Spanish Civil War 2016: Oral History

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July 2016 marks the 80th Anniversary of the Spanish Civil War. The Miners’ Library has a varied collection on the conflict in which Welshmen (many of whom were miners) joined the International Brigade in Spain to fight with the People’s Republic against Franco and his Nationalists. As well as the soldiers, Welsh medical personnel volunteered to treat the wounded, while communities at home campaigned politically, organised aid and welcomed refugees.

Our Oral History tapes and transcripts form a key part of our  Spanish Civil War collection. A quick search at http://www.agor.org.uk/cwm/ returns dozens of interviews with people who experienced, directly or indirectly, the events and repercussions of the conflict.

The Coalfield History Projects of the seventies secured a number of interviews with those who fought, documenting their experiences of leaving communities in South Wales behind and travelling to Spain to wage a war against fascism. These stories offer an insight into the motivations of these working men in their decision to fight.  Michael O’ Donoghue (AUD/3) states his reasons plainly:

Well this main issue there was supporting a Republican Government and a legal government, voted in power the same as the Labour Party had been voted here in this country, and then when they tried to overthrow it well that was the point, that was the main issue as far as I was concerned…

Leo Price (AUD/250) discusses the journey from the Welsh coalfields to Spain, with a stop-off in London:

We had our fare to Paddington, and we were told to go from there to Pentonville Road – I forget what station it was now. And we called at a house there, then we were told to go to a house in Poplar. We went to that house in Poplar and they gave us a bit of grub and one thing and another. Then we went to King Street and they gave us tickets…

The perils in Spain were evident immediately. Edwin Greening (AUD/531-2) recounts a particularly dangerous incident:

So we waited there and the shelling started, the shells went over our heads and then down into the valley…[and Morris said] “Come on we are getting bloody out of this”…But I’d forgotten my overcoat…so I ran back for my overcoat through the hail of bullets…

Not all of the audios relate purely to the military narratives of International Brigade soldiers. Other oral histories offer alternate perspectives: Mr. and Mrs. Duenos (AUD/200), for instance, were a Spanish couple already living in Abercraf when the War began. They fundraised and aided refugees, going as far as Southampton to welcome and help the new arrivals. Maria Fernandez (AUD/439) and Leandro Macho (AUD/251) also offer accounts of Spanish people living in Wales at the time of the conflict.

For further information, or to listen to any of our interviews, please ask a member of staff.

 

 

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Spanish Civil War 2016: Pamphlets

July 2016 marks the 80th Anniversary of the Spanish Civil War. The Miners’ Library has a varied collection on the conflict in which Welshmen (many of whom were miners) joined the International Brigade in Spain to fight with the People’s Republic against Franco and his Nationalists. As well as the soldiers, Welsh medical personnel volunteered to treat the wounded, while communities at home campaigned politically, organised aid and welcomed refugees.

 

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The majority of our pamphlets contain articles, narratives and accounts from those supporting the Republic, both from within Spain and internationally.  Many left-wing organisations published anti-nationalist tracts, such as the Communist Party of Great Britain, (Spain Fights for Victory, Spain and the T.U.C.), the London Trades Council (The Truth Behind the Spanish Rebellion) and the National Council of Labour (What Spain is Fighting For). These critique anti-republic propaganda, the influence of other fascist states and non-interventionist policies implemented by other European countries. The story of Thora Silverthorne is also included in our collection as part of an article in Nursing Times [1970]. Thora worked at a field hospital during the War, returning home to organise the nursing trade union, The Association of Nurses, in 1937.

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What is Happening in Spain? is an account by Fernando de los Rios, then Professor of Political Law/ Rector at the University of Madrid and Spanish Ambassador to the United States of America. He attacks many of the dominant assumptions surrounding the War, particularly the idea that the rebels are fighting on behalf of Catholicism.

Narratives from the Nationalist side of the War offer an alternative perspective on events, allowing insights into the motives and ideologies of those fighting for fascism.  I Was a Franco Soldier is an autobiographical account by Seumas MacKee, an Irishman who fought for O’Duffy’s ‘Irish Brigade’, on the side of Franco. The pamphlet recounts his growing disillusionment with the politics and rhetoric of nationalism. The author of Memoirs of a Spanish Nationalist, Antonio Bahamonde, was the chief Propaganda Officer to General Queipo de Llano. His governmental position is an excellent vantage point from which to record the nationalist perception of events and critique their propaganda.

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Historical analyses of the War form a bulk of our pamphlet collection, specifically those focusing on responses by the industrial communities of South Wales. Hywel Francis has written a number of articles which offer insightful research on this subject, including Rhondda and the Spanish Civil War: A Study in International Working-Class Solidarity and Welsh Miners and the Spanish Civil War. [We also hold several copies of Dr. Francis’s book on the Spanish Civil War, Miners Against Fascism, in our main collection].

Pamphlets produced after the war demonstrate that, though overshadowed by the global conflict a few years later, its significance and consequences continued to reverberate. Pamphlets on Franco’s post-war regime, such as Youth Against Franco and Murder in Madrid, highlight the continued suppression of dissident politics.  Murder in Madrid is an account of communist Julian Grimau’s violent death at the hands of Franco’s regime. It offers a concise account of the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath, as well as passionately advocating for the end of Franco’s dictatorship. Several of our pamphlets also reflect the subsequent desire by communities to memorialise their lost soldiers. There are pamphlets from Ammanford, Neath, Swansea and Cardiff documenting the unveiling of stones or plaques for the fallen International Brigade soldiers. In the latter decades of the twentieth century, when many of the surviving soldiers had passed away, memorials such as these serve to commemorate the conflict and ensure the personal and political losses are not forgotten.

Our pamphlet collection highlights the diverse range of responses that the Spanish Civil War provoked, including personal narratives, political and economic reports and retrospective analyses. They demonstrate that many communities in Britain (particularly communist, socialist and other left-wing organisations) were galvanised by the War and the propagation of their literature– both during and after the conflict – reflects an international desire to be informed of and engaged with the implications and repercussions of the conflict. In an era before modern means of global communication, the pamphlets functioned as weapons that could be used by communities, organisations and institutions in order to project their narratives and gather support.

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