October 23, 2008

A band of brothers that fought for freedom

Sam (back row, centre) with other British volunteers, (clockwise from back row right) Peter Kerrigan, Ted Edwards, Bob Cooney, Alan Gilchrist, Paddy O’Daire and George Fletcher.

THEY left their homes and families to risk their lives fighting for the freedom of a foreign land. Sixty-six working men from Manchester travelled to Spain in the 1930s to join the international brigades determined to stop the rise of Franco’s fascists.

Ultimately, their efforts were in vain but their sacrifice has never been forgotten. This week marks the 70th anniversary of the defeat of the republican forces in the Spanish Civil War. As Manchester prepares to remember the sacrifice made by those in the name of liberty, the Reporter spoke to the family of Sam Wild one of the heroes who fought for a better world ...

FOR many working men in Manchester it was a battle for the future of Europe.

In 1936, together with thousands of volunteers from all over the world, they travelled to Spain to join the International Brigades to fight against rebel Spanish Nationalist forces, led by General Francisco Franco and assisted by Nazi German and Fascist Italian forces.

Impassioned by the fight against fascism taking place in Spain, scores of Mancunians voluntarily joined a special international regiment in a quest to achieve worldwide democracy.

Along with many other ‘ordinary’ men from Manchester, Sam Wild, played a major role during the Spanish Civil War.

He received the highest accolade for his gallant efforts as the last commander of the British Battalion of the International Brigade and continued to fight - even while injured - until they were forced to lay down their weapons.

His daughter, Dolores Long, from Whalley Range, grew up inspired by the selfless involvement of her father and more than sixty other Manchester residents who fought side-by-side with the Spanish Republican Forces in the 1930s.

Her mother was also involved in the Aid to Spain movement, raising money to send food and provisions to the troops.

Named after Dolores Ibarruri, a revolutionary leader who made a passionate speech thanking the International Brigades as they withdrew from the battle, Dolores Long and her siblings have their parents’ story forever ingrained in their minds.

She said: "My father, like the other volunteers were proud and political men.

"It was their instinct to go and fight. They did so to stop the rise of fascism because they could see the way that things were going. I’ve always thought what a brave and heroic thing it was to go and volunteer."

Sam, born in Ardwick to an Irish Immigrant in 1908, had grown up attending rallies at Stephenson Square to listen to speakers calling for the home rule of Ireland.

It was injustice he felt when he later joined the Navy, and the extreme poverty he encountered in places like South Africa, coupled with his political passion he felt on his return from sea, which made him sign up to help the Spanish struggle.

More than 2,000 Brits joined the International Brigades and their fight was well documented by Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell, who fought on the Aragon Front in support of the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification.

Teacher Dolores, 65, said: "My father was an unskilled worker who left school early. He joined the Navy because he was short of money and it was then where he noticed the differences in the way the officers were treated in comparison to the other recruits."

"The British Battalion wasn’t a conscripted army, those who went to Spain did so to stop the rise of fascism. It was very often working class people who signed up to fight and, in my father’s case, it was the principle he felt was at stake which made him stay for two years."

Sam, who lived in Longsight, fought in a number of battles, including the infamous Battle of Ebro in July 1938. He even continued to fight with an injured right hand and was rewarded with the Republic’s highest decoration for bravery, the Spanish Medal of Valour - the equivalent of the Victoria Cross. He was also on the frontline in Aragon and took part in the Battle of Jarama in between Madrid and Valencia.

A blue plaque commemorating his achievements is now mounted on the old family home on Birch Hall Lane, between Longsight and Fallowfield.

Before leaving, Sam Wild was quoted as saying "The British Battalion is prepared to carry on the work begun here to see to it that our 500 comrades who sleep for ever beneath Spanish soil shall serve as an example to the entire British people in the struggle against fascism."

To those who fought in the anti-fascist struggle - a precursor to World War II and the rise of Hitler - the Spanish Civil War was a social revolution that united workers, helped in the strengthening of trade unions and started powerful campaigns.

Dolores added: "My mother and father let me make up my own mind about things, they never forced their beliefs on me, but I was always aware of the things they had done which influenced me to become involved in various campaigns. It’s been a big part of my life. Growing up on a 1950s Manchester council estate with a name like Dolores was no easy thing!"

Poets, speakers and musicians will gather to pay homage to the anti-fascist international volunteers, on the anniversary of the withdrawal of the International Brigade from Spain 70 years ago.

Poet Jackie Kay, actress Maxine Peake, Celtic folk band The Wakes and playwright Eileen Murphy, will feature at the event in the Mechanics Institute, Princess Street, on Saturday, November 8.

Dolores, a passionate political campaigner, often reads the emotive speech made by her namesake at memorial events.

This week Dolores and her sister Hilary attended a special ceremony in Barcelona, where the surviving Brigaders and all the other men and women who assisted during the Civil War will be honoured by the Spanish Government.

She said: "It is far more than just being about my father, it is about all the other men and women who were involved in the Civil War.

"I have been fortunate to meet many of them over the years, it has been amazing - they were such an inspiring group of people."

Tickets for the Manchester commemorative concert can be paid for on the door, priced £10, £5 concessions. For details visit www.international-brigades.org.uk.

South Manchester Reporter


Anonymous said...

Griffin in Hungary?

Krisztina Morvai, an ex-Fidesz MP and now a prospective MEP for the far-right Jobbik party will address a crowd on 1956 and “the police abuse of 2006” at Deak tér from 3pm, with the radical-right militia, the Magyar Gárda, out in full force. British National Party leader Nick Griffin will also propound his opinions on “current political questions”, as will Jobbik and Magyar Gárda founder Gábor Vona


Anonymous said...

I've been to the memorial to the Battle of the Ebro and know some old Catalans that fought in it. They may have been anti fascists then but they are not Marxists now. Spain does not pander to immigrants from anywhere but instead sends them packing without benefits unless they find work.