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Screenshot from Ernie Trory’s cine film regarding the homecoming of Anton Miles and Bill Sill on 12th December 1938 – location is the Old Steine, Brighton

Welcome to ‘Remembering the Sussex International Brigaders’ website, created with the support of the University of Brighton.  This website is under development but we hope to develop it in the coming weeks, months and years with the aim of remembering and commemorating those from Sussex who fought fascism during the Spanish Civil War through the International Brigades – the ‘Sussex Brigaders’.  We are campaigning for a local memorial in Brighton for the Sussex Brigaders, but are also interested in advancing wider public knowledge and understanding about the historic role played by activists from our region in respect to the anti-fascist struggle in Spain.  We have developed the following pages so far:

Who were the Sussex Brigaders?

Why should we remember the Brigaders?

Franco’s Sussex Friends

Newhaven – Gateway to Spain

Wider Sussex solidarity with Spain

About the International Brigade Memorial Trust

About our local group

 

 

 

Priscilla Thornycroft

Priscilla Thornycroft (1917-2020)
By Jim Jump
Priscilla Thornycroft, an artist who campaigned energetically for the Spanish Republic doing the Spanish Civil War, was a member of a Sussex family that was steeped in the fight against fascism in Spain. Brother Christopher dropped out of Oxford to join the International Brigades in December 1936. Sister Kate was the secretary of the Basque Children’s Committee in their home town of Worthing. Mother Dorothy chaired the Worthing Basque Children’s Committee and later ran the Worthing Refugee Committee, which helped Jews and left-wingers fleeing fascist Europe – one of whom Priscilla would marry.
Priscilla Ann Thornycroft was born on 21 April 1917 in Golders Green, north London. Her mother’s father was playwright Edward Rose, a friend of George Bernard Shaw and Eleanor Marx. Her father was the sculptor and engineer Oliver Thornycroft.
After leaving Worthing High School, Priscilla studied art at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. She became a student representative of the Artists International Association, which believed that artists should become politically engaged, especially in the fight against fascism. At the same time she became a member of the Communist Party.
During the Spanish Civil War, as a member of the AIA, she painted anti-fascist posters for demonstrations and various campaigns. She also organised painting courses for the children in the refugee Basque children’s colony in Worthing.


Priscilla pictured in 2017 with a poster she designed during the Spanish Civil War.

Artists Nan Youngman and Priscilla Thornycroft (right) paint a hoarding in central London in February 1939.

Around this time she met the German resistance fighter Hans Siebert. He was a teacher and had escaped from a Nazi concentration camp. He was interned in England at the beginning of the Second World War, but Eleanor Rathbone helped arrange his release. Priscilla married him in 1942 and they had two children.
After the war, the family moved to Dresden in 1948, where they permanently settled. Priscilla worked in the German Democratic Republic, where she was more commonly known as Ann Siebert, as a freelance illustrator of children’s books and magazines. She was a member of the GDR’s Democratic Women’s League, on the committee of the artists’ association and in an artists’ cooperative.
Works by Priscilla Thornycroft (also known as Ann Siebert), who died on 12 April 2020, aged 102, are held in many public and private collections, including the Imperial War Museum in London. In 2010, there was a major retrospective of her work at Dresden’s Neuen Sächsischen Kunstverein. It was opened by her 88-year-old younger brother Bill Thornycroft.

Charles Edward Walters

Charles Edward Walters (1899-1979) – Sussex Brigader 

Charles Walters

According to Charles Walters’ son Max his father was born in 1899 having “told him on numerous occasions how he increased his age during his teenage years to make him more suitable for employment.” An endorsement by the British Consul in Madrid on Charles Walters’ Republican Army discharge papers says, “Holder has stated to me that he is a British Subject born at Lewes Sussex 5.10.1898.”

Family records show Charles Walters was the son of a “game warden” working on The Southover Estate near Burwash in East Sussex and he sang in the choir at St. Bartholomew’s Parish Church in the village. He was “adopted out” and migrated to Australia about 1916.

Southover

The Southover Estate, near Burwash, was sold in 1944 and broken up. Its main buildings are now the secluded residences of the well-heeled.

Charles lived in South Australia from 1923 to 1932 working as a rabbit trapper and a contemporary photo shows a 24 year old Charles lining up as a soccer player for Blyth, a small township on the northern Adelaide Plains. Charles then moved to Tasmania and was active in workers and socialist causes in Launceston and Hobert which made him a marked man. Hobart police issued him with a deportation order because of his activities supporting unemployed worker’s rights in an anti-eviction campaign. The order was rescinded after a campaign by local community leaders including members of the clergy.

When the Spanish Civil War erupted in July 1936 Charles collected press cuttings about the conflict, saying “they haunted me until I was compelled to go”. He worked his passage to London to join the International Brigade arriving in Spain on 16th August 1937 serving seventeen months on the Aragon and Ebro fronts.

Writing home from the front line Charles told his comrades back home “I felt it was my duty to come here …. A man thinks a lot out here I think I wouldn’t mind dying for democracy. Please send food and clothes. It is so cold.”

Charles was severely wounded in the Battle of Tereul which raged from December 1937 to February 1938, spending five months convalescing in Benecassim Hospital where he met Egon Kisch the Austrian writer and journalist.

Wounded men of the British Battalion in Spain before their return home. Charles Walters is bottom right in peaked cap.

In August 1938 he was certified as being unfit for active service arriving back in Newhaven on 25th October 1938.  Charles then returned to Adelaide in South Australia becoming Assistant Secretary of the local Spanish Relief Committee.

Australian International Brigade Volunteers arrive back home holding flags. At the front three men hold a torn Spanish Republic banner including Charles Walters, bottom left.

In February 1939 soon after his return Charles addressed a meeting in Adelaide his words showing that despite the hardships he had suffered in Spain the idealism that inspired him to join the International Brigade had not diminished.

“We people of all nations must demand a new order of life founded on the principles of social justice, peace and international co-operation. We ask for deeds not words.”

He found work on farms and tried his hand at fur trapping and in 1941 married Charlotte Evelyn Shaw in Melbourne, their only child Maxwell Haldane was born on 11th June 1941. Max later wrote that his middle name was in honour of J.B.S. Haldane the Marxist author and scientist who raised money to support the Republic in its fight against fascism. Max’s parents separated when he was four and he was not reunited with his father until Charles tracked him down thirty-five years later.

Charles was proud of being a Volunteer for Liberty having his International Brigade lapel badge gold plated. His son Max wrote “…he was very proud and believed it to be definitely the only one in Australia and one of the few in the World. He was also under the impression that after the war that anyone found in Spain with this lapel badge was immediately executed, imprisoned or persecuted (even tourists) under Franco’s regime and he dared not wear it while in Europe in 1968!”

Charles Walters’ gold plated International Brigade lapel badge is now in the Australian War Memorial collection in Canberra.

In Sydney in 1954 Charles married again to Dorothy Kilmister and a photo shows Charles and Dorothy feeding pigeons in Trafalgar Square in 1968.  The photo is too grainy to show if Charles was wearing his gold-plated badge. Charles and Dorothy remained together until his death in October 1979 in Dora Creek, New South Wales.

A memorial in the Canberra Nara Peace Park commemorates Australian International Brigaders.

Mike Anderson, with thanks to Katherine Zeigler, Archivist at the Australian National University Canberra for her invaluable help in accessing the Amirah Inglis Collection, and Australian War Memorial for permission for the use of photographs.

Roy Theodore Watts

Roy Theodore Watts (1913–1938) – trade unionist and Sussex Brigader

Roy Watts was born at home, at 35 Alpine Road, Hove, Sussex, on 13th September 1913, the son of a hairdresser’s clerk. After school he went to work for the Portsea Island Mutual Co-operative Society. He was an active member of the Shop Assistants Union (NAUSAWC), and was elected Vice-President of the Southern District Council and represented the Portsmouth Branch on the Executive Committee of Portsmouth Trades Council.

35 Alpine Road

Watts left the ILP’s League of Youth to join the Young Communist League where “one of his many and varied activities in the working class movement was addressing meetings on Southsea Seafront in the summer of 1936”. He also enjoyed sport being the Chairman of the Portsmouth & District Clarion Cycling Club and a “well-known swimmer, holder of several trophies”.

Watts’ first taste of direct action against fascism was throwing leaflets over the balcony of a local theatre being addressed by Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union Fascists. He was rough-handled down the staircase by Mosley’s “stewards” and his coat ripped in the process.

Roy Watts moved to Leicester in 1936 and was working as a salesman in the furniture department of the Leicester Co-op High Street store when he left for Spain.

Watts arrived in Spain on 14th February 1938 but was taken to hospital with a fever. On discharge he went to Albacete for a crash training course.

In a letter to the Secretary of the Leicester branch of the Shop Assistants’ Union quoted in the Leicester Evening Mail on 5th April 1938, he wrote:  “The fight of the Spanish workers is also our fight, and because the peace of the world is at stake, I am happy to be able to show to the Spanish people, by way of example, that although our Government has hindered them, we in the working class are solid in support.  Victory for the Spanish people means democracy and peace shall advance and flourish throughout the world.”

Watts served in the British Battalion infantry, and anti-aircraft unit, and was transferred to the Brigade Transmissions Unit on 22nd June 1938. His final battle was described by Peter Kerrigan, a leading British Communist and Daily Worker correspondent in Spain,  in a letter to British Communist leader Harry Pollitt dated 27th September 1938. “The irony of it is that this last action took place on September 23rd, the day after Dr Negrin’s speech at Geneva which announced the repatriation of the volunteers…..One bomb dropped on a small house where our transmissions were, and killed Joseph Harding of Middlesbrough and Roy Watts of Leicester along with two Spanish comrades. When the bodies were dug out all were dead.”

News of the withdrawal of the International Brigades must have been high on the agenda when Leicester Communist Party met in the Secular Hall on the evening of the 5th October 1938, so it must have been devastating to learn from the Chairman that he had been told an hour before the meeting started that Roy Watts had been killed. Certainly it was all the more shocking for his girlfriend who “when the massage was read Miss Rowe was greatly distressed, and was taken home by fellow members of the Young Communist League”.

Tributes to Watts were recorded in Challenge, paper of the YCL, for October 22nd 1938 and the Portsmouth Evening News for December 21 1938.

Pauline Fraser with thanks to Stuart Walsh and Alan Lloyd.

Sponsored walk through Brighton and Hove

Sponsored walk through Brighton & Hove

IBMT Trustee Pauline Fraser is organising a sponsored walk through Brighton and Hove, to highlight the part local Brigaders played in the fight against fascism in Spain. We are aiming for the walk to take place on a Saturday in September, depending on what progress has been made to suppress covid-19.

Walkers will visit the houses where Brigaders were born, or the address they gave when they volunteered to go to Spain. In addition, we will visit the homes where two colonies of Basque children stayed after they were evacuated from Bilbao in May 1937.

At each stop, information will be read out about the particular Brigader, or excerpts from memoirs written in later life by former Basque children.

We will be joined by local IBMT members, peace activists and local refugee support groups. The Guernica banner, which has been displayed at IBMT events, will be displayed outside one of the former Basque Children’s colonies, alongside flags of the Second Republic and the International Brigade Memorial Trust banner.

We are asking for donations which will be shared between Sussex Brigaders Remembered and the International Brigade Memorial Trust. The Sussex share will go towards raising a memorial in Brighton, while the walk itself will raise local interest in the Brigaders and their legacy.

For more information please contact Pauline on p.fraser@international-brigades.org.uk

William James (Bill) Sill

William James (Bill) Sill (1916-2004) – trade unionist and Sussex Brigader 

William James (Bill) Sill, was born in London on 23rd December 1916.  His father, John Michael Sill, was a music hall artiste. He worked as a machine-driller in Brighton, and was a member of the AEU (Amalgamated Engineering Union) and was living at 25 Upper Rock Gardens, when he volunteered to fight with the International Brigades.

25 Upper Rock Gardens

He joined the British Battalion on 29th January 1938.  He was twice wounded: in April 1938 he was wounded in the head on the Aragon Front, but recovered to take part in the Republican offensive on the River Ebro, where he received a leg wound. The medic who treated his wound was fellow Brighton volunteer Anton Miles. “ I went to Spain,” Sill told a local paper after he was repatriated on 7th December 1938, “simply because I felt that the Spanish Government was fighting for the right cause.”  In the Second World War Bill Sill served in the RAF boat rescue service, and on 2 December 1943 he married Amy Florence Limbrey in St. Albans.  Sill emigrated to Australia in the late 1950s and died in Sydney New South Wales in 2004.

Philip Patrick Wilmot

Philip Patrick Wilmot (1913-) – Sussex Brigader 

Philip Patrick Wilmot was born on 7th October 1913 and was a member of the YCL (Young Communist League). He lived at 11a Norton Road, Hove, and served as an ambulance driver with the British Medical Unit, arriving in Spain on 17th February 1937 and returning home later that year. However, secret service lists kept on the Volunteers suggest Wilmot returned to Spain the following year.

Norton Road – sadly 11a is now demolished

Arthur Francis George Hirst

Arthur Francis George Hirst (1912-1973) – Sussex Brigader 

Arthur Francis George Hirst

Arthur Francis George Hirst was born on 11 February 1912 in St Giles, Middlesex. In 1931 he was living in Brighton and married Ella Box, who gave birth in 1932 to their son Terence Hirst (Terry). In 1935 he joined the Communist Party and was living at 66 Conway Street, Hove, when he volunteered to join the International Brigades in February 1937. He was a taxi-driver and motor mechanic.

Conway Street, Hove – no. 66 is now sadly demolished

Hirst entered Spain with the International Brigades at Albacete on 24 February 1937.  He was then sent to the transport Section of the Brigades (Auto park), missing for a short time during the Jarama battles and later worked with the Medical Section (Sanidad) as an Ambulance Driver with the 35th Division Medical Services .  He worked with Dr Reggie Saxton at Granen in Aragon.  He was wounded in action sometime in 1938 and at one time posted as “missing”.  He took up Spanish Citizenship, but was made to leave Spain with other members of the British Battalion in December 1938.

In a letter to a friend from Spain that was published in the Argus on 2 November 1937 he wrote,

Since I have been in Spain, for the first time in my life, I am ashamed of the fact that I am English. The Spanish people have such a distrust for England that they almost refuse to believe us when we tell them where we are from, the more illiterate peasants insisting that we are Russians… I only wish the British Labour leaders were here … We are not heroes. We came here to carry out a job of giving a check to International Fascism and although the job is unpleasant at times it must be carried through.

From 1941, Arthur worked as a taxi-driver and lived with Hilda Trory in Moulescombe, Brighton.

In March 1942, Hilda gave birth to a son, Joseph, and in September 1946 to a second son, Daniel.  In May 1951 Arthur and Hilda were married in Brighton.   They later moved to Lewes, Sussex and, until 1966, Arthur ran the Landport Stores at 34 Lee Road, Landport Estate, Lewes.  In 1963 Hilda gave birth to a third son, Paul.

Arthur Hirst on the Brighton seafront

In 1966 the family moved to a house at 8 Offham Road and Arthur opened an antique shop at 12 Malling Street, Lewes.  Arthur died in 1973 at his home in Lewes, Sussex.

Robert Jasper

Robert Jasper (1914-1999)  – Sussex Brigader

Robert Sydney Jasper was born in Brighton on 27th November 1914, his father Charles Herbert Jasper dying aged 35 in April 1915 in Brighton.  Robert Jasper later worked as a machinist. He gave his address as 15 Whitecross Street, Brighton when he volunteered for Spain.

Whitecross Street – unfortunately no. 15 is long demolished

MI6 records show that Robert Sydney Jasper left for France on 1st April 1938 suspected of being a “recruit for Spain”.   He was wounded at Gandesa, but survived to return to the UK with the main group of survivors in December 1938.   The England and Wales register for 1939 shows him living at 39, Chelmsford Road, Portsmouth, his occupation given as an aircraft bench fitter.   In December 1940 Robert Jasper married Cynthia Irene Blow in Gosport.   Jasper died in June 1999 on the Isle of Wight, aged 84.

Donald McDonald

Donald McDonald (1907-1938) – Sussex Brigader 

Donald McDonald was born in Scotland in 1907. He worked as a window cleaner in Brighton and was a member of the Communist Party. He gave his address as 3b Eaton Place, Brighton, when he volunteered.

3b Eaton Place

He had some previous military experience in the Territorial Army and joined the International Brigades on 16th January 1938. Just three months later, McDonald was killed in April 1938 at Gandesa.

From Barcelona to Burwash

By Mike Anderson

In the summer of 1940 Britain (and its wider empire) faced Nazi Germany alone, and as many had feared and predicted the front line in the fight against the European fascist powers moved from Spain to Sussex and Kent as the Battle of Britain was fought in the skies above the South East.

Preparing the British people for the Blitz with his “Finest Hour” speech, Winston Churchill expressed his belief that the nation would be able to stand up to the ordeal “like the brave men of Barcelona”.

Spain had provided an important training and testing ground for the Luftwaffe. A Nazi propaganda film of August 1940 shows a German Fighter still bearing Spanish Civil War markings over Southern England.

FROM DUSK TILL DAWN.

In Britain’s darkest hour the newly formed Home Guard became an important part of the Nation’s defence measures. One of the Home Guard’s instigators was Tom Wintringham, former commander of the British Battalion in Spain. In 1940 Wintringham and Tom Slater, former commander of the British Anti-Tank Unit in Spain, established the first Home Guard Fieldcraft School at Osterley Park a stately home in West London. Instructors at Osterley Park included exiled Spanish Republicans and International Brigade veteran “Yank” Levy.

 International Brigaders used their experiences in Spain to continue the fight against fascism.

John Langdon-Davies who had been a war correspondent in Spain for the centre-left paper the News Chronicle and was an anti-Fascist and supporter of the Spanish Republic writing “Behind the Spanish Barricades” in 1937.

Langdon-Davies lived at Bowman’s Farm a mile or so South of Burwash in East Sussex. Following Wintringham’s example Langdon-Davies set up a Home Guard Fieldcraft Training School at Bowman’s. In from “Dusk to Dawn” writer A.G. Street described the routine at Bowman’s Farm where trainees including Kent miners, farmers and landowners were told to imagine at every moment that Burwash was in enemy hands with machine guns trained on them.

Artist Roland Penrose who was listed as a Camouflage Officer at Bowman’s Farm was a friend of Picasso’s and in 1938 had organized a tour of his masterpiece “Guernica” to raise funds for the Spanish Republic. Both Penrose and Langdon-Davies had been conscientious objectors in World War 1.

John Langdon-Davies in 1940-anti-Fascist war correspondent and author.

                                                      

Imagine Burwash is in enemy hands  with machine guns trained on you     

 Picasso’s friend Roland Penrose used his artistic  skills to continue the anti-Fascist struggle.

Langdon-Davies used his journalistic skills to edit and write a number of Training Manuals which often used the experiences of fighting Fascism in Spain as examples of how a citizen’s army could continue the struggle if Britain were invaded.

“We shall study in detail the experience gained in the Spanish War…”                        

“Fifth Column is now used for the activities of Nazi sympathizers…..”

TEACHING THE HOME GUARD HOW TO KILL NAZIS.

Bowman’s Farm and Osterley Park had originally been set up as private initiatives by anti-Fascists using their Spanish Civil War experiences as inspiration. They were so successful that the War Office eventually took them over, using them as a blue print for similar establishments.

 Kent Miners, farmers and landowners learning how to kill Nazis in the East Sussex countryside.

                                               

Field Marshall Montgomery inspects a training session at Bowman’s Farm.

Dad’s Army was a popular sitcom about a fictional Home Guard Platoon on the South Coast commanded by the pompous Captain Mainwaring who was educated at Eastbourne Grammar School. The episode “Battle School” features Spanish Republican Instructor Captain Rodrigues who tells the saluting Captain Mainwaring that he isn’t interested in arm waving as he’s only interested in “teaching them how to kill Nazis”.