Civil War Volunteers Offered Citizenship

LAST UPDATED: 16 Jun, 2009 @ 10:41
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Civil War Volunteers Offered Citizenship

SEVEN British pensioners are to accept Spanish citizenship in recognition of their bravery fighting Fascism during the Spanish Civil War.

An eighth, Les Gibson, 96, declined because of poor health, and the offer came too late for Jack Jones, the union leader, and Bob Doyle, both prominent International Brigade fighters who died this year.

The group will accept passports at a ceremony at the Spanish Embassy in London on June 9.

The move comes after Spain brought in a new law last year that granted citizenship to volunteers who arrived from more than 50 countries between 1936 and 1939.

Only a few hundred of the estimated 35,000 men and women remain alive to benefit from the citizenship offer.

Jack Edwards during the Spanish Civil War
Jack Edwards during the Spanish Civil War
One, Jack Edwards, 95, from Liverpool, said he was “elated” at the Spanish recognition.

He had given up selling newspapers in his hometown in 1937 to sneak into Spain via bus and boat, to fight against Franco’s forces.

He was shot in the leg during his service, but said that despite the hardships he had seen and experienced, he had no regrets. “You were fighting for rights. You were fighting for something you believed in.”

Over half a million people died during the conflict, which began when General Francisco Franco, with support from Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, launched a military uprising.

As Britain and France chose not to help due to Madrid’s close friendship with communist Moscow, an unlikely group of activists took matters into their own hands.

About 2,300 men and women, including Jews from London, a smattering of university-educated poets, and members of the IRA caught boats to France, from where they were helped across the border.

Thousands died, including 525 Britons. The end came when Juan Negrin, Spain’s republican Prime Minister, told the League of Nations on September 21, 1938, that the International Brigades must leave, in the futile hope that the rebels’ foreign supporters would also depart. Defeated and despondent, many left, though others were kept as prisoners of war.

Not everyone who participated was motivated by anti-fascism. Thomas Watters, a bus driver in Glasgow, ferried wounded republicans from the front line as part of the Scottish Ambulance Unit. “I’m not interested in politics,” said Mr Watters, 96, who is due to receive a Spanish passport next month. “I wanted to help people.”

The other veterans are Lou Kenton, 101; Sam Lesser, 95; Joseph Khan, 94; Paddy Cochrane, 96, from Ireland; and Penny Feiwel, 100.

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  1. This offer also applies to the 40,000 members of the Friends of Nationalist Spain who also fought in the civil war on the winning side. The foreign forces in the conflict were fairly even an fought on both sides. Sadly in britain all the publicity went to those on the loosing side. Franco’s personal bodyguard was a “lad” from northampton who ran away to join the spanish foreign legion in 1934. He returned to the UK in 1939 and spent the second world war doing espionage in france. He refused any oficial honor from Spain and died in 1974. His funeral was attended by a surprising number of military and diplomatic staff.

  2. I have a great grand uncle who came to spain as well, in the 30s, to defend the freedom of the spanish. The world was much bigger then, no cheap easyjet flighs, no satellite tv, no internet. Still they came. Despite the fact that both ideologies the communists and the republicans fought and died for were not perfect, as history has shown, it makes me smile with my heart that spain recognises those that still are alive from those times in this way. If only my great grand uncle could see how it is now. Far from perfect but freedom now has deeper roots than the olive trees.

  3. The fact that the International brigaders have been offered the singular honor of citizenship is part of the Governments on-going policy of recognising all those who fought in the war with honor. As far back as 1970, the republican pilots who escaped to France and Britain, where they fought in the RAF, were all awarded their full pension by the Franco government. I had the honor of searching for them and 30 or so were eventually located. Many of these men fought as Poles or Free French, with false names, and thus were very difficult to locate. Some even suffered the indignity of being deported to Poland at the end of the war!

  4. I recently found a website with transcripts of old radio news bulletins of my country. There was not much news then, but the civil war made it into tge news almost every day. Browsing through it one european country after the other was telling their citizens not to go to spain. Trains through france were inspected and all who would not have a good excuse to travel south were sent back. Fascinating history. What drove all these people to spain? Spain itself was very weak, Franco could not even cross from marocco to fight his war because the english and the french controlled all of the seas that surround spain. What was there to gain for all those foreigners who were even willing to risk their lives? On both sides of that war. Franco won, he was seen as a dictator. But all dictators get so full of themselves that they would never hand over power to the king who could then make a democracy. Yet Franco did exactly that. But also the foreigners that fought on the losing end of the civil war all ended up, first in prison camps in the south of france and then in german concentration camps, only a few survived. There is a lot of sadness involved. After so many years I hope history will be reviewed. To be seen as it was. I am proud to live here.

  5. I’m from Canada and thousands of volunteers came from here to fight against the fascists. They were known as the Mackenzie Papineau Battalion. Many were communist and socialist, but also anarchists too. Very brave men and women. They went there for an idea. Freedom. How many from the West would do that now?

  6. why is fighting for the communists rewarded?? atrocities were committed on both sides…… but nowadays it seems that the communists always come out as the heroes…….. tell that to the families who had their loved ones dragged out by the fair and just republicanos (yes, yes..the nationalistas did the same thing)…..santiago carrillo ordered the murder of 2,000 men in one night…. let’s make him a national hero…..oh wait, he is one already…

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