Sources


With the Reds in Andalusia

by Joe Monks. 1985

Published by the John Cornford Poetry Group, 1 Luscombe House, West Hill, London SW18 1RW. He died in January 1988.

Fighting flared up again in Andalusia on the 14th December, 1936 when General Queipo de Llano, since July ensconced in what had become his fiefdom of Seville, ordered an offensive to be launched against the positions that were held largely by pro-government, anarchist militias in the province of Cordoba. The warplanes of the Nazi interventionists assisted de Llano’s Fascists in this offensive and the villages which lay in the path of the advancing soldiers were bombed. Thus the people, working the farmlands by the banks of full flowing Quadalaquivir, who had rejoiced in the implementation of the socialist policies which they had voted for in the February general election, now saw their dreams dashed to the ground as their homes were set ablaze to become naught but beacons of war, sending their flames to the sky.

That same day saw the end of a Fascist offensive in the region of New Castile when the defenders of Madrid, with the determination of last-ditch fighters, held on in a bloody battle at Boadilla, and fought to a standstill the forces which General Francisco Franco had planned that he would encircle the city from the north-west suburbs.

After nightfall on that December day the volunteer contingent for the International Brigade, of which I was a member, was conveyed by buses across the frontier from France, and without incident went over the hilly road to the fortress of Figueras in Catalonia.

We were allowed a day of rest at Figueras. There, the Catalan guide who had met us at the Plaza de Combat in Paris said goodbye. He was a pleasant young man, and a fine linguist. He had been able to make conversation with most of the volunteers, from perhaps a dozen countries, that had mustered in the Trade Union’s premises at the Plaza de Combat. His command of English was superb. He had passed us off to the French frontier officials as Spaniards returning to fight for the motherland, and we Irish claimed that he had not lied on our behalf since our ancestors, the Milesians, had once inhabited Spain. The popularly elected Responsibles for the English-speakers in the contingent were Frank Ryan and David Springhall. They both looked big and burly, attired as they were in great leather coats. Frank Ryan maybe gained in military appearance in that he wore new highly polished top boots. Frank Ryan was jibed at by Frank Edwards. Edwards jeered Ryan for looking like a Boor-commando, and I enjoyed the joke not knowing then that I was destined to have Edwards as a companion throughout most of my days in Spain, and that I would have to get used to being jibed at by the greatest jeer that ever came out of County Waterford.

Although Edwards even in the worst of situations would always be a maker of fun, in his heart he was a bitter man. His bitterness was directed against the Irish establishment, particularly against the Catholic hierarchy that had had him dismissed from his school teaching post for exercising his rights to be a member of the Irish Republican Congress Party and to advocate socialist solutions for the nation’s major problems. The Republican Congress Party was an open democratic party acting within the law and the State, therefore, should have protected Edwards. However, in the event the word of the Bishop of Waterford was law and deprived of a living, Edwards left for Dublin where for negligible pay he assisted Ryan in the Party’s print works for some of the time. Strange it was that Edwards was unjustly treated at the hands of a tyranny that James Joyce had recognised in the countenance of the Irish Nationalist movement. Joyce had resisted the efforts of George Clancy his closest companion when they were both students at University College, to become involved in the Nationalist movement largely because he feared that the theocratic tyrants that had been hand in glove with the British imperialists when they downed Parnell would be greater tyrants still were they ever to become a hierarchy holding special links with the Nationalist rulers of an Irish Free State.

Our stay in the fortress was not to pass without incident. After midnight on the 15th December, a bullet ricocheting off the concave wall of the chamber in which we slept recalled us from our dreams. Shocked, I sprung out from the warm white sheets, and joined a line of comrades. We stood in shirttails confronting two militiamen that aimed their pistols at us. They held one of ours a prisoner. Ryan took in the situation in an instant and shouted orders that none was to interfere. Ryan said that the prisoner, the worse for wine, was disgracing us all. Shouting in French, Ryan tried to tell the Catalan guards that they had our support. Luckily they comprehended what his gestures intimated. He got dressed and went with the Catalans to lodge the drunk in the guardhouse. We got back to our beds and amazingly, unperturbed by the pistol shot in the night, got our heads down to the important business of catching up on the sleep lost since the journey began.

Shortly after first light we were dressed and ready to move on. At the cookhouse door we were served with hunks of fresh bread and bowls of black coffee. Most of us would have preferred buttered bread and sweetened tea. Indeed some could not stomach the black coffee; however in the months to come those who survived learned to prize above all else in their day to day existence the mugs of piping hot coffee that on most mornings reached the front line just after the dawn stand-to. The fortress Commandante, a Catalan who spoke French badly, gathered the Internationalists around him. He praised us and wished us bon voyage. We Irish thought of him as a comic because he reminded us of General O’Duffy, Ireland’s would-be Fuhrer who was the leader of some six hundred Irishmen then at Caceres in the region of Estremadura. There in conquered Estremadura O’Duffy was taking orders from General Franco. The fortress Commandante was attired in a blue shirt, black beret and breeches, with a Sam Brown belt to complete the attire of the Irish Fascist. He was very pleased that his guards had apprehended one of the agents sent in by the reactionaries to disrupt and destroy the Republican Army. In the confusion caused by a villainous loner good Internationalists could have been shot, but this had not been the case because his guards had acted with alacrity. He was sure that we would be glad to know that this unknown mystery man would face a court-martial, and execution.

Springhall pushed a Londoner named Stone to the fore to translate in the shouting match that had developed between Ryan and the Commandante. Youthful Dubliners regarding what was going on as an amusing mistake began to shout "release the pri-son-er". They mimicked the shrill voices of "Madam’s Auld-ones" (a brave band of women, led by Maude Gonne MacBride that constantly demonstrated in Dublin on behalf of the Republicans in jail). For a little while it looked as if the Commandante would refuse to relinquish his catch but eventually he began to smile when it became all too apparent that not only was the prisoner known to those travelling with him — he was in fact a trained Marxist. Indeed a well known "bon camarada".

Freed from the dungeons our Marxist was soon whistling the Marseillaise with us as the contingent, cheered by the morning sunshine, marched away from the fortress to board a train for Barcelona.

The train was festooned with buntings and red flags. It was crowded with Militia units. U.G.T. was painted on the front of the great locomotive’s boiler and the initials of the other workers’ unions - the C.N.T. and the F.A.I. - were on the left and right sides of the carriages. At the carriage windows we saw clenched fists and smiling faces. The Catalan lads were quick to accept us as blood brothers.

Thousands were at the railway station to meet us and everywhere we saw the black and red colours of Anarchism. The public buildings were all decorated with flags and buntings. The lads and lassies, mostly in (monos) boiler suits, wore Anarchist neckerchiefs or arm bands. Flowing beards were in abundance. A bearded camarada took a red flag off the train and presented it to Frank Ryan. Frank took it and, holding it aloft, marched at the head of the contingent. The demonstration, making its way through the center of the city, took in the consul buildings of the so-called democracies. At each building we raised the slogan "Arms for Spain". Many of the people in the streets were armed because the hunt was still on for the Fascists that had escaped after the July fighting in the city. But Springhall commented on how time and manpower was being wasted. He thought that every available Catalan should be on active service on the banks of the Ebro putting as much pressure as possible on the enemy whilst he was low in manpower. The Fascists still held Saragossa. Springhall feared that there were political groups in Barcelona that given a chance would do a deal with Franco: sign a separate peace in return for a free Catalan state; and ditch Republican Madrid.

The Anarchist leaders who led the people successfully in the battle for the streets were sadly without policies when it came to the prime matters of government and the waging of military campaigns. President Companys and his administrators had been left in office, holding executive power in an autonomous Catalonia. At ground level in both industry and agriculture there were widespread efforts to introduce workers’ control, and a visitor to Catalonia could be forgiven for believing that the revolution had carried the day; and that Barcelona was a 20th Century city in which the workers were in the saddle.

This is what George Orwell concluded from what he witnessed in Barcelona. He too arrived in December 1936. He thought of joining the International Brigade but instead he opted for a P.O.U.M battalion which was included in the 29 Division.

Having been given rations and packets of unrolled cigarettes (pillow slips) in the Carl Marx barracks, we departed from Barcelona at 4 o’clock on the afternoon of 16th December and reached Valencia at midnight. A hot meal awaited us in the station restaurant. In the early hours we resumed our journey, and Ralph Fox was on the station platform to receive us when we reached Albacete on the morning of the 17th December. He conducted u~ to the Grand Hotel. There was nothing grand about it. We slept on hard, bench seats that were covered in velvet; but our great discomfort, being as we were for the first time abroad, was the condition of the lavatory; the plumbing had failed and the floor was awash with urine that stunk to the skies. Fortunately there was a public lavatory in the street outside. Some of the Dubliners found it embarrassing to go there because it had a woman attendant who, in return for the coins that were thrown onto her saucer, gave out pieces of cut-u p newspaper.

We were fed in the Casa Salamanca where we met Professor Haldane. He was spending his Christmas vacation as an adviser to the defenders of Madrid on matters to do with the enemy’s suspected use of gas bombs and shells.

were addressed by Andre Marty, the Chief of the International Brigade base. He was wearing battle dress. His face and especially his small moustache looked very white under the large black beret that he wore. His aides, mostly French, in the Albacete administration, also wore large berets. We cheered this French revolutionary whose family history in the working class struggle went back to beyond the Paris Commune. And he too was a maker of history; had he not tilted the course of events when, as a sailor in the French fleet, he stepped forward to lead the Black Sea Mutiny? This mutiny greatly reduced the effectiveness of the intervention which the French imperialists directed against the new Soviet Republic at a time when the infant Red Army faced many enemies both foreign and domestic.

Marty, in his opening remarks, gave us the impression that he would sooner not have "Englishers" around; that they were more trouble than they were worth. Thus our cheers were all the stronger when he spoke warmly of the "Englishers’ "valour as displayed by the first volunteers from our shores that were up on the Madrid front. More than half of them had fallen in battle and Marty spoke of them with great respect. He told us that he expected a high standard of discipline to be upheld by all in the International Brigade. To a great extent it had to be self-discipline because neither lash nor executioner’s bullet would be used on the International volunteers who were the true sons of Liberty.

We were seated at the arc of the bull ring that caught the morning sun. We were excited and full of laughter. Dave Springhall made a point of calling the attention of the Irishmen to the advertising boards that bore business names, many having Jesus as the first name. He rightly suspected that the Irish would regard the popular use of Jesus as a practice bordering on sacrilege. They did, too. He asked about the reactions to the wrecked churches and the replies suggested that none of the Irish, particularly the non-believers, liked to look upon a desecrated church. Indeed one youth had been seen to physically close his eyes to such scenes as the demonstration went through the streets of Barcelona.

Following Marty’s address, Ralph Fox spoke to us on matters of the day. He hoped that we would receive uniforms that afternoon. It was optional whether or not each of us wished to have our civilian clothes and possessions put in store so that we should recover them if by good fortune there came a day that we would be going home or we could donate them to the refugees. I took a last squint at the new blue nap overcoat, serge suit and shoes with which I had hoped to "cut a dash" that Christmas and decided to give them to the refugees. Ralph Fox impressed me immensely. He was a Marxist scholar and truly an egalitarian. No tabs of rank had been stitched to the sleeve of his army greatcoat. Across his shoulder was a narrow strap that took the weight of his holstered revolver, and this strap took the place of a Sam Brown belt. In truth Ralph Fox was quiet, gentle and efficient. He did not need tabs to win authority. Indeed he was representative of the band of brothers that the Internationalists were in these early days of the Brigades.

He was born in Halifax on the 30th March, 1900. He graduated at Magdalen College, Oxford. In 1926, the year- of the General Strike, he joined the Communist Party of Great Britain, and studied at the Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute in Moscow from 1930 to 1932. He was regarded as one of the hard working, serious writers of his time.

He told us that originally it had been planned for the first two International Brigades, - the 11th and 12th, to be the arrowheads of a Republican offensive which it was hoped would have driven back the Fascist army that was closing in on the capital. Instead the Brigades had had to assist the defenders of Madrid in a series of last-ditch battles to save the city. He was of the opinion that we all had good reasons to be proud of the defenders of Madrid because at times the odds against them had been close to being overwhelming. Ralph agreed with the observers who had calculated that General Franco’s army, assisted by Hitler’s and Mussolini’s war planes, was the odds-on favourite for a win at Madrid; but Franco’s army had not passed; baffled and reduced by casualties Franco and his Fascists still stood on the west bank of the Manzanares, so near, and yet so far from the heart of Madrid.

Ralph told us that the XIII International Brigade, instead of going up to Madrid, had had to join the Republican forces operating in the Teruel area as it was necessary to dissuade the Fascists there from advancing on Valencia. Largo Caballero and his Cabinet had transferred the seat of government from Madrid to Valencia. However, the battalions that would make up the XIV International Brigade were approaching full strength and it was hoped that this new Brigade would go to Madrid.

It was intended to make the XV International Brigade an English-speaking brigade, composed of Americans, Canadians and Europeans. Ralph thought that it would take six to eight weeks to assemble, and that we would have plenty of time to train and get into shape. The XV Brigade was earmarked for Madrid. So far, including us the new arrivals, there were less than one hundred and fifty English-speakers. We would be the number one Company of the XVI Battalion. Ralph pointed out that the Brigades were numbered eleven to fifteen, and that these numbers were their names; but it was different with the battalions, as well as having numbers, each battalion took on the name of a hero of Socialism. Two of the brave battalions in the fighting at Madrid had been the Thaelmann and the Edgar Andre.

Already the name Saklatvala had been adopted for our Battalion. Saklatvala, born in Bombay, had achieved fame as an anti-imperialist and as an Internationalist. When the Independent Labour Party declined to join the Third International, Saklatvala transferred to the Communist Party and took on the distinction of being the first Communist MP to serve in the House of Commons. He was an able speaker, and his progressive views were noted by the international press. He was credited with lifting the level of debate in that August House. He, of course, was attacked by the British press and his constituents in Battersea were barraged with alarming stories of Reds under the bed. In the General Strike of 1926 the activities of the Member for Battersea landed him before the courts; and refusing to be bound over to keep the peace, he went to jail for two months. On his release, Saklatvala was asked if, for instance, the political tables were turned and he were Home Secretary, would he, if given reason to do so, send his Tory counterpart to prison. Not to prison, said Saklatvala; the erring ex-minister would be sent down a coal mine and made to keep himself and his family on seventeen shillings a week.

In January 1936 Saklatvala suffered a heart attack at his London home. He died in the bosom of his family and his funeral was attended by thousands. Dimitrov marked the passing of Saklatvala with a great speech which paid homage in full to a son of India who had loyally served Socialism and the Third International.

Late in the afternoon of 19th December, two lorries took us to join the No.’ 1 C9mpany of the Saklatvalas that was billeted in the Pueblo of Madrigueras which lay a tort distance from Albacete. However, the drivers lost their way and it was after dark when we reached our destination. Deposited on the roadway beside the church, we stood close together because the darkness was intense. It was bitterly cold and one of the drivers who went knocking on doors was directed from place to place until he found the Company H.Q. billet. The Political Commissar, newly-elected by popular vote, Lou Elliott, had to take on the job of getting us in out of the cold. The billets that we visited were full and it was most irritating that no provision had been made to receive us. Nathan Segal, a London Eastender, made an outburst against having to suffer unnecessary hardships but what could Lou do but keep on trying to spread us out among the existing billets? At the H.Q. the comrades on the mattresses, neatly lined against the walls, agreed to share and in a matter of seconds I was down fully clothed, at full stretch under half a blanket and sound asleep. Frank Edwards and others found shelter on the staircase in a building opposite that was the town hall. Jimmy Prendergast was one of those with Frank. Next morning he told me that Frank had been talking in his sleep. According to Jimmy’s yarn Frank had been uttering fond endearments in Gaelic to Bobby, the girl that indeed he would marry. That day at least, Edwards came off second best in the jibes contest.

At first light the Company paraded and Comrade George Palmers called the roll. He took note of the new arrivals. I liked the look of the Company. In double file it stretched the length of the street. As Captain George Montague Nathan emerged from the H.Q., Palmer had us form fours, and then back to double file. All present and correct the Company was handed over to the Comrade Captain. The Captain, not neglecting to give mystery to this simple military ceremony, engaged Palmer in a whispered conversation. Then the little hush-hush was over and Nathan gave back the parade to Palmer before returning to the H.Q. He would follow us out into the fields. At the quick march Palmer led us out of the Pueblo as the sky brightened. We, the new men, had had a great bustle to get onto the parade in time. Even the house that sold coffee and churros had had to be shown to us; but now, in the warming daylight, a Dubliner sang:

"In lest than an hour we got out on parade,
The Red Volunteers from the Dublin Brigade."

Throughout the mornings and again in the afternoons Captain Nathan kept us constantly on manoeuvres. He was hardworking and full of enthusiasm. We had no guns so our training concentrated on the relationship that exists between the infantryman, under fire, and the kindly earth to which he must cling for most of the time if he is to go on living. It was up, plunge forward and down faster than one got up. Nothing according to Nathan was beneath notice. The low scrub or the wisp of dry grass, nodding in the breeze. These were the things that might save one’s life; that might cause a foe to send a bullet on a path which lay an all-important one eighth of an inch away from one’s skull. He had a great eye for country. Hills and hammocks, trees and bushes all had messages for him. He knew that the fall of a slope, if skillfully traversed, could deny enemy machine-gunners a single target.

He boasted that he had the knowledge and experience, and I believed him. Nathan the infantry officer I trusted implicitly. Born in 1895 he apparently had little formal education. With the British Army in France he became an N.C.O. and after three years and 334 days in the service, he was commissioned on the field on the 9th April, 1917. He was proud of the officer’s accent that he had acquired Out of the Army during the slump years he was a casual worker, and in the No. Company there was a man who had been a hobo with Nathan in America.

A young hero, his head swathed in bandages, joined the Company. He was the first of the men from Madrid to come amongst us. We had read about him in the newspapers and now we gathered around to hear stirring accounts of the battles that had halted the Nationalists-cum-Fascists at Madrid. His name was John Cornford. He was a graduate of Cambridge University and a poet of great promise. His father was Francis Cornford. On the maternal side of the family John was a great grandson of Charles Darwin. At Madrid he had been a member of the English-speaking Zug in the Edgar Andre Battalion which was included in the famous 11th International Brigade.

On the 23rd December Wilfred McCartney, the man designated to command the Saklatvala Battalion, came down from Albacete with a dozen rifles which were added to the Company’s six Ross rifles that were being used for musketry instruction, plus guard duties, and each of us fired six shots at targets placed a hundred yards away. Then we were set upon by practicantes of the Army’s Medical Corp. Jabbed on the buttocks and arms against typhoid, the African pox and a host of dreadful infections, we were left in a sad, sickly state and were glad when lights-out came around and we got our heads down to sleep. At two in the morning all were sharply aroused. The rifles had come. I saw that Captain Nathan stood beside a table that was stacked high with rifles. Comrade Palmer was seated. To each man in turn the Captain ceremoniously handed over a rifle. Everyone was given a warm handshake with a word of encouragement. Palmer recorded the number of each rifle against the name of the recipient. The night guard stirred my memory of times past. Over in the dim light beside the stout hall door Nat Tobias stood tall in helmet and poncho blanket. His fingers were around the barrel of a Ross rifle. It was the stillness of his solemn Islamic features that caused me to remember the wax figure of a wise man from the east in the crib at Inchicore; and that it was the morning of Christmas Eve.

At noon we were given a good helping of carbonzo soup, bread and wine, in the church which was then used as a canteen. The story told to us about the First Days — the July fighting in Madrgueras was that the local Fascists, having failed in their bid to take over the town, fell back to make a last stand by turning the church into a fortress; and then when they were overcome, the priests and nuns perished with them. We heard, too, that there were pueblos where the local Republicans did not harm the priest or the church; but lorry loads of incendiaries from the bigger towns came and burned the churches.

We paraded in the early afternoon, and it was confirmed that we were to be put on loan to the Marseillaise Battalion, the 12th Battalion (Franco-Belge) of the newly-founded XIV International Brigade.

Back in the billet the Irish held a unique political meeting which Nathan attended. An Irish Unit, a section of 43 men, had been formed by Captain Nathan at the behest of Frank Ryan. This was done purposefully for the home front so that the Irish Race could read and hear of the Irish anti-Fascist fighters. Nathan mused that he had an English-speaking section of Dutchmen and an English-speaking section of Irishmen.

To our amazement "Kit" Conway instead of Frank Ryan had been appointed Section commander. In his speech Nathan praised Ryan for the assistance that he had given in the of organising the Company and Ryan praised Nathan for having been agreeable to Coming into being of an Irish Section.

Feeling that he was now a Socialist, and a brother in arms to fellow Socialists who not long ago had been just Nationalists, Nathan referred to the fact that he had served in Ireland with the Crown forces. He specified that he had been with military intelligence in County Limerick. His exact words were: "We have all grown up politically. We are Socialists together now." The meeting responded to the spirit of his speech and clapped him.

Frank Ryan brought his speech to an end with the astonishing statement that he was not coming to the front with us. There were matters that had to be taken care of in respect of the position of the Irish in the envisaged 16th Battalion.

"Sorry boys that I am not going with you," he said. "You will obey orders and uphold the honour of Ireland. But do not be needlessly careless with your lives because Spain needs you, and above all Ireland needs you." The people turned out to wish us bon voyage; the little girls kissed us. Their mothers cried for us because in their eyes, most of us were but boys.

The red buntings that our French comrades flew from the barrels of their rifles gave colour to our journey. Youthful Dubliners found strength in numbers. They counted the lorries as they followed, rounding a long curve; "Thirty!" a half dozen shouted in unison.

"Thirty-one!" the shout was louder.
"Thirty-two!" the shout was louder still.

The Marseillaise Battalion now mustered 670 volunteers.

Before first light on Christmas Morning 1936 the Marseillaise Battalion reached Andujar. The No. 1 Company, the 144 Saklatvalas:, immediately marched through the crowd of refugees outside the ,railway station, crossed the picturesque bridge that spanned the Quadalaquivir and took up positions within the town.

Andujar was under threat. An attack seemed imminent because the next town, down the river valley, Villa del Rio on the Cadiz-to-Madrid main road and railway, had passed, into Fascist hands, not twenty-four hours before. A compelling reason why the enemy would be anxious to capture Andujar was the need to relieve a Fascist garrison in the Morena hills just north of the town. This garrison was made up of Civil Guards and bourgeois elements that, having failed to take over in the Andujar area during the July fighting, retreated into the hills and made the monastery at Santa Maria de la Cabeze a fortress that was mainly supplied by air drops

The remainder of the Battalion hurried down to Marmalejo some five kilometer away to be the left wing of the XIV International Brigade which was deployed on rid well in from the road, in what the Commander termed an ambush position. With only three battalions at his disposal General Walter, the Commander of the XIV Briga could not set up a line of defence astride the road. He had to make do with setting a position just north of it. The XIII Battalion, led by Colonel Joseph Putz, a Free Socialist, constituted the Brigade center. The X and XII Battalions were respectively on the right and left wings. Walter was out of contact with the Brigade’s vanguard,, Nine Nations Battalion, which had been cut off when the enemy took Villa del

In the circumstances he must have been very uncertain about how to tackle the situation.

It is likely that the Republican Army Sector H.Q. at Montoro had geared itself to hold an offensive that would come west to east from the city of Cordoba; the Republican barricades at Villafranca had withstood earlier attacks; and the Fascist offensive’s main thrust moving from south to north, from Beana to Montoro, may have come as something of a surprise.

However, the will to fight was strong and the Andalusian Republicans did not give in easily. At Valenzuela, which prepared a defence and had the assistance of the renowned Vallego Column, the enemy was delayed for five days. Moving through the Bujalance and El Carpo, unfortified towns, the Fascists were able to take Villafranca from the rear, and this meant that Montoro would have to fight off enemies coming from the south and the west. Of course the enemy columns that captured Villa del Rio on Christmas Eve sealed the fate of Montoro and the Republican H.Q. transferred itself to Andujar.

The Fascist commanders at Villa del Rio, looking to their rear where mopping-up operations were in progress, hesitated on Christmas Day, and left the section of road between Villa del Rio and Andujar to remain a no-man’s-land.

The Saklatvalas manned a checkpoint on the road at a point just west of Andujar. Jock Cunningham (a man from Madrid) stood guard with us. We, of course, admired him tremendously; and his giggling at the official hand-outs from Ralph Fox got us into a frame of mind that prepared us for the worst situation. Extraordinarily, instead of spreading despondency with his insistence that it was obvious that there had been a breakthrough, his exposition of this truth accompanied by his giggles lifted our morale. Most of us were allowed a few hours’ sleep in the storeroom of a distillery. Next morning I complained of being hungry and cold. This gave Frank Edwards the chance to tell me about "the beautiful Christmas dinner that the town fathers had carried into us." He said that I was sleeping so peacefully that he did not have the heart to awaken me; but by the time he had finished the story both he and I were thinking wistfully of other Christmases.

In fact, by front line standards, our Christmas meal of tinned meat, bread and sour white wine had been good.

In the early morning of St. Stephen’s Day, the Ill Spanish Brigade with its experienced warriors arrived from Madrid. Soon it got itself astride the road facing the Fascists, "eyeball to eyeball", at Villa del Rio. Three civilian single-decked buses carried the Saklatvalas out from Andujar to join the Marseillaise Battalion, deployed on the ridges at Marmalejo. The changed situation left the XIV Brigade in reserve rather than lying in ambush, and with all there was a pleasant feeling of relaxation. Londoner, Davdovitch, was in great demand. He was an expert at replacing rifle bolts.

Most of the laughter came from a group of youths that included Charlie Hutchinson, a London Eastender, Jock Maguire and Dubliner Tommy Woods who were listening to John Cornford, Jock Cunningham, Joe Hicks and Sam Russell, the men from Madrid.

Ralph Fox - who had included a literary criticism of "Ulysses" in his own book on the modern Novel, regarded James Joyce as a serious writer, and because of his interest in

Works of Joyce, he was all the more interested in Dublin’s politics. A tale that I had to tell of Eccies Street, in the days when the Workers’ College which was housed at No 63, Charlotte Despard’s residence, had attracted the attention of the clerically-inspired clique that roused the mobs against the Communists, captured his interest.

At the time my uncle's wife Mary Donnelly was Mrs. Despard’s secretary, and a friend of mine — Dennis Verschoyle — had an apartment in the house. With them I felt in duty bound to be around to defend Mrs. Despard, the ageing suffragette, should her home be attacked.

The lectures delivered in the back parlour, the college quarters, were to do mainly with the history of the Labour movement. It was thought by many that once the working people acquired a knowledge of history and economics the days of Fascism and Imperialism would be over. So it was a sad experience for us to be helpless in preventing the most deprived of the city’s population being roused to take part in a pogrom against us. Those mobs that were got out onto the streets were not told about the content of the lectures delivered by Bill Joss, Sean Murray, Brian O’Neill, Peadar O’Donnell and many Trade Union spokesmen. No, they were propagandised and being, as they were, still in a state of original stupidity, they fell for the tales that depicted 63 Eccles Street as a Lodge frequented by members of an anti-Christ Freemasonry who dallied in the hallway to wipe their feet in a great picture of the Sacred Heart.

On the night that the immense, murmuring mob came to No. 63 Eccles Street, Jim Donnelly and a collection of old Socialists stationed themselves at a barricade in the entrance hall. The roof party consisted of Dennis Verschoyle, Joe Donahue, Christy Kenny, Bill Tumilson and myself. We had a collection of handguns, some had been provided by Lil O’Donnell. The guns were only to be used if an armed party of Blue Shirts attempted to come over the roofs; but we carried up two buckets of half bricks to be used against the mob. Donnelly stressed that they were only to be dropped on open spaces. Late in getting up to our positions on the roof we missed an opportunity to frighten the mobsters by dropping bricks in front of their toes. They had arrived. The singers among them had only succeeded in singing half a verse of "Faith of our fathers" when the battering of the hall door began.

The Dublin Metropolitan Police Force was conspicuous by its absence although Nurse O’Donnell, who owned a nursing home not far away on the opposite side of the street, was all the time telephoning the Castle. She eventually got onto the Government Minister responsible, Patrick Ruttledge.

Mrs. Despard, aged but unafraid, moved forward to see who it was that was battering on her door. Mary Donnelly followed and put a restraining hand upon the old woman’s forearm. The mob, seeing the figures at the window, raised a blood-curdling howl. But Mickey Bleau, a Flanders veteran and, like those outside, one of Dublin’s poor, speedily interposed himself between the women and the window. Bleau, who had acquired a conscience, had in this instance acquired a broomstick handle which accidentally went through a pane of glass.

A woman mobster mistook his broomstick for the barrel of a gun, and her warning cries mingled with the sounds of the broken pieces of glass clanging down into the area. Panic gripped the foremost mobsters at the door. They hurled themselves down the steps into the bosom of the mob; and we on the roof bombarded the steps with bricks which burst into dust on impact.

The more the target area widened the greater was the number of bricks bursting at the heels of the "bowsies", some of whom justified their flight by hollering, "Look at the Reds on the roof."

Even had the ghost of Lord French, one-time Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in Flanders and Mrs. Despard’s brother, come charging at the head of a squadron of cavalry, the area could not have been cleared with such speed and without casualties on either side.

Mob orators rallied the fugitives outside Molly Bloom’s window at No. 7 Eccles Street but their chances had passed because the "boys in blue", the belated 7th Cavalry, came on the scene. They came on motorbikes and sidecars; in black marias and squad cars.

Things went differently at Connolly House in Strand Street, the headquarters of the Revolutionary Workers’ Groups, and Donal O’Reilly told Ralph about the police allowing the pogromists to put the house under siege. The siege ended with the mob setting fire to the lower half of the building. The literature, including the works of Marx and Connolly, was thrown onto a bonfire and some of the heavy volumes were carried onto the Halfpenny Bridge and flung into the Liffey. Like Fox, O’Reilly had been to the Political School in Moscow.

Jimmy Prendergast, the other Irishman who had had two years in Moscow, now argued with Paddy O’Daire. Paddy was upset because O’Duffy’s Fascists in Spain were calling themselves the "Wild Geese". I'd regarded the "Wild Geese" of the XVII century as part of the legend of Ireland’s #### being kept alive by independence fighters handing on the torch from generation to generation. Jimmy condemned the "Wild Geese" as monarchists and mercenaries.

Alas, all the chatting that had filled that warm and relaxed St. Stephen’s Day came to an end when the piercing cold that came with the going down of the sun sent the new volunteers following the example of the men from Madrid. They too gathered olive branches, made hives and, fully clothed, got under the hives in groups to sleep.

At four o’clock in the morning I was awakened to do my stint of sentry duty. The old guard said all was well and the fires that were bright over near the river belonged to a band of refugees.

My countryman Frank Conroy was the second sentry. We were scared when "Kit" Conway left us out on the byroad that went up to Marmalejo. In the darkness there were many shapes that seemed to move; but our legs were our first problem and we had to stamp on the road for a while to get the blood circulating again.

Having investigated a number of objects whose movements in the darkness turned out to be but figments of our imaginations, we did come across a figure that confounded US. Cautiously we closed in on the figure of a man who seemed to be engaged in mounting a machinegun on one of the stone stanchions that in earlier days had carried an irrigation channel. We thought we heard a muttered conversation; so it was with our fingers exerting first Pressure on the triggers of our rifles that we confronted the one that we took to be vi infiltrator.

The infiltrator turned out to be Seamus McBroin, an exile from Erin who had spent his working life in the north of England. His murmurings were prayers. He was the oldest man in the Company. We listened to him recite the Requiem in Latin.

"You are Irish," he said to us. "God bless you both."

He sat on the stanchion swaying his shoulders from side to side. We were speechless He told us that he was praying in advance for the souls of the boys that were soon to die We cleared off and left him, feeling as we did that in a way we had encountered a banshee

The Commander of the Marseillaise Battalion, de la Salle, whom we called Colonel, with two aides, came to speak to Captain Nathan. The Captain sent the Company runner Maguire off through the olive trees, hollering for Ralph Campeau. Campeau, who was fluent in French and English, hurried to Nathan’s side and shortly afterwards we were instructed to be ready to march. Lorries were to take us to the line. It was at this juncture, whilst the day was still young, that the Brigade Commander General Walter, followed by Commissar Heuseler, and Chief of Staff Major Aldo Morandi, visited his Battalions.

Walter was Polish and had a special smile for the Irish. He told "Kit" Conway that he had studied the two periods, the two battles for O’Connell Street, and "Kit" then called Jack Nalty forward to shake hands with the General. "Kit" told how Nalty had been by the side of Cathal Brugha in the Hamman Hotel. Major Morandi talked with some of us lesser mortals, as Belfast man Bill Beattie remarked.

As it is in all wars, a lot of time was spent in waiting and on the morning of the 27th December we had to settle down to wait on the lorries. Ralph Fox, seated on one of the stanchions explained to us that we had a very easy task to perform. It was simply matter of taking back the next pueblo, Villa del Rio, which was needlessly lost by an inefficient Spanish unit on the 24th December. It is likely that Ralph was as ignorant of the military disaster that had befallen our side as we were; no mention was made at all as far as I can remember of the Nine Nations Battalion.

A motorcyclist speeded down the Marmalejo road with orders for Captain Nathan, The Captain took over the parade from Comrade Palmer. All were present and correct, Nathan ordered the quick march. No lorries apparently were available so we set out to march to the firing line.

At first sight Nathan, in Madrigueras, had looked to us like a man that had been humbled by poverty, wearing as he was a mixture of military and civilian clothes. In an old sweater and cheap shoes- he had not impressed the leadership in Albacete; but then there were not any alternative candidates, and he was given the No. 1 Company. In Andalusia something that was similar to a Kafkaesque transformation changed Nathan’s appearance. Ryan’s top boots, given a spit and polish brush-up by Maguire, glittered in the sunlight. The Captain was well shod. His army great coat looked as if it had been tailored for him. His collar and tie were neatly set, and even his helmet had been cleaned. The chin-strap was at the correct angle, and we detected a clearer ring to his obviously acquired upper class accent particularly when he was delivering statements which Campeaii translated for the French. The affectation that he had developed all of twenty years before had arisen from the ashes.

I became aware of the silence. Our swift footsteps were bringing the proximity death ever closer and for me fear, the agent of the well-armed overlord, was in our midst. He marched in step with the cold-hearted one that they called Sergeant Death. Now no aircraft was crossing the sky and it was only the step of the volunteers marching that went sounding from the tree-lined road over the golden coloured fields to the lush margins of the Quadalaquivir.

It was then that the steadiness of Nathan’s splendid shoulders displayed for me that serenity which we were all striving to acquire.

Two paces behind the Captain marched one of the men from Madrid. It was Jock Cunningham, lately made Nathan’s Lieutenant. This small Scot was thought of by most as one of the makers of that military magic which had obliged the newspapermen to regard the so far successful defence of Madrid as a military miracle.

Near Cunningham marched John Cornford. Beneath his bandaged forehead his pale, sallow face was sad. Crossing the shadows that the tall trees cast upon the roadway I thought of John’s "Last Mile to Huesca." And it was then that the marching men began to chant in time with the step:

"So left, two, three; so left, two, three; to the work that we must do.
March on in the workers’ united front for you are a worker too.
Fascist bullets, Fascist bombers make our land a smoking mass.
Hurrah for courage, hurrah for bravery. At Madrid they did not pass."
"No Pasaran!"

Before reaching the main road the Company swept past an old shepherd. He stood beside his donkey. His sheep were huddled in a ditch by the side of the road. We saw that the peasant’s smock stretched down to the knees of his trousers. He wore alpargatas. His stumps of teeth were tobacco stained; but his eyes were bright and full of admiration for us. He lifted his clenched fist.

"Salud Companeros."

His smile crinkled the whole of his face which was as dry and as gray as the soil itself.

"Ask yer man where he got the hat?"

All who heard the question and understood it laughed. Captain Nathan laughed.

The Dublin teenager who asked the question and his companions could see for themselves that the old man’s face beneath the broad-brimmed Cordoba hat remained unchanged. Again the old man shouted, "Salud Companeros!" and they liked to think that he had a stake in the fight, and wished them to win.

Crossing the main road, we learned from a directional sign arrowed to the west that it was 74 kilometers to the city of Cordoba. We took the highroad going south.

Three antiquated trucks met us on the way. The drivers turned them about and the H.Q. Section with half the Irish Section soon filled these small 30 cwt. vehicles. Nathan ordered the remainder of the Company to keep marching; the trucks would do the necessary trips to get everybody forward. Instead of going on directly to Lopera the route took a right turn and we were deposited on the approach to Villa del Rio where a sunken road went south to link up with the road that connected Villa del Rio and Lopera.

Our baptism of fire took place when enemy planes came into the area and strafed the road with the neighbouring olive plantations time and time again.

A member of General Walter’s entourage, a German comrade speaking English, asked me if these were Madrid veterans with us. I answered in the affirmative, and named them Jock Clark, John Cornford, Jock Cunningham, Joe Hinks and Sam Russell. He had known them on the Madrid front and was looking forward to meeting them.

Spaniards in off the road under the cover of olive trees waved to us. They belonged to a column that had been allocated to General Walter to make good the loss of the Nine Nations Battalion. This column named itself after Domingo Germinal, an Anarchist who had been killed a few days before.

The planes continued to strafe, and two of the Saklatvalas, Comrades Newsome and Segal, were killed. A group of Dubliners that had got friendly with the Londoner Segal were beside him, beneath the same tree, at the time. He was killed outright. It shocked them that death had come to him instantly and that without a murmur he was gone from them. They lifted his body onto a blanket and rested his head upon a satchel. But, like lightning, Captain Nathan came among them. Taking a quick look at the dead volunteer he asked seriously if anybody needed a pair of boots. He herded the Dubliners out onto the road remarking that there was no time to have an Irish wake.

Indeed, they did not have time to voice the resentment that his attitude to Segal’s death provoked in them because with Ralph Fox, Lou Elliot, Jock Cunningham, "Kit" Conway and Joe H inks the Captain went under the trees at the junction of the road to be briefed by Staff men who had maps flowing from their hands. On one of the maps was an arrow, straight as a bird can fly, from Marmalejo to Lopera.

Sid Quinn, who was with Maurice Levine, called to me as I passed. He wanted to know if Segal was dead. I heard the German wish John Cornford the happy returns of the day. It was John’s twenty-first birthday. All were excited now as we moved off on the sunken road. Ahead of us there was the cackle of rifle fire and the long whinings of bullets passing by certainly caused me to take an anxious interest in what was going on.

Quickly Captain Nathan was at the head of affairs. He was unperturbed by the rifle fire. Playing it by ear, as it were, he knew that the bullets were harmlessly going high. I did not know that on Christmas Day the XIV International Brigade’s own half squadron of cavalry had carried out a reconnaissance of the area. Our horsemen had found Lopera, a substantial pueblo on high ground, to be abandoned by its population. Nor was it occupied by the foe. The shooting was taking place in the vicinity of a large farmhouse (Cortijo de Valenzuela). Nathan, taking council with Colonel de La Salle, ordered his me off the road. On the ploughed earth that lay on the left La Salle watched Nathan arrange the four Sections so that the Company would go forward with its formation diamond-shaped. The Colonel shared Nathan’s professional fearlessness; but he signaled to some of the men to keep closer to the ground. He symbolically pressed the palm of his right hand downwards Then he retired to the rear.

Reacting to the situation psychologically many tended not to stay in the extended cum-blob formation, and got themselves into crowds. Nathan shouted, ordering the to get back into extended order. "Don’t be bloody fools!" he shouted at them.

Sharper invective was hollered by him at those who tended to fall behind and be stragglers. The men that were taunted by him and rose to the occasion were afterwards proud of themselves; and the others who stayed as stragglers later took his reprimands. Naturally they found the fault was in the Captain and not in themselves. One of them in after years spoke of Nathan as a vainglorious drunk; but this was the least of the charges and was easily disposed of when it was recalled that once there was another that was called a vainglorious drunken lout at another time and in another place who was prepared to lay down his life in Freedom’s battle, without knowing that his name would be immortalised in verse and story.

Nathan’s awareness of the individual and collective weaknesses which men can fall to when they are called upon to advance into the teeth of a machinegun defensive system made him a leader who kept a finger on the pulse of the Company.

For a little while he let the Sections come into line to rest on high ground where a windbreak of tall trees gave them cover. The Saklatvalas, each out of breath and sweating, cast off poncho-blankets or greatcoats whilst shoals of bullets raked the branches, showering them with twigs and leaves.

Then, gesticulating vigorously with his stick, Nathan led a race downhill to a stream that flowed past the base of a mighty ridge. We leaped across the water and, again out of breath, reached the lee of the ridge.

Gaining its crest, Nathan went over the skyline on his belly like a lizard. Elsewhere on the slopes he was mostly to be seen on one knee, using his field glasses. At one point during this advance the Irish were first to gain the crest of one of the ridges, and "Kit" Conway called for a volunteer to scout ahead. The general attitude was please let us have a breather and on the instant none volunteered. Taken aback Conway instantly handed the command over to Jack Nalty and, upholding the precept that a leader should not ask his men to do what he was not prepared to do himself, set off to scout the ground. However, he was soon back and Nathan, having reached the crest, ordered the general advance to continue.

Low on the next down slope, safe from the bullets, Captain Nathan stopped. From the crouched running position he rose to his full height and, by spreading his arms, he called upon the Saklatvalas to halt.

"Cheer!" he commanded. "Give them something to fear!"

Standing in ordered Sections they did raise a mighty cheer.

"Charge!" Following him and the stick that he swung above his head, they went in a rush over the intervening hollow and, moving at speed, started climbing the next slope. On the next crest he, with Cunningham, Conway, Fox and Hinks, got down to the prone Position and carefully looking over the crest surveyed the position whilst bullets like hailstones thudded upon the ground.

Unfortunately motorised enemy units had got to Lopera, "firstest with the mostest". I4hmIy, too, his cavalry units in sufficient strength were actually in the act of deploying Slqig the roads to the left and right of us. The roads, having Lopera as a base, roughly

formed a V; and this meant that as we got closer to Lopera we encountered more accurate fire which was directed against us by our enemies in the pueblo itself as well as by the foe men on our flanks. Shells crashed into our side of the ridge.

"Ours by Christ," commented Cunningham. However, the following salvos fell nearer to the enemy. Our Dutch comrades reported that an enemy column, perhaps 50 strong had left the road on our left. Nathan looked it over. He was convinced that the leader of the column did not know that we had advanced so far. These Black Shirts were marching in column of route. Joe H inks was ordered to move a Section further down and to the rear of our ridge so as to ambush the Black Shirt column.

Our two batteries, posted in the Cuseria de Mena area, improved and sent their shells whizzing down on the enemy posts. Three lumbering Junkers circled around the area. Most likely they were spotting for the enemy artillerymen who quickly bombarded both our guns and ourselves. The ridge itself was an excellent breastwork and the shells that passed over the crest went on to explode harmlessly far to our rear.

The sun was bobbing on the horizon when we heard the burst of fire which inflicted heavy casualties on the Black Shirt column. And then suddenly it was night. The planes were gone. The artillery exchange ceased and, looking at the flashes and flickerings of the rifles and machineguns that were in front of us and on our flanks, we were ordered by Nathan to concentrate our fire on what appeared to be a spire in Lopera. Nathan was of the opinion that the enemy H.Q. for the immediate area was there, and the Verey lights that soared into the sky above it suggested that the man in command was nervous.

At this stage our Chauchot light machineguns were operating satisfactorily; but there were no rifle ammunition clips available and this meant a reduction in fire power in that the rifles had to be reloaded after each shot. The absence of ammunition clips can be regarded as a success for the saboteur. Eighteen months later during the Ebro Campaign, when General Walter commanded the 35th Division, there was an absence of these clips at a crucial hour, so it is possible that somebody on or connected with his Staff engaged in an occasional spot of sabotage.

Nathan assured us that we would have the Fascists out of Lopera within ten minutes as he moved about from Section to Section. He was close by when a bullet apparently aimed at the flash of my rifle went through me. Its impact felt like the kick of a mule. I was shocked and called out. The Captain had me pulled down off the rim of the ridge. He took my rifle and threw it over to Donal O’Reilly because the breach of Donal’s rifle had earlier burst asunder. Two of my comrades tended to me. They tore open my overcoat and tunic. They ripped my shirt with a knife and, taking the regulation bandage pack from the left breast pocket, set about bandaging me. Blood was pouring forth from under my shoulder, and from the exit hole in my back. Far from being composed I was playing the role of the weak and wounded man. Nathan looked upon the wound and assured me that I was a very lucky man and that I would be well again in a matter of weeks 14’ thanked me and wished me well. Young Maguire helped me some of the way back to the ambulance post. On the way we met a French first aid man who took care of me and allowed Maguire to get back to the company.

Later I heard that, acting against the advice of Jock Cunningham who believed that La Salle should have sent up supporting companies, Captain Nathan, making darkness his friend, led the Saklatvalas forward to a point close to the enemy command post near the spire.

Determined to test the nerve of the enemy commander Nathan arranged for a sudden burst of fire with everything that was at the disposal of the Saklatvalas. The dozen hand grenades available were distributed among half a dozen throwers.

In the event the enemy commander sent up more Verey lights; but he did not take to flight. In fact as the exchange of fire continued the enemy’s firepower increased whilst with the Chauchots jamming one after another, Nathan’s weakened. He had to order the Saklatvalas to melt away into the darkness. The teenaged Dubliner Tommy Woods, who was wounded in the head and knee, was carried some of the way by Ralph Fox and George Nathan. Stretcher-bearers took over and got the unconscious youth to hospital where he died.

Next dawn the Saklatvalas went over the same ground again, this time as part of a general attack delivered by the XIV International Brigade. This attack of the 28th December, although failing to destroy the enemy’s right wing, nevertheless demonstrated hat the Republican Army had not only halted the enemy’s 14-day-old offensive, it had ;rasped the initiative. But it was a black day for the Saklatvalas. They had to stage a withdrawal during which a Section lost contact. Many casualties were sustained, among hem Ralph Fox whilst he was trying to locate the missing Section. When the Section renewed contact and Commissar Fox was missing, John Cornford crawled out into no-man’s-land to search for him. Later both bodies were seen by a patrol that gathered papers off the dead.

On the 29th December the enemy effected a concentration against the XIV Brigade and drove the Internationalists and the Domingo Germinal Column back from the environs of Lopera. In this pitched battle the enemy infantry incurred a high number of casualties because the Brigade’s heavy machinegun companies set up defence lines having fire plans governing zones, inside which the Fascist soldiers, made heady by the joy of pursuit, quite unexpectedly hit the dust. Apparently the fighting on the 29th December caused the Fascists to give up their plan to take Andujar and relieve the fortress of Santa Maria de La Cabeza. Instead they marched south to support a column that had so far failed to take Porcuna.

On New Year’s Day 1937 the Republicans in Porcuna surrendered after a protracted defence, during which the Nazi bombers raided the pueblo many times. By all accounts to the last camarada they died. The conquering Fascists, broadcasting boastfully over Radio Seville, claimed that all these Reds had been put to the sword.

The capture of Porcuna was at first regarded as a serious loss in that it cleared the road communications for the Fascists to march on the city of Jaen where a Republican H.Q. had recently been established with a primary task of organising the Andalusian columns into the Republican Army of the south.

The good news was that Martinez Carton who, as well as being a Field Commander also a Communist member of the Cortez led the XVI Spanish Brigade south from Cuidad Real and from Andujar through Arjona to Torredonjimeno set up a second of defence.

The Fascist offensive ended and both sides, apparently, were glad to disengage and set up new front lines.

The Arjonilla school house was used as a court by the XIV Brigade when Colonel La Salle was put on trial. Seemingly this professional soldier had been under surveillance and his bungling of the XII Battalion’s operations at Lopera caused General Walter to have him arrested and charged. Andre Marty and Liugo Longo came to this trial from Albacete as couriers with additional evidence. The Brigade, in the main, provided the officers of the court. Putz acted as President; political Commissar Andre Hussler as prosecutor; and Morandi, instructed by a Spanish legal officer, conducted the defence. Fifteen volunteers from the Battalions were delegated to be jurymen and the linguist Piet Jansen from the Saklatvalas interpreted the proceedings into English and German. De La Salle was found guilty on a number of counts and executed.

Volunteers from nineteen nations were with the XIV Brigade in this short Cordoba Campaign. Three hundred were killed and some six hundred were wounded. The number of deserters and fugitives were described as minimal.

Of the thirteen Irishmen who had crossed the frontier from France with Frank Rya on the 14th December six had been killed or died of wounds. They were Frank Conroy, Anthony Fox, Leo Green, Michael May, Michael Nolan and Thomas Woods.

Gerald Doran, John Goff and myself were wounded and only four - Frank Edward, Michael Lehane, Jimmy Prendergast and Patrick Smith - were left to go with Walter a the hard jaunt to Madrid when the III Brigade and the XIV Internationals were summoned to the capital after Franco’s forces renewed their threat to encircle the city by advancing to Las Rozas. On the 10th January 1937 a heavy engagement took place and the Fascists were again turned back. In this engagement Frank Edwards received a deep shrapnel wound to the side of the body.

General Walter’s reorganised XIV Brigade still had the gallant Colonel Putz leading the XIII Battalion which adopted the name of Henri Barbuse. The X Battalion, amalgamating with the Anarchists, named itself the Domingo Germinal. And the XII Marseillaise now had the newly promoted Major George Nathan at its head in place of La Salle. T French majority, paying tribute to the deeds of the Saklatvalas at Lopera, had the X11 renamed and it went on to gain fame as the Ralph Fox Battalion.

Jock Cunningham now commanding the No. 1 Company of the Saklatvalas got Paddy Duff and Dennis Coady to prepare a list of the fallen. It was as follows:

Henry Bonar of Dublin

Ralph Fox of Halifax

Arthur Newsome of Sheffield

E. Burke of London

Leo Green of Dublin

Michael Nolan of Dublin

James Cockburn of London

W. Johnson of Newcastle

Harry Rawson of Oldham

Frank Conroy of Kildare

James Knottman of Manchester

Nathan Segal of London

John Cornford of Cambridge

H. Wise of London

Jim Foley of Dublin

Michael May of Dublin

Thomas Woods of Dublin

Anthony Fox of Dublin

John Meehan of Galway

 

 

THE POZOBLANCO COUNTER OFFENSIVE

Discharged from Orihuela Hospital in February 1937, Frank Edwards and I reported to Peter Kerrigan, then the base Political Commissar at Albacete. He gave us a good laugh about his experiences in the aftermath of Lopera. "News from Flodden" was conveyed to him by a self-appointed messenger, none other than Seamus McBroin who had recited the Requiem for the repose of souls of those about to be killed.

Seamus had reached Albacete on the last day of December with the dreadful news that the Saklatvalas had been slaughtered to the last man. Peter had immediately rushed off to Andalusia to discover that the No. 1 Company was still in existence, and that Jock Cunningham had replaced George Nathan as its commander.

Peter and I recalled his visit to Linares Hospital. He was then much relieved to have discovered pockets of wounded survivors at Andujar, Ciudad Real and Linares hospitals. We, Internationalists were extremely well treated by the people of Linares. They filled our bedside lockers with fruit and cakes. Class solidarity was strong and poor women, some having lost their own sons, could not do enough for us. The woman who laundered and mended my bloodstained shirt put 40 centimos in copper coins on my locker when she returned it.

The Mayor’s daughter Papeta and her friend Ramona Hernandez, with the students' group, brought us phrase books and taught us our first essential phrases. With them was a man named Parrilla who was a Protestant clergyman. He spoke English impeccably and translated for the Saklatvalas that broadcast over Radio Linares. Parrilla possessed great composure and concealed from us his dissatisfaction with his predicament, for he had plans to get himself with his wife and children clear of Spain. He feared for his life because he knew what his fate would be should the Francoists take the town and, what was more, there were elements on the Republican side that thought that the only good clergyman was a dead one. During our time at the hospital we were disturbed one day by gunfire in the town. The explanation for this upheaval was that an autonomous militia column refused to take orders from the Army HQ so it had to be dislodged from the building it had occupied for weeks.

Nevertheless the town looked as if Socialist law and order had functioned well. The churches, which were closed, showed no signs of having been attacked and the words "National Monument" painted at the entrances meant that they were now under the protection of the Authorities. Nuns nursed us in the hospital but priests were nowhere to be seen.

However, it is interesting to remember that the British Consul in Linares thought badly of Socialist law and priorities. He was visited by Sam Russell who, shot in the foot, hobbled out from the hospital on an afternoon stroll. Sam was astonished to find pictures of Hitler and Mussolini on the wall above the Consul’s desk. But really there was no reason to be astonished because, after all, both Hitler and Mussolini were the foremost custodians of Capitalist law and order.

Kerrigan allocated Edwards and me to an English-speakers’ Company in Madrigueras. He instructed us to report to Captain James Robertson Justice.

Before leaving Albacere we disposed of what money we had in our possession and treated ourselves to a memorable dinner in the Cafe Rodina where we met Paul Burns from the American Lincoln Battalion, a journalist from Boston with a liking for Goldsmith’s verse, and Arthur Ollerenshaw, an ex-member of the Royal Flying Corps who was then attached to the Staff at the base. Although Albacete at that time was a dreary place where fugitives, called the "demoralised" ones, roamed the streets which were muddy and studded with rain puddles, we did want very much to make the best of the town before going back to the firing line.

Frank Edwards jeered at those "wanting home" and made the saying a catch phrase which he used now and then to raise a laugh. He still wore hospital slippers so I had to carry him piggyback when we crossed the street from the restaurant to the Republican Club.

However, when we did report to Robertson Justice in Madrigueras, he was obliged to open up the store room and allowed us to pick out left and right boots which were suitable for size from a collection of footwear that had been thrown together into a heap. Our difficulties in finding boots to match gave him a chance to indulge in a dash of what was to be, in a future career, his stock in trade - irascibility.

Within a day or two he had disappeared from our midst and we never again saw or heard of him in Spain. Command of the Company went to Robert Traill, freshly out from Officers’ Training School who, without combat experience, was appointed Captain; but he was a linguist, having been a translator in Moscow. He was a Londoner originally. In Moscow he had married Miss V. Coutchof and he was well informed on matters to do with the Soviet Union and Marxism.

Alexander Scott, another English university man, like Traill, had worked in Moscow and he, too, had married a Russian girl. Both men were in their late thirties. They had come to Spain with a batch of volunteers that included men from the Moscow literary circle to which they had belonged.

Scott was elected political responsible for the Europeans, some thirty strong, that were part of an intercontinental gathering that would soon be named the No. 2 Company of the 20th International Battalion.

Johnny Gates of New York was the political responsible for the North Americans, and the Latin Americans. In all, the No. 2 Company mustered 92 volunteers.

The Battalion came into being on the 19th March 1937. On the previous day the Fascists on the Cordoba sector had launched an offensive which had prongs that pointed towards Almaden, famous because of its mercury mines. Pozoblanco and Puertollano were also threatened; and Albacete’s response to the pleas for aid coming from Andalusia was to patch together an English-speakers’ Company, a French Company, a Franco-Belge Company of experienced men, and a German-speakers’ Company into an under strength Battalion which fell short of six hundred men.

Darkness had fallen and it was raining when we assembled in the yard of the National Guard barracks at Albacete. The barracks resembled a desert fort and looked out of place in the center of a town. The yard was a dismal place in the rain, half of it had been concreted over but the remaining half was muddy and had enough rain puddles to turn the mud to slush as hundreds of men moved about during the distributions of arms and equipment. However, a great uplift in morale took place when the arms, newly imported from Russia were distributed. We were delighted by the excellence of the new rifles and light machineguns, as were our Franco-Belge comrades who received 13 heavy Maxim machineguns. The ammunition was in clips of five bullets and it was reassuring to know that it was common to all three weapons. Then, fully armed, we went from the darkness of the yard into the brightness of the dining hall. The tables were laid with bread and mugs of wine. Servers quickly brought along full plates of hot stew and in no time the diners acquired good cheer Frenchmen and Germans that we had learned to exchange the time of day with when we were in hospital, came from the other Companies to exchange greetings with us, four Irishmen sitting side by side.

Both Peter Daly and Paddy O’Daire asked Frank Edwards about Frank Ryan, and Edwards showed them a letter written in Gaelic by Ryan which he had received three weeks before. In it Frank Ryan had intimated that he was taking both Bill Scott and Donal O’Reilly home to Ireland. He also, in a spirit of good fellowship, ordered Edwards not to get killed; nor was Edwards to get wounded again.

Frank Ryan, with Jock Cunningham on the second day of the battle of Jarama, had appeared at the farmhouse which served as the Battalion’s kitchen at the moment when General Gal, the Commander of the XV Brigade, was haranguing the stragglers and calling upon them to return to the firing line. Ryan and Cunningham actually led the march back to the line. Each time that Ryan shouted to the marching ranks: "Are we downhearted?" a forest of clenched fists was raised as, unafraid, the men answered with a resounding "No!"

On reaching the Battalion’s battered line, Cunningham did not resume command of the No. 1 Company which "Kit" Conway had led in the Scot’s absence throughout the height of the fighting on the first day. Instead, he took command of the Battalion in place of Wintringham who had been one of the wounded that had been got off to hospital.

Fry’s machinegun Company, before being overrun, had struck a deadly blow and the Fascists, too, had dead, wounded and fugitives. Thus both sides on that battalion front were gathering their stragglers and digging-in.

Frank Ryan reported to Andre Diamint, an Egyptian with a command of English, whom Wintringham had appointed leader of No. 1 Company when "Kit" Conway, mortally wounded, was carried to the ambulance post. Frank and Andre, with the stalwart Cuban Comrade Manuel, who was a veteran of Lopera, dug in. All who served in the No. 1 Company knew Manuel because he was comradely and his fluency in English equaled that of his mother tongue which was, of course, Spanish. The front remained active with constant exchanges of fire, and two days later both Andre Diamint and Frank Ryan were helped to the ambulance station, Diamint had a slight head wound and Ryan had a bullet hole though an arm.

Our interest strayed to a large map of the Peninsula that was painted on the dining hall wall. The line of the battlefronts had changed little since December. Madrid, Barcelona and Bilbao were still in Republican hands. But the loss of Malaga, Andalusia’s largest port, in February had put paid to whatever plans there were for the Republican navy to play a leading role in a campaign to raise the people of occupied Andalusia against the Fascists so that the region’s capital, Seville, would be restored to the Republic.

O’Daire, having been a regular soldier, suspected that the Anarchists would fail to think clearly in military matters. He did not blame the forty thousand men that had been overwhelmed by the Duke of Bourbon’s land, sea and air forces in February; what he did blame the Anarchists for was having eight months, July 1936 to February 1937, in which they could have planned and carried out attacks on the smaller Fascist posts. He claimed that that quantity of time had been wasted; and that there would not be another time when the Anarchists would have numerical superiority. What had transpired in Malaga made O’Daire get on to evaluate the efforts of the Anarchists in Catalonia. He drew our attention to the fact that during that same eight months Barcelona had not sent adequate forces up the Ebro valley to eliminate the Fascists in Saragossa. But, Daly, Edwards and myself were not too impressed by discipline, and I believe that in the main we subscribed to the popularly held view that the masses would overwhelm the militarists. My own thoughts on how the war should be conducted had been shaped by Major George Nathan who believed that the first thing to do was to lift the beleaguerment of Madrid and clear the way for a Republican counter-offensive which would go all the way to the Portuguese border.

Cast out into the darkness our Battalion marched through the wind and the rain to the railway station. We were burdened with weapons and ammunition and for much of the way nobody had a word to say. There was not a soul to be seen in or about the station and Daly, as if knowing my thoughts, said to me "no pipes do hum; no battle drum."

We filled a train that stood in a siding. There was no heating and there was no way of excluding the cold, rampaging wind. We heard a railway man wheel tapping. He whistled "Valencia" as he worked his way along beneath the carriages. He had something to whistle about, I thought, he had a warm bed to go to and we ... ? I wondered. Jock MacCoy timed it right; his "I’m not saying much, but by Christ…." got a laugh.

When I awoke we were at Puertollano. In haste we got off the train and were left to wait for hours in the station forecourt. Then Aldo Morandi, appointed Commander of our newly founded XX International Battalion, addressed us. He spoke in French and Captain Traill translated the address into English. I liked what I heard. The history of the International Battalions only went back to the previous October, but Morandi’s telling of their names and fame as a booster of morale rivaled the very best spirit that the Gaelic race distilled. His face flushed as he mentioned the Garibaldi of the XII International Brigade, the Thaelmann, the Dombrowski, the Dimitrov; the Saklatvala and the Garibaldi again. I felt the glow rise to my own cheek as the spoken words thrilled me. He talked of the Red Shirts that, in the XIX Century, fought for Garibaldi; and of the thousand that won the day for Liberty. But our Battalion was not to take the name of a hero of Socialism. More than likely it would be included in a brigade of the Republic’s new model Army, and as the Spanish battalions would be known by numbers it was right and proper that we, too, should be known by a number - the XX.

Slight of build and below medium height, Morandi possessed a fine Italian countenance to match his personality. He had been a naval officer and his hair, graying at the temples, perhaps displayed the steel of experience which increased our confidence in him. He did not miss out on remembering the veterans of the XIV International Brigade whom he had seen during the December campaign on the Cordoba sector. He shook hands with each one of us.

In the late morning we marched through the town center on our way to find a billet in a boys’ school. The pedestrians on the sidewalks only gave us curious looks. A man emerged onto a wrought iron balcony and his "Viva La International Brigada" didn't find a seconder A little further on a Senora, elegant in a mantilla and veil, looking down upon us caught MacCoy’s eye, and he raised a laugh with: "Who fires a shot at you gray head, dies like a dog!"

A town father led No. 2 Company to a school building at the top of the promenade. While we waited in the yard we heard a cheer that all but lifted the roof off the school and then the scholars surged out with the light of liberation in their eyes to take us by the hands and cheer us and thank us. They welcomed us and asked us to prolong our stay. Amused, Frank Edwards observed that in truth we had liberated the schoolboys and I was for once quick to point out that one of the facets of that liberation was that for a time they would not have to laugh with counterfeited glee at school masters’ corny jokes.

We trained intensively but we found time to play rag-ball soccer in the yard. On Sunday afternoon when the people crowded the promenade, we found much friendship. The teenaged girls linked arm in arm made prisoners of us while their mothers and auntie surveyed the scene. In the early morning the country girls, riding on the necks of pannier-laden boros, going into town, tarried to sell goat’s milk and eggs to the small minority of the volunteers who thought it worthwhile to have the extra food.

Johnny Gates ran a Spanish class and produced a newssheet. The news was electrifying. A renewed attempt by the foe to advance at Jarama had been beaten back. And a large enemy force, including Mussolini’s legions had been routed. Our side was winning. The Garibaldi Battalion at Guadalajara dispatched to Morandi a token share of the booty which proved to be a boon to the XX Battalion. This share consisted of two five tonne trucks and a field kitchen.

The town’s garrison was further strengthened by the arrival of a battalion of Catalan Carabineros. Being Socialists to a man they were known as the "Sons of Negrin". These fine shock troops owed their existence as such to Juan Negrin who had been the Government Minister responsible for Customs and Excise at the time of the Fascist uprising. Then the Carabineros were a small organisation attached to the Customs Department; but Negrin, impressed by their loyalty to the Government, had them expand into three full-strength divisions.

One of the Internationalists in the act of cleaning a gun, shot himself. He was buried with full revolutionary honours. His funeral I believe, provided the Authorities with an opportunity to stage a show of strength to the "Fifth Column" that was known to exist within the town.

Next day an Anarchist group issued a handbill which demanded that we and the Carabineros be immediately dispatched to the firing line. It was stated that our presence was resented in the town. We were accused of having disrupted the food supplies by paying inflated prices for dairy products. Knowing that our purchases from the dairymaids were paid for in coppers Peter Daly was highly amused by the skill possessed by the backroom political animal to make mountains out of molehills

"We have Marxists from two continents," he went on, "and ner-a-wan to see the obvious"

Events aided the Anarchists in having their way in that the battle for Pozoblanco reached its height and we travelled west by the light railway to the battle zone. On 1st April we found that Pozoblanco was an empty town with its doors locked and shop windows shuttered. Not a soul was to be seen in its streets.

Over the telegraph in the railway office Morandi received orders and the train carried us on to a point some three kilometers beyond the town where a line of shallow trenches stretched across the fields on both sides of the railway and the road. There was naught to give evidence that these trenches had been so recently occupied by steady Republican riflemen and machine gunners for, not only had the dead and wounded been got away, but the empty cartridge cases had obviously been gathered up by salvage squads. There were bomb and shell holes which indicated that the foe had carried out bombardments of the line, and some two hundred yards away we found the remains of a Moroccan tabor that had fallen before the Red defence. Moroccans and their horses, huddled in grotesque heaps, told all too vividly of a cavalry charge that had disastrously failed. I was disappointed that the first dead Fascist that I saw had to be a young Moroccan who was most likely quite ignorant of the issues which were at the heart of the struggle.

We found H.Q. dugouts that showed that the enemy had intended to settle down to a long fight. In them were maps, stationery and boxes of Portuguese sardines. Comrade Hanson from Minneapolis, in charge of first aid, ruled that the fish was not to be eaten until the Battalion MO, Doctor Weinberg, sanctioned it as fit for human consumption.

"I’m not saying much but by Christ," said MacCoy, "we are being left to starve in the midst of plenty, and if I am going to go, it will be by poisoning."

So saying that he had always known that the short stiletto bayonet on his Soviet rifle would be useful for something, he opened two cans of sardines. Soon groups with satchels were setting off for the dugouts.

At dawn next day, while we were on stand-to, one of our trucks delivered a cauldron of coffee and a carboy of anis. Our Political Responsible, Alexander Scott, took charge of the spirits and saw to it that each of us got a stomach warmer as we stamped our feet against the cold wind. He was a good mine-host and told us stories of his days in Moscow.

Archibald Dewar from Aberdeen, who shaved each day, come rain, come shine, found a splendid shovel in the enemy dug-out and not only did he improve our section of trench, he dug out fox holes for Frank Edwards and me. Archy had been a gravedigger, and enjoyed a stint on the shovel. When Frank began to tease him he threatened to fill in the foxhole.

The Carabineros deployed on our right wing and a new Battalion from Valencia named Pablo Iglesias, after the father of Spanish Socialism, went onto our left wing. We were under orders from the Commander of the Pozoblanco sub-sector, Peres Salan, who had his HQ at Villanueva de Cordoba.

The news that the VI Spanish and the XIII International Brigades had moved into our theatre of war was well received. These Brigades had been in the fighting at Montril in which the Fascist advance beyond Malaga was finally halted.

Early on the 4th April our XX Battalion parted company with the Carabineros and the Valencianos and, surprisingly, marched back to Pozoblanco. There we boarded a trait of first class carriages. The train left immediately for Penarroya.

Penarroya, the west terminal of the Puertollano-Penarroya light railway, was an important road and rail junction and, more than that, the hill adjacent to it, El Terrible, was one of the hill forts that acted as strong points in the defence chain which the Fascists had fashioned to protect their functionaries and supporters in the city of Cordoba. The enemy had been building and fortifying this defence chain since October 1936, and when they said that their troops were falling back onto a prepared defence line, in this instance they were not lying. Apparently the plan which our leaders had produced relied heavily for success on the XX Battalion beating off any cavalry units that might attack; and on our taking advantage of the general chaos among the retreating Fascists with a view to steaming into the forward battle zone - or at least Penarroya itself.

As the smoke plumes of our engines would be seen from afar, the Republican air force was preparing to give us protection and co-ordinate its efforts with ours. This we did not believe; but we did accept the possibility of having tank support because we had seen seven tanks go down the road from Pozoblanco.

Morandi himself and Gates took their places with the footplate crew of the pilot engine which led the way by about two hundred yards. We travelled with our rifle barrels protruding from the carriage windows. Two crews with machineguns mounted on tripods rode in an open wagon at the rear of the train. I know that I well and truly had the windup; and MacCoy was not saying much. But on and on chuffed the iron horses of the railroad through cuttings and over built-up embankments their plumes rising ever higher. Chuffing with determination on a steep gradient our engine hauled us clear of a deep cutting and we emerged into the brightness of the day to pass over a long left hand curvature that for much of its length was carried by a high embankment. Morandi could now see all the carriages of the train. He exchanged clenched-fist salutes with excited volunteers leaning out over the carriage doors. Captain Dudel (Commander of the German Company), at the rear of the train, pointed to an impressive promontory that was massive and silent in the sunshine. And then an explosion lifted the track behind the pilot engine. Our train slowed down and I watched a salvo of shells skim over the embankment and go on to explode harmlessly in low fields. Paddy O’Daire jumped down from our carriage to look through field glasses over the landscape. I saw Morandi and the men from the pilot engine come running back to us, and another salvo of shells, this time whizzing down to explode short of the embankment. I believe the shells were coming from batteries that were sited at Belmez some three kilometers from the scene.

Amidst the shuddering sounds of shells passing too high to carry our carriage off the permanent way, and the erratic banging of the buffers, I felt the train snap into reverse. Then, generously aided by gravity, we glided back into the comparative safety of the cutting.

Left behind, O’Daire gave chase with Morandi’s party on his heels. It was a comical sight, but at that moment none had an eye for comedy.

Taking into account that a tabor of Moroccan cavalry coming upon our Battalion in such a confined space would put us permanently out of politics, Morandi ordered the Companies into an open field where they formed a hollow square, settling down to take on all comers. Unfortunately an observation post high on the promontory kept us under surveillance and again we came under artillery fire. Our first casualty was a French youth who was rushed by Hanson’s stretcher-bearers to an ambulance post, screaming in agony from a shrapnel wound in the stomach. The plight of the youth seemingly caused a man who had been a shell-shock case but had left hospital on his own volition to have a recurrence of his ailment. He had to be forcibly fastened to a stretcher.

However, the indefatigable Morandi acting as his own chief scout with a light Winchester slung on his shoulder, found a glade nestling behind a green bank that was a natural breastwork laying at right angles to the trajectories of the incoming shells. Our Number Two Company, led by Traill, Dart, Daly and O’Daire, happily followed the textbook instructions, and by a process of plunging to earth as the shells were arriving, then rising with alacrity to run between the salvos, reached the glade in safety. We spread ourselves just below the crest of the green bank. The French and Franco-Belge Companies were equally lucky in getting to the glade without loss but as the last of the Germans came in rushes to join us, a cruel drama of war was to take place before our very eyes.

The last dozen men rose to cover the short sprint to the green bank, but one was seen to be slower than the rest. He dallied. His comrades, doubtlessly delighted to have found sanctuary from the shells, looked around and called on him to hurry. Their calls caused him to raise his hands as if he was trying to grasp something as he wobbled. He had but to wobble on a few steps more to join his comrades. They urged him. We had all heard the discharge of the guns and we knew that shells were gurgling across the sky. Now French and English voices were raised too. The seconds were ticking away. What on earth was that man doing? His wobbling turned him about and he started off to the area of danger.

"He is blinded," somebody called. Every heart was beating for him.

On the instant that his plight was understood, three gallant Germans rushed to his aid. They grasped him by the hands. Two dragged him. The third put a kindly palm to his back to hasten him along; but all was in vain because shells came over the green bank. The rescuers plunged to the earth with their blind comrade beneath them as if it were a rugby scrum. Explosion followed explosion and when the stones and clay that were thrown up into ugly fountains had settled, it was discovered that all four volunteers were dead.

With a certain abruptness this artillery bombardment stopped. The planes that had they come on the scene approximately an hour earlier might have made it possible for the XX Battalion to finish its journey to Penarroya, now passed overhead. We counted eight silver planes. They bombed many targets and it appeared to us that they knocked out the enemy artillery. Made unafraid by this turn in events, we lined the green bank to watch our airmen at their work. Hostile aircraft arrived and dog-fights took place with planes in flames falling to earth; but our eight silver friends came back as they had gone forward, wing-tip to wing-tip, as one of our comrades remarked. At sundown our cooks, comrades Strachan and Flecks, carried baskets of bread and raisins to the glade. Local volunteers came with a dispatch rider and when he was gone they guided us to a clearing in the woods where Morandi again ordered the Companies to be four sides of a hollow square.

In the night one of our Section deserted. At the dawn stand-to I found Frank Edwards ill. A gum that had been hacked during a tooth extraction had failed to heal. All night it had been hemorrhaging and Dr. Weinberg, taking a serious view of Frank’s condition ordered him to hospital. Peter Daly replaced Edwards as Section Command and told me to see Frank down to the train.

Poor Frank had little to say during our walk down to the railway line. He must have been terribly depressed. The Battalion Quartermaster sorting his goods by the side of the track, gave Frank a packet of cigarette5 and an orange. He thought again and gave me the same. That Frank and I could be together for long periods without talking perhaps was the thing that bound us together apart from the interests that we shared in song and story, and in Ireland past and present. Of course, we could drink together and in our cups we could sing and dance as they say, with the best of them. A stretcher Party carried Val Moran, the Second Lieutenant in charge of the Latin Americans, to the train. He had a sprained ankle having fallen out of a tree which he had climbed to spy the land. His presence, I thought, only added to Frank’s sense of guilt. They hardly spoke to each other. I got out of the carriage in time to be asked by the Quartermaster to help close the doors of a goods wagon. In the wagon lay the bodies with their boots still on. The stiff toes were set to the sky. He said that he would arrange for them to be buried at Pozoblanco and that the sick men would go on to the hospital at Villanueva de Cordoba. When the train pulled away I felt myself to be the loneliest lad in all the world. What was more disconcerting to me was the knowledge that I depended on Edwards to such a great degree for the courage that comes to one from an association with a brave man.

On the way back to the Battalion I lost my way in the woods and, on my second passing of a woodsman's hut, remembered having heard that one has no sense of direction and simply goes around in circles when lost in a forest. Hearing the sound of horses’ hooves I concealed myself in undergrowth but no horsemen came my way. It was near sundown when I heard the voices of men approaching and I again went to earth. I was hearing an argument that was being conducted in French. I listened more intensely to leave myself in no doubt. Then, knowing that no French units were with the Francoist forces, I called out, "Viva Andre Marty!"

Peter Daly was anxious about the man that fought the bishop and what I had to tell him was not reassuring. Often, as giving recognition to a man of history, Daly referred to Edwards as the man that fought the bishop.

Peter had news for me. The new arrangements were that he would replace Moran as officer commanding the Latin Americans, and I would take on Frank Edwards’ Section Commander job.

During the night 5th to 6th April, following local guides, Morandi led his four companies through the Woodlands of Las Castillelas to a point which is perhaps as little as two kilometers distant from the Promontory that we were to call El Terrible.

At first light we saw its great bulk looming up before us. I viewed it as if it were menacing. It had a sinister aspect in the silence of the morn.

The Battalion extended in a long single rank, sheltered out of sight along the edge of the wood. We would go forward in a series of rushes, each differing in length so as to make it difficult for the enemy gunners to predict a range that was not at least twenty-five yards in error. Our survival depended largely upon our enemy’s miscalculations yet the atmosphere that our battle line evoked was heartening. Morandi nurtured the climate of valour by having the veterans step forward five paces so that he could shake hands with them individually. He completed this piece of theatre by having the entire line advance and dress rank from the veterans.

But this euphoric belief that all was going well was suddenly and surprisingly shattered by discharge of shells from our own battery that, unknown to us, was no more than two hundred yards to our rear. "By Christ," said MacCoy, "to have your shit twisted crossways by your own guns".

Daly popped over to amuse me with a report on his own "auld narves" and I quoted George Nathan who once said that it might take six months, it might take two years but the nerves would let one down in the end.

The mists of morning in intermittent banks rolled over the countryside, and Daly asked me if I were of the Thua de Denan. With me on the maternal side there was a connection with the borderers brave from the banks of the Bann; but then there was O’Daire with his Donegal accent. He was very much the small dark man from Ulster.

"Begor you’re right," said Daly. "O’Daire’s the man!"

At last a motorcyclist delivered the dispatch to Morandi and without delay, our chieftain, flanked by the Battalion staff, took up station at the head of his men. Upwards to the full he stretched his right arm from the shoulder and, sweeping it forward, gave the signal for the advance on El Terrible to begin.

He had to step high to avoid tripping on the rough scrub and this conveyed to the men his zest in the swift advance.

The guns entered into a duel and we, below the gurgling shells with banks of Thua de Denan mist rolling around us, without losing a single man passed over the distance to the base of El Terrible. As we approached the base of this mighty hill we saw a rider who did not draw his bridal until he was about to speak. He asked for the Commandante, and we pointed to the small man taking high footsteps in the rough. Arms and ammunition lay abandoned upon the rising ground. A Staff Officer from Operations Command showed Morandi the sector of the base which was allocated to our Battalion. We were surprised to find that our side did not have enough men with which to surround El Terrible, apart from the fact that the nature of the enemy’s defence system, built as it was on an arc of good road and rail communications, virtually made it impossible for the Republicans to get to any battle zone "firstest with the mostest" as they had succeeded in doing on the areas of Almaden and Pozoblanco. But in war there is the unpredictable and who was to know that the Fascist forces that had fallen back before the tricolour so recently would not give way at Penerroya too?

Our two lorries got close to our position and we got loaves of bread, footballs of Dutch cheese and a carboy of red wine. Not far away Spaniards showed us a well of delightfully cold water. Beside it an almond tree had shed a bountiful store of nuts. The evening was quiet when, with Peter Daly, I took a stroll to fill our water bottles.

We had fixed the guard rota and settled down for the night when the Fascists descended upon us. They were no more than 100 yards away when the single shot of a lookout acted as a call to arms. Their slogan of "Long live Christ the King" we heard briefly before the machineguns of both sides filled the darkness with a pervading din of doom. Being responsible for the Section took my mind off my own predicament which was due to a nagging thought that these accursed machineguns which had laid low two my boyhood friends at Lopera would not allow me to live for long. I saw to it that two light machine gunners and riflemen firing in unison sent volley after volley at the flickering of the enemy machineguns. We shouted "No Pasaran!" The foe could not have heard our voices but "No Pasaran" did the world of good to us. Captain Traill moved from Section to Section on a quick check and then, in a composed way, continued to keep control from his command post. He performed excellently for a man who was experiencing his baptism in small arms fire. He had kept his cool, too, during the artillery bombardments.

Over on our right tanks fought an engagement during the crescendo of the firing and after they disengaged, the diminuendo took place. At last only the occasional outburst of shots, like the barking of dogs, told us that the Fascists were returning to the summit and the security of the hill fort. They may have thought it worthwhile to stage a rumpus with a view to frightening off the new arrivals.

Down again under my blanket I was awakened by Peter Daly. He was delighted that the foe had been repulsed, and he was delighted, too, because he had a piece of special good news for me. Peter told me that he was back. I asked if the "he" he mentioned was the man who fought the bishop and Peter’s answer was most firmly in the affirmative. I was on my feet in an instant and ran towards Edwards who had just got away from reporting to Captain Traill. He was telling Andy Anderson and Bob Armstrong of the great time he had had in hospital.

Frank Edwards was in high spirits because he had arrived in time for the fight. He had been in the act of reporting to Morandi when the shooting started and, as he did not know the position, he stayed with the French Company which was just ahead of Morandi’s command post. Afterwards Lieutenant Sabatier spoke highly of the volunteer from Ireland who had stood with the French.

Edwards’ return to the Company was a boost for the morale of the men. In their eyes Frank did not have to come back. He had had to hitch a lift in an ambulance to get to El Terrible, and he was there with a gun when he was needed.

At midnight Morandi received an order from on high to detach two Companies of the XX International Battalion for service at Chimorra. He refused to divided the Battalion.

Chimorra (959 meters), which was a hill fort in the enemy defence arc, lies close to Villa Harta which, as the crow flies is some twenty-nine kilometers south-east of Perarroya. Eventually Morandi compromised and detached one Company, the English-speakers’ Company, for service on Chimorra.

Before first light on the 8th April 1937 we English-speakers bade farewell to the XX Battalion. We marched seven kilometers to a point that was out of sight to the enemy observers. From that point we were carried by train to Pozoblanco. The Transit Officer was waiting for us at the railway station and he directed us down into the town where we had to await transport. We exchanged salutations with a group of girls and old men with goats, civilians returning to their homes. They followed us down from the station and disappeared into the empty town. We sat down on the ground with our backs to a wall and we received a liberal supply of sherry. In fact, a barrel of Jerez passed into the jurisdiction of Jock MacCoy. Tinned meat and bread were also in plentiful supply. Alexander Scott remarked on how pleasant it was to have found time to stay for lunch.

Others, too, found something amusing to say. Peter Daly, perhaps a little irked at the sardonic attitude of the Transit Officer, referred to him as "A distant sort of chap."

"Ah, it’s only his ould way. He’s one of them that is nice when you get to know him," said Edwards.

"And when are we going to get to know him?" said a chorus.

MacCoy was delivering a spirited rendering of "Hi Johnnie Cope" when we were disturbed by twenty-one Chatos flying over the roof tops. Leather helmeted pilots leaned out of the cockpits to give us friendly waves; and we, thrilled to see so many of our planes so intimately, cheered our airmen and, indeed, the tricolour that graced the wings of the planes. Still enjoying the sherry, we raised a great cheer for three field guns which, hitched to lorries, were hauled down the road to Villa Harta.

We followed in civilian buses. At one point these vehicles had to creep across an improbable, improvised bridge; and further on they had to hug the bank while inching their way over a distance of thirty yards where half the width of the road had slipped down an embankment during an air raid. On reaching the battle area of Chimorra we heard the good news that the Fascist airmen had bombed their own infantry by mistake. The bad news was that the officer who had planned the assault on the hill fort had just been shot dead by an enemy sniper. He had intended to lead the assault and he had hoped that our Company of International Brigadiers would act as the spearhead of the attack. Stretcher-bearers carried his body past us as we stood all keyed up to go into the attack.

By nightfall, apparently, the hill fort had been reinforced and the attack had been called off. Members of the Villa Franca Battalion came down the mountain path to guide us up to take over the positions on the secondary heights that had been assigned to us.

In the Cuerda de los Algibas area, lying between the heights of Chimorra and the road connecting Pozoblanco and Villa Harta, our side was setting up a line to shield the forces that it was hoped would go down the road to overwhelm the Fascists around Villa Harta, and go on to punch a hole in the main defence system so that the city of Cordoba could be liberated.

Part of the Company, including Peter Daly’s men, shared a hill with the Villa Franca Battalion and this hill I will henceforth refer to as the Villa Franca Hill. The other hill had not been occupied before and this one was called the crooked hill after its shape.

It was onto this crooked hill that Captain Traill led us in the dead of the night after we had completed an exhausting climb up from the road. He had the wisdom to order that every man shallow out a foxhole before attempting to go to sleep.

Bob Armstrong awakened me by shaking my chin. After I had intimated that I was awake the hand, restraining me from lifting my head, was withdrawn and I then acted similarly to the next man along.

The truth was that some of us had settled down on ground that was exposed to enemy snipers and, not having dug in deep, we were now depending desperately upon the scant cover that the low scrub added to our shallow foxholes. On the heights were enemy marksmen, said to possess rifles equipped with telescopic sights. Their bullets belted into the ground. Some zipped past terrifyingly close. Mercilessly the sun was high in the sky and my mouth stayed parched because I could not drink yesterday’s sherry that halt’ filled my water bottle. My sense of demoralisation was increased by the cries of a wounded man.

"Mon Capitain," he called, "Mon Capitain help me; help me or I die."

This time said in earnest, rather than in jest, came MacCoy’s "I’m not saying much; but by Christ."

His saying now had its own magic and mirth battled with my fear. With composure and skill, Traill and Hanson pulled the wounded man off the crest. Stretcher-bearers carried him through the olive trees along a path that went through a gap between the Villa Franca Hill and a great ridge. This path was out of sight of the enemy all the way down to the road.

After a period of motionlessness on our part the snipers, most likely succumbing to the siesta sleep, lost interest in us and we used our trenching tools to construct a system of deep zigzag trenches. In the meantime, Traill had set up an H.Q. position in a space among the bushes on the safe side of this crooked hill and we repaired there to relax and chat.

Facing west, O’Daire’s Section and a Section of North Americans took on the responsibility of occupying and improving the trenches which we had constructed. It was named the Company’s important XII o’clock position. There was no III o’clock position because on the right the ground sloped swiftly to the base of the friendly Villa Franca Hill.

The IX o’clock position, looking south to the Cerro del Pajilijo area, and the Guadal Barbo River, was given to Baker’s Section. Because of the high bushes it would prove to be a hard place to defend. The enemy posts were a great distance away and our snipers had to go forward a long way to shoot at Fascists who demonstrated their unperturbedness.

Settling in at the VII o’clock position, Edwards’ Section overlooked a valley and the road beyond it. We soon found out that the gentle wood-crested hills to the south on the approach to Villa Harta had been well fortified by the foe. On the west side of the road the foe had machinegun posts which occasionally were to take a long-range swipe at us. But the immediate section of road that we watched, and the valley with its white house, were all in no-man’s-land.

The great ridge, on our left, that overlooked the valley from the north was endowed with a massive boulder, and beneath this boulder our Spanish comrades had burrowed deep. There, commanding the road from Villa Harta, they had set up a nest of machine guns that played a preponderous role in the conflicts that we witnessed at Chimorra.

Back down the path going through the olive trees to the gap, the first aid men laid out their stretchers and built a wigwam. Close to the wigwam was a well, a spring of ice cold water. Downstream from the spring, where the water rose to tumble over a tiny weir, we washed. Just below the weir the ground was visible to the enemy snipers looking over the crooked hill. It was the close shave area.

We patrolled no-man’s-land, went to forward positions to snipe, and time and again joined in the fighting when the enemy attempted to overrun the great ridge or when our ##### with tank support, moved down the valley to attack the wood-crested hills where the Fascists guarded the approach to Villa Harta.

However, these were days when we enjoyed the April weather and filled the hours with talk. Edwards and Scott shared a common interest in the works of William Shakespeare, and they engaged in deep discussions on the great plays. Scott did not believe that Shakespeare was a Tudor hack and politically nothing more than that; indeed he credited Shakespeare with being opposed to Monarchy, so much so that nothing ugly that could be said against monarchs was left unsaid.

Scott seemingly had been an ardent theatergoer when he was in Moscow and I remember him telling us about a play that he had seen in which a prisoner trying to escape became exhausted and then prayed to the iron bars for the strength to finish the work of sawing through them. Alexander Scott loathed religion and nationalism and he expressed pleasure in being a comrade of four godless Irishmen in the XX Battalion.

He once talked about Lope de Vega’s play which preserved the legend of the people of Fuente Oveniuna accepting collectively the charge of killing the Knight-Commander who had tyrannised over them.

Like Penarroya, Fuente-O-Venjuna fell to the Fascists in October 1936 and, since then, had been a strong point in their defence system.

Foul weather spread over the Sierra Morena and day differed little from night. At Chimorra on the crooked hill we moved to and fro beneath the trees to the bushes and then back to the trees. Time stood still and there was naught else but the rain and the wind. The wind and the rain lashed the hillsides and sent streamlets tumbling down every slope. I believe that before the weather changed most of us had sunk down to sleep in the slush. It was the silence that took over in the wake of the howling wind that in its own sweet way recalled us to the land of the living.

Our fellow sufferers of the storm, our Fascist foes, lit fires, apparently expecting us to observe an unofficial truce. We did, too, for a little while, but after the Spanish field kitchen surprisingly supplied each man with a mug-full of hot milk we got on to discussing the situation, and decided to have the Fascists piss on their fires. We discharged a volley into the light cloud lifting off the hilltop.

Then came the news from El Terrible, and great news it was too. Morandi, making the storm his ally, had led his three Companies right up to the summit of El Terrible and, by achieving surprise, which is the very first principle of war, took control of the hilltop from the foe. His men were said to be firing at the Fascists who were barricading the streets of Penarroya.

Bert Neville came in for a special commendation for his contribution to the spirit of the Company. He could have gone to hospital because he was fifty-five years old and frail; and yet, in spite of what he had endured in the storm, he soldiered on beside the toughest of the young men. Alexander Scott told us of Neville’s past. Bert had been with the interventionist British Army that went to Murmansk in 1920. His experiences there taught him many lessons, and he was converted to Communism. He became an ardent friend of Soviet Russia. On his return to England he was soon a confidante of Harry Pollitt. In London he had earned his living as a taximan. Al Freeman from St. Louis was similarly praised.

Next morning, wrongly directed, an Anarchist Battalion came up through the gap and struck out for our hill, the crooked hill. The leading group of Anarchists shot one of our first aid men dead. Four bullets smashed into his chest and, doubtlessly, they would have followed up this mistake with many more had not Captain Paco of the Villa Francas come racing from his own position, shouting: "Hombres!"

The unfortunate Anarchists, sickened by this initial mistake, went on to carry out a daylight attack on the Chimorra summit. They failed. The air raid which was planned to coincide with the attack was very late in arriving. However, when the air strike did take place it gave the surviving Anarchists a chance to get themselves and their wounded out of Death Valley, which lay beneath Chimorra, and onto our hill. Their presence on the crooked hill provoked the enemy artillery and our positions came under fire for a short period. No casualties were incurred.

But the golden sun of victory quickly faded at El Terrible because the enemy’s counterattack came before the three Internationalist Companies were reinforced and the summit passed out of Morandi’s grasp. Afterwards he contended in conversation that had he even the support of the English speakers’ Company it would have been enough to allow him to hold on until other Republican units were found to assist him.

Morandi’s daring and skilful leadership had to be acknowledged. He was given command of the 86th Brigade and he repaired to Dos Torres to gather together the battalions that had been assigned to the Brigade. He would have to find men to fill the gaps in the ranks and he would have to carry out a crash programme of reorganisation. All this sounded well in the Orders of the Day, now regularly distributed from Dos Torres, but the rumours that sprung from these items of news played havoc with the morale of our Company. No. 1 rumour was that we would be relieved on Manyana! and taken back to Dos Torres.

Bob Traill had an offer of being appointed Chief of the Brigade Staff. He told us about it, agonised about it, and left us. To some it seemed that he had chosen a good billet for himself and left us to our own devices on the crooked hill. It would have been better for all concerned had Morandi simply ordered Traill to present himself at Dos Torres. The enemy, too, preparing a general attack, shelled our hill from various points. They also advanced snipers to challenge our activities in sharp shooting. A number of our men were hit; among them was comrade Pitman of London, who was shot through the head.

Camarada Delgado, a Latin American who spoke excellent English, left to be Traill’s Sergeant Secretary. On the front line in the XX Battalion, none held a non-commissioned officer rank or received a differential in pay. These duties were carried out by those of us with experience and a willingness to serve.

One of our comrades who possessed a good knowledge of politics, and was something of an orator, suddenly offered to fill our bottles as he was going to the well. He did not stop until he reached Albacete. Fortunately our bottles were found the next day in the scrub where he had cast them. Another comrade of similar accomplishment shot himself in the left forearm. The sleeve of his jacket bore the telltale powder marks. Next day one of the less eloquent comrades wrapped a piece of blanket around his forearm; but when he was got off to hospital, the blood-stained, powder-marked rag of blanket was discovered partially buried at the guard post where he had been.

And that was it. The rest of us joined Peter Daly in complaining about our "ould narves" and put up with the hardship. Of course, MacCoy had us in stitches of laughter when he told us that in Flanders the fellow with the undetected, self-inflicted wound in the left forearm would tell his friends that the same bullet had killed two or at least one man before reaching him. Edwards wanted to know just how such a unique happening could be witnessed.

"By a fellow with telescopic eyes," claimed MacCoy.

An Order of the Day distributed from Dos Torres confirmed that Robert Traill was Chief of the Brigade Staff, and that Lieutenant Rolin Dart was the Officer commanding No. 2 Company. It named Peter Daly and Patrick O’Daire as Lieutenants, commissioned to fill the vacancies created by Moran and Traill leaving the Company. Volunteer Menduig came to us from the French Company to partially make up for our loss of linguists. He had a slow spoken knowledge of both English and Spanish. He had been in the French regular army and O’Daire was impressed more by his comprehension of military matters than his prowess as a linguist. O’Daire carried French military textbooks in his haversack. We named Menduig the French attaché. He took up residence with Edwards’ Section and had only got his head down to sleep when the enemy launched an attack. In the din, when every weapon available was blasting into the night, Archibald Dewar suggested to Frank Edwards that we should give the foe a slogan. And in after years Frank often told the story of how he had to take time off from shooting at the enemy to go through a tedious explanation so as to define the word "slogan" to our interpreter.

Caproni bombing planes delivered a heavy attack on the ridge at the head of the valley but a solid outcrop of rock adequately protected our friends in the machinegun nest, and when the aircraft droned off the Red Maxim gunners rapped out the rap of the postman’s knock. With its metallic ring that knock went reverberating down the valley, conveying to our infantry foes the news of the air raid having failed to silence the Maxims! The reliable Maxims from Russia.

It was a beautifully quiet dawn. The hill peaks, serene above the level of the mists, caught the first light and looked like islands that were set in a motionless sea. Towards the end of the stand-to we burst into song and we sang one of Frank Edwards’ favourites

— The Song of the Dawn.

Then, armed with a toothbrush, soap and towel, I accompanied a North American —Max Eversharp — to the well area. He said that he thought it was the eighteenth of April and laughed when I connected it with Paul Revere.

In the not-safe area below the well, Max examined unexploded shells that had, on arrival, just slid down the slope to a harmless halt. He was of the opinion that the workers in Germany had sabotaged these shells and he set to work with a lump of stone to hammer a nose cap loose so that it could be unscrewed. I was scared because I was not familiar with shells, live or dud. I had once been scared of hand grenades and, in time, they had become part of my security in that I would not go to sleep without checking that there were at least six grenades in a satchel beside me.

Moving to a lower spot where I went down prone on the friendly clay I watched this young man from the New World use a Neanderthal tool to remove detonators from twentieth century projectiles of death. He removed three nose caps but found no messages of solidarity from the factory hands. Max was contemptuous of my caution.

We went on up onto the Villa Franca Hill and visited Peter Daly. He produced a the quarter full bottle of wine and gave us a vivid description of the behaviour of the Fascists on High Chimorra during the night shoot-ups. According to Peter they bucketed two grenades which, falling from a great height, exploded long before hitting the ground. They also mixed the slogan of "Long Live Christ the King" with threats of sexual extravagances which they intended to perpetrate upon the wives, daughters and sons of Red Peter had a scab on his nose which covered a graze that he had incurred on one of m earlier visits, when he had insisted that I went out with him to a parapet to shoot at sniper while he watched through his field glasses. On that day the sniper, I believe frightened us more than we frightened him. Peter was very much in Command and did no have the time to entertain Max and me because Dart and Gates were down with Colonel Castill at an H.Q. meeting.

Back on the crooked hill I found Frank Edwards chatting with the Paddy O’Daire circle in the H.Q. clearing. Then shells, very much in prime condition began to come in on the hill like express trains, each throwing up a fountain of dust and stones. We heard the sound of approaching aircraft and O’Daire ordered everybody to their bunkers. On the way to the dugout I stopped. I shouted at Frank to stop and we had just flattened ourselves into the clay when, about ten yards in front, five or six shells crashed into the ground. Dust and stones from the fountains of the explosion fell upon us and rattled upon our helmets.

"You saved our lives this time," Frank admitted. For the sake of merriment, he usually disputed such claims.

The Capronies attacked the great ridge again and this time gave the crooked hill its share of bombs. When the planes flew off the guns resumed their bombardment and tanks moved up to fire at the machinegun nest. They also fired at our trenches and dugouts. This was the heaviest bombardment that any of us had experienced, and when it stopped as suddenly as it had begun we sighed with sighs of relief.

But our troubles had really only begun because when Edwards heard the unmistaken sound of grenade explosions he ordered every man out of the trenches and dugouts. We just had time to form a line and aim our rifles at the foemen coming towards us through the tall bushes. In this brief exchange of fire I suspect that the foemen — we saw their youthful Spanish faces — were marching forward firing from the hips and as we were firing from the shoulder, taking aim, indeed making the best use of our serviceable Soviet rifles, we had the better of it because, as the great Tom Barry laid down, we are all good shots at close range.

I darted through the bushes to warn O’Daire that we needed help, but to my horror another batch of the enemy, most of them in cloaks, were marching through the HO. space. Again I noticed men firing their rifles from the hips. Naturally I was far from being a composed observer of all that was happening and they, too, must have been terribly excited because if they noticed me at all, they must have taken me to be one of themselves going in the same direction.

I doubled back to Edwards and shouted the news at him. He was hurling hand grenades over the bushes. I do not think that he heard me.

Then I was off at full speed. Descending along a path through the olive trees I believe that I was airborne for much of the time. However, I passed Benny Hughes from Liverpool and he shouted at me. We stayed together, trying to get our breaths back; and then, 8cting on sheer instinct, we emptied a magazine each, taking aimed shots at the cloaked figures that were coming down the open slope of the crooked hill.

The worst of the panic had passed and now, unafraid, we remembered that we should make for the gap that lay between the great ridge and the Villa Franca Hill. Before we made the gap we came upon a cluster of our comrades. All were out of breath; all had run 0ff the crooked hill. Amazingly, the wounded MacCoy had carried his light machinegun all the way. A grenade had exploded at his heels and his legs and buttocks had multiple pieces of shrapnel embedded in them. A Cockney named Cooper still had his light machinegun, and Barney Mumford from Bootle had held on to ammunition pans, as had others. They were good men.

O’Daire, older than most of us and struggling for breath, propped himself against the bole of one of the tall trees. On reflection he was, at this juncture, very much the small, dark man from Ulster. The Cuchulain figure propped up to face his foes. Alexander Anderson and Frederick Warbrick, his most trusted men, stood left and right of him.

Like the conductor of an orchestra, O’Daire was lifting his arms from the elbows and dropping them again. "Form a line! Form a line!" he called. The Company Clerk, an American named Mike Athanasiades with a foot shattered by a shell, in spite of the pain, had made it off the hill. Hanson got him and MacCoy down through the gap to the road.

Anderson and Warbrick collected ammunition from those who had more than half filled pouches and carried out a redistribution so as to bring those who had cast off their ammunition pouches back into the fight. Nothing could be done for the few that had ditched their rifles; they stood passive as sheep, waiting to be slaughtered.

Bob Renart asked for Edwards, and it was only then that I became conscious of his absence. Distraught as I was, I immediately accused myself of having run off and left him alone on the hill. The only explanation for his absence was that he was lying wounded, waiting for a merciless Fascist to finish him off. This was a thought that I could not live with easily and, a little hysterically, I began to call for an instant counterattack.

I believe my comrades were ashamed of having been chased off the crooked hill and they quickly responded to the idea of taking it back. Against his better judgement, O’Daire could do no other than step forward to lead us into a stand-up shoot-out with the foe that was perhaps six times our number. The foe, paying little attention to us, was moving down the open slope to deliver a flank attack on the Villa Franca Hill.

It was then that the enemy’s main attacking force, sweeping up Death Valley under the covering fire provided by the garrison on the summit of Chimorra, spilled over the Villa Franca Hill. Thus, from the right, in great confusion amidst bursting shells, poured hundreds of men making a speedy retreat; and it was then that O’Daire’s organised line came into its own as a rallying point.

Bert Neville turned his rifle barrel away from the foe on the slope and into the face of a shouting Spaniard rushing towards him, but Bob Renart, using his own gun, lifted Bert’s rifle barrel in time to save the lad who was shouting "Villa Franca!"

"I thought that he was shouting Viva Franco!" said Bert.

Peter Daly was being helped along. He had a leg wound and wounds in the buttocks. I assisted Hanson in throwing Daly over the back of a mule that the Yank had commandeered in the melee.

"Good on you Dub," said the Wexford man to me.

O’Daire was again pressing his back against the bole of a tree. A branch slashed by shrapnel, hanging by its back, swung like a pendulum above his head. Now the gunners beneath the boulder on the great ridge turned their attention to the Fascists on the open slope of the crooked hill. The foe was devastated; only a few survivors fell back to the bush area where we had had our positions.

The machine gunners also dealt with a cavalry charge by Moroccans that stormed up the road from Villa Harta. Rolin Dart and Johnny Gates, out of breath from rushing up the mountain path, joined us. They were determined to lead us back to our old positions.

At the going down of the sun Capitan Paco and the other leaders of the Villa Franca led these old veterans in a culpe de mano which chased the newly-installed Fascists off the Villa Franca Hill.

Dart and Gates got their old positions back again, but O’Daire’s men had to join them and forget about taking the crooked hill.

Again, as at El Terrible I was awakened. This time by the kindly Cooper, to be told that my mate was back. Safe and sound was Frank Edwards; and he was delighted to find that I, too, was a survivor. He told me of his adventures after he had run off the crooked hill into the valley. Maury Colow from New York and an Argentinean named Jean were his companions. Jean was crippled by a bullet in the leg, and Frank carried him shoulder high. But Jean sustained a second wound and Frank, aided by Maury Colow, then had to drag the weak and wounded man along the ground because he refused to be an elevated target for a second time. They evaded the Moroccans advancing up the road, and got to the north side of the ridge.

Two days later a new Anarchist Battalion, first time in action, recaptured the crooked hill. More than one hundred Fascists were trapped and killed in the tall bushes.

We collected the bodies of our dead and made shallow graves for them in a part of the olive grove which seemed not to attract bombardment. Gates gave a short oration and Edwards sang the Gaelic lament of "Slivenamon". Spurning superstition Johnny Gates inherited Alexander Scott’s mountaineering shoes. I noticed that Frank Edwards, more than the rest of us, mourned the passing of Scott from our ranks.

The new Commander of the XX International Battalion, a Mexican named Colonel Comez, came to Chimorra to visit his No. 2 Company. He was shocked to find we were so few. We had but 45 men left out of our original strength of 92. He came bearing gifts of cigarettes and slabs of chocolate that had been made by the Ciudad Real Co-operative. Comez could speak English and his first message was that we would be relieved on the morrow — manyana. He wanted, on behalf of Lieutenant Daly, to shake hands with the small dark man, Dub and with him that fought the bishop. Comez had been greatly impressed by Lieutenant Daly whom he had visited at Vilanueve de Cordoba’s hospital.

Daly had promised Comez that he would cut short his period of convalescence so as to play a role in rebuilding the Battalion.

Just over the rim of the Villa Franca Hill were shallow redoubts, and in front of them were roughly improvised barricades of stones. These were manned at the dawn and dusk stand-tos and throughout the night the entire unit slept there; but throughout the daylight hours only look-outs stayed for sentry stints and the rest of us relaxed on the safe face of the hill where we built sunshades over our foxholes.

The New Yorkers Bob Renart and Mark Alpese played contract bridge with Frank Edwards and me. We chatted a lot and looked forward to the leave in Dos Torres where we would be able to sit upright and have our games on marble-topped tables. One day we missed Bob. He had been due off sentry stint and his companion, who had left the redoubts after him, expressed alarm because he had heard a sniper’s shot. Edwards and I went up the zigzag path. On the summit we crawled over the stony ground. The zipping whiz of the sniper’s bullets kept my heart pounding. The sparse, low shrub was our only accomplice in this fearful undertaking.

I said to Frank that a piece of green cloth lay over a big stone some twenty feet away. We slid like lizards up onto the skyline hoping, if only for our own safety, that it was not Bob’s uniform. But it was his arm that was on the stone. He lay spread-eagled. His glazed eyes stared at the sky. We could see that a bullet had passed through his head and helmet. The helmet was kept in place by the chinstrap. Now that we knew, we would leave Bob there until nightfall. The sniper was letting us know that he had noticed movement in the shrub.

But as a matter of routine I took Bob’s pulse. Frank agreed that it was strong. We called for Hanson. He had a stretcher party waiting at the head of the rugged path. A distance of thirty feet had to be traversed by Frank and I exerting a simultaneous pull on Bob’s armpits as we squeezed ourselves to the ground. Then we rose to a stooped stance and hurried Bob onto Hanson’s stretcher. He agreed that the pulse was strong. A dozen of us acting as relief stretcher-bearers ran behind the first aid party. Villa Franca men and machine gunners from the ridge joined us in this dash to save the life of an International Volunteer, but all was to no avail. Ten minutes after we reached the ambulance station —a white house near the road — Johnny Gates emerged from the black interior into the brilliant sunshine. We saw that his eyes blinked and that his face was set as if he wanted to cry. He did not have to speak.

On the 29th April the Villa Franca men and ourselves were relieved. We departed from Chimorra at the dead of night in the midst of an electric storm.

The men that came to take our place, poor fellows, could not but have had a terrifying first Impression of the place. Captain Paco showed them the shallow redoubts and barricades on our rain-lashed hill. Intermittently lit up by lightning was the Fascist hill fort in the sky, and the sound of the rolling thunder for much of the time muffled the roar of the artillery duel taking place because the Fascists knew that new Republican Units were arriving.

All packed to go we stood for a dreadful hour in the drenching rain waiting to disappear through the gap. The roar of enemy machineguns left Rolin Dart doubtful of a bad situation and he decided that we should stay on hand to help the new men, if required.

It was but a step down to that part of the olive grove which we used as a burial ground and a group went there to bid our Republican dead a last farewell. Some day, they thought, a stone might be raised to bear their names:

Filipe Manuel Cespedas (Cuba), Thomas Flecks (Scotland), T. F. Flynn (America), Steven Holcak (America), Otto Muller (America), John Pitrnan (England), Robert Renart (America), Alexander Scott (England and the Soviet Union).

Thirty-three of our Company were in hospital. Three had had appointments that took them out of the Company. Two had left with self-inflicted wounds and two had deserted. But we were still the English-speakers’ Company 44 strong.

The two Morandi trucks awaited us. A driver gave us a carboy of anis and dry packets of cigarettes. When these trucks overtook the Villa Franca men who were walking, some were trotting by the side of the road. There were friendly exchanges. Despite the weather they were in high spirits because the contrast between life in the firing line and life in a quiet Spanish town was too great for the weather to matter very much. Each time our truck slowed our Villa Franca comrades hoisted themselves onto the tailboard and we pulled them into the dry. We gave them anis to drink and cigarettes to smoke. We were going to Dos Torres and they were going to Pozoblanco. And perhaps it was because we were parting from these gallant Villa Franca men that we chose to sing "Loch Lomond" and nothing else but "Loch Lomond". Long before we reached Pozoblanco they, too, could sing something like:

"You’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low road

On Friday afternoon the English speakers were the guests of Dos Torres. The Chief Citizen, with representatives of the political parties, awaited us in the Plaza.

Washed and shaved and looking fine in new uniforms, with our boots polished, we started from the Pueblo’s perimeter with Dart, O'Daire and Gates with us in the ranks. Hanson in the front rank called out the quick march. Unarmed, erect and totally comfortable in the warm spring air, we marched in step. Spanish and International Brigade units lined the route. Each presented arms as we passed and in turn joined the march.

Heading the parade into the Plaza the No. 2 Company of the XX International Battalion received a rousing reception from the people. A band played and the "Internationale" was sung many times. Many long and thundering speeches were made, and all the orators made glowing references to the glorious Second Company.

At eight o’clock in the evening the glorious Second Company sat down to a sumptuous meal that had been prepared and cooked by French comrades who were reputed to have been top chefs in the pick of the Paris hotels. They were said to have been front-line fighters before Morandi discovered them and had them join his Catering Section.

Wined and dined we, too, became orators, but quickly turned to be singers. Our favourite song was:

"There was the Dutch Company and the Spanish Company,

The French Company and the German Company.

But, the Second Company was the best Company

That ever came over the dog-gone sea."

Next day being the 1st of May we joined the people’s demonstration. Rested after a good night’s sleep, clean, fed and with smiling senoritas to wink at, we were in a seventh heaven. We carried no guns and the people took us as men that were close to themselves. To have left the proximity of death and to be set in the bosom of a community that was striving for a fuller life was truly an exalting experience. The ordinary things of life — like children at play — were things of beauty to us who had patrolled Death’s Valley. News of a victory came in the evening; the Fascist fort at Santa Maria de la Cabeza in the Morena hills to the north of Andujar had fallen like a ripe plum to the Republic. The disciplined Republican Army of the south had made prisoners of the garrison.

Of course, this Fascist garrison could have been relieved in December had the enemy captured Andujar and the Fascists would have marched on up the valley of the Quadalaquivir to achieve that very purpose had not the XIV International Brigade got there first. Small wonder that Morandi and those of us who were veterans of Lopera were so proud of having served in the XIV International Brigade.

On the second day of May we repaired to a parade ground and there we learned many things that were of interest to us:

The residue of the Pablo Inglesias Battalion was amalgamated with our XX International Battalion;

Our new commander, Colonel Gomez, had a past. We were told that he had served in Pancho Villa’s army and that he was now well thought of in high places since he was a friend of Largo Caballero;

The Colonel had no dust upon his shoes because he was mounted on a high-stepping charger. He had a bugler sound the rally and a multitude of conscripts lined up. They stood about one hundred yards away from us and our Pablo Inglesias comrades;

The conscripts were largely land workers from the surrounding district. They still wore civilian suits, and none had collars or ties. Their shirt neckbands were united by brass studs. Some, wide-eyed and unsure of themselves, kept their hands in their trouser pockets. Others, showing willing to be soldiers, stood in the at-ease position, Spanish Army style, feet apart and hands clasped in front.

Menduiz was amused and gave us a running commentary on Colonel Gomez’s tactics. The Colonel told the conscripts that they were being offered a chance to be volunteers in the glorious XX International Battalion. He displayed a theatrical sense of moment by dismounting to take a stand beside the Colour Party. He lifted the tricolour in his hand and kissed it again and again. He called loudly for volunteers. He promised that he would look after them; that they would be his boys.

At last two youths, smiling shyly, joined him. A third youth made a move and then, as if responding to a hissed command from an elder brother, returned to the civilian line. Half a dozen ran across the divide; four completed the distance and were embraced by the Colonel. Two about-turned.

The Colonel looked around to us. He pointed to his handful of land workers that had opted to be volunteers rather than conscripts. We raised three resounding cheers. And, surprisingly, the conscript line took pride in the six volunteers. Suddenly all the civilian

It was but a step down to that part of the olive grove which we used as a burial ground and a group went there to bid our Republican dead a last farewell. Some day, they thought, a stone might be raised to bear their names:

Filipe Manuel Cespedas (Cuba), Thomas Flecks (Scotland), T. F. Flynn (America), Steven Hojcak (America) Otto Muller (America), John Pitrnan (England), Robert Renart (America), Alexander Scott (England and the Soviet Union).

Thirty-three of our Company were in hospital. Three had had appointments that took them out of the Company. Two had left with self-inflicted wounds and two had deserted. But we were still the English-speakers’ Company 44 strong.

The two Morandi trucks awaited us. A driver gave us a carboy of anis and dry packets of cigarettes. When these trucks overtook the Villa Franca men who were walking, some were trotting by the side of the road. There were friendly exchanges. Despite the weather they were in high spirits because the contrast between life in the firing line and life in a quiet Spanish town was too great for the weather to matter very much. Each time our truck slowed our Villa Franca comrades hoisted themselves onto the tailboard and we pulled them into the dry. We gave them anis to drink and cigarettes to smoke. We were going to Dos Torres and they were going to Pozoblanco. And perhaps it was because we were parting from these gallant Villa Franca men that we chose to sing "Loch Lomond" and nothing else but "Loch Lomond". Long before we reached Pozoblanco they, too, could sing something like:

"You’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low road

On Friday afternoon the English speakers were the guests of Dos Torres. The Chief Citizen, with representatives of the political parties, awaited us in the Plaza.

Washed and shaved and looking fine in new uniforms, with our boots polished, we started from the Pueblo’s perimeter with Dart, O’Daire and Gates with us in the ranks. Hanson in the front rank called out the quick march. Unarmed, erect and totally comfortable in the warm spring air, we marched in step. Spanish and International Brigade units lined the route. Each presented arms as we passed and in turn joined the march.

Heading the parade into the Plaza the No. 2 Company of the XX International Battalion received a rousing reception from the people. A band played and the "Internationale" was sung many times. Many long and thundering speeches were made, and all he orators made glowing references to the glorious Second Company.

At eight o’clock in the evening the glorious Second Company sat down to a sumptuous meal that had been prepared and cooked by French comrades who were reputed to have been top chefs in the pick of the Paris hotels. They were said to have been front-line fighters before Morandi discovered them and had them join his Catering Section.

Wined and dined we, too, became orators, but quickly turned to be singers. Our favourite song was:

"There was the Dutch Company and the Spanish Company,

The French Company and the German Company.

But, the Second Company was the best Company

That ever came over the dog-gone sea."

Next day being the 1st of May we joined the people’s demonstration. Rested after a good night’s sleep, clean, fed and with smiling senoritas to wink at, we were in a seventh heaven. We carried no guns and the people took us as men that were close to themselves. To have left the proximity of death and to be set in the bosom of a community that was striving for a fuller life was truly an exalting experience. The ordinary things of life — like children at play — were things of beauty to us who had patrolled Death’s Valley. News of a victory came in the evening; the Fascist fort at Santa Maria de La Cabeza in the Morena hills to the north of Andujar had fallen like a ripe plum to the Republic. The disciplined Republican Army of the south had made prisoners of the garrison.

Of course, this Fascist garrison could have been relieved in December had the enemy captured Andujar, and the Fascists would have marched on up the valley of the Quadalaquivir to achieve that very purpose had not the XIV International Brigade got there first. Small wonder that Morandi and those of us who were veterans of Lopera were so proud of having served in the XIV International Brigade.

On the second day of May we repaired to a parade ground and there we learned many things that were of interest to us:

The residue of the Pablo Inglesias Battalion was amalgamated with our XX International Battalion;

Our new commander, Colonel Gomez, had a past. We were told that he had served in Pancho Villa’s army and that he was now well thought of in high places since he was a friend of Largo Caballero;

The Colonel had no dust upon his shoes because he was mounted on a high-stepping charger. He had a bugler sound the rally and a multitude of conscripts lined up. They stood about one hundred yards away from us and our Pablo Inglesias comrades;

The conscripts were largely land workers from the surrounding district. They still wore civilian Suits. and none had collars or ties. Their shirt neckbands were united by brass studs. Some, wide-eyed and unsure of themselves, kept their hands in their trouser pockets. Others, showing willing to be soldiers, stood in the at-ease position, Spanish Army style, feet apart and hands clasped in front.

Menduiz was amused and gave us a running commentary on Colonel Gomez’s tactics. The Colonel told the conscripts that they were being offered a chance to be volunteers in the glorious XX International Battalion. He displayed a theatrical sense of moment by dismounting to take a stand beside the Colour Party. He lifted the tricolour in his hand and kissed it again and again. He called loudly for volunteers. He promised that he would look after them; that they would be his boys.

At last two youths, smiling shyly, joined him. A third youth made a move and then, as if responding to a hissed command from an elder brother, returned to the civilian line. Half a dozen ran across the divide; four completed the distance and were embraced by the Colonel. Two about-turned.

The Colonel looked around to us. He pointed to his handful of land workers that had opted to be volunteers rather than conscripts. We raised three resounding cheers. And, surprisingly, the conscript line took pride in the six volunteers. Suddenly all the civilian intake were cheering. They became more and more excited. Then an avalanche of laughing youths bore down on Colonel Gomez. He embraced them to the last man.

We marched from the town on the next day, the third of May. We had had but three days of leave and we were upset. However, the volunteers from Dos Torres were, I believe, pleased to be setting off on their travels. Their eyes were bright and their steps were light. On our flanks walked the mothers, sisters and sweethearts of our new comrades. Most of them looked to have been bewildered by the recent events. Their faces were distorted by anguish. Tears streamed down over open mouths; tears and glistening teeth were the signs of the fierceness with which these kinfolk resented their loved ones going from them. Before the march reached the open country the ranks were invaded by these women who had the swiftness of tigresses. One of the Dos Torres youths stumbled and fell sideways into their arms. He was spirited out of sight. The rest of the youths, with some determination, shook themselves free and smiled in embarrassment. On went the marchers, taking the road to Pozoblanco. The women, still weeping, sank down by the roadside.

We were bound for the trenches before Fuente-O-Venjuna but because the army of the south was short of road transport, the Battalion had to travel by the light railway to Puertollano and from there by the main line railway via Almorchan to Valsequillo.

The Transport Officer, who always watched over our movements, saw us off at Pozoblanco and, having gone across country by motorcycle, was at Valsequillo to check our arrival when we got there.

Valsequillo, with La Granjuela and Blazquez, was in a pocket of territory that had been in Fascist hands since October 1936 but passed back to the Republic in April 1937 when the enemy was on the run after their defeats at Belalcarzar, Hinojosa del Duque, Villanueva and Pozoblanco.

The acquisition of this pocket of territory allowed the Republican line to be advanced to a point that was only a short distance from Fuente Ovenjuna.

The Number 2 Company — the Pablo Inglesias, our share of the Dos Torres volunteers and ourselves — made up 160 men in all. Dart was the officer commanding and three Platoons were respectively led by O’Daire, Edwards and a Spanish Lieutenant of the regular army whom we named Don Juan del Aquilla.

Edwards had three Sections; each Section had 15 men and I was in charge of No. 1 Section. With me was a Cabo of the Pablo Inglesias. His name was Pedro Torres and he hailed from the Balearic Islands. We became great friends.

Morandi asked for the paper work to be done which he would sign making Edwards a commissioned officer, but Colonel Gomez held back on this matter in case Lieutenant Peter Daly should return to the Company. 86th Brigade Commander Morandi was but a Lieutenant Colonel, so we had a Colonel having to take orders from an officer of junior rank. There was chaos in respect of ranks within the Republic because during the July fighting, when it was the revolutionary wing of the working class that saved the day for the Government, the officers taking the Government side played down rank and dress. Most of them were pleased to don workers’ overalls and be captains, even though they were leading Battalions and Brigades.

Once when writing home to Mary Donnelly I committed to paper a tribute to the town which it was rumoured we would soon liberate.

Remember long ago, Fuente-O-Venjuna.

A laddie whispered low; Fuente-O.Venjuna.

Will I stay or will I go?

And you proudly answered go!

It were better lay a tyrant low

Than live a slave without a blow, for Fuente-O-Venjuna

 

Rolin Dart, who put forward his claim to be a Shakespeare scholar by quoting from Macbeth when he observed that the Fascists were camouflaging their tanks by placing olive branches upon them, wanted to know from Frank Edwards if the Gaelic language had an equivalent for the Spanish word ‘manyana’, and this prompted Frank to put words to the air ‘Viva La’:

Manyana

There’s a word throughout Red Spain,

It is the answer to all pain,

I’ll repeat it once again,

If not today: manyana!

We heard it at the training base,

We heard it every bloody place,

It’s always used to save the face

Of comrade Dart and Johnny Gates!

 

Viva La the new brigade

Viva La the old one too

Viva La swatizas fade

And the Red Star shines forever new.

 

On the bloody battlefield

Our boys never, never yield.

Because they know they’ll be relieved,

If not today — manyana!

We heard it at the training base,

We heard it every bloody place,

It’s always used to save the face,

Of comrade Dart and Johnny Gates!

Peter Daly, out of hospital, rejoined the Company. He told us that he had been on his way to us ten days earlier but the car in which he was travelling crashed and he woke up in hospital again. Nothing in Peter’s life was allowed to be tragic. He loved fun and with him, everything was made to appear to be funny.

There were funny happenings in the Battalion which he was amused by — the

Colonel changed the organisation and appointed Don Juan del Aquilla No. 2 Company

Commander; and we Internationalists found ourselves in an under strength Platoon led by

Rolin Dart, and all to ourselves.

It was about this time that we heard of the uprising in Barcelona and we viewed the situation in Catalonia coldly in the way it affected the military equation. It affected the Republican, anti-Fascist war effort badly. As Daly said, "A boy of eight could see that." Indeed, it was a disaster, not only for the future of the Spanish Republic, but also for the future of Catalan Anarchism.

In our isolation we each penned a request to be transferred to the XV International Brigade, on the Jarama front. These requests were written on buff-coloured cards which were headed:

Targeta Postal de Campana, Estafta Militar de Campana No. 9 Cordoba

Subsector Norte.

The flow of deserters to our side was most encouraging and we enjoyed our conversations with these brave Spaniards who told us so much about our foes. Because of the very wide gap between the lines, a soldier could sneak into no-man’s land during the night, get close to our line and wait on daylight to present himself. They usually came in twos or threes, bringing their arms with them. They would point out where the Carlists, the Falange, the Moroccans, the Mussolini Legion and Nazi gunners were posted. Men of the Spanish Foreign Legion who deserted to us usually admitted that their wives and families were in Republican territory and that they had not seen them for years. Because spies doubtlessly entered Government territory by this means they were all sent to Valencia to be screened.

With Peter Daly back amongst us I found myself on more night patrols, and more frequently in shoot-ups, than before. Daly liked to take a wee Scot named John Smith on night patrol because there were times when the Fascists switched on the street lighting in Fuente-O-Venjuna and drove their trucks, hundreds of trucks, with the headlights on, along the cork-screw road from west to east. John Smith would watch the enemy head-lamps sending long shafts of light sweeping over the countryside and he would fume. John’s reaction was the same as that of Ralph Campou; he hated to see the enemy looking so "bloody unperturbed".

When I asked why our guns did not fire at the trucks, Daly made up an explanation that our guns had worn-out riflings and therefore could not be expected to be accurate. They were all right, however, for firing at the enemy’s hill forts because, after all, it’s not easy to miss a mountain.

The loss of Malaga in February and the May debacle in Barcelona reflected badly on Prime Minister Largo Caballero, and he stepped down from office on the 15th May 1937.

Juan Negrin, a Socialist from the professions, was elected by the Cortes to fill the vacant chair, and he remained in office to the bitter end. History has to regard Prime Minister Juan Negrin as a heroic figure, and a worthy leader of the Spaniards who fought so long and so well in Freedom’s battle.

Morandi sent Colonel Gomez packing. Our German comrade Dudel, now promoted to Major, took on the Command of the XX Internationals, and Dart was Company Commander again. Daly was our Platoon leader, and Edwards had No. 1 Section.

What was taking place reminded me of the experiences of Myles O’Byrne in 1815 when he served in the Irish Legion of the Napoleonic army. They had to take down the tricolour when the Bourbon was restored. Then when Napoleon escaped from Elba they took down the Bourbon flag and hoisted the tricolour. And, after Waterloo the colours had to be changed again.

Having read O’Byrne’s account of Wexford in 1798 I was able to talk with the Enniscorthy man about Vinegar Hill and Peter liked that kind of talk.

Well, it turned out that Colonel Gomez had friends in high places and he had to be restored to the command of the XX Battalion, but he bided by Morandi’s orders and left our Company organisation intact. Don Juan del Aquilla was now referred to as the Spanish Pretender by those of us who still neglected to become acquainted with his real name.

However, the atmosphere of tension and mistrust was worsened by the Colonel’s return. The tension was heightened still more by the news from the Mediterranean where on the last day of May, the pocket battleship Admiral Scheer, with four destroyers, took station off the Andalusian shore to bombard Almeria. This Nazi aggression against a defenceless town was carried out as an act of retaliation for the bombing of Hitler’s pride, the battleship Deutschland which, by a policy of proximity, had been protecting Franco ‘s warships lying at anchor off Ibiza. One of the Red Pilots attacked the Nazi battleship and it was humiliating for Hitler to be told that the Deutschland, with thirty one of its crew dead and sixty seven wounded, had to make for Gibraltar where the British Governor provided the Nazi sailors with care and comfort.

We knew that the war was going badly for the Asturians and the Basques that made up the Republican army of the north, and when the month of June brought news of General Mola’s accidental death, our hopes were raised magically because we believed that a Republican saboteur had doctored the plane that took Mola to his death, and that the other Fascist Generals would have similar fates. Thus we sang:

de Llano’s sick and Mola’s dead, Now for Fascist Franco’s head. We’ll send it over dripping red, To Mussolini and the Cardinals.

Morandi, who had achieved much as a Battalion commander, was now required to carry out a Brigade action. We were awakened in the middle of the night and told to prepare to go into an attack.

We had deepened the zigzag trenches and constructed pits in which the Maxim machineguns were mounted on tripods. O’Daire had drawn up a fine plan that was approved by Gomez, by which, in theory, it was impossible for enemy infantry to advance up the smooth rising slope to reach our trenches. We thought we would be moving eastward because on previous nights we had heard heavy firing in the El Terrible area, but when the order came before dawn we moved off to the westward. We had been instructed to be as silent as possible, so it was a thoughtful, quiet farewell that we paid to FuenteO.Venjuna.

As the gray light of dawn began to light up the eastern sky our advance went over rising ground to a field of golden corn. Inadvertently one of our Dos Torres volunteers discharged the first shot but, luckily for him, it was all but simultaneously discharged with a salvo from our artillery which signaled the start of the battle.

The enemy gunners, not knowing of our departure, pounded our line of trenches. But their observers noticed us and shells were soon crashing into the tinder dry corn. Peter Daly, at the head of his men, sang for Frank Edwards and me:

"And when we left our cabins boys,
We left with right good will.
To join our friends and neighbours
That were on vinegar hill."

He wore his helmet at an angle and his fingers were clasped around the barrel of a rifle which he carried as he would a camera, perched on his shoulder.

A comrade, stepping in front of me, crashed a stalk into my face which left a chaff deposit in my right eye. I was instantly in agony, but nothing could be done about it because we were moving fast owing to the fact that bursting shells had set the corn alight and the breeze that had been so friendly was fanning the blaze, and turning the place into an inferno. Indeed, we were obliged to run forward to save our lives.

Breathing hard we came to a large white house which stood in an open space between lines of high ridges. Adjacent to the house was a reservoir, the size of a small swimming pool. We gladly replenished our water bottles. Comrade Hanson cleaned the chaff from my eye. He seemed to do wonders for it by simply pouring cool, caressing water onto the eyeball.

Company Two was soon deployed on the left hand ridge. As usual the enemy occupied a hill fort that can truly be described as on a commanding height. The foe was well entrenched. His trench system resembled a necklace that had been dropped on the neck of the summit and stayed suspended from the shoulder of the mountain.

Our people called this mountain Granja.

On the right hand of the glen Morandi set up a command post from where he could see the river Zujar and beyond. It appeared that the plan of battle was for his left wing, the XX International Battalion, to contain the enemy on Granja whilst his center, a fresh Railway Battalion, and his right wing, the Catalan Carabineros (the sons of Negrin), would carry out an encirclement of the hill fort.

Thus, we had to wait for the encirclement to be completed, and then we would go over the rim of the ridge to join in the general attack

Our "French attaché" Cammille Menduig, having the use of O’Daire’s field glasses, picked himself a mound and gave us a running commentary on the fight. Becoming exultant, speaking in the manner of "You know, we French stormed Ratisbon," Cammille told us of the six Republican tanks that were to the fore knocking out machinegun nests that guarded the approach to the base of Granja.

Moroccan cavalry, riding down from a wooded area, lost out in a swift engagement with the tanks. For some reason which never became known to us, our six tanks then moved off in the direction of the Pueblo, Granja de Torrehermosa, and left Morandi’s Battalions pinned down by surviving enemy machinegun nests.

The uniqueness of the enemy’s defence system was that, if the Republicans could capture any one of the towns of Granja de Terrehermosa, Fuente-O-Venjuna, Pennarroya or Belmez, the ring main of road and rail communications would be disrupted. But, in practice, it was the efficient use of this ring main of communications that made it quite impossible for the Republicans, with inadequate strength, to take and hold any one of these towns.

We listened to the build-up of enemy artillery and, in the afternoon, 16 batteries were firing. Finally, like cowed curs, the six tanks came back into sight. Cammille described them as curs being stoned from all quarters. Our tank drivers were obviously composed and daring fellows. They moved at speed, describing quarter and half circles to fox the gunners. They made it to the glen below us.

We heard from one of the telephone men that Morandi was deeply disappointed. Before he left the command post he sank down to sit on an upturned bucket to bury his face in his hands.

Throughout the month of June, with Morandi and Gomez hardly on speaking terms, we served at Granja, taking part in numerous attacks, all of which failed. At the end of June the Colonel wished us goodbye and set off for Valencia. A Pablo Inglesias major took command of the XX Battalion.

On the fourth July a lorry arrived from Albacete. It carried thirty volunteers for the German-speaking Company. It came up the dust road to the white house. We said farewell to our comrades of the firing line and at Blazquez H.Q., which was beside two small ponds in a wooded area, Morandi gave us a farewell speech. Morandi spoke in Spanish and Johnny Gates translated. He thanked us for our services rendered at Pozoblanco, El Terrible, Chimorra, Fuente-O.Venjuna and Granja. He called us twenty honourable men and reminded us that when we came to him, we were seven thirteen's plus one. By the time we had worked out his arithmetic, he was roaring with laughter. We had been 92 strong. Saying that he was keeping the one to be his Brigade Commissar, he put an arm around Johnny Gates. To honour the remaining men he promoted Rolin Dart to the rank of Captain as a parting gift.

No English-speakers’un~~~~5 to serve again in Andalusia. The American field hospital at Valsequillo would soon leave to join the 35th Division on the Madrid front, as did the John Brown Battery that for a time had been in Estremadura.

The Staff man stood afar off, still beating the top of his boot with his cane. He was a cog in the military machine. He showed no fraternity towards us at all; not as much as a handshake or a smile did we ever exchange with him. It was painfully obvious that he carried out his duties to the last letter and must have been regarded as an officer of integrity by his chief.

In the evening the lone lorry with its 19 passengers set out for Albacete. Before midnight we stopped at a cafe and were conscious of being seated upon chairs to take food and drink off a smooth, marble-topped table. At dawn our lorry, lumbering through Almaden, startled a girl who was stooped over pitchers at a fountain. For her we raised a cheer, and she rose to her full height to give us a grand wave. We found the Market in Ciwlad Real crowded at noon. While we went purchasing food and drink, O’Daire visited the hospital to see the girl who nursed him when he was taken there with a batch of wounded from Lopera.

On and on the lorry rolled along straight Roman roads and reached Albacete at sun down. It was then that we parted with our dust-caked uniforms, which were stained by the soil of Andalusia. We got shower baths and a complete change of clothing so as to rid us of the lice that plagued the men in the trenches. We were given a seaside holiday at Denia and at the end of a week, returned to Albacete.

Frank Ryan had returned to Spain. He had travelled alone from Ireland, but had joined the new volunteers who had to cross the Pyrenees on foot. One of the tasks that he set himself was to try and save the lives of the few Irishmen that were left. Since his arrival on 14th June he had obtained repatriation for Gerald Doran, John Goff and Paddy Smith. They were three of the thirteen Irishmen who had travelled with him in the contingent that had crossed the frontier from France on the 14th December 1936. Six had been killed or mortally wounded at the battle of Lopera. They were Frank Conroy, Anthony Fox, Leo Green, Michael May, Michael Nolan and Thomas Woods.

When he obtained repatriation for Frank Edwards, Jimmy Prendergast and me, twelve had been accounted for: but the thirteenth man, Michael Lehane, was not repatriated, and he stayed with the Battalion until the general repatriation which took place in December 1938.

Now I am the last survivor of the four Irishmen who served in the XX International Battalion. Appointed Battalion Commander during the Ebro Campaign, Peter Daly was mortally wounded in the first attack on Puburrel Hill. He died in hospital and was buried at Benicasim.

Both Frank Edwards and Paddy O’Daire lived well into their seventies, and when they died the coffins were draped with the Red Flag and the Banner of the International Brigade. Veterans of the Spanish struggle attended their cremations which, for Frank Edwards, was at Glasnevin, and at Bangor, North Wales, for Paddy O’Daire.





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