his wife
Helen, Paul died in New York City
on December 9, 1996.
- Harry Fisher