Bob Cooney: 'I asked them to remember their pals'

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).


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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.

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