Sussex remembers

Post date: 19/05/2024

There was a full house in Eastbourne’s Grove Theatre on 18 May for an assortment of songs, film clips and spoken word on the theme of ‘Sussex and the Spanish Civil War’.

Organised by the IBMT-affiliated Sussex Brigaders Remembered and scripted by former IBMT trustees Mike Anderson and Pauline Fraser, the event attracted an audience of some 70 people. 

Anderson explained that the war in Spain had had a considerable impact on Sussex, with some 30 volunteers from the county enlisting in the International Brigades, seven of whom lost their lives. There were also several 'colonies' of refugee Basque children.

Those who died in Spain were Julian Bell (Charleston), Vincent Deegan (Brighton), Tom Elliott (Worthing), George Fuller (Eastbourne), Donald MacDonald (Brighton), Thomas Sheehan (Brighton) and Roy Watts (Hove). In addition, Sydney Holland (Petworth), a pilot in the Spanish Republic's airforce, was also killed in action.

Most of those present in the Grove Theatre joined folk legend Robb Johnson in singing ‘Valley of Jarama’ to remember the fallen volunteers. 

Robb wrote two new songs especially for the performance: ‘From All Four Corners of the Earth’ and ‘Where the Bloody Hell Have You Been?’ – a reference to the way Brigader George Wheeler was greeted by his family when he arrived home from Spain in April 1939.

The scene inside the Grove Theatre.

The audience also sang along with story-teller Jon Mason in a rendition of ‘Sussex By the Sea’ with words re-written in 1938 during the Spanish Civil War by Ernie Trory, the Communist Party organiser in Sussex.

The song’s lines include: ‘Far o’er the seas we wander, wide through the world we roam / Into the Spanish trenches, fighting for those at home.’

La Pasionaria’s famous farewell message to the International Brigades was recited by Sandra Carillo, a local activist in the Marea Granate movement of ex-pat Spaniards.

Sandra’s great-grandfather, Pedro Carrillo Rodríguez was executed by the fascists in 1940. Born in Maqueda (Toledo) in 1906, he was a member of the UGT union federation and had fought at Jarama with the 66 Brigada Mixta.

‘It’s an honour and a duty for me to be here tonight,’ said Sandra.

In the discussion at the end of the enthusiastically received presentation in Eastbourne, audience members said it was a shame that the story of the International Brigades was not better known by young people.

The International Brigade Memorial Trust's Chair, Jim Jump, told them that the the IBMT had recently created a range of online teaching aids and lesson plans to help school pupils find out more about 'this amazing chapter in radical history'. These educational resources were still being added to, he said.

Participants in 'Sussex and the Spanish Civil War', from left: Christian Hogsbjerg of Sussex Brigaders Remembered, Sandra Carillo, Mike Anderson, Pauline Fraser, Jon Mason and Robb Johnson. Behind them is an embroidered version of Picasso's 'Guernica' produced in 2017 by Brighton artist Nicola Ashmore and volunteers from local peace and anti-war groups.

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