Remembering the International Brigades

Por: Guiomar

Tiempo de lectura: 3 minutos

The Casa de Cultura, Xàbia was full to overflowing last Friday night to hear tributes to the men and women of the International Brigades who came to Spain 75 years ago, at the start of the Civil War,  to fight for the Spanish Republic.

Unfortunately the large crowd meant there was not enough room for some of the latecomers to hear the inspiring and emotional stories, illustrated by contemporary photographs, which followed.


In her introduction to the evening, Empar Bolufer  Xabia Counsellor for Culture, reminded the audience that the men and women of the Brigades, who for the most part had no particular conection with or obligation to Spain, risked their own personal safety, and indeed their future, to keep faith with their principles. They were, she said,  driven by a sense of solidarity and justice, and  their participation in the conflict often brought them great hardships and difficulties – often they were imprisoned, wounded and in many cases they lost their lives.


The evening was the inspiration of a group of Xabia residents, some of whose families had come to Spain with the Brigades, and the main speaker was Linda Palfreeman, an English historian and teacher, living in Catral and now teaching at the Cardinal Herrera University in Elche. Her special interest has long been the International Brigades, and in particular the contibution of the British medical services  to the Republican health service.  Doctors, nurses, medical students, administrators – they were  mostly young Britons who came to Spain in  ambulences equiped through contributions from the British public, who were moved by the plight of the Republican Government, although the British government was officially neutral in the conflict.  As the civil war continued and the battle front moved rapidly from region to region  these medical units learned to improvise rapidly, and it was here in Spain that the mobile  blood transfusion units were developed, saving thousands of lives. These medical units treated all casulaties with the same care, whether they were Republican soldiers, Fallangist soldiers or civilians. This was the first conflict of modern times to see more civilian than military casualties, mainly because of the ariel bombardments of towns mounted by the German and the Italian Air Forces.  LindaDBC##1s research will soon be published in a book SALUD! The story of the British volunteers in the Republican Medical Service.


Maggie Morgan and John Catanach, with help of Irene Moekte, Moira John, Vicenta Cruañes and Maria Luisa Valencia told stories of their family members who had volunteered and fought in Spain. MaggieDBC##1s uncle, her fatherDBC##1s student brother, went to France and then Spain  without informing his family and news of his eventual capture and imprisonemt in Spain after the battle of Teruel only filtered through gradually. He was eventually repatriated  and although his health never fully recovered from the effects of his imprisonment, he lived to old age, long enough to be offered Spanish citizenship in 1994. His story was told through the diary of MaggieDBC##1s father.

John told the story of his two uncles who fought in Spain through a series of emails over a period of two days with the International Brigades Memorial Trust in London. When John moved to Spain in 2005 he wanted to find out more about a family story of an uncle who had joined the Brigades and died in Spain. Through his correspondence he discovered that  he had in fact two uncles in the International Brigades  – the first was killed and his body discovered by the second, a friend who went on to survive the conflict and return to London and marry his friendDBC##1s widow. This second  uncle also lived to a great age and John was able to meet and talk with him  before he died. He had accepted Spanish citizenship, and he became president of the International BrigadeDBC##1s Memorial Trust.

The stories were told consecutively in Castellano and English to ensure that more people could share the evening, and although this took more time than usual at these events, it meant that an audience of mixed nationalities was able to hear the same moving stories.


Empar Bolufer concluded the evening with a famous quotation from the philosopher Albert Camus:


«It was in Spain that people learned that one can be right and yet be beaten, that force can vanquish spirit, that there are times when courage is not its own reward. It is this, doubtless, which explains why so many, the world over, feel the Spanish drama as a personal tragedy.» Albert Camus


Nina Davies


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