Mike Anderson reports on the commemoration held in Newhaven last December to mark the 85th anniversary of the British Battalion's return from Spain.
The International Brigades were men and women from over fifty nations who fought in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), defending the elected Republican Government against General Franco's rebels and his military backers Hitler and Mussolini. Two thousand five hundred men and women from Britain and Ireland volunteered to go to Spain, where over five hundred died fighting fascism.
Members of the Sussex International Brigaders Remembered Group gathered on 7 December 2023 at Newhaven Harbour Station to commemorate the 85th anniversary of the British Battalion's return from the Spanish Civil War.
Addressing the departing International Brigades in Barcelona in 1938, Republican Leader Dolores Ibarruri told the departing men and women, 'You can go proudly. You are history. You are legend'.
The returning British Battalion sailed from Dieppe arriving at Newhaven in the late afternoon, before boarding a train to London at the Harbour Station. An enthusiastic crowd of over twenty thousand were at Victoria Station to welcome them home.
Pauline Fraser, daughter of International Brigade Volunteer Harry Fraser, laid flowers on the station platform, saying:
Standing today at Newhaven Harbour Station, where the volunteers disembarked from the homebound ferry to board the train to Victoria, it’s a bit of a ghost station and it’s hard to imagine what it was like in 1938 during the heyday of the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry. What were the thoughts and feelings of the surviving members of the British battalion as they boarded that train to London? Was there remorse at leaving their Spanish comrades in the Popular Front Army to fight Franco’s fascism alone, bitter sadness that they had, at least, been spared to carry on the fight against fascism by other means or in other theatres of war? My father remembered long discussions, while waiting for comrades at Ripoll to be repatriated, where the focus was what favourite meal they have when they got home. They had suffered similar privations to those endured by the civilians during those last bitter months before the defeat of the Republic. So on a more mundane level, I think the Brigaders would have been eager to get on that train and look forward to the decent meal that awaited them in the Co-op Hall in Whitechapel.
Newhaven Harbour Station in 2023 – 'a ghost station'.
Group Treasurer, Mike Anderson, spoke about the example set by the International Brigaders. 'As well as commemorating an important historical event, we are here because of the example set by these brave men and women. They continue to inspire us in our struggle against fascism and the far right.'
Pauline Fraser (left), daughter of International Brigade Volunteer Harry Fraser, with Mike Anderson at Newhaven Harbour Station.