Frank Graham (1913-2006)

Frank Graham is described in his file in the Moscow Archive as 'A brave and reliable comrade. Politically unquestionable', and it is a description which did not vary throughout his 93 years.

From a Sunderland working-class background, a series of scholarships saw him attain a degree course at King's College, London. A dislike of the course, college and shortage of money soon saw him back in the North East helping to organise demonstrations and marches for the National Unemployed Workers' Movement.

He then went to Spain and fought at Jarama and Brunete, before being seriously wounded at Caspe. Back in the UK he remained politically active whilst working as a teacher for a number of years, before setting up a very successful independent publishing company in order to give voice to the rich working class history of the North East.


Part 1 of 4.
Part 2 of 4.
Part 3 of 4.
Part 4 of 4.

On whether the International Brigades had ultimately been effective

The International Brigade were decisive in Spain, yes. I think if the International Brigade hadn't been in Spain, the war would have been over in probably within a matter of weeks. At the time, the beginning of the Battle of the Madrid, they were the decisive [factor].

I don't say that they did most of the fighting, but they were just that extra that made all the difference. I mean, there was, well I mean eventually about 50,000 members in the International Brigade, probably. In the Battle of Madrid, in the early days, there were probably five, ten, fifteen-thousand taking part. That number made a tremendous difference.

So for the Spanish war they were decisive. Instead of being over in two months, it took two years. And I think the two years delayed the outbreak of the Second World War. Hitler couldn't start the Second World War until the war in Spain was over. I don't think he could. Because you see, Spain was intended as one of the important parts of the Second World War.

It didn't of course work as anticipated because Spain didn't come in on his side, but of course they supported him economically. But at the time, Hitler wanted Spain as an actual force whereby for example he could attack North Africa from Spain you see. So he couldn't move until Spain was conquered and that was two years delayed.

Posted on 30 May 2023.

Bob Cooney (1907-1984)

Robert ‘Bob’ Cooney was born in Sunderland, before moving to Aberdeen at a very young age after his mother was widowed. It was here that he was based for the rest of his life, which he spent immersed in the fight against fascism and for a better life for working class people.

A prison sentence for his part in a rowdy anti-fascist demonstration preceded going to Spain, where he was generally regarded as the best Commissar the British Battalion had during the war.

On his return he went on a countrywide tour with other members of the returned Battalion to promote the cause of the Spanish Republic, before joining the army as a gunner to fight the Nazis in the Second World War. He kept a diary of his time in Spain which is available in a book, 'Proud Journey: A Spanish Civil War Memoir' (2015).


Part 1 of 3.
Part 2 of 3.
Part 3 of 3.

On holding back the fascists during the retreat to the Ebro

On 2 April [1938] José María told me that the situation was quite desperate. That somehow or another the main army and its equipment had to get across these bridges and it would be necessary to hold the fascists up for at least a day. He told us that there were 70 Mac-Paps and there were 70 of us, and he asked us to go up the hill on this side of the road.

And the lads hadn't eaten since the 31 March! So I said yes, I'll put it to them and I said, by the way the lads are all very hungry. He happened to have in his rucksack a loaf, a very small loaf and a tin of corned beef, and he gave this to me. So I opened this and I literally shaved off, with a pen knife which one of the lads gave me, shaved off a bit, and they all had a thin, pathetic little slice of this.

And then I spoke to them. And I spoke to them about the lads who had died and so forth, and this is our last chance to take something to the fascists. And I told them what it meant if we held the fascists up for one day, until dark. It might yet be that the Republic would be saved. This would be a bloody historic battle this. And I asked them to remember their pals, you know, and if they'd let their deaths go unpunished. And I was afraid you know, at this point, I really was. Because it was asking too much from them – it was bloody impudence to ask. And actually they gave a bloody big cheer, and they went up the hill.

And the fascists advanced down that road. And I said, don't worry about wasting ammunition, we're only here for a day. And I had them yell and we made the most awful bloody noise, and the Mac-Paps on the other side. So the fascists must have had the idea that there was a hell of a concentration there on both sides, and they might be taken. Seven times they advanced, seven times they stopped and seven times they went back.

Posted on 12 April 2023.

Nan Green (1904-1984)

Born in Beeston, Nottingham, in 1904, Nan Green led an extraordinary life dedicated to progressive causes. She followed her husband George to Spain, where he was killed at the Ebro, and helped organise the Valdeganga convalescent home. She served as a medical administrator at Huete, Valdeganga and Uclés, then on the Ebro front. At the end of the war Nan accompanied a boatload of Republican children to safety in Mexico and was Secretary of the International Brigade Association from 1943-50, before embarking on work that took her to Eastern Europe and China. Her full story can be found in her memoir, ‘A Chronicle of Small Beer: The Memoirs of Nan Green’ (2005).


Part 1 of 3.
Part 2 of 3.
Part 3 of 3.

On the actions of women in the Spanish Republic

They were building socialism at the same time as they were fighting the war, insofar as they could. And they were very careful about these things. About teaching – right in the trenches, in the hospitals, and everywhere else – people to read and write and bringing up the children in the right way.

This you couldn’t help being impressed by, all over the place, especially the women. I think the women were marvellous. They didn’t have experience but they nevertheless did it. They nevertheless managed, with tremendous efficiency to organise meetings and to organise collections of goods and material. Anything that had to be done was done and very often done by the women too [...]

I think everywhere, especially in the cities, women came straight to the fore. With a sort of cheerful confidence and efficiency, I must say, which had to be seen to be believed.

I met it again when I went over to the Asturias in 1962, as an interpreter to a miners’ delegation which was taking money to the striking Asturian miners. Those women were just the same as the women I remembered in 1936… they were miners’ wives and they grasped immediately what we had come to do and organised the distribution of the money we had brought, while we sat there, in the most efficient way. You couldn't have done it better in a government office in London – well you could have done it a lot worse in a government office in London! They were quite terrific, they had this sort of instant recognition of a job to be done and the instant determination to do it, and it just gets done.

I would like to tell you about another woman though, who went right through until the fall of Madrid, I think. I don’t know because I didn’t see her at the end. But every time I was in Madrid I went to see her and she was living within sight of the Casa de Campo, in other words she was living at the end of the tram lines. And the enemy was just across a couple of fields in the University City. And she had her baby there and she stayed, she went on staying. She felt strong enough and confident enough to go on living in the house, in the Casa de Campo, and to have a baby. I remember the baby was just a few days old when I went to see her and she lifted up the baby’s little fist and said ‘no pasarán!’. It was tremendously moving, to see this kind of courage they had all the way through.

Posted on 8 March 2023.

Below are the audio files from the IBMT's collection of over 90 interviews with International Brigaders and people involved in the Aid Spain movement. New interviews will be uploaded in 2024.

Click a title to access the record, which includes the audio file of their interview, a short introduction to the volunteer and a short transcribed excerpt.

Sometimes labelled the Ashton Tapes, the collection of interviews were undertaken during the mid-to-late 1970s, many by Dave Corkill and Stuart Rawnsley for their 1981 book ‘The Road to Spain’. The Imperial War Museum digital collection holds duplicates of some of the interviews. The original reel-to-reel tapes were held by the Tameside Local Studies Centre in Ashton-under-Lyne before they were acquired by the IBMT, converted to CD format and now available as digital audio.

IBMT logo

Support our work

You can support the IBMT by joining us or affiliating your union branch – see details and membership forms here:
menuchevron-up linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram