Saturday, June 20, 2009

Spanish honours for IB veteran

By Daphne Liddle

SEVEN veteran International Brigaders last week were honoured by the Spanish government and awarded Spanish citizenship in a ceremony at the Spanish Embassy in Belgravia.
They were 96-year-old Paddy Cochrane, Sam Lesser, Thomas Watters, Penny Feiwel, Jack Edwards, Lou Kenton and Joseph Kahn.
The ambassador, Carles Casajuana, shook hands with each of the volunteers and handed them Spanish passports.
The International Brigade veteran and trade unionist Jack Jones, who died in April, received a posthumous passport, which was given to his son, Mick.
Sam Lesser, who recalled how the communist politician Dolores Ibárruri – La Pasionaria – had promised the foreign fighters in 1938 that they would one day return to find a peaceful, republican Spain.
"We've taken a while but now we've come home," Lesser, 94, said in – Spanish.
"We've come home. But there are those of us who did not come home, who sleep under the sun, the soil and the olive trees of Spain."
He quoted the poet Laurence Binyon, saying their sacrifice would never be forgotten: "They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old. /Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. /At the going down of the sun and in the morning/We will remember them."
This prompted Paddy Cochrane to raise a defiant clenched fist in the air, and to describe how proud he now was of what he had done.
Casajuana said that although Spain had changed – "now we settle our differences at the ballot box and not on the battlefield" – the country would never forget those who had given up comfortable lives at home to fight for democracy and freedom.
"Your fight was not in vain," he told them. "Your ideals are part of the foundations of our democracy."
After the ceremony, Paddy Cochrane sat in his wheelchair; grinning as he inspected the little red booklet he had just been given. "It makes me very proud," he said. "Very proud."
Joseph Kahn, reflected: "It's very pleasant to get the passport," he said. "They did offer it to us a few years ago but that was on condition that we gave up our British nationality, which, of course, we refused. I'm very appreciative of the gesture. "
He also had an odd sensation as he glanced around the room: "It's the first time in my life that I've felt like the youngest."
Mick Jones said his father would, in spite of his principles, have appreciated the granting of Spanish citizenship.
"It's a shame that Jack isn't here today but he knew he was going to get it – he'd filled in all the forms," he said.
"My father was never very impressed with ceremonies and honours but he would have thought it was about time that Spain recognised the sacrifices made by the International Brigade."

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