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Obituary: James Maley by Wiley Maley

Scottish Communist and Spanish Civil War combatant

Born February 19, 1908; Died April 9, 2007.
The Herald, 14.04.07

JAMES Maley, a born fighter, threw himself headfirst into the fray on February 19, 1908. His father, Ned, was a Mayo man, his mother, Anne Sherlock, Glaswegian. Raised in Stevenson Street in the Calton district of Glasgow's east end, James attended St Alphonsus.

An older brother - an altar boy - died young, leaving James, an older sister, Annie, two younger brothers, Willie and Timmy, and a younger sister, Mary.

James worked from an early age helping his mother - a hawker - wheel her barrow around Glasgow. Sometimes he'd take the empty barrow home with his wee brothers sitting in it. Out on an errand in 1919, James took a detour to George Square, where the tanks had rolled in to crush dissent.

In the 1920s, he listened to his father's friends, back from the war, discuss the state of the world. This was Red Clydeside, the Calton a seedbed of socialism.

In 1926, during the General Strike, hospitalised with pneumonia, James had part of his lung removed. Judged to be at death's door, he was given the last rites, but heard the sound of distant music. Whether it was the priest or the pipes that did it, he was soon back on his feet. Within a couple of years, he buried his own father.

In 1929-30, James left Glasgow for Cleveland, Ohio, where three Irish aunts had emigrated. When remarks were passed about the new generation of immigrants, he took the humph and decided to go home to Glasgow. When he knocked on the door, tanned and smartly dressed, carrying a case, his brother, thinking he was selling something, closed it on him.

In 1932, James joined the Communist Party, emerging as a noted public speaker at Glasgow Green. Walking along Argyle Street, trams tooted their horns, acknowledging a firebrand socialist. In 1936, James answered the call of the Spanish Republic after hearing La Pasionaria on the radio.

He was in action at the Battle of Jarama in February 1937, part of a heavy-machine-gun company, covering the retreat for three days. Captured and sentenced to 20 years, he was released in a prisoner swap. At his mother's request, he didn't return to Spain.

Back in Glasgow, James continued to speak on public platforms, often ones he carried under his own arm. Before the war he worked in Parkhead Forge, leading a strike. When war broke out, he served in Burma and India, where he made contact with communists newly released from prison.

After the war, James did no more public speaking. He sensed a change in the British working class.

He worked in Maryhill Barracks as a telephone operator until 1947, walking home each night to his mother's house in Shettleston. Around this time, he went to the Highlander's Institute, a popular social venue, where he met his future bride. He was 40, his next life just beginning. Anne Watt, from Cowcaddens, was 26. James asked Anne to dance and never let her dance with anyone else.

James proposed within two weeks, and in March 1948 they were married. Friends said she'd be a young widow. They were wrong.

He could be dogmatic - his mother recommended the frying pan for his head - but they were a pair of lovebirds. Within the next 14 years they had nine children, five daughters - Barbara, Cathy, Marina, Anne and Patricia - followed by four sons, Jimmy, Willy, John and Eddy.

Although he never smoked or drank, James was the life and soul, a popular local presence in Possilpark. He was raised a Catholic, but his children went to non-denominational schools. Once, a priest came to the door asking after this big family with the Irish surname, muttering the word "turncoat". James said he couldn't be in heaven knowing there was one person in hell.

An avid reader and educator, James borrowed books from the Book Exchange at Gilmorehill, giving his children a week to read them before taking them back in return for others. The small bookshelf at home never expanded, but the reading list was better than anything to be had at school.

He was never one for harping on the past. A volunteer for liberty in 1936, one of what Pablo Neruda called that "thin and hard and mature and ardent brigade of stone", he remained a committed socialist and internationalist to the end, but he was passionately interested in what was happening in the here-and-now.

He followed Channel 4's evening news religiously, waiting patiently till Anne had watched Emmerdale before switching channels. He lived in the present, which is why he was still kicking at 99. In later years he swapped a bunnet for a baseball cap and seemed to have rediscovered his youth.

James Maley was one of the last of a generation, a working-class hero, but first and foremost a hero to his family, a loving husband, father, grandfather - to Clyde, Louisa, Sonny, Norma and Josephine -and great-grandfather to Connor, Tyler and Mason.

Eighty years down the line, the pneumonia came back for him. Finding himself in hospital for the first time since the last rites of his teens, he treated his oxygen mask like a muzzle, pawing at it, raging against the dying of the light.

When his wife kissed him and said "Nighty-night", the fighter was at peace. He took his last breath just after midnight on Easter Monday, surrounded by his family.

A few days earlier, while his granddaughter Louisa was cutting his hair, he recalled a few phrases from his time in Spain 70 years earlier. He knew more than "no pasaran", and in his passing he leaves an exit wound his family will struggle to close.

There are 2 other obituaries also available, here and here.





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