‘Where is Robert Symes of Hampshire?’

Post date: 30/01/2017

Alan Lloyd writes…


Despite all the intensive research that has been done over the years, largely by the late Jim Carmody, there are still too many British Brigaders about whom we know very little, both in terms of their personal details and/or motivation for going to Spain.


I am trying to trace the history of those Brigaders with some sort of a connection to Hampshire, and one of those on whom I would dearly like more information is Robert Arthur (Ronnie) Symes. Ronnie was born in Keynsham, Somerset, on 12 June 1905. His father, Arthur, was a ‘General Produce Merchant’, and his mother, Lucy May, née Colmer, was the daughter of a multiple store owner in the Bath area.


Between 1929 and 1933 we know that Ronnie made trips to South America as a farmer and as an ‘agriculturist’, and lived at addresses in the Bath and Weston-Super-Mare areas. He arrived in Spain in October 1936, and joined the Commune de Paris Battalion, alongside comrades in the 11th International Brigade. They were involved in the defence of the Spanish capital in the Casa de Campo, the park to Madrid’s west, and in University City nearby. On 9 November 1936 he was killed alongside more famous comrades, the two New Zealanders, Steve Yates and Griffith McLaurin.


Ronnie had a younger brother, Arthur John, who was born in 1907. He appears to have emigrated to South Africa where he married Eve. They had two children, Charles Arthur (b. 1931) and Barbara (b. 1930). The family arrived in England in 1935, but the marriage appears to have broken down as mother and children are untraceable after this, and when Arthur John died in 1949 a notice was posted by solicitors asking for details of the whereabouts of the family.


A very sad tale, but one with so many gaps, including the Hampshire connection. This comes from a poem called ‘Requiem Mass’, for the Englishmen fallen in the International Brigade, by Jack Lindsay. One of the verses ends: ‘Where is Robert Symes of Hampshire?’ In the original Roll of Honour he is listed as coming from London, which may make sense as his mother was living at 27 Effra Road, Brixton, London SW, when she died on 22 April 1940.


If anyone can offer a new lead or information please email me at


Posted on 30 January 2017.

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