From our annual commemoration in London

Post date: 07/07/2024

The IBMT's commemoration at the International Brigade memorial in Jubilee Gardens on London's South Bank on Saturday 6 July saw speeches by PCS General Secretary Fran Heathcote and historian Richard Baxell.

As is customary and led by IBMT President Marlene Sidaway, wreaths were laid and there was a minute's silence in honour of the more than 500 volunteers from Britain and Ireland who gave their lives in Spain and in memory of the 2,500 volunteers who served in the International Brigades.

Led by folk duo Na-Mara, everyone sang 'Valley of Jarama' and the event ended with a rousing rendition of 'The Internationale'.

In her contribution, Fran Heathcote noted the worrying rise of the racist far-right in Britain, in the form of the Reform party, which had gained 4 million votes in the general election held two days previously. The anti-fascist example of the International Brigades was therefore needed today more than ever.

'Europe and indeed the UK are heading at a startling rate towards fascism,' she said, 'with far-right parties sweeping up millions of votes. We need to get out into our communities and workplaces to spread the resistance to fascism. The parallels with the 1930s are there for all to see.'

Fran Heathcote.

IBMT Historical Consultant Richard Baxell spoke about the experience of the International Brigade prisoners during the Spanish Civil War.

In particular, he drew from the biography of Battersea volunteer George Wheeler, 'To Make the People Smile Again', which, among other things, describes the appalling conditions endured in the San Pedro de Cardeña prison camp.

The mood was lightened when he recounted the way that Wheeler and the other prisoners, were forced by violent guards to chant 'Fran-co! Fran-co!'. They did so with gusto, but chorusing 'F*** you! F*** you!' instead.

Camilo Morán, aged 4, and mother Noelia laying a wreath on behalf of the Spanish Communist Party. Looking on is Richard Baxell.

There was an emotional send-off for Na-Mara – Paul McNamara and Rob Garcia – who have announced they are giving up touring and playing live gigs and 16 years of doing so. As this would be their final performance at Jubilee Gardens, IBMT Secretary Megan Dobney presented them with flowers in the colours of the Spanish Republic.

One of the songs performed by Na-Mara was 'The Bite'. Introducing it, McNamara explained that the words were inspired by a reference in George Wheeler's autobiography to the small piece of wood he would put in his mouth before going into battle as something to clench while bombs and bullets landed around him.

IBMT Chair Jim Jump rounded off proceedings by underlining the importance of the IBMT's work, pointing out that memorials in Spain were still subject to attack and, more generally, there were moves to erase the role of the Brigaders from the 20th century's long war against fascism.

'In the IBMT we're fighting back with our schools project, providing teaching aids and lesson plans so that pupils can be taught about the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War.'

Thanking the wreath-layers, he singled out Isabel García, Deputy Consul at the Spanish embassy in London. He said the IBMT applauded the efforts of the current Spanish government, through its Law of Democratic Memory, to recognise the crimes committed against the supporters of the Spanish Republic.

He went on: 'I was struck by the words of your prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, while visiting Franco's grotesque former mausoleum at the Valley of Cuelgamuros earlier this year, when he said "Sin memoria no hay democracia" – there can be no democracy without memory.'

Among those present in Jubilee Gardens were family and descendants of International Brigaders Felicia Browne, Jimmy Burns, Noel Carritt, John Cornford, Len Crome, Jack Edwards, Otto Estensen, Harry Fraser, George Green, Nan Green, Edwin Greening, Jimmy Jump, Lou Kenton, Johnny Longstaff, David Marshall, Patrick O’Sullivan, Cyril Sexton, Hugh Slater, Alex Tudor-Hart, Rob Wardle and Tom Wintringham.

All photos are © Andrew Wiard. See this link for more photos from the commemoration.

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