by Robert Laurie
LAST SATURDAY saw many members and supporters of the International Brigade Memorial Trust gather at the memorial in London’s Jubilee Gardens to the British anti-fascist volunteers who fought in the Spanish Civil War.
Only a handful of veterans survive but the numbers attending grow yearly, thanks to the hard work of the trust in keeping the memory of the Brigaders alive.
The ceremony was presided over by Jack Jones, the former general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, who remains president of the trust. A roll of honour of recently deceased Brigaders was read before Jack Edwards laid a wreath at the memorial.
Another veteran, Sam Russell spoke movingly of a recent ceremony at the site of the Battle of the Ebro where the Brigaders fought their last major battle. A new memorial, paid for by Unison, to the fallen of the International Brigade has just been erected.
Sam recalled that the ground was so hard that the dead could not be buried. Instead the bodies had to be covered with stones. It is only in recent years that the Spanish government and local authorities have permitted the establishment of memorials to Franco’s opponents.
One welcome feature of the Ebro ceremony was that the British Government sent Madrid and Barcelona-based diplomats thus giving the Brigaders long overdue recognition.
Campaigning journalist John Pilger then gave an excellent speech, which he began by paying tribute to Martha Gellhorn, whose reports from Spain inspired him to follow his chosen career.
Pilger stated that both then and now the most dangerous people were not the strutting uniformed fascists but the “respectable” power-hungry and greedy people behind them.
A rousing rendition of the Internationale concluded the ceremony before veterans and supporters headed off for refreshments and further reminiscences.