Remembering the Stockton volunteers who fell at Jarama

Post date: 27/02/2023

This report of the Battle of Jarama commemoration in Stockton, held on 12 February 2023, was provided by IBMT North East member and activist Tony Fox. A longer version is available to read on his blog here.

Flowers in Spanish Republican colours before the Stockton International Brigade memorial.

At 11am on 12 February 2023 IBMT members, supporters and friends in Stockton assembed to commemorate the British Battalion and the men from Teesside who lost their lives at the Battle of Jarama.

On 12 February 1937 the British Battalion of the 15th International Brigade faced it’s first battle. By the evening of the first day, the 600-strong Battalion had been reduced to 250 men. In the afternoon of 13 February, Bert Overton of Stockton took command of the British Battalion and led them until reinforcements arrived on the morning of the 14 February.

Four Teesside volunteers lost their lives at Jarama; George Bright and David Halloran were killed in action, whilst Thomas Carter and John Unthank died later as a result of wounds sustained in battle.

George Brown was the Communist Party district secretary for Lancashire and, like George Short, approved the volunteers for Spain. One such was Sam Wild, who would later command the British Battalion. The words of Sam’s son, Mike Wild; 'Our open eyes could see no other way' accompanies our memorial.

George Brown, who was killed in the Battle of Brunette in July 1937, wrote a report (above) of the British Battalion's commemoration of the Jarama fallen.

This report was read out to those assembled to commemorate the Stockton volunteers. George Brown reports on the memorial service held by the members of the British Battalion in April 1937. Four of the Stockton volunteers will have taken part in the memorial service with a fifth, George Bright, being commemorated.

On the afternoon of 29 April only a few of the comrades of the Battalion are in the trenches keeping guard. The rest are a few yards behind the trenches, lined up in military formation. They are holding a memorial service to their comrades who have fallen in this sector and whose rough made graves are all around.

George Brown, April 1937.

George Brown goes on to quote from George Aitken, who had recently been promoted from British Battalion commissar to that of the 15th International Brigade.

They were our friends. We had come to know then intimately. They shared our joys and sorrows in the days of training. They fought side by side with us in fierce battles. They lived with us day and night in the trenches, shared the same dug-outs, stood on guard by our side, shivered with us in the cold nights and huddled close to us when on many a night the rain poured down in torrents. How could we help growing fond of them and sorrowing at their passing. They lie here now sleeping their long last sleep.

George Brown, April 1937.

After flowers were lain at the memorial a minute silence was held.

Bob Beagrie has been a constant at our Volunteers for Liberty events and once again he graciously agreed to read the poetry at this year's Jarama commemoration. Dr Beagrie read 'To England from the English Dead' by International Brigader Miles Tomalin:

We, who were English once had eyes and saw
The savage greed of those who made this war
Tear up from earth, like a hog loose in flowers
So many lives as young and strong as ours,
You, England, stood apart from Spain’s affair,
You said you were secure in sea and cliff
While others sank in filthy war, as if
You kept some old virginity in there.
While the black armies marched and the dead fell,
You told your English people all was well,
And shutting eyes to war was finding peace.
You told them once, all slavery must cease.
Dishonourable England! We in Spain
Who died, died proudly, but not in your name;
Our friends will keep the love we felt for you
Among your moist green landscapes and smooth hills,
Talk of it over honest window sills
And teach our children we were not untrue.
Not for those others, more like alien men
Who, quick to please our slayers, let them pass,
Not for them
We English lie beneath the Spanish grass.

Miles Tomalin, 'Two Poems', The Volunteer for Liberty, vol. 2, no. 35, 7 November 1938.

The commemoration finale was a rousing rendition of Pete Seeger's version of 'Jarama Valley'. This was performed by a group of regulars from The Golden Smog, a pub whose owner, John Christie, played a key role in fundraising for the Stockton memorial. The memorial plaque in Wasps Nest Yard was unveiled last year.

Posted on 27 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