Why we must keep alive the memory of the volunteers from Wales

Post date: 14/10/2017

Message from Carwyn Jones, First Minister of Wales, to the Annual General Meeting of the IBMT in Cardiff on 14 October 2017…


I’m sorry that I am unable to attend this year’s International Brigades commemoration and to be at the Annual General Meeting in person. I wanted to send a message on behalf of the Welsh Government to those in attendance to mark the day and to honour those that served in the International Brigades from 1936 to 1938. 


It would perhaps be easy, with the passing of so many years, to lose sight of the story and the sacrifice of those individuals from Wales that fought and died fighting for democracy as members of the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War.


But we choose not to. We choose to remember. As the Historian AJP Taylor once wrote: ‘History is not another name for the past, as many people imply. It is the name for stories about the past.’


Though the pages may be yellowed, the newspaper clippings may have softened and the stories may now be second hand, we actively choose to remember those that joined the International Brigades, to recall, to reflect and to re-describe – for new generations – their remarkable story; to recall the people and the principles they fought for.


We do it because it is our story. From the very same towns and villages that we know, that we live in, came brave individuals who signed up and sailed off to fight fascism.


And it is a truly remarkable story. Over 200 individuals – miners, writers, teachers academics, tradesmen, those without work; individuals from coalfield and coastal communities; both urban and rural; people – just like you and me – who joined up to fight for freedom.


Gwyn Thomas who travelled across Spain as a young student at the time spoke of the familiarity he felt and the similarity he saw between the mining villages of Spain and those of the Rhondda where he grew up. He saw in them ‘the same warmth, the same kindness, but above all the same marvelous intensity’ that he saw back home.


And they came from all across Europe to defend democracy. An anti-fascist barricade from Tonypandy to Madrid, they called it.


For those that served, what they saw and what they witnessed forged them as people. The experience of those that served in the Brigades left an indelible mark on them. For individuals such as Will Paynter and Tom Jones – ‘Twm Sbaen’  – it was a defining moment in their lives. 


Their stories, their sacrifice and those of many like them are engraved on plaques and memorials scattered across the length and breadth of Wales, in village halls and on school walls right across the land. 


But above all we are left with the bravery, the heroism and the solidarity of those who signed up, individuals who saw their participation through a larger lens. At a time of mass unemployment, depression and the hardship of the 1930s they saw themselves participating in a bigger story – a struggle for freedom and democracy; a struggle for a common humanity.


As the great Paul Robeson once said: ‘These fellows fought not only for Spain, but for me and for the whole world.’ And today we honour them.  


I’d like to thank the International Brigade Memorial Trust for the work they do and in particular to thank the volunteers and staff who do so much – all year round – to keep alive the memory and the spirit of the men and women from across the UK that fought for freedom in Spain eighty years ago.


Your work is valuable, your work is important. Perhaps now more than ever it is important these stories are re-told and re-described, for our daughters and for our sons.


Thank you.


Posted on 14 October 

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