Edmund Updale (1913-1976) – Sussex Brigader
It was only in 2012 that the family of Edmund (‘Ted’) Updale (born 29 July 1913, died 12 January 1976) found out he had been honoured as one of the ‘Worthing Five’. They had always known he had fought in Spain and that he had lost a leg at the Battle of the Ebro, but he had never mentioned Worthing at all.
It seems possible that his link with Worthing came through the refugee children who arrived there in 1937. Ted, who was born in 1913, never knew his parents and had been brought up in the Foundling Hospital in London. It seems likely that he would have responded to the call for volunteers when the British government refused to care for the new arrivals. Maybe this led onto his military involvement. Between January and July 1938 he fought at Salada, Segura del Banos, Belchite, Batea, and the Ebro, where he was attached to an American battalion, and lost a leg. His injuries were treated by the inspirational British doctor serving with the International Brigade, Alexander Tudor-Hart.
But in some ways, Ted was different from the other volunteers. The description of him on and off official forms rings true. A. Olenrenshaw wrote that Edmund Updale was ‘Not very well-developed politically, but a good type who was always appeared anxious to learn’. He was a passionate idealist – a ferocious opponent of injustice – but not an idealogue.
Ted’s reaction to fighting in Spain was similar to that of soldiers in the First World War. He was horrified by the carnage. He was also deeply critical of the authoritarianism of some of the commanders on his own side, and of the military shortcomings of some of the political leaders. He expressed this on an official form late in 1938. He was asked ‘What have you especially learnt in the political and military fields since you have been in Spain, and what can you take back to the anti-fascist organisations in your own country?’ His answer was:
‘In the political field, have learnt that a sound knowledge of the cause for which one is fighting enables one to suffer hardships and deprivations which would otherwise cause discontent. In the military field, that political leaders are not necessarily military leaders. While a military leader must be sound politically, the knowledge of what a man is fighting for is not sufficient justification for entrusting to him the lives of men and the conduct of an important military operation. Officers must be soldiers. Commissars politicians.’
He was putting his point rather politely. At that stage he was still dependent on the political machine to get him back to Britain.
Edmund Updale’s hatred of conflict lived with him into the Second World War, where his injuries kept him out of the forces, and landed him in a desk job allocating troops to the front. Years later, he spoke with guilt and horror about his part in sending young men to their deaths.
He went onto become a journalist on papers such as the Sunday Pictorial, the Daily Mirror and the Daily Sketch. He was proud of his stand against fascism, but although he maintained his opposition to Franco for the rest of his life, and refused to buy Spanish goods or travel to fascist Spain, a stronger emotion was his contempt for the political and diplomatic failures which had made the slaughter necessary at all. In later years, he came to despise people he judged as glorifying the war itself, or trading on their association with it. He stayed away from reunions and commemorations. Maybe he would have concealed the little he told his family about his time in Spain if he had not had to explain his false leg.
Edmund Updale’s experiences in Spain left him with a deep distrust of political organisations. For the rest of his life he was a passionate non-joiner. He felt personally oppressed by the practical necessity to belong to the NUJ [National Union of Journalists] in what was, in the sixties, the virtual closed shop of Fleet Street. He never joined a political party, and while he would sometimes cast a vote in the hope of getting someone out, he rarely showed personal enthusiasm for any individuals in politics. He outlived Franco by just six weeks, and died on the 12 January 1976.
For all his misgivings about fighting, he left his four children (who were the only blood relatives he ever knew) and the 14 grandchildren and great-grandchildren he never met, with an admiration for his courage and idealism in the 1930s.
[This biographical portrait was written by the family of Edmund Updale and is reproduced here with our thanks to them]