The Brigaders Return: Oldham

Post date: 23/02/2024

Robbie MacDonald reports from last December's event in Oldham to mark the 85th anniversary of the return of the Brigaders, which featured the 40-minute film 'The Brigaders Return!' by IBMT Film Coordinator Marshall Mateer.

Eighty-five years on. But the sacrifices of British volunteers in the Spanish Civil War still inspire the fight for democracy against the forces of tyranny. 

Today, more than 40 people watched the northern premiere of Marshall Mateer’s ground-breaking film ‘Homecoming', produced in partnership with the British Film Institute, about the International Brigaders’ return from Spain in December 1938. And there wasn’t a dry eye in the house at Oldham’s magnificent, pre-Victorian parish church.

Marshall has breathed new life into archive footage by enlisting the help of a lip-reader to interpret a silent film, featuring, amongst others, speeches of welcome by Clem Attlee and Ellen Wilkinson. But the real stars of these shuddery images are the Brigaders themselves, pulled out of the line in Catalonia, ‘for reasons of state’ in a last desperate throw of the dice by the Spanish Republic to enlist international support against the brutalities of Francisco Franco’s army uprising, supported by Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy.

And the most eloquent words of all are spoken by Sam Wild, the last, great, commander of the British Battalion, unshakable in his belief that right would triumph in the end. Outraged by Chamberlain’s phoney policy of non-intervention Sam was ready to march on Downing Street… and did! The day after the 305 survivors of the Battalion were treated to a welcome meal at London's Co-op Hall, Sam led them up Whitehall to lay a wreath for their 500 fallen comrades and then outmanoeuvred police who attempted to stop them presenting a petition at Number Ten.

Dolores Long and Graham Briggs at Oldham Parish Church.

Oldham IBMT representative Graham Briggs introduced Sam’s daughters Dolores and Hilary to a wrapt audience, and Stephanie Turner supplied essential technical advice on film projection. Rob Hargreaves presented Revd Canon Daniel Burton, Vicar of St Mary with St Peter, with a copy of his book about Oldham Brigader Clem Beckett, and thanked him and parishioners for providing the venue and housing the memorial to Oldham’s six fallen Brigaders.

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