International Brigades Commemoration
On Friday the 17th of February 2012 a delegation from The Belfast Cultural and Local History Group and Teach na Failte, the Republican Socialist Ex-Prisoners Support Group, travelled to Madrid to take part in the 5th annual march around the Battlefield of Jarama. This event coincided with a number of other events that the above two Groups have been involved in over the past eighteen months and the second time that they have visited Spain in recognition of The International Brigades who fought against Fascism. As there were a large number of volunteers who fought and died during the Spanish conflict of 1936 to 1939 the two Groups believed that it was important to try and keep their names and memories alive. It was a bloody and brutal war between Socialists and Fascists with many volunteers from a variety of different countries including Ireland falling in the battlefields throughout Spain. The Jarama Valley is one of broken hills and ridges, a terrain that is rough and sparse, dotted with olive trees and vines and the scene of bitter fighting in 1937.
After our arrival and initial degree of site seeing we prepared ourselves for the first event of the weekend. This was to be held in an historic building called the CAUM, where among other things two lectures where to be held. On entering the building there was a relaxed atmosphere with some comrades meeting for the first time although they had been in contact with each other through the web regularly, while others were exchanging names and experiences. The first lecture was given by Dr David Margolies on the English brigader Christopher Caudwell while the other was given by the Author Hugh Purcell, whose work on Tom Wintringham, The Last English Revolutionary: A Biography of Tom Wintringham 1898-1949, has been revised and extended for re-publication in May. The timing of Hugh Purcell´s talk is particularly fortunate, as Tom Wintringham’s own book English Captain (Un Capitán Inglés, Akron, 2009) has recently been translated into Spanish. It’s relevant to state that everything was spoken in the two languages while one of the female interrupters actually welcomed us in Irish . There was also a very interesting slide show to compliment the lectures and a well stocked stall of merchandise available for participants to add to their collections. When the Lectures were finished it was time to make new acquaintances, renew friendships and relate to others what different groups and individuals had achieved over the last year in support of the International Brigades who fought in the Spanish Civil War.
The following day started early with a bus journey to battlefield at Jarama, a healthy three quarters of an hour’s drive away. Approximately 300 participants, including 100 from Ireland and Britain, did the yearly Jarama walk. On the battlefield we followed in the footsteps of the XV International Brigade and seen some of the main landmarks of the battle. It was a day full of information and emotions under a magnificent sun. Everyone enjoyed the walk and while the excellent guides informed us of its history each soaked up their own imaginations and thoughts of what happened there while visiting the tunnels and outposts. Our own Delegation took great interest in the history and exploits of the men who fought on that Battlefield as we incorporate some of their histories as part of the Groups own tour of Spanish Civil War related sites around Belfast. After the tribute to the combatants at the impressive monument to the XV International Brigade in Morata, there was also an opportunity to visit the Charlie Donnelly memorial nearby. We then went down to the battlefield museum to unveil the new contribution , a statue made by Goyo Salcedo, founder and soul of the museum, using as material remains of shrapnel and debris collected in the battlefield. After this moving ceremony – where Nils Wintringham, grandson of the “English Captain,” read his stunning poem “Monument” – we went to the brotherhood lunch which is held annually at the Meson El Cid. Our own joint delegation had brought with us a small plaque of Ballymacarrett volunteer Brigadista William “Liam” Tumilson who fought and died at Jarama. We were able to present and donate the plaque personally to the curator where he proudly placed it in a glass case close to other photos of fallen Brigadistas. This was a very proud moment for our delegation. After the hectic schedule of the day there was a small social gathering that night in a little bar where everyone there where now friends and who only had one the interest, the Spanish Civil War.
On the Sunday the 19th there were two acts: in the morning there was an opportunity to go to Ciudad Universitaria to visit this other key battlefield in the defense of Madrid during the winter of 1936-1937, as well as to see the memorial recently inaugurated to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the formation of the International Brigades. Apart from telling the audience how the bombing of Madrid effected the district, the CEDOBI-supported by the AABI-organized a performance of painting in action: the artist Quijano painted in two hours time a mural of 6 meters long and 90 high alluding to the infamous bombing. The mural will be displayed in different places, among others in the college of Humanities of Albacete.
Unfortunately Monday came too soon and it was time to return home and leave our very valuable experiences behind us. The Belfast Cultural ad Local History Group and Teach na Failte have gained some very useful knowledge and experience that will help them in their future Projects. The Groups are now networking with the Spanish guides and similar Groups here in Ireland on future itineraries for events that they hope to attend. Irishmen fought and died in all the major battles in Spain and it is hoped to recognise their sacrifices at a later date. The visit was part of the Groups programme which has been set out to educate and encourage others to take a deeper interest in the history of the International Brigades and the men who fought in them as their history is our history both Protestant and Catholic and ownership belongs to both communities.
The Belfast Cultural and Local History Group and Teach na Failte ( Spanish Civil War Project )