IBMT Executive Committee member Pauline Fraser reports on the gathering held at the Big Pit museum in Blaenavon on 15 October following the Trust’s Annual General Meeting in Cardiff on the previous day.
We looked on as Richard Felstead (pictured below), grandson and biographer of Jack 'Russia' Roberts, delicately cradled each of six red roses with a different name attached to the stem, and spoke of the unique and precious life that each flower represented.
When he had done, he gently placed each rose in a simple glass vase, first one for his grandfather and then one each for five of the comrades who were most important to him: Arthur ‘Dickie’ Bird, Frank Owen, Lance Rogers, Leo Price and Alun Menai-Williams.
On the plain wall behind Richard was a slate plaque to the Welsh miners who fought in defence of democracy in Spain 80 years ago, beautiful in its simplicity.
Dickie Bird, the youngest to be honoured with a rose, was just 18 when he was mown down by machine gun fire. He was living in Hammersmith when he volunteered for Spain and I remember his older Communist Party comrade, Les Gibson, was haunted with remorse for having given in to young Dickie's entreaties to go to Spain together.
Frank Owen was remembered as another who had given his life in Spain. I remember meeting Frank Owen’s son who explained how his parents had discussed his going to Spain and how both parents were in complete agreement that Frank should go. This he had explained to me with mixed feelings of anger and pride.
‘To be silent in the face of injustice is to acquiesce,’ wrote volunteer Jim Brewer, while Alun Menai-Williams wrote of ‘that no man’s land between conviction and action where the majority of mankind never venture’. It was this high level of political understanding and class consciousness among the Welsh mining communities, their shared hatred of fascism plus the willingness to do something about it, that made many decide to fight fascism in Spain.
Behind the vase a miner’s lamp burned, to show that those brave men are not and will not be forgotten, their example showing future generations how sometimes you have to take a stand for freedom and even risk man's dearest possession, life itself.
As we left Big Pit, we saw the flag of the Spanish Republic flying proudly from the pithead (pictured above), reminding me of the words of Byron, much loved by Jack Jones, inscribed on the national memorial in Jubilee Gardens: ‘Yet, Freedom! Yet thy banner, torn, but flying, Streams like the thunder-storm against the wind.’
Posted on 20 October 2017.