Statement by the Executive Committee

By seven votes to three, IBMT Trustees have declined a proposal to apply for a memorial for the volunteers who went to Spain at the National Memorial Arboretum (NMA) in Staffordshire.

This was a difficult decision, with persuasive and sincerely held opinions for and against the idea debated by the Executive Committee.

The 150-acre NMA is run by an arm of the Royal British Legion, a charity providing financial, social and emotional support to members and veterans of the British Armed Forces and their families.

The decision was taken on 13 January 2024. It followed a vote at the IBMT’s Annual General Meeting on 7 October 2023 that requested the Executive Committee ‘to explore the possibility’ of supporting a memorial at the NMA. This was carried by 20 votes to nine, with one abstention.

The proposal has been under consideration for the past two years. In August last year an IBMT delegation visited the NMA. Those who took part were President Marlene Sidaway, Secretary Megan Dobney and Historical Consultant Richard Baxell.

They were accompanied by one of the instigators of the proposal, Quentin Kopp, chair of the Orwell Society, but acting in a personal capacity. He also visited the site with IBMT Trustee Dolores Long in December 2022. The other instigator is John Roberts of Independent Labour Publications (formerly the Independent Labour Party).

Arguments presented in favour of an IBMT-sponsored memorial at the NMA included:

– The NMA is visited each year by 300,000 people, among them many school groups. This provides the Trust with an opportunity to bring the story of the International Brigades to a new audience, especially younger people.

– The memorial could include a QR code, which could be scanned by visitors to get more information about the International Brigades and the work of the IBMT.

– The project would be cost-free for the IBMT.

– The views of the International Brigaders themselves on this subject would no doubt have been mixed. It is now up to the IBMT to assume responsibility for taking their memory and story forward to new generations.

– There are more than 400 memorials in the NMA, not all of which glorify the British Armed Forces. For example, near where the new memorial would be sited is the Shot at Dawn Memorial to the more than 300 British and Commonwealth servicemen who were executed for desertion during the First World War.

Among the arguments against the NMA memorial were:

– Any wording to go on the memorial would have to be agreed with the IBMT’s partners in the project and by the NMA, which does not allow ‘political’ messages.

– The International Brigade veterans who served on the Executive Committee, notably Jack Jones and Sam Lesser, were opposed to IBMT involvement in remembrance activities organised by the British Legion.

– Members would be asked to crowdfund the NMA memorial, including an initial £1,000 application fee, when arguably other memorial projects should take priority. 

– Whereas the IBMT upholds the memory of all 2,500 volunteers who went to Spain, the Trust would not have the final say on financial and other decisions. These would be taken with partners who are interested primarily in preserving the memory of the roughly 40 volunteers who were recruited via the Independent Labour Party.

– The memorial would stand alongside the hundreds of memorials to the British Armed Forces and police, which members from Ireland and countries formerly under British colonial rule might find offensive.

Voting in favour of the NMA memorial were: David Chanter, Alan Lloyd and Dolores Long. Those against were: Mike Arnott, Paul Coles, Megan Dobney, Alex Gordon, Jonathan Havard, Jim Jump and David McKnight.

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