Pictured: Cllr Alan Rhodes, leader of Nottinghamshire County Council, and Cllr John Allin, Chair of the Council, lay a wreath in honour of the Notts men who died in Spain and all the others who fought against Fascism.
Speech by IBMT President Marlene Sidaway at the ceremony to reinstate the information board next to the memorial to the International Brigades at County Hall, Nottingham, headquarters of Nottinghamshire County Council, on Saturday 27 July 2013…
I’m absolutely delighted to be here today to welcome this reinstatement of the information panel. I’m aware of how much you have campaigned for this to happen, and on behalf of the International Brigade Memorial Trust I would like to thank Alan Rhodes and the Labour Group on the county council, Barry and Ann Donlan and all of the people involved in that campaign, and I include in that a tribute to the late Ida Hackett.
Why is it so important to have the information panel next to the memorial? Because so little is known or taught about the Spanish Civil War, yet it happened at a seminal moment in the history of the 20th century.
The years leading up to the Spanish Civil War were turbulent times in Europe. The great Depression resulted in years of misery for workers who had no means of controlling their own lives or of earning a living. Hitler and the Nazi party were on the rise in Germany and Fascism was threatening to engulf the whole of Europe and beyond. Thousands of refugees were fleeing from their homelands, seeking shelter in other countries. To those with their fingers on the pulse of world affairs, a Second World War was inevitable, and these included thousands of unemployed with time on their hands – time to read the papers in public libraries, time to attend political meetings, time to discuss world affairs, and listen to the newly arrived refugees.
The situation in Spain was included in all of this knowledge. The elected Republican government was threatened by a group of rebel army generals, who were backed by the aristocracy, landowners, the Church and all who disagreed with the government’s planned reforms – reforms which were already improving the lot of workers and the lower classes. When the people of Spain rose up to defend themselves against the coup, their cause was taken up by over 35,000 men and women from all over the world who volunteered to fight in the International Brigades and they were supported by thousands more who remained at home and collected money, food and clothing for Spanish relief.
But it wasn’t just the political situation in Spain that inspired them to go – they were aware that a Second World War was looming and they believed that if Fascism could be halted in Spain, then this war might be averted. So Spain became a rallying point for those great causes –
“Madrid the magnet that drew us all Along slow roads to Spain – at last a star For desperate men, sensing the gathering storm And we that fought to warn a watching world Were called false prophets Yet fought for the poor of the world.”
Those words were written by my late partner, David Marshall, who went to Spain, aged 20.
Over 2,500 volunteers came from Britain and Ireland – mostly from the working classes, but there were many others from all walks of life and occupations. Over 500 died in Spain, and many others sustained life-changing injuries.
Less than six months after the defeat of the Republic, the Second World War began, and those who had fought in Spain against Franco, Hitler and Mussolini had to continue fighting fascism for another six years. The bombs that Hitler had rained on the civilian population in Madrid, Guernica and elsewhere in Spain were soon raining on London, Coventry – and Nottingham.
This is why the information panel is so important – we need it to inspire passers-by to find out more about the history that shaped their lives, and that bit of extra information will do that.
The courage and sacrifice of the volunteers should be an inspiration to us today, and it is our duty to make sure that what they did in the 1930s and 40s to ensure that we might live in a better world today should not be forgotten.
The International Brigade Memorial Trust exists to keep their memory and spirit alive. If you are not already one of our members, I urge you to join and support our work.