Julian Bell’s resting place preserved

From the IBMT e-Newsletter: 

Madrid suspends plans to build over mass grave site

An international outcry has forced the Madrid city authorities to freeze plans to build a large rubbish depot on top of the unmarked graves of British and other international volunteers who fought against Franco in the Spanish Civil War.

Among those believed to be buried there is the poet Julian Bell, a nephew of Virginia Woolf and member of the Bloomsbury Group. Bell’s death came while driving an ambulance on 17 July 1937 during fighting around Brunete, west of Madrid.

Madrid council’s decision came after protests from the IBMT and memorial groups in France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Serbia and the US. These were coordinated by the Madrid-based AABI Friends of the International Brigades.

The IBMT has now been told by the Madrid city council, run by Spain’s right-wing Popular Party, that an archaeological survey of the site will take place before any work begins. As required under Spain’s Law of Democratic Memory, the aim will be to confirm whether it is a mass grave of victims of the civil war.

IBMT Chair Jim Jump welcomed the council’s positive response, noting that the remains of more than 500 British and Irish volunteers are scattered in unmarked and mass graves across Spain.

He added: ‘It is important for their dignity and to respect the cause of anti-fascism and democracy which took them to Spain that their resting places are identified and preserved.’

Return of British Battalion of International Brigade to Newhaven – 85th anniversary (7/12/1938-7/12/2023)

Members of the Sussex International Brigaders Remembered Group gathered at Newhaven Harbour Station to commemorate the 85th Anniversary of the British Battalion’s return from the Spanish Civil War.

The International Brigades were men and women from over fifty nations who fought in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), defending the elected Republican Government against General Franco’s rebels and his military backers Hitler and Mussolini. Two thousand five hundred men and women from Britain and Ireland volunteered to go to Spain, where over five hundred died fighting fascism.
Addressing the departing International Brigades in Barcelona, Republican Leader Dolores Ibarruri told the departing men and women, “You can go proudly. You are history. You are legend”.
The returning British Battalion sailed from Dieppe arriving at Newhaven in the late afternoon, before boarding a train to London at the Harbour Station. An enthusiastic crowd of over twenty thousand were at Victoria Station to welcome them home.

Pauline Fraser, daughter of International Brigade Volunteer Harry Fraser, laid flowers on the station platform, saying,

Group Treasurer, Mike Anderson, spoke about the example set by the International Brigaders. “As well as commemorating an important historical event, we are here because of the example set by these brave men and women. They continue to inspire us in our struggle against fascism and the far right.” 

Commemorating Tarancon, Jarama and the battle for Madrid February 2023

24th February 2023 – honouring those who died at Tarancon

Laying flowers in Tarancon cemetery

The weekend’s commemorations started on Friday 24th February with a visit to the cemetery at Tarancon, a town near Madrid with a proud socialist history. It was a Republican stronghold during the Civil War and the population were to suffer greatly for their stand. During the Civil War the town bore the brunt of bombing and after the defeat of the Republic vicious reprisals were meted out to those suspected of Republican links.

In the cemetery there are several memorials: one marks the names of the thirty nine Scottish Brigaders who fell at Jarama, another, the civilians of Tarancon tortured and killed under Franco’s dictatorship. The most recent plaque is to those killed while fighting in the anti-fascist militias and the Republican Popular Army. We know that maybe three Scots were originally buried in the Cemetery. A number of Scots Brigaders, wounded at Jarama, were taken to one of the hospitals in the town that received many of the wounded from the battle.

After paying our respects to the Republican dead, we were taken to the town hall at Morata de Tajuna where Jose Maria Olivera Marco, an historian of the area, gave a fascinating presentation of the painstaking work he and his team had undertaken to locate the exact spot where the memorial to the British Battalion stood. Destroyed by the fascists, it contained a precious record of those who fell during an offensive on 27th February, two weeks after the initial British involvement in the fighting. Olivera and his team are in the process of re-creating the memorial exactly as it was, including all the names of the fallen. We were taken to view the original site at a distance, because the landowner has denied permission for the memorial to be erected there. However, an alternative site has been designated nearby.

Thomas Elliot, a shop assistant and member of the Labour Party from Worthing, killed at Jarama in June 1937, was probably one of the last British volunteers to lose his life in the battle, as the British Battalion was withdrawn from the line about that time and new recruits sent south to Pozoblanco, near Cordoba.

We were then taken to a vantage point above the Knoll and Suicide Hill where so many of the newly-formed British Battalion had fought and died. Mike Arnott, Scotland representative of the IBMT, explained their significance in the action of the British Battalion at Jarama. Of the 500 men of British Battalion who went into action at Jarama on February 12th 1937, at least 136 were killed, a similar number seriously wounded, and fifty left the front line, although some of these later returned to the Battalion. (see Richard Baxell ‘British Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War p. 84.) These casualties were to be the worst suffered by the British Battalion in a single day in the entire course of the war.

Manuel Moreno and Pauline Fraser near Suicide Hill

February 25th 2023 – Jarama March pays tribute to the Dombrowski Battalion

Beneath the bright blue skies of a February morning, 500 people retraced the course of an easterly section of the southern front of the Battle of Jarama. We started from the landmark of the Portland cement works in Valderrivas to follow the route to the monument that the Council of Arganda had commissioned in 2016 to honour the Polish Dabrowski (Dombrowski) Brigade, which had fought in the area. Miguel Ángel, member of the Asociación TAJAR, a local group from Morata de Tajuna, acted as our guide. He showed us key sites along the way where action took place. Representatives of associations of friends of the International Brigades from France, Italy, England, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, the USA, and of course Poland, took part. Also accompanying us were the Mayor of Morata, and a delegation representing the Arganda Council. Arganda, like Morata, one of the small towns that ring the Jarama battlefield, and has played an important role in keeping alive the memory of those who fought and died at the Battle of Jarama. Among the marchers was Oisín, son of the late Eddie O’Neill, who had played a leading role over the years in the Jarama March.

Gathered around the Dombrowski (Dabrowski) memorial

At the memorial to the Dombrowskis floral tributes were laid and Inga, one of the Polish comrades, gave a colourful and moving account of the life of her grandfather, who was killed at Jarama. For more on the Dombrowskis, follow the link to the piece on the IBMT website.

https://international-brigades.org.uk/news-and-blog/remembering-the-dabrowski-battalion/

Inga speaking at the memorial to the Polish Brigaders

The day after the Jarama March, some of us took part in a walk around the Parque de Oeste in the company of Seve Montero, an outstanding authority on the military history of the Civil War in Madrid. He showed us buildings in the newly-opened University that, even today, bear the marks of shelling. He told us how bravely the Dombrowskis fought, using books to ward off the bullets, but only six remained alive at the end of the battle. They made a heroic contribution to stop the fascists taking Madrid. Franco’s forces never took the capital until the defeat of the Republic at the end of the Civil War.

British Brigader Sam Russell, later to become foreign editor of the ‘Daily Worker’ and then ‘Morning Star’, served with the Dombrowskis during that crucial battle and recollected in later life how the books acted as shields in what was the first urban battle at close quarters in modern times, preceding by several years the Battle of Stalingrad.

Almudena Cros, President of AABI, Spanish Association of Friends of the International Brigades, speaking, with Severiano Montero in foreground

One of a line of fascist gun emplacements. This was as far as they got in the battle for Madrid.

I was pleased to meet Nancy Hall Brooks, daughter of a volunteer with the Lincolns. We found we had much in common when comparing our family histories.

Nancy Hall Brooks and Pauline Fraser in front of the memorial to the International Brigades, University City, Madrid

Pauline Fraser

Those who fought with Orwell – an online talk by Andy Durgan

Those who fought with Orwell. The international volunteers of the POUM image

Those who fought with Orwell: The international volunteers of the POUM – a talk to the George Orwell Society by Andy Durgan

Sunday 9 October 2022, 6pm online

Andy Durgan is a historian who has lived and worked in Barcelona for forty years. He has published extensively on the history of the Spanish Civil War and its origins, in particular in relation to the history of the POUM. He was Historical Advisor on Ken Loach’s award-winning film Land and Freedom. He is a member of the Fundació Andreu Nin.

He will speak about his new book “Voluntarios por la revolución. La milicia internacional del POUM en la Guerra Civil Española”. The book deals with the little-known history of the hundreds of foreign volunteers (apart from Orwell) who fought with the POUM during the first year of the Spanish Civil War. (Laertes, ISBN13: 9788418292682)

For further information please also see the review on the Orwell Society website at https://orwellsociety.com/international-volunteers-of-the-poum

Register here:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/those-who-fought-with-orwell-the-international-volunteers-of-the-poum-tickets-405142862207

Commemorating Paul Robeson in Eastbourne

The refurbished Winter Garden in Eastbourne is going to dedicate a special Paul Robeson Room in honour of Robeson’s legendary performances at the venue during the 1930s period and a special commemorative programme of events is being put together to help launch this.  So far these include a special performance of ‘Call Mr Robeson’ by Tayo Aluko at the Grove Theatre in Eastbourne on Friday 4 November 2022 – details of how to book tickets please see here: https://grovetheatre.onlineticketseller.com/events/20265

Advert for a record Paul Robeson made to raise funds for National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief

Reginald Saxton – Sussex Brigader

Dr Reginald Saxton (1911 – 2004) – doctor and Sussex Brigader

Dr. Reginald Soames Saxton was born in Cape Town, South Africa, where his father was a university lecturer in botany, on 13th July 1911. The family moved to India, where Reg was sent to boarding school. He told me of the horrific punishments inflicted on boys who escaped from such barbaric conditions. He was later sent to Repton public school in England, which he also thoroughly disliked, before going on to Cambridge, where he switched studies from sciences to medicine, having wanted to be a doctor from an early age.

He completed his medical training at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, London and became a member of the Inter-Hospital Socialist Society. His decision to join the Communist Party was prompted after buying a copy of the Daily Worker on Paddington Station during his daily commute from Reading. “Here’s common sense”, he thought. After visiting the Soviet Union in 1935, Reg became a general practitioner in Reading.

Reg was one of the first volunteers to serve with the Spanish Medical Aid Committee (SMAC) and arrived in Spain on 15th September 1936. Later, as a member of the unit, he joined the 35th Division Medical Division Unit, or Sanidad, attached to XIV Division (French) of the International Brigade.

Reg left a contemporary statement about his reasons for volunteering to help in Spain: “We are going to help the wounded of both sides…We cannot of course park on both sides, so we shall go out on the side of the Government, with whom we have sympathy as the democratically elected Government of Spain.”

Reg sent detailed accounts of his time in Spain to his mother, who prepared them for publication in the local press in Reading.

Reg set up an operating and classifying centre in a temporary hospital in Villarejo de Salvanés during the Jarama battle. In collaboration with Doctors Norman Bethune of Canada, and Frederic Duran-Jorda of Spain, he made a great contribution to the development of the Blood Transfusion Service in Spain, developing new methods for storage and transport of blood at the front. He had six weeks’ home leave after Jarama and saw the Paris Exhibition, where he doubtless saw Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ in the Spanish Pavilion, on his way back. He also served at Segovia and the Aragón front.

During the Second World War Reg joined the British Army Transfusion Service where he was posted to Burma. He was mentioned in dispatches for bravery and given the rank of Major.

After the war Reg practised as a GP in Brighton where he met his wife Betty, who was a great support to him, particularly when they moved to Wales to work with Dr. Julian Tudor-Hart, son of Dr. Alexander Tudor-Hart, a medical comrade in Spain. In 1976 Saxton retired to Ripe in East Sussex.

Reg continued to play an active part in politics, particularly in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) where he took his young children on the Aldermaston marches, campaigning on behalf of Cuba, and vociferously opposing the war in Iraq.

While in Spain, Reg Saxton had met Rosaleen Smythe, who worked as a hospital administrator and the two fell in love. After the war they went to live in Brighton together and made plans to marry, but after objections from Reg’s family, Rosaleen went to live in Canada, where she married Allan Ross, a former International Brigader, whom she later divorced.

In 1996 Rosaleen and Reg met again at the 1996 Homenaje in Spain to the International Brigades. After the death of his his wife Betty in 1998, Reg went to live with Rosaleen in Canada. They returned to live in Sussex in 2002. Dr. Saxton died in Worthing on 27th March 2004 and his body was donated to medical science. After the memorial meeting for Reg, Rosaleen returned to her home in Vancouver, where I spent an enjoyable week with her in 2008 after attending the unveiling of the ALBA national memorial in San Francisco.

Pauline Fraser

*****

Acknowledgements: We Cannot Park on Both Sides – Reading Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War 1936-39 by Mike Cooper and Ray Parkes (Reading International Brigades Memorial Committee, 2000); Salud: British Volunteers in the Republican Medical Service during the Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 by Linda Palfreeman (Sussex Academic Press, 2012); Reg Saxton’s obituary published in Issue eight/July 2004 issue of the IBMT newsletter.

****

Brighton and Hove buses dedicated a bus to Dr Reginald Saxton

Harry (Henry Balfour) Fraser – Sussex Brigader

Harry (Henry Balfour) Fraser – Sussex Brigader

(13.02.1906 – 10.09.1998)

Harry Fraser was born on 13th February 1906 near Holloway Road, Islington, North London. When he was thirteen and a half, Harry, an only child, was taken out of school as the family moved to Glasgow where Harry’s father had accepted a job. Unfortunately, after less than a year, Mr. Fraser senior lost his job as the whole of Glasgow ground to a halt when the great shipping strike took place. The family moved back to London, but things were no better. “We had a really thin time,” Harry told the Imperial War Museum interviewer in 1976. “I could quite understand the feelings of people made homeless.”

Back in London, aged fifteen, Harry got his first job at a wholesale chemists called Gales. The pay was very poor and Harry joined the chemical workers’ union, determined to get some improvement, but instead, at the age of twenty one, he got the sack. After that he did various jobs but was never out of work for long.

Harry set his sights on getting work in the electrical industry and to equip himself with the necessary skills, he attended evening classes, mainly in mathematics, science, engineering and electronics. He remained a lifelong learner, attending his last OU course in mathematics at the age of 89.

In his spare time, Harry was a keen swimmer and springboard diver. He worked for a while as a lifeguard at Hackney swimming baths and was proud of his lifesaving medal.

By the time Harry was sacked from his first job,  he had begun to take an interest in politics, asking himself: “Why should things be this awful?”  When the General Strike took place, he played a small part in it, and a fortnight later, joined the Communist Party of Great Britain. He was to remain a loyal Communist for the rest of his days.

In November or December 1936 Harry applied to join the International Brigades. He was interviewed at 16 King Street, the central London office of the Communist Party, by Robbie Robson, a member of the Communist Party Executive. With his record, Harry thought there would be no doubt that he would be accepted.

Robson asked: “Have you had any military experience?” Harry said: “No”. Robson said: “Do you drive a heavy lorry?” Harry said: “No”. He asked if Harry had any medical experience. Harry said: “No, I’ve got a lot of clerical experience if that might help”. “Oh, we’ve got hundreds of people who can do that. You’re no good to us. Don’t bother.” So Harry left, thinking: “You’re a fine comrade, I don’t think.”

After that disappointment, Harry saw a recruitment advertisement for the Royal Air Force, applied and was accepted. One of the questions he was asked was: “Are you a member of the Communist Party”, to which Harry answered with a forthright: “No”. After three months square bashing, and taking part in the Passing Out Parade, Harry waited eagerly for his leave and when it came, he went to see Dave Springhall, who was on the District Committee of the Communist Party.  When Harry told Springhall what had happened at the interview with Robson, Springhall said that Robson didn’t know what he was talking about, signed a paper and told him to take it to King Street. He explained that Harry would get his fares and his ticket and must get a friend to post his RAF uniform back. Harry was asked to go with another volunteer, who he knew, and then they were asked to take a third, who neither of them knew. Harry only had the clothes he stood up in and eight shillings. The Party had given them thirty shillings between them.

They spent three days in Paris, during which they visited the Paris Exhibition, where the Spanish Pavilion showed Picasso’s masterwork, ‘Guernica’. Then they were called to the Place du Combat, Headquarters of the French Communist Party. There the trio were given their instructions: “Go to Gare St. Lazare, take the 9.20pm train to Béziers, do NOT take the train that stops at Nimes.” They got on the right train, but it stopped at Nimes. The volunteers were very worried, but to their relief, the train pulled out of Nimes and trundled on to Béziers, where they had been told to identify a contact from certain details he was wearing, but were not to speak to him and must remain sixty yards behind. It was real cloak-and-dagger stuff! They did as they were told and finally they arrived at a hotel where they had to stay quiet upstairs.

Several days later they were told to board a coach which took them to the foothills of the Pyrenees. This first attempt had to be abandoned and the volunteers were taken back to Béziers. On the second attempt they were guided across the Pyrenees by a smuggler who knew the route well.  After an exhausting eleven or twelve mile route march at breakneck speed, stumbling up mountainsides and splashing through streams, in one of which Harry lost his treasured Parker pen, they arrived at the frontier as dawn rose  – the mountains fell away and they were in Spain. Harry’s official date of entry into Spain is given as 27 August 1937, Brigade number 1264.

They were taken in trucks to the Castle of Figueres, a vast and impregnable 18th century fortress, where they stayed for four days. Then they were driven to Barcelona and on by train to Valencia where they passed some enjoyable hours waiting for the Madrid train. There was a holiday atmosphere, with melons and cognac on sale and Harry fell in with a bunch of heavy-drinking Scottish steelworkers.

Their destination was Tarazona, an ancient market town not far from Albacete, the HQ of the International Brigades. At parade, there was a call for volunteers for the machine guns. Harry volunteered with half a dozen others. Some stayed back as they wanted to go to officer training school. “We didn’t want to go as officers,” Harry explained to the IWM interviewer, “we just wanted to go and fight.” In the course of training, a bet was made as to how quickly a machine-gun could be reassembled and Harry was proud to have done it in 44 seconds, timed on a stopwatch. After a month’s training, Harry was enrolled as a member of No.2 Machine Gun Company of the British Battalion.

The newly-trained recruits were moved up to Fuentes de Ebro by night. They were issued with five rounds of ammunition each and told that was all they would get. They came under rifle fire and were told to duck down and get into a shallow trench. Then they were given the grim news that British Battalion Commander Captain Harold Fry and the Battalion Commissar had been killed. After ten days they were withdrawn from the line and taken to Mondejar where they met up with comrades from No.1 Machine Gun Company.

In January 1938 the Company was taken up to Teruel by lorry, but the vehicle kept slipping back in the snow so they had to get out and walk. Harry and his comrades came under shellfire for the first time on Sugar Loaf Hill. The shells were coming over at the rate of about 120 a minute according to Battalion Commander Captain Sam Wild. This continued all day from 8am until dark, about 6pm. The enemy were trying to knock out the machine gun post, but they kept missing. Barney Shields, a veteran of the First World War, stayed on the gun all day.

Harry relates that this was the day that Thomas Moore was killed. Harry mistakenly refers to him as ‘young George Moore’ on the IWM tape, but correct first name was Thomas as recorded on the Roll of Honour. The machine gun company were in a dugout watching the battle. About half a mile away, some enemy soldiers attempted to run up the trench, but the gun was turned on them and they retreated.

Sam Wild asked Harry and two others to go over to assist the carabineros. There was a Spanish officer, clearly an enemy, waving his gun around. Harry felt he could have ‘got him’ with the machine-gun – as he rated himself quite a good shot – but the officer in command told the men to hold their fire as ‘it might have been one of ours’. Harry said that couldn’t have been the case as the officer had got round from the other side of Sugar Loaf Hill.

Sam Wild gave Harry and two others a message to take to the Russian commander. They passed by two dead volunteers, one of whom had had his leg blown off and his entrails were falling out. When they delivered the message, which was a request to advance, the big, fat Russian commander told them to go back to their captain and tell him: “He could understand their enthusiasm, he could understand their captain’s enthusiasm, but they should go back to Captain Wild and tell him that he was in charge!”

They could see the town where they had blown up the prominent hill known as El Muleton to the north of Teruel. In one incident six of the Machine Gun Company were sitting down taking a rest, when a tracer bullet came right through the middle of them, just missing all of them. Harry commented that there were many near misses like that during the war.

The battalion lost a third of its number at Teruel, according to Richard Baxell (‘British Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War’). It was the coldest winter that century: apart from casualties of war, volunteers also suffered from frostbite and some died of hypothermia, while rifles and other matériel froze. The Battalion was a month at Teruel before being withdrawn to Mondejar for an all too brief period of rest.  Then they were taken by train back to Quinto where there had been a second battle. The enemy were forced to retreat because they had been without water for five days. Then the Battalion advanced to Belchite.

Harry remembers seeing former Battalion Commander Paddy O’Daire when they were at the Estado Mayor (HQ). He was a captain then but later further promoted.

Harry escaped injury, but was twice hospitalised due to illness. The first time was before Teruel when he got jaundice. He was kept in hospital for a fortnight and ordered to rest. After Teruel, Harry got a leg infection, possibly caused by shrapnel and couldn’t walk, so he was sent to hospital for a second time.

During the last six weeks of fighting on the Ebro, Sam Wild appointed Harry postman for the Battalion. He was nicknamed: ‘Harry the Post’ and so on. Harry thought it was rather demeaning and prevaricated, but Sam Wild said: “That’s an order”.

It was there that Harry caught a glimpse of George Green who he had met previously. He thought he would like to have a chat with him and asked Sam Wild where he was. “He’s dead,” said Sam bluntly. Years later Harry visited a Scots volunteer in hospital in Uxbridge who explained the circumstances in which George had been killed. He was sitting on one side of a boulder and George was on the other, when a bomb came down on George’s side and killed him.

When the Brigades were withdrawn, the surviving members of the British Battalion were sent to Ripol, near the border with France, to await repatriation. Below the town on the Ripol River were a number of textile mills, all English-owned. They turned out the ‘Gents’ natty suiting’ that the Barcelona office workers wore. The British influence must have started following the defeat of Napoleon in the Peninsular Wars, Harry thought.

The returning volunteers were taken from Ripol to Puigcerda and from there in cattle trucks on a train the short distance into France. The French police, in their smart uniforms, served them omelette, nice French bread and butter – something they hadn’t seen for a couple of years – but they weren’t allowed out of the station. Perhaps the French authorities feared there would be a massive demonstration of support to bid them farewell. Then they got back in the train and were taken all the way back home arriving to a heroes’ welcome at Victoria Station on 7th December 1938.

After his return, Harry gave himself up to the RAF. He was court martialled and sentenced to a week or two in RAF Halton’s ‘glasshouse’, or prison. One of the top brass at the station asked Harry why he had gone to Spain. He replied that he wanted to stop the spread of fascism across Europe and the officer said that he liked a man with the courage of his convictions.

Back in civvy street, Harry landed a job at Plesseys electronics company in Ilford, Essex. While staying in Ilford he met Con Harvey and they married in October 1940.

During the Second World War, Harry worked on radar, under an essential work order, for Cossors, one of the firms that developed the Chain Home early warning radar network for the RAF. He continued to work for electrical and electronics firms until his retirement in 1971.

In 1978 Harry and Con moved to Brighton, where Harry attended local Communist Party and other left-wing meetings and continued his studies in maths.

Harry and Con in the doorway of 16 Carlyle Street, Brighton

Harry and Con celebrated their Golden Wedding in October 1980.

One of Harry’s hobbies was photography. Looking for the perfect shot, he aimed for quality rather than quantity. Perhaps this reflected a lifetime spent struggling for a better society.

 

Pauline Fraser, with thanks to Margaret A. Brooks, the Imperial War Museum interviewer of Harry

Ethel Mannin and John McNair speak on fascism in Spain in Hastings, April 1938

If George Orwell was the most famous of those who volunteered with the Independent Labour Party (ILP) to go and fight in Spain, he was not the only one. John McNair for example ran the ILP’s office out in Barcelona, until the suppression of the POUM, when like Orwell he returned to Britain. In April 1938, McNair spoke about his experiences in Spain at an ILP meeting in Hastings.

John McNair

The socialist novelist Ethel Mannin and her partner, the anti-imperialist writer Reginald Reynolds also spoke at the meeting in Hastings. Mannin had thrown herself into rallying solidarity from her base in Britain during the Spanish Civil War from 1937 onwards with the return to UK from Emma Goldman, while Reginald Reynolds had helped Basque children refugees settle in Britain after 4000 arrived in Southampton, getting them housed at Stoneham.  Mannin alongside the American anarchist Emma Goldman worked closely with Solidaridad Internacional Antifascista to try and build support in Britain for the POUM and the Spanish anarchists who they felt were bearing the brunt of Stalinist repression in Spain.  Mannin spoke alongside Reginald Reynolds at many public meetings with Emma Goldman in this period and also met George Orwell after his return from fighting with the POUM, and contributed to collections such as Spain and Us (with J.B. Priestley, Rebecca West, Stephen Spender, Francis Meynell, Louis Golding, T. F. Powys, J. Langdon-Davies, Catherine Carswell) (1936) and Authors Take Sides on the Spanish War (1937).

Ethel Mannin chairing a London meeting in support of the Spanish Anarchist CNT. Jack White, the Irish anarchist from Antrim is on the left, Emma Goldman is standing on the right

On Wednesday 27 April 1938, the Eastbourne Gazette reported the following meeting that took place at the ‘Red House’ pub in Hastings on Sunday 24 April 1938:

‘Women and Fascism: Miss Ethel Mannin at Red House’
Eastbourne Gazette, 27 April 1938.

‘Disclaiming any ability as a speaker, Miss Ethel Mannin, the famous novelist, was content to occupy the chair at an Independent Labour Party meeting which was held at the Red House on Sunday evening.

In simple language she gave her reasons for urging women to take a keener interest in politics.  Stressing the lessons to be learnt from events in Europe Miss Mannin declared that if Fascism came to England in any form it would be the end of whatever liberty we enjoyed today.

‘For instance’ she said ‘women today please themselves how many children they have.  Under Fascism they would have to bear as many children as the State required.  English mothers today complain of the amount of militarism in schools, but under Fascism the teaching of militarism to the children would be intensified.’

To combat the threat of fascism it was not enough for women to link up with feminist movements.  It was necessary for them to ally themselves with the whole working class movement, and fight alongside their husbands, sweethearts and brothers for liberty.

Urging women to carry political thinking to its logical conclusion, Miss Mannin pressed the case of the Independent Labour Party, which she described as the only surviving revolutionary Socialist party.

The principal speaker at the meeting was Mr John McNair, who has had first hand experience of the war in Spain.  On this subject he spoke of the indescribable horror of the air raids on Madrid and Barcelona.  He said that the damage done by the aerial torpedoes far surpassed in death and destruction the bombs dropped by Zeppelins on London during the Great War.  One of these torpedoes was sufficient to reduce a seven or eight storey block of flats to a shambles of bricks and mortar, in which would be found mangled fragments of women and children who had thus been murdered in their beds.

The problem that faced us today, the speaker declared, was how to save what remained of civilisation.  The civilisations of Greece and Rome perished, and there was the possibility that Western civilisation would follow suit, with a reversion to barbarism.  The ancient civilisations decayed because they were built on the backs of slaves, and in all essentials, the workers today were slaves today because it was impossible for them to live unless they accepted the conditions laid down by the governing classes. This form of slavery would persist until the workers were economically free.

He went onto describe how in the past five years a wind of violence, passion and brutality had swept across Europe, destroying all the decent things in life.  He denied that there was any inherent difference between our form of democratic capitalism and Fascism, and that wherever capitalism was threatened the owning classes set up a dictator to defend and perpetuate the capitalistic system.  British capitalism had not yet needed Fascism, but if it were needed – and the portents indicated that the time might not be remote – they would not hesitate to institute some form of Fascism in this country.

Mr Reginald Reynolds, who also spoke, declared that Parliamentary democracy in this country had always been a farce because it was controlled by the ruling class.