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.