I have been asked why I went to Spain. Here is my answer. When the fascist revolt in Spain was crushed by the overwhelming mass of the Spanish people, a new war had begun. The landing in Spain of the pick of Hitler's and Mussolini's armies, the forty miles an hour tanks, the modern artillery and the hundreds of Caproni and Junker planes with their aerial torpedoes had made it clear that the final conflict between Fascism and democracy had begun on Spanish soil.
International Fascism had challenged world democracy. Lombard Murphy, Belton and O'Duffy in my country rallied to the Fascist cause. They declared with good reason that a Fascist Spain would help them to get a Fascist Ireland. An Irish Brigade was being organised to help Franco in his campaign of murder.
For once I agreed with Lombard Murphy and his friends, A Fascist Spain would help them to their dictatorship over our country. That's exactly why I went to Spain. Arriving in Barcelona early in September, I met a little band of French, German and Italian anti-Fascists. They numbered thirty and they each wore a badge with the word Irun. They were the survivors of the gallant defenders of Irun. The terrible massacre which followed the fall of Irun was remembered by these men when they alter defended Madrid. With these men and fourteen Germans who had travelled with me from Paris, together with ten Englishmen already in Barcelona, an International Centuria was formed.
This was called the Thaelmann Centuria and later the Thaelmann Batt. of the International Column. The Thaelmann Centuria left for the Huesca Front, but soon returned to Barcelona to reorganise. We next found ourselves on a troop train bound for Albacete. The rumour went round that Madrid was in danger. By the end of October 5,000 men representing the working class of every nation on earth were mobilized in Albacete.
The Fascists had advanced from Toledo to Madrid halting in the Casa de Campo in preparation for a triumphal march into the city streets.
The Junker planes of Hitler had taken a terrible toll of life, bombing the miserably armed Spanish Militia men in their retreat across the Castilian plains. In the first week of November the Fascist planes flew over the city. Madrid had experienced many an air raid before, and the people waited in suspense for the pending disaster.
But instead of bombs they dropped thousands of leaflets. The leaflets announced that the 'National Forces were ready to enter the capital.' They warned the people not to resist, threatening to kill ten for every one of their men killed. If a peaceful entry to the city was effected, the 2,000 wounded men in Madrid hospitals would be spared. Only officers would be executed. They even promised to spare the lives of the rank and file of the defenders of Madrid.
The men behind the barricades replied with bursts of rifle fire and the women and children swept the leaflets into heaps and burned them with cries of 'No Pasaran.' The next day the aircraft appeared over Madrid again, this time they did not drop leaflets, and as the Fascists at that time were masters of the air, Madrid witnessed one of the bloodiest days in its history. On November 7th the barrage started in earnest. From land and air shells and bombs poured into the streets spreading death all over the city.
On the morning of November 8th a new army marched into the city. Five thousand trained soldiers carrying new rifles and machine guns marched up the Gran Via, Madrid's O'Connell St. Had Madrid surrendered so peacefully after all? But when did the fascist forces become so orderly and disciplined? The truth was soon known and the cries of Viva la International! That night the International Column went into action and fighting side by side with their Spanish brothers drove the Moors out of the Casa de Campo.
After three days of heavy fighting outside the University City the only casualty in the English speaking section was 19-year-old David Mortial, a London student, wounded in the foot. Sidney Avner, a medical student, also of London, asked me did I realize what day it was. I told him jokingly that I did not even know what year it was! He said it was the 11th November. His mind wandered back to Trafalgar Square, mine went back to Phoenix Park in Dublin, where thousands of men and women paid silent tribute to the memory of men who died in the war to end war.
Sidney Avner had left a comfortable home in Clapham Common. He possessed all the comforts and luxury of life that capitalism had to offer a privileged class, but when Fascism threw out its challenge to democracy in Spain, Avner realised that his won home and country were in danger. He gave up his career and took his stand for the democratically elected government of Spain. He died near Bodilla a few days before Xmas. Before he died he asked his comrades to convey his salutations to the English people. Avner represented all that is brave and noble in the English race.
My return to Dublin on leave after six months in the Spanish war is saddened by the painful duty of visiting the mothers and brothers of the Irish lads who shall never return.
Another Irishman returned some time ago and he made his task more difficult, by accepting a price from the Irish Independent for his alleged 'personal experiences' in Spain.** He did not tell the Irish people that the only fighting he did out there was when he fought some of his own comrades when they remonstrated with him for being drunk and disorderly. He did not tell the Irish people that he was in jail in Albacete for being drunk, or that he was never near enough to the war zone to hear a shot fired. It was a dirty slander on men who could defend themselves no more. It was carried on by a reactionary Press that slandered the men of 1916-1922. But some day Ireland will know the truth and salute the memory of the men who died defending all that decent Christians stand for. Someday Ireland shall pay tribute to the gallant Irish lads who redeemed with their lives the name and honour of the Irish Nation.
** Note by Ciaran Crossey, 6th Dec. 2003. These are references to the memoirs written by Charles J McGuinness and serialized in the Irish Independent, January 1937. They are available from the Ireland the Spanish Civil War website; http://irelandscw.com/band-CJMcG.htm
To the Editor, Irish Democrat
In connection with the Spanish Relief Fund, a Women's Committee has been formed composed of members of the Women's Section, Labour Party, Northern Ireland and the Socialist Party of Northern Ireland, for the purpose of collecting and forwarding all kinds of clothing to the people of Spain, who are suffering such terrible hardships as a result of the brutal and prolonged attack upon their elected Government.
The Committee is concentrating on the provision of new knitted garments, and already parties of women have been organised to collect gifts of this kind from their friends and also to knit the garments themselves.
Your readers will be glad to know that two consignments of goods have already been sent. The first was sent to the civilian population and the second to the International Brigade. The women are now engaged upon preparation for a third consignment, which it is hoped will be sent at an early date.
All those who can supply garments of the nature indicated should forward them to the undersigned at the earliest date.
In addition gifts of money will be thankfully received. The need is great. Thousands of homeless people exist in Spain at the present time, and amongst these are many women and children in dire need during the present severe weather.
All donations and gifts will be thankfully received and acknowledged by men on behalf of the Committee.
(Mrs) E Midgley
232 Duncairn Gardens
O'Duffy is having difficulties with his Brigade. Rumours of discontent and mutiny have been rife for some time. We have reliable information that O'Duffy's men after some weeks of experience in Spain were shocked and disappointed at what they found there.
"Where are the Catholic Spaniards for which we are fighting? Became the question on everybody's lips. Moors, Germans, Italians everywhere, but no Spaniards.
Towns without inhabitants greeted them in such places as were occupied by the Fascist forces. It is now established that actual mutiny broke out among a section of the Brigade at Caceres. A rigid censorship of letters home is being enforced. The Fascist leaders are in panic lest the actual details of the affair should reach the public and are moving heaven and earth to smooth the matter out.
[Editors note: This, the first issue carried on p1 photographs of Denis Coady and Frank Conroy, both KIA; Joe Monks, wounded and Frank Ryan. CC]
The following letter has been received from William Beattie, one of the Belfast workers serving with the Irish Unit of the International Brigade in Spain.
I am still alive, although reported dead, as you now, once.
We of the Belfast Party are upholding our share in this fight for freedom. I myself, as you will have read, was wounded on the Cordova front along with Hillen. At the time of writing I am getting along well, so is Hillen, The Spanish are so kind to us; they think there is nothing good enough for us. I want you to tell the Belfast workers they are wonderful and are worth fighting for. Franco won't take Madrid. The Spanish are so cool and game, they wouldn't give in to Franco and Hitler and Co. Don't forget, Comrade, our fight is your fight. Seek the unity of the British and Irish workers to defeat the national and Craigavon Governments.
Belfastmen here have to thank Gibson, Geehan and Johnstone, and most particularly Mrs Midgley, whose great work is highly valued.
[Editor’s Notes: There was another short note, p8, of this edition saying that Fox, Nolan and May had all been in their '20's and had died on the Cordoba Front, December 18th 1936.
[Other records suggest that these deaths were on the 28th. Ciaran Crossey 6 Dec 2003]
Dinny Coady of the Irish Unit, International Brigades, Killed in Action at Madrid, December 29th 1936.
We who live to remember -
we who live to die eventually,
feel a fierce consolation
in deaths like this.
It is not simple;
it is something that was sunk deep,
torturously down through the centuries -
this emotion we feel
at the death of men we knew,
killed in such an action.
Emotion heavy with centuries of suffering
and struggle and sacrifice
of oppressed peoples everywhere.
We know that he must have died.
We know that he should not have died.
There contorts the mangled mind of man:
the simple mind of man,
knowing what is good and noble,
faced with a thing called Fascism - killing men who would have lived
ordinary happy lives:
men like Dinny Coady.
Written by Thomas O'Brien
The Portadown Labour Party in conjunction with the Socialist Party of Northern Ireland tried to book the Town hall, Portadown, to show the film, 'Defence of Madrid,' but the Town Clerk refused to let the Hall! Civil and Religious Liberty! The film will, however, be shown in another Hall in the near future. The Socialist Party is anxious to arrange shows in other provincial towns, and anyone interested should write to the Sec., 48 York Street, Belfast.
"On the basis of this evidence there is no reason to amend the verdict of the 1935 Annual Delegate Meeting that Fascism is inimical to the interests of the working journalist."
Then on Spain:
"While not challenging the right of newspaper proprietors to choose what policy they wish for their papers, the Union must not yield on the right of a journalist to refuse to write or to handle copy which he knows to be false.
"The treatment of the Spanish news, for example, has provided instances of grossly distorted news presentation which might have been checked had the Union spirit and organisation in the offices concerned been strong enough to protest."
Now you now how to estimate the Press reports. The men who write them say they are false!
"Other wounded Irishmen here include Joe Monks, Frank Edwards, and Cummins, as well as others you do not know. Pat was worried about whether we should wear anything but shamrock on St. Patrick's Day, but I convinced him that anything green would do. "The only thing that is worrying Pat and me is how soon will we get back to our Battalion, because, we want to be there for the 'kill.'
"There is an increasing feeling of optimism among all here now. The victories gained recently by the Government forces are a sign that it is now our turn to take the offensive all along the line.
"Our lads are gathering again, back from the hospitals, fit and eager to carry on the fight. We miss many of the best, but they have given their lives in a great cause, and it is up to the workers of Ireland to see that their sacrifices are not in vain. This fight is not for the people of Spain alone; it is a fight for democracy the world over, and Ireland has a deep interest in it."
"He told of a deserting British bluejacket, turned machine-gunner for the Rebels, turning his gun on Insurgents when they ran before Madrid, and of dum-dum and poison bullets said by the Rebels to have been used against them.
"But it was about the food in General Francisco Franco's army that he waxed most eloquent. It was the food, he made it quite clear, that upset the Irish. 'Mule soup and burro stew,' he said.
"You wouldn't eat it the first day, nor the second, nor the third, nor the fourth - but by crikey you'd eat it on the fifth.'
The Irish were first equipped with Fascist uniforms. Later khaki uniforms were served out, officers getting green-grey uniforms of the Spanish Army which they decorated with harps and shamrocks.
"The uniform consisted of a black shirt, with red Fascist emblem on the pocket, belt, black overseas cap, trousers or boots you happen to have. McDaniel still had on the entire outfit, underneath his ordinary clothes.
"His most vivid impressions of Caceres seem to have been those of the interminable daily shooting of Loyalist prisoners.
" 'We used to watch them being taken out to dig their own graves,' he said. 'If you got up at 5 or 6 in the morning you could see fifty shot every day.'
" 'One morning when we were on duty as cookhouse orderlies we saw thirteen prisoners brought from the calaboose and put into open trucks. We followed. They were taken to the wall.
The Firing Squads
"'Behind the wall is a sandbank. The prisoners were placed before this two paces apart. Their eyes were not covered. A priest approached and all but five, who refused, received his services. Twenty-four police of the Civil Guard - twelve kneeling and twelve standing placed their rifles on their shoulders.
" 'As they did so the Red prisoners walked toward the firing squad. 'Viva Rojo,' they shouted, their right arms, fists clenched, held in the air. After they were shot down, five wriggled. One sat up. Again he held his fist aloft. 'Viva Rojo,' he shouted. An officer walked over, kicked him between the eyes, and dispatched him with his pistol.
" 'You see the same thing every day. The prisoners were not chained. If they didn't march straight to their death, a soldier would shoot them as they gibbed, first in the ankle, then the stomach, then the brain.
Escape and Recapture
McDaniel and Colley, disgusted at being made Legionnaires when they wanted to be mechanics, disgusted too with the food, decided to desert. They knew they were taking a chance, for 'twenty-five deserters were shot the day before we left.' About 8pm one night before Christmas, while billets were being changed they slipped off for the Portuguese frontier, forty-five miles away…After four days they blundered into a party of Civil Guards and were sent back for identification to Caceres.
" 'Of course, when they got back (said McDaniel_ they knew who we were. We were tried by two English-speaking Spanish officers. They said: 'The punishment for desertion during wartime is death.'
" 'We said: 'We deserted from something we did not belong to.'
" 'But they condemned us to be shot. We were taken from the calaboose at Caceres to the calaboose at Burgos. I saw one young Irishman, son of a wealthy family, who was in jail under similar charges. His hair had turned white.
" 'They refused to allow us to communicate with the British consul.'
No Religious Question
"The authorities were apparently in a quandary about McDaniel and Colley. Although Catholics, and to all intents Irish, they were actually British and not Free State citizens. McDaniel said that from talks he had with Irish officers who visited them he was quite convinced that General Owen O'Duffy, commanding the Irish, wanted them shot.
" This was logical enough, since they had repudiated the Irish Brigade, and during their incarceration in Burgos steadfastly refused offers of their life if they would return to it. They had joined up for the Air Force and it was that or nothing. McDaniel said that General O'Duffy had only 641 men originally and that there was no religious question in the war…
"They were about fourteen days in the Burgos jail, McDaniel said. He thought that it was due to the intercession of an English Catholic priest that they were let out. Possibly, he surmised, the authorities were afraid because of their British citizenship.
"McDaniel said that the attitude of shopkeepers and civilians toward the Rebel soldiery was hostile in all the towns he had been in except Burgos, where the Rebel morale was at its best. At the other towns he said the population was 'pink.' This was partly due to conscription, he said.
"McDaniel said that of the other prisoners in the Burgos jail, about 100, '70 per cent, were Rebel officers, lieutenants and captains, in on minor charges, who were under suspicion.'
"After being released, the two were sent to Gibraltar. There Colley took sick and McDaniel obtained the berth as fireman on the Coalby when one of the crew took sick, and thus arrived at New York, still wearing his black shirt uniform of O'Duffy's Brigade."
But, despite the Irish Independent, Ireland lives up to its tradition of humanity. The Women's Aid Committee of the Irish Friends of the Spanish Republic have made a generous donation for the relief of the Guernica victims.
In a letter to the Irish Democrat, Mrs H Sheehy-Skeffington writes:
At our weekly meeting the Irish Friends of the Spanish Republic, Women's Aid Committee, a grant was passed to be forwarded to the International Section in Paris, to which we are affiliated, for the relief of the women and children rendered homeless by the destruction of Franco and his allies, of the ancient Basque capital, Guernica.
Our Committee is making a special appeal and raising a fund for this purpose and we shall be obliged for publicity in your paper. Subscriptions may be sent either to me or to Hon. Treasurer, 56 Fitzroy Ave, Drumcondra, Dublin. Please Mark - For Relief of Basque Children.
Send Postal or money orders crossed for safety.
I take this opportunity to thank all who have subscribed and who send us regular donations There are many urgent calls upon our limited resources, so please continue the good work. Arrangements are now being made to hold a Jumble Sale and all those who can send parcels of clothes, books, furniture, etc., are urged to get them ready. Drop a post card to that these can be collected by us.
7 Belgrave Road
"We saw Franco's army executing 'Reds' each morning in massed groups. They machine-gunned the condemned people, beginning at their ankles and directing the fire up along their bodies.
”The 'Reds' in their last moments lifted their clenched fists in the Communist salute, shouting 'Viva Madrid!' "
Such is the story told to representatives of the Irish daily papers by the men whom the 'Independent', Belton, O'Duffy and Co., seduced into believing they were going to fight for Christianity in Spain.
"We saw no evidence of Red massacres in Spain," said Patrick Power, of Limerick.
The Brigade' arrived back in Dublin last Monday - in two halves. "Instead of returning with honour and renown we return humiliated and disgraced," said one of the 'Brigade' leaders, Brigadier-General Horan, of Tralee. "The responsibility rests with General O'Duffy. We were not long in Spain until we were convinced it was a political campaign. (The Irish Democrat said so from the beginning.) We have broken with General O'Duffy."
Colonel Thomas Carew, Tipperary, another 'Brigade' officer, said: "We are home because the Irish Brigade was badly led. O'Duffy was asked by the Spaniards to have certain of his officers sent home. His reply was; 'If you insist I will send my Bandera home.' Franco replied, 'send your Bandera home.'
The stories told by the returned men is one long list of appalling massacres committed on Republican prisoners, of public house brawls, beatings of the mutineering members of the 'Brigade,' guns at the ready pulled on one another, corruption, lack of food, incompetence of O'Duffy and his officers. "Never again," is the watchword on the lips of these men, duped and deceived by the Lombard Murphy's Belton's' and O'Duffy's.
As published in the Irish Democrat several weeks ago, 6 of the 8 casualties were killed by Franco's own troops.
The main bulk of the 'Brigade' refused to march with O'Duffy to the Mansion House meeting, where Monsignor Watters, Belton, O'Duffy and other Fascists made speeches about Christianity and denounced the Government for searching O'Duffy's trunks at the North Wall.
An address of welcome to 'his Excellency General O'Duffy,' was read and Monsignor Watters called on the returned men to join the CYMS. [Catholic Young Men's Society, a church lay group.]
The men were deceived. The war in Spain is a Fascist attack on the people. They were deceived by the scoundrels of the Independent using religion as a cover for Fascist massacre. The deceivers must be brought to book. The lying Fascist campaign, the use of religion for political ends, has received a stunning blow in O'Duffy's fiasco.
The rout of the deceivers, the Cosgraves, Beltons and their hangers on, on July 1st, and the return of Frank Ryan, who told the people the truth about Spain, is the fitting answer to the racketeers, O'Duffy, Belton and Cosgrave.