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.
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.