A cemetery in Catalonia: resting place for two British Brigaders

Post date: 20/01/2016

By Ivan York


In 2006 I began a regular series of visits to Catalonia, culminating with the purchase of a small house in El Perelló, Tarragona province, in 2011. My wife and I spend four to six months there every year and have made many friends. Since the beginning of our time there I have been hiking across much of the Sierra Pandols and Sierra Cabals, including Hills 666, 402 and 481, and last year was so pleased to see the latest IBMT plaque remembering the British Battalion’s sacrifice in and around Corbera d’Ebre.


It was in 2012 that I began researching mass burials in Catalonia, specifically relating to the Battle of the Ebro. According to a map produced for the Spanish Justice Department by the ARMH Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory, the El Perelló town cemetery was a site of a mass burial. I visited the cemetery and discovered an area in the middle of it (see photo) that had no markers or grave stones and appeared to have a concave surface – consistent with excavations. My curiosity was pricked – who were the people buried here? 


I discovered that two British volunteers from the 15th International Brigade, Cyril James Scott of Swansea and John Ferguson of Glasgow, were listed in the IBMT Roll of Honour as having died of wounds in a hospital in El Perelló. I began asking the older people whether they recalled a hospital in the village – but none could. 


It was only in the summer of 2015 that I was able to make several more connections regarding these two men, which leads me to conclude that they are amongst those buried in the mass grave in El Perelló. 


During and following the Battle of the Ebro, field hospitals were set up in the Burga valley, which at that time came under the administrative responsibility of El Perelló. My next stop was the El Perelló adjuntament (town hall), where the town clerk, Francesca Batlle i Bosch, and the mayor, Genoveva Margalef i Valiente, were very helpful. The 1938 registry included death certificates for John Ferguson, dated 26 July 1938, and James Scott (spelled Escot), dated 31 July 1938. Both had died at “Hospital Clinic No.3” (pictured below).



After several more visits and meetings with locals I found the site of the clinic, now a farm building housing tractors and implements. While photographing it I met an elderly man who told me that as a boy he knew one of the volunteer nurses who had worked there during 1938 and as far as he knew she was still alive. 


I traced Rosa Safont to a nearby village and despite her 96 years she was able to explain in great detail not only her work but also the impact of the civil war on herself, her friends and family. She could not recall any specific individuals, but did remember soldiers coming from the 11th (Lister) Division and some from the 15th International Brigade. She also described how the dead were wrapped in sheets and transported by truck to El Perelló for burial in the cemetery’s fossa comuna (mass grave): the last resting place for Ferguson and Scott.


John Ferguson, of 840 London Road, Bridgeton, Glasgow, was a veteran of the First World War. He emigrated to Alaska and then Canada, working as a miner. He arrived in Spain on 17 March 1937. He was with the Abraham Lincoln Battalion at Brunete, then joined the British Battalion’s machine-gun company in June 1938. 


James Scott, of 51 Wern Road, Swansea, was a merchant seaman, single and aged 30. He jumped ship, the Greatend, at Valencia and joined the British Battalion on 13 November 1937. 


This article is taken from the the current (no.1-2016) issue of the IBMT Newsletter, which is sent to all IBMT members around the world.


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