Edmund Updale – Sussex Brigader

Edmund Updale (centre)

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]

Paying tribute to the International Brigaders

Start of the walk outside Hove station

Written by Pauline Fraser for the Morning Star 

A score of walkers arrived at Hove Station on Saturday [18 September 2021] from far and wide to take part in an eight-mile sponsored walk in the footsteps of some of the Sussex International Brigaders.

Assembling on a glorious autumn morning, the walkers visited nine addresses connected with volunteers from Brighton and Hove and the two houses that had welcomed in child refugees from the Basque country in 1937.

The walk was organised by Pauline Fraser, a Trustee of the International Brigade Memorial Trust and convenor of its affiliate, Sussex Brigaders Remembered, which is raising money towards a memorial to the Sussex Brigaders.

The walkers made an eye-catching spectacle as they wove their way through the city carrying the IBMT banner, Republican flags and others relating to Marea Granate. Members of the public asked walkers what it was all about, thus getting the message across more widely.

Information about each Brigader was read out when the walk assembled at the relevant address. At the two former children’s homes, Pauline read from the memoirs of two brothers who stayed there.

Banners outside the Pines

High point of the walk was a meeting between the walkers and members of the Guernica collective outside ‘The Pines’ Nursing Home, formerly Aylesbury House, one of the two homes for Basque refugee children in Hove. The collective brought their beautiful banner, made after the style of Picasso’s famous painting, which the artist had created following the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica. The bombing, which killed or injured some thousands, was carried out by Hitler’s Condor Legion, at Franco’s behest. In addition the banner draws attention to the present-day slaughter of innocent civilians, in particular women and children, in Palestine, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

In 1937 the Conservative government grudgingly permitted the nearly 4,000 child refugees, to enter the UK, so long as they were ‘not a burden on the public purse’. The widespread outpouring of sympathy for the young refugees ensured that they were at least fed and accommodated. Jakob, of Brighton Migrant Solidarity, which had come to support the walk, told us how the current right-wing Conservative government demonises and seeks to actively exclude migrants, including children seeking to be reunited with family members.

If you would like to support the efforts of the walkers and the project to get a memorial erected to the Sussex Brigaders, please donate, through the IBMT website: http://international-brigades.org.uk/, sending an email to admin@international-brigades.org.uk stating that your donation is for the Walk, or by bank transfer to: International Brigade Memorial, Sort code 40-52-40, Account number 00013716, giving the reference Walk’.

Reflecting at the end of the day

Farewell from the walkers

C.L.R. James and the writing of The Black Jacobins in Southwick

[This piece was originally published in Wickerwork, the newsletter of the Southwick Society, and is reproduced here with the permission of the society].

C.L.R. James and the writing of The Black Jacobins in Southwick

The Black Jacobins (1938 cover).

The black radical Trinidadian historian and writer Cyril Lionel Robert James (1901-1989) was one of the twentieth century’s most remarkable Caribbean thinkers.  He is perhaps best remembered as the author of two classic works – a semi-autobiographical cultural history of West Indian cricket, Beyond a Boundary (1963), and The Black Jacobins (1938) about Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian Revolution, which analysed the only successful mass slave revolt in human history, the transformation of colonized slave society of Saint-Domingue into the world’s first independent black republic outside of Africa from 1791-1804.  In his native Trinidad, C.L.R. James also analysed calypso and Carnival, and helped pioneer the West Indian novel with Minty Alley (1936), recently republished by Penguin with an introduction by The Booker Prize 2019 winner Bernadine Evaristo, as well as playing his part in the anti-colonial struggle as a campaigner for “West Indian self-government”.

The Black Jacobins, in the words of Sudhir Hazareesingh, author of the prize-winning biography Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture (2020) remains ‘the classic modern work in the English language’ on the Haitian Revolution.  In 2016 the work was selected as the top work of ‘radical history’ ever written by the Guardian, and it also featured as no. 5 in a list of the top ten works on ‘black radicalism’ by the same publication in 2019.  The work (and a portrayal of James himself) have also featured in the Small Axe series of films produced by the award-winning director Steve McQueen (BBC, 2020).

It has long been known that one key period in which James wrote The Black Jacobins was spent writing while residing on the South coast during 1937.  In his 1938 Preface to the work, James describes how while the Spanish Civil War raged and he was writing the work, ‘it was in the stillness of a seaside suburb that could be heard most clearly and insistently the booming of Franco’s heavy artillery, the rattle of Stalin’s firing squads and the fierce shrill turmoil of the revolutionary movement striving for clarity and influence’ (C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins, Penguin Classics edition, 2001, xx).   In later interviews James would recall spending time in Brighton in this period (see for example, David Widgery, ‘A Meeting with Comrade James’, New Society, 26 June 1980, online here).  James’s publisher Fredric Warburg (of Secker and Warburg, the same publisher of George Orwell in this period) also lived fairly close by in West Hoathly during the 1930s, and testifies to James sometimes visiting them at weekends and playing cricket for the local side.  ‘He was a demon bowler and a powerful if erratic batsman.  The village loved him, referring to him affectionately as “the black bastard”.  In Sussex politics were forgotten…’ (Fredric Warburg, An Occupation for Gentleman, London, 1959, 214-215).

Yet until the Special Branch files on C.L.R. James were released in 2005, it has been difficult to ascertain whereabouts exactly in or near Brighton James stayed and wrote (see the files in The National Archives, KV 2/1824, online here).  We now know from these files that one address CLR James stayed at on 19 July 1937 was on Old Shoreham Road in Southwick, due to an intercepted letter James wrote from this address.   I think he was here partly so he could be close to watch Sussex play cricket, and this property may have been a guesthouse in this period (‘Tintangel’).

Given one of the most important black writers of the twentieth century wrote The Black Jacobins, one of greatest works of ‘black history’ ever written in Southwick – and he may have also written other classic works like World Revolution also at the same address, is something that in our age of #BlackLivesMatter arguably is a piece of local history that deserves to be celebrated and commemorated.

Christian Høgsbjerg

[Dr Christian Høgsbjerg is a Lecturer in Critical History and Politics in the School of Humanities and Social Science at the University of Brighton and the author of C.L.R. James in Imperial Britain (Duke University Press, 2014) and the co-editor of The Black Jacobins Reader (Duke University Press, 2017).  For more on James and the Spanish Civil War, see Christian Høgsbjerg, ‘The Fever and the Fret’: C.L.R. James, the Spanish Civil War and the Writing of The Black Jacobins, Critique, 44:1-2 (2016), 161-177, DOI: 10.1080/03017605.2016.1187858]

Edited to add: After a successful crowdfunder supported by the Southwick Society to raise £1000 for a blue plaque in Southwick for C.L.R. James, an unveiling will now take place at 290 Old Shoreham Road on Friday 17 March 2023 at 2pm – thanks.


Following in the footsteps of the International Brigaders

Sponsored Walk Saturday 18th September 2021

Join Sylvia Knight and Pauline Fraser on this one-off historic walk through Brighton and Hove, stopping where local International Brigaders lived before going to fight fascism in Spain, 1936-1939.

Assembling at Hove Station at 11am on Saturday 18 September, the walk will wind its way through the city, stopping at the Brigaders’ houses and at the two large houses in the city that hosted groups of Basque refugee children. There will be a refreshment stop at 2pm and the walk aims to finish around 4.30pm.

Led by Pauline Fraser, a Trustee of the International Brigade Memorial Trust, walkers will hear from memoirs, letters, or other sources, how the volunteers helped the Spanish Republic in its hour of need and the welcome that local people gave to some of the 4,000 Basque children who came as refugees to Britain in 1937.

To take part in the sponsored walk please contact Pauline by email at: p.fraser@international-brigades.org.uk so that your name can be added to the list and you will receive a full itinerary of the day.

Walkers should encourage sponsors via their person-to-person contacts or through social media.

Not sure about a seven-mile walk? Then sponsor the walkers, by making a donation, either by PayPal at http://international-brigades.org.uk/donation-page; or bank transfer to: International Brigade Memorial, Sort code 40-52-40, Account number 00013716; or by cheque to: IBMT, 37a Clerkenwell Green, London EC1R 0DU. In each case please add a note or reference with the word ‘Walk’ or please accompany your donation with an email to: admin@international-brigades.org.uk.

A third of the money raised will go towards Sussex Brigaders Remembered, a local IBMT affiliate that aims to get a memorial erected in Brighton to some 23 men, and possibly one woman, who volunteered from Sussex between 1936 and 1938. The other two thirds will go to the IBMT which aims to keep alive the memory and spirit of the Brigaders through events and educational work.

If you’ve got any questions about the walk or about making a donation, please contact Pauline by email at: p.fraser@international-brigades.org.uk.

Memories of Girton House – Javier Martinez Castillo

Girton House

Memories of Girton House – Javier Martinez Castillo

‘I arrived in England with my two brothers,  José Maria and Tirso. We came from a very poor family in Bilbao. We came to England on a ship, the ‘Habana’, with 4,000 other Spanish boys and girls. I don’t remember the trip very well as I was only ten at the time and very frightened, but it was a rough voyage and when we reached England, we were taken to a massive camp full of tents. I don’t remember much of the camp either, but I do recall that one day, when I was inside the tent resting my head against the canvas, somebody hit me with a mallet and I was taken to the ‘hospital’ in the camp!

From Southampton we were taken to a colony called Bray Court in Maidenhead. From there, in 1938, we moved to another colony in Brighton. (This was Girton House).’

Brother José Maria has more vivid memories of their arrival, which he recounts in a stream-of-consciousness style.

1937 – North Stoneham Camp, Eastleigh

‘Concentration of 4,000 children plus medics and boy scouts in an encampment forest of tents….protected by a mesh wire barrier enclosing this vast open field camp which during the best part of our stay was pelting with rain consequently forming flood water inundating our tents habitation with mattresses becoming rafts under our bodies reminding me of the Atlantic Ocean crossing from Santurce to Southampton in that overcrowded ‘Habana’ liner epic voyage rough passage sea sickness and tears through the Bay of Biscay on hungry stomachs lamenting the departure from the bomb stricken homeland.

1938 – Girton House Brighton

‘Down from Maidenhead to Sussex seaside once again linking ocean waters to memories floating from Spanish soil….at this home by the sea ozone pungent invigorating air we went swimming often or laid on the pebbles sunbathing and sometimes Padre Don Cirilo would treat us to tea at Lyons Corner House across the main seafront thoroughfare.

‘Eventually the home closed down and we three brothers separated Tirso went to live with Dick Polling active organiser of Girton House – altogether he fostered five Basque children – and my foster father Charles Gildersleve took me to live with his family at Hove Poplar Avenue. Javier sent north to Coventry….my gratitude abounds for the generosity of Mr. Gildersleve (inventor engineer) his wife and daughter for it was while living with them that I attended Hove Grammar School.’

(With thanks to The Basque Children of ‘37 Association, for use of the extracts, which are taken from: ‘Recuerdos – Basque Children Refugees in Great Britain’ edited by Natalia Benjamin and published by Mousehold Press in 2007.)

Note from Pauline Fraser 

Pauline Fraser outside Girton House on 18 September 2021

My late mother, Connie Fraser, researching the Basque children from copies of the ‘Brighton Gazette’ for 1938, compiled a list of the names of eleven boys at Girton House, including José Maria. They may have attended a children’s party that Connie refers to. Or perhaps they were the team that took part in a football match against Brighton boys as a photo of them appears on page 31 of 9th April 1938 edition of the paper. The result was a draw.

A letter from J H Maccullum-Scott appears on 23rd July edition of the ‘Gazette’ in answer to one critical of the Basque boys.

‘The Basque Children’s Committee is non-Party, and non-sectarian, the officers and the members being drawn from all political parties, united together on this occasion in order to carry out humanitarian work.

‘4000 children were brought to this country when it was feared that Bilbao would suffer the same fate as Guernica. 2000 of them have now been happily reunited with their parent, but some 2000 of them still remain with us because their parents are unable to receive them, being either missing political prisoners or refugees themselves.

‘Great Britain is by no means alone in carrying out this work. Seven other countries have given hospitality to these unfortunate little refugees.

‘Even though we are in difficult straits ourselves, surely we can spare something for these victims of the cruellest war of modern times. Their own country cannot help them. What are they to do?’


El Ultimo Brigadista, Josep Almudever, Presente!

Josep Almudever

I received the sad news on 24th May 2021, that Josep Almudever, the last surviving brigader anywhere in the world, has died.  Two of the teenage brothers Josep and Vicent Almudever brothers, of Valencian parentage but raised in France, fought for the Republic in the International Brigades. After the fall of the Republic, Josep suffered years of imprisonment in Franco’s notorious prisons.

I had the honour to meet both brothers on several occasions during commemorative meetings in Spain. I well remember how they kept the audience entertained with Republican songs. Josep Almudever Presente! Now we have their proud legacy to uphold.

Pauline Fraser

Here is the message from Almudena Cros, President of AABI, the Spanish association of friendship with the International Brigades.

‘It is with a heavy heart that l have to let you know of the passing of the very last International Brigades member, Josep Almudever. I am personally feeling so fortunate to have met this irreducible defender of the Spanish Republic, and was lucky to chat with him on the phone in 2019 just before Franco’s remains were going to be dug up and removed from the Valley of the Fallen. I never had the opportunity to share more time with him. The saddest thing is that Josep was so desperate to return to his native Valencia that he agreed to take the vaccine against covid19 but his 102-year old body could not handle it. Rest in Glory, our comrade. Un verdadero Honor haberte conocido, camarada y guia.’

For more information, there is an obituary in the Morning Star of 26th May 2021

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.
Edited to add: A Piece on ‘The Basque Children at Worthing 1937’ that Bill Thornycroft asked his sister Priscilla to write for the Sussex and the SCW presentation back in 2008 – with thanks to Mike Anderson.

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.


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.

Paying tribute to Roy Watts on 18 September 2021