Vincent Leo Deegan

Vincent Leo Deegan

Vincent Leo Deegan (1906-1938) – Sussex Brigader

Vincent Leo Deegan was born on 20 February 1906 in Lincoln, Lincolnshire.  His father was John Deegan from Naas, County Kildare, Ireland, and his mother Ellen O’Hara from Cavan, County Cavan Ireland.  His Brother who was 9 years older was born in County Kildare so it seems the Deegans were an Irish family who moved to England around the turn of the century.  As Andy Benns notes, ‘his father had served for over 20 years in The Lincolnshire Regiment, being discharged as a Private in 1895 and this explains the eldest brother’s birth in Ireland and why an Irish family would be living in Lincoln when the younger boys were born, including Vincent. Due to his father’s service and likely because of his mother’s death in 1911, Vincent and two of his brothers – Lawrence Sylvester and Terence Patrick – were admitted to the Royal Hibernian Military School in Dublin, with all three enlisting in the military on discharge when they were aged 15’.[1]

Vincent Deegan joined RAF in September 1922, and served until 25 September 1925, ‘when he was discharged due to “Melancholic Fate (Recurred)”, probably depression'[2].  In July 1930 he married Margaret Elizabeth O’Connor (1904-1986) in Brighton, and they had a daughter Sheila (1930-2004).

He was living at 36 Rosehill Terrace, Brighton and presumably working in the town at the time of his departure for Spain and he was a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Between two thirds and three quarters of the British volunteers were members of either the CPGB or its youth wing, the Young Communist League (YCL). Members of the CP were among the most committed anti-fascists at the time, and as for Deegan himself, ‘in skirmishes with Mosley’s Blackshirts in Brighton in 1934 his shirt was ripped by a fascist knife from collar to waist.’

Rosehill Terrace in Brighton – sadly no. 36 was one of those demolished. 

He travelled to Spain and was enrolled, presumably in the British Battalion of the XV International Brigade on 24th February 1937. That is all we know about Vincent’s time in Spain until we find this entry on the IBMT database for March 1938: ‘missing in Aragon’, which suggests that he was killed there.

It’s very sad that we know so little about Deegan, but we can piece together some of the fronts where he was probably deployed from his time of arrival. After initial training, Vincent may have joined the rest of the British Battalion at Jarama. It had suffered devastating losses in mid-February, and another dozen men had been killed on 27th of that month, so by the time Deegan may have arrived, there would have been a general feeling of discontent. Apart from two short rest periods, the British Battalion remained at Jarama until 17th June 1937 when they were withdrawn to Albacete, the International Brigade HQ.[3]

Deegan may have then seen action at the Battle of Brunete, near Madrid, which was fought in the searing July heat of 1937, where thirst and heat exhaustion were almost as much of an enemy as the forces of Franco and his fascist allies. Perhaps he fought with the British Battalion in Aragon between August and October 1937, and later at the Battle of Teruel in the winter of 1937-38, where, by contrast, cold was a killer. Gun parts froze, men suffered from frostbite – some even had to have toes amputated – while others died of hypothermia and exposure, to say nothing of losses on the battlefield.

The People’s Army – the Army of the Republic – seemed to be on the verge of a victory at Teruel, but it was to be short lived. However, they regrouped and returned to Belchite, where Franco’s forces were threatening to take the town back from Republican forces. On 10th March 1937, the Popular Army faced an enemy 150,000 strong, five times as large as their own, with massive air and tank support from Hitler’s Condor Legion. ‘The advancing army swept through them like a tsunami.’[4]

As we only know the month when Deegan went missing, it is likely he died during what was known as the Great Retreats. The XV Brigade ‘began to break up’ [5] and small groups of men became isolated from one another and were rolled back through the towns that skirt the Ebro River, sometimes finding themselves behind enemy lines. It is likely that Deegan was killed at this time because nothing more precise than the month is given.

It appears his immediate family moved back to Lincoln after his death.  As Andy Benns notes, ‘Vincent has not been remembered as an Irish volunteer to the International Brigades, but he would certainly have had an Irish accent of sorts after his schooling and he should be remembered as an Old Boy of the long-forgotten school in Phoenix Park, Dublin’. [6]

Update: Vincent’s grandson Scott Kirsch posted this in 2016 saying that ‘My Grandfather Vincent Leo Deegan died on March 17, 1938, in [Belchite] Caspe, Aragon, Spain, at the age of 32.’

Paying tribute to Vincent Leo Deegan on 18 September 2021

Sources

[1] Communication from Andy Benns, June 2022.

[2] Ibid

[3] Richard Baxell, British Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War  (Warren& Pell Publishing 2004), p. 85

[4] Giles Tremlett, The International Brigades – Fascism, Freedom and the Spanish Civil War (Bloomsbury Publishing 2020), p. 427

[5] Ibid., p. 428

[6]Communication from Andy Benns, June 2022.

 

Translation of original article (pre-updates)

Vincent Leo Deegan nació en marzo de 1906 en Lincoln, Lincolnshire. Su padre era John Deegan de Naas, condado de Kildare, Irlanda, y su madre, Ellen O’Hara, de Cavan, condado de Cavan, Irlanda. Su hermano, que era 9 años mayor, nació en el condado de Kildare, y parece que los Deegan fueron una familia irlandesa que se mudó a Inglaterra a principios de siglo.

Vincent Deegan se unió a la RAF en septiembre de 1922, pero se desconoce el tiempo que estuvo de servicio. En julio de 1930 se casó con Margaret Elizabeth O’Connor (1904-1986) en Brighton y tuvieron una hija, Sheila (1930-2004).

Vivía en el número 36 de Rosehill Terrace, en Brighton, y presumiblemente trabajaba en la ciudad en el momento de su partida a España y era miembro del Partido Comunista de Gran Bretaña. Entre dos tercios y tres cuartos de los voluntarios británicos eran miembros del CPGB o de su ala juvenil, la Young Communist League (YCL). Los miembros del PC se contaban entre los antifascistas más comprometidos en ese momento, y en cuanto al propio Deegan, “en las escaramuzas con los Camisas Negras de Mosley en Brighton en 1934, un cuchillo fascista le rasgó la camisa desde el cuello hasta la cintura”.

Rosehill Terrace en Brighton – lamentablemente, el no. 36 fue uno de los demolidos.

Viajó a España y se inscribió, presumiblemente en el Batallón Británico de la XV Brigada Internacional el 24 de febrero de 1937. Eso es todo lo que sabemos sobre la estancia de Vincent en España hasta que encontramos esta entrada en la base de datos del IBMT, de marzo de 1938: “desaparecido en Aragón”, lo que sugiere que lo mataron allí.

Es muy triste que sepamos tan poco sobre Deegan, pero podemos reconstruir algunos de los frentes en los que probablemente estuvo desplegado desde el momento de su llegada. Después del entrenamiento inicial, Vincent pudo haberse unido al resto del Batallón Británico en Jarama. Habían sufrido pérdidas devastadoras a mediados de febrero, y otra docena de hombres habían sido asesinados el 27 de ese mes, por lo que, para cuando Deegan pudo haber llegado, habría habido un sentimiento general de descontento. Aparte de dos breves períodos de descanso, el Batallón Británico permaneció en el Jarama hasta el 17 de junio de 1937 cuando fue retirado a Albacete, el Cuartel General de la Brigada Internacional. [1]

Es posible que Deegan haya visto acción en la batalla de Brunete, cerca de Madrid, que se libró en el abrasador calor de julio de 1937, donde la sed y el agotamiento por el calor eran casi tan enemigos como las fuerzas de Franco y sus aliados fascistas. Quizás luchó con el Batallón Británico en Aragón entre agosto y octubre de 1937, y más tarde en la Batalla de Teruel en el invierno de 1937-38, donde, por el contrario, el frío fue un asesino. Las partes de las armas se congelaron, los hombres sufrieron congelación, algunos incluso tuvieron que amputar los dedos de los pies, mientras que otros murieron de hipotermia y exposición, por no hablar de las pérdidas en el campo de batalla.

El Ejército Popular, el Ejército de la República, parecía estar al borde de una victoria en Teruel, pero duró poco. Sin embargo, se reagruparon y regresaron a Belchite, donde las fuerzas de Franco amenazaban con arrebatar la ciudad a las fuerzas republicanas. El 10 de marzo de 1937, el Ejército Popular se enfrentó a un enemigo de 150.000 efectivos, cinco veces más grande que el suyo, con un enorme apoyo aéreo y de tanques de la Legión Cóndor de Hitler. “El ejército que avanzaba los atravesó como un tsunami”. [2]

Como solo sabemos el mes en que Deegan desapareció, es probable que muriera durante lo que se conoció como los Grandes Retiros. La XV Brigada “empezó a desintegrarse” [3] y pequeños grupos de hombres quedaron aislados unos de otros y fueron retrocedidos por las localidades que bordean el río Ebro, encontrándose a veces tras las líneas enemigas. Es probable que Deegan fuera asesinado en este momento porque no se da nada más preciso que el mes.

Parece que su familia inmediata se mudó a Lincoln después de su muerte.

Fuentes:

[1] Richard Baxell, Voluntarios británicos en la Guerra Civil Española (Warren & Pell Publishing 2004), p. 85

[2] Giles Tremlett, Las Brigadas Internacionales – Fascismo, Libertad y Guerra Civil Española (Bloomsbury Publishing 2020), p. 427

[3] Ibíd., Pág. 428

2 thoughts on “Vincent Leo Deegan

  1. Vincent was born on 20 February 1906 which is confirmed on his RAF enlistment record. His father had served for over 20 years in The Lincolnshire Regiment, being discharged as a Private in 1895 and this explains the eldest brother’s birth in Ireland and why an Irish family would be living in Lincoln when the younger boys were born, including Vincent. Due to his father’s service and likely because of his mother’s death in 1911, Vincent and two of his brothers – Lawrence Sylvester and Terence Patrick – were admitted to the Royal Hibernian Military School in Dublin, with all three enlisting in the military on discharge when they were aged 15. Vincent served in the RAF only until 25 September 1925, when he was discharged due to “Melancholic Fate (Recurred)”, probably depression. Vincent has not been remembered as an Irish volunteer to the International Brigades, but he would certainly have had an Irish accent of sorts after his schooling and he should be remembered as an Old Boy of the long-forgotten school in Phoenix Park, Dublin.

    • Many thanks Andy – really helpful and much appreciated – I will edit original post a bit with thanks to you.

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