“My Dearest Kathleen, This is a last letter before I cross over the border into Spain. I will post it in the border town and then I will be on Spanish territory. This is a terrible long journey we are on now, about 15-hours.”
The Spanish Civil War raged between 1936 and 1939. The Spanish conflict, rather than the Reich’s pre-emptive strike on threatening Poland, is said to have sparked World War II.
Like today’s Libyan and Syrian hostilities, Spain’s Civil War vacuumed up idealists, opportunists and mercenaries from all over the world.
Wikipedia describes the then Republican regime in Madrid as ‘left-leaning’. In fact, the Republicans were red in tooth and claw Bolsheviks backed by the Soviet Union. The Republicans were fighting for a regime that by 1936 had already slaughtered tens of millions of Russian and Ukrainian martyrs.
Nevertheless, there is poignancy about letters written during past times and in terrible situations we can scarcely identify with. The letter was addressed to my mother who was then my father’s fiancé.
Soon after the words of comfort and hope were penned the Irish-born American citizen and veteran of two earlier conflicts would make a clandestine mountain crossing. These volunteers would soon find themselves embroiled in the raging Spanish Civil War.
My father and his comrades had hitch-hiked from Ireland, then to England and onwards to Spain. The members of the American-formed Abraham Lincoln Brigade were determined to ensure the Soviet-backed Republican regime would survive onslaught by Generalissimo’s Francisco Franco’s Nationalist armies.
Later, letters were written by the fighters during lulls in furious hand-to-hand fighting at the Jarama River near Madrid. A Nationalist force of 40,000 men, including men from the Army of Africa on February, 11, 1937 had crossed the Jarama River.
The following day, at what became known as Suicide Hill, the International Brigades and Republicans suffered heavy casualties. Under withering fire, British Commander Tom Winteringham was forced to order a retreat back to the next ridge.
Spanish nationalists slowly but methodically advanced up the hill’s slopes. As they did so they negotiated ridges and wound their way through the ravines of Suicide Hill. In bitterly cold weather there was terrible carnage. The advancing Nationalist troops were decimated by Republican machine-gun fire.
Also coming under heavy fire was the American, Irish and British Abraham Lincoln Brigade’s mercenary force. Their stoic adversaries were at least fighting on their home soil; few if any of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade were Spanish. In effect, those making up the International Brigades were no different from the hordes of non-Syrians who, with Western backing, today fight to overthrow the Syrian government.
Suicide Hill had been aptly named. The losses suffered were far worse than the attrition experienced at Ypres during the Great War. At the onset of the battle the strength of New York’s Abraham Lincoln Brigade numbered 600 officers and men. The surviving 160 fighters established defensive positions along a sunken road.
The fighting raged on and fell into an uneasy lull only during the hours of darkness. On February 23, led by Robert Merriman, 373 members of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion moved into the trenches. As the squads including my father were ordered over the top the revolutionaries were backed by a pair of tanks from the Soviet Union. The outcome for the Republicans was not good; on that first action 20 men were killed and nearly 60 men were wounded.
“Of the 263 men who went into action that day only 150 survived. One soldier remarked afterwards: “The battalion was named after Abraham Lincoln because he too was assassinated.”
Edwin Rolfe survived but wrote:
“When we were pulled out of the lines I felt very tired and lonely and guilty. I felt lonely because half of the battalion had been badly shot up. And I felt guilty because I felt I didn’t deserve to be alive now, with Arnold and Nick and Paul dead.”
Trooper Fred Copeman was wounded in the action but survived. He later wrote about meeting Kit Conway at the hospital at Jarama.
“Kit was obviously dying. He was in terrible agony, and yet his one concern was that he may have been responsible for the slaughter that had taken place. Six hundred and thirty men had entered the line and there were not more than eighty left unwounded, and the percentage of those killed was very high.”
“It was hard to convince him that our fighting had taken place in the toughest, bloodiest battle of the whole Spanish campaign, and that it had been decisive in the defence of the Madrid-Valencia road.”
My father’s pencilled notes were scribbled in those trenches and they tell their story far more poignantly than can any historian. I last saw my father about 1968. Our meeting was a chance encounter that has haunted me throughout my life.
Having firmly established myself as leader of the Liverpool branch of the (National Socialist) British Movement I was scheduled to address members at a booked city hall. Having set up the tables, seats, flags and banners and laid out the books I had only to move my parked car.
I was horrified to see my father, a veteran of four armed conflicts, coming up the stairs as I descended. Jumping to the conclusion that his intent was to disrupt my meeting I verbally abused him.
When I demanded an explanation my father seemed confused. He explained to me that the meeting he had arrived to address was his booking, not mine. My father was remorseful as I angrily jabbed my finger at the notice board. Crestfallen, the veteran realised that he had arrived one week early; it was my booking, not his.
It is difficult for me to describe his embarrassment and his humiliation as without another word we parted company. It was the last time I saw my father; he died alone just a few years later. That encounter has haunted me nearly fifty years and will continue to do.
The truth is that the ordinary men and women drawn into conflict number among them idealists who genuinely want a better world. My father a war hero of the front-lines four times over, simply thought his route better than mine. His times were very much different to mine.
My regret is that instead of near fisticuffs we had both repaired to a nearby inn and shared our experiences. Who knows, he might have seen things my way; my mother eventually did so. Whatever the outcome a beer or two would have been preferable to a father and his son being torn apart for an ideal.
Such are Civil Wars; brother fights brother, sons fight fathers, mothers, daughters and sisters weep. And for what did the fallen give their lives? Today, young men flock to Syria, Novorussia in Ukraine; the only thing that men never learn from history is they don’t learn from history. ~ Irish writer and poet Michael Walsh.
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MICHAEL WALSH BOOKSTORE www.mikewalshwritingservices.wordpress.com
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MICHAEL WALSH is a journalist, broadcaster and the author of RISE OF THE SUN WHEEL, EUROPE ARISE, TROTSKY’S WHITE NEGROES, MEGACAUST, DEATH OF A CITY, WITNESS TO HISTORY, THE BUSINESS BOOSTER , THE FIFTH COLUMN VOLUME I and II, FOR THOSE WHO CANNOT SPEAK, IMMORTAL BELOVED, THE ALL LIES INVASION, INSPIRE A NATION Volume I, INSPIRE A NATION Volume II , SLAUGHTER OF A DYNASTY , REICH AND WRONG, THE RED BRIGANDS, RANSACKING THE REICH , SCULPTURES OF THE THIRD RIECH: ARNO BREKER AND REICH SCULPTORS , SCULPTURES OF THE THIRD RIECH: JOSEF THORAK AND REICH SCULPTORS , The Exiled Duke Romanov Who Turned Desert Into Paradise , THE DOVETAILS , SEX FEST AT TIFFANY’S , PORCELAIN OF THE THIRD REICH: Supreme Ceramics and Porcelain Lost to War and other book titles. These illustrated best-selling books are essential for the libraries of informed readers.
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MICHAEL WALSH is an Irish British-born journalist. His 70 books include best-selling historical books THE ALL LIES INVASION, WITNESS TO HISTORY, TESTIGO DE LA HISTORIA: HISTORIA SIN CENSURA (SPANISH EDITION), REICH AND WRONG, HEROES HANG WHEN TRAITORS TRIUMPH , HEROES OF THE REICH, THE FUHRER’S PROCLAMATION TO THE GERMAN PEOPLE , FOR THOSE WHO CANNOT SPEAK, MEGACAUST, THE RED BRIGANDS, RANSACKING THE REICH, PORCELAIN OF THE THIRD REICH: Supreme Ceramics and Porcelain Lost to War and DEATH OF A CITY.
MICHAEL WALSH is a journalist, author, and broadcaster. His 70 books include best-selling RHODESIA’S DEATH EUROPE’S FUNERAL, AFRICA’S KILLING FIELDS, THE LAST GLADIATORS, A Leopard in Liverpool, RISE OF THE SUN WHEEL, EUROPE ARISE, FOR THOSE WHO CANNOT SPEAK, THE ALL LIES INVASION, INSPIRE A NATION Volume I, INSPIRE A NATION Volume II, and many other book titles. These illustrated best-selling books are essential for the libraries of informed readers.
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