Danny Gibbons

Obituary by Bill Alexander in Film and Television Technician, May 1980, the journal of the Association of Cinematographic, Television and Allied Technicians.

Danny Gibbons was one of three brothers who fought in the International Brigades against fascism. The fourth brother, Johnny, tried to volunteer but Henry Pollitt said "No, three from one family is enough." Joe who went to Spain from the USA served in the Lincoln Battalion. Danny and Tommy were with the British. Their decision to go to Spain was a logical, natural step from their hard early life in industrial Scotland and Ireland and their active struggle against Mosley's fascists and the Tories in Britain.

Danny was wounded in the Battle of Jarama where the British Battalion - part of the Republican Army - suffered heavy losses but stopped a very much larger and better armed Fascist army trying to cut off Madrid. Danny was sent back to Britain to recuperate but returned again, distressed at the news that his brother Tommy had been killed in the battle for Brunete.

In March 1938 the people's Government faced a grim threat. A powerful Fascist force headed by regular Italian and Nazi tanks, guns and troops had broken through the front. Danny was among the hundreds of Brigadiers who 'deserted to the front' to try and stop the armoured blitzkrieg. They were moving into position just before dawn when they ran into a column of blackshirt tanks. It was a disastrous situation. Although a number of tanks were set on fire, the battalion was broken with many dead and over a hundred taken prisoner - Danny among them.

The prisoners were taken to the rear and put in a concentration camp. They felt ashamed; that they had failed their anti-fascist convictions, and their dead comrades; and they feared for their own fate. In this situation, the sterling qualities of Danny were revealed - his deep political understanding, initiative, and willingness to risk all for his beliefs. In complete secrecy he made contact with five others who knew each other in the labour movement in Britain. They decided to try to give leadership to all the others.

They set out to get everyone out of the camp alive with unbroken morale and back to Britain to continue the anti-Fascist struggle. They had to withstand interrogation by Spanish Fascists and the Gestapo who were trying to find the Political Commissars, Jews and Communists.

The prisoners were half-starved, beaten up nearly every day, and lived in appalling, overcrowded, filthy surroundings. They were ordered to give the Fascist salute and shout 'Viva Franco' or face crippling beatings. At the initiative of the group they shouted 'Viva Blanco' or 'Viva Fuck You', and gave the Fascist salute but followed it with the British army salute. The secret committee ran sports and lectures. The 'University of San Pedro' had courses on Labour History, Mathematics, Dialectical Materialism and any other subject with a 'resident expert'. Danny and the others moved their beds to be next to any who were finding the strain too much, gave them some of their own meagre rations or intercepted blows form the sadistic guards.

In February 1939 the British prisoners were exchanged for Italian prisoners - Fascist officers. They marched over the frontier to France, disciplined and with heads high. Many went on to leading positions in the British labour movement. All of them owed much to the political understanding, deep humanity and courage of Danny Gibbons.

Bill Alexander