"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 --- return!"
(La Pasionara) - Farewell speech to the International Brigades. Barcelona November 1St. 19 38.
I am often accused of being harsh on Scotland I prefer to regard what I say as the truth as I see it and as I see it a recent event shows that Scotland has every reason to be proud of a famous episode in its past. The recent event was the release by MI5 of all the names of those British volunteers who joined the International Brigades to fight Fascism in Spain in 19 36. Scotland and Ireland supplied many volunteers, more than other countries going by population; they remain an inspiration to everyone who strives for a better more equal society. As I began to read and learn about politics in my early teens I became besotted with 'Spain' and these events. A statue stands in Glasgow at Custom House Quay of one of the most famous Spanish Republicans Dolores Ibarruri: known as "La Pasionara" a fierce and brave politician who rallied the troops against Franco's fascists with her mesmeric oratory and courage. The legend on the statue says "better to die on your feet than live on your knees" and it is an honour and privilege to have this statue of such an inspirational Socialist Heroine in Glasgow, a place where she would have felt at home.
Spain elected a Socialist Republican Government and the army staged a revolt to bring it down led by General Francisco Franco, backed by Hitler and Mussolini. Britain, France and America to their undying shame did nothing although many French and Americans volunteered as well for the International Brigades the American volunteers were called "The Lincoln Battalion" It is strongly hinted that Cafe owner Rick played by Humphrey Bogart in the classic movie Casablanca was a veteran of the Lincoln Battalion such was the romance which surrounded the cause. The fascists won and the green light was given to Hitler for what was to follow, an estimated 200,000 were killed in the fighting and in the couple of years that followed double that, 400,000 were executed. A male prison in Madrid was converted to a female prison to hold Republican women prisoners many of whom were executed. You can get a flavour of the times when you learn that the prison was run by an order of Catholic Nuns who dragged women prisoners to the Gallows kicking and screaming.
Approx. 4,000 British volunteers went to Spain 534, 65 of whom were Scottish paid the ultimate sacrifice in the fight for the Democratic Spanish Republic. Many artists went such as Orwell and Hemingway who wrote about it and the great Spanish genius Pablo Picasso captured on canvas the terror of unarmed civilians being attacked from the air by German planes in the town of Guernica the painting of that name is now one of the most famous ever painted.
The unfinished lists are now complete and all of the valiant comrades who fought in Spain are at last united in the complete roll of honour. Scotland should be proud of the volunteers who went there and at a time when some people are arguing about the lack of history taught in our schools we should put aside the myths and legends and teach our children about these real flesh and blood heroes. Irish singer Christy Moore pays tribute to the Irish Brigade in a song called "Viva La Quinte Brigada" someone should do something similar for the Scottish volunteers, you can catch it on U Tube.