FOR many people it is books such as George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia that provide the introduction to the Spanish Civil War. My research has opened up again the remarkable story of the men and women from Wales who volunteered to fight in the International Brigades and it uses recent information from the Moscow archives.
I have identified almost two hundred Welsh volunteers who served in Spain of whom thirty five lost their lives. They fought for the Republicans against the forces of Franco after the coup in July 1936 which tried to overthrow the democratically elected Second Republican Government.
About 70% of the volunteers were members of the Communist Party and over half of the total were miners.
We know that a number of men from Llanelli left their families to climb over the Pyrenees and clamber into Spain. They are Brazell Thomas, Jack Harris, Evan Jones, Emlyn Lloyd, William Morris and JJ Evans. Of these, three died and two were badly injured.
Jack Harries, a mineworker at the Acorn Collery, Llangennech, had served in the Royal Engineers. He was a great lover of music and a talented pianist, but was killed at the Battle of Jarama, near Madrid.
William Morris, a copper worker, was killed by machine gun fire at Villanueve de la Cañada, a town close to Madrid.
Brazell Thomas, a tinplate worker, was killed in Catalonia at the Battle of the Ebro, on a ridge of solid rock without cover. He was hit twice and died alongside his friend Evan Jones, also from Llanelli. Evan Jones lost his arm in the same battle, and Emlyn Lloyd was wounded in the thigh.
Lloyd had an amazing escape on his way to Spain as he was on a ship, the Cuidad de Barcelona,which was torpedoed by an Italian submarine, but he swam from it and was rescued.
The aim of the volunteers was to fight for democracy against fascism and the memorable words of Dolores Ibárruri – Republican heroine and communist politician – describe their reputation.
“You are history. You are legend. You are the heroic example of democracy’s solidarity and universality …we shall not forget you; and, when the olive tree of peace is in flower, entwined with the victory laurels of the Republic of Spain – come back.”
Graham Davies’ new book – “You are Legend: The Welsh Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War” is published by Welsh Academic Press.