New book traces connections among four Brigaders

Post date: 02/02/2023

'Our Fathers Fought Franco' is a collection of biographies of four International Brigaders, James Maley, George Watters, Donald Renton and Archibald Williams. Travelling from different corners of Britain, all of them came to serve in the No.2 Machine Gun Company and fought at the Battle of Jarama in February 1937. After being captured in battle by Franco’s forces, they were held in the same prisons.

The book is written by their children and grandchildren: Willy Maley, Lisa Croft, Jennie Renton and Tam Watters. The biographies are told in the words of the Brigaders themselves, as well as through anecdotes and recollections, prison notebooks, newspaper reports, newsreel stills and interviews.

In his introduction to the book, Willy Maley writes about these connected stories and their wider significance for the anti-fascist and labour movements of the time:

‘Our Fathers Fought Franco’ also tells the story of relatively unknown participants. All were members of the Communist Party at the time of volunteering, committed antifascists prepared ot lay down their lives for the fledgling Spanish Republic. They travelled to Spain at the end of December 1936 – just before the British Government reaffirmed that under the Foreign Enlistment Act it was illegal to recruit or volunteer for service in Spain on either side – and were thrown into battle six weeks later. Their lifelong bond was forged in the crucible of the Battle of Jarama…

Before and after Spain, the lives of Maley, Renton, Watters and Williams took different turns, but for a few dark and bloody hours in the Jarama Valley their fates intersected, and for the next few months they spent their days and nights in close proximity as prisoners of Franco. 

There can of course be no happy ending; these men fought Franco and Franco won. But in no way did it deflect them from their lifelong commitment to the cause of the Left. Their activism had its roots in the trade union movement, the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement (NUWM) and in resistance to the British Union of Fascists (BUF). They were veterans of street fights and strikes, of rallies and speeches. Their hatred of fascism and willingness to take direct action against it was instilled long before they went to Spain. Their lives are emblematic of the grassroots activism and internationalist antifascist action of the times...

Documenting the experience of these four young working-class men from Glasgow, Portobello, Prestonpans and Portsmouth seems ever more important today, in a world where fascism remains a threat rather than a distant memory.

'Our Fathers Fought Franco' will be available from Luath Press on 4 February. It can be pre-ordered here.

A launch event will be held this Saturday 4 February in Townhead Village Hall, Glasgow. More information and registration is available via Eventbrite here.

Posted on 2 February 2023.

IBMT logo

Support our work

You can support the IBMT by joining us or affiliating your union branch – see details and membership forms here:
menuchevron-up linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram