NW Spanish Civil War heroes, who fought forces of fascism, honoured

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Local heroes who fought against the Fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War have been honoured in Derry.

A plaque in memory of the North West’s Spanish Civil War Volunteers - ten from Derry, ten from Donegal and four from Tyrone - was unveiled at the Unite union’s office at 56 Carisle Road last night.

The men signed up for the fight against General Francisco Franco after he instigated the Spanish Civil War in July 1936 when he led a military revolt against the left-wing popular front government.

Dr Emmet O’Connor, a senior lecturer in history at University of Ulster, was among those involved in the effort by the North West Spanish Civil War Project and Derry Trades Council to honour the 24 men who served in the International Brigades in defence of the Spanish Republic.

He explained that from the from the outset the war had an important international dimension which drew in the local men as well as many from other nations .

“The British and French sponsored a ‘non-intervention committee’ to prevent all foreign involvement in the war.

“Meanwhile, thousands were volunteering to fight in Spain. It was not simply a question of internationalism. All had both a national and an international reason to join.”

Among those honoured on the plaque from the Derry area are James Campbell, 22 Tyrconnell Street; William McChrystal, 36 Cross Street, Waterside; George F. Gorman from the Long Tower area; Charles McGuinness of Clarence Avenue: Éamonn McGrotty, remembered in Christy Moore’s song Viva la Quinta Brigada; from Marlborough Road; John Murphy, 8 Mountjoy St; Robert McDonald, James Donald, Jack Flynn and Herbert Pollock, about whom no information is available.

Last night’s commemoration was attended by leading representatives of the trade union movement as well as several relatives of those who served in Spain from 1936 until 1938, when the international brigades were stood down.

Dr O’Connor has detailed biographies of the men remembered on the plaque. The Derry soldiers’ information is as follows.

James Campbell, 22 Tyrconnell Street. Remembered in Derry as ‘a bit wild’ politically, and characterized in the Moscow archives as ‘insubordinate’, Campbell was detained by police in Barcelona in July 1937 in a round-up of anarchists and suspected Trotskyists. It is believed that he survived the war, but did not return to Derry. James Donald, born in Derry on January 12, 1916, worked as a miner in Scotland, where he lived at Methil, Fife; arrived in Spain on January 24, 1937 and served with the British battalion; fought at Aragon in the spring of 1938; one report says he was killed at Caspe on March 17, 1938; another report says he was killed in action in June 1938.

Jack Flynn (also cited as Flyn), born 1914, and lived for some time in 126 Field St Everton, before he joined the King’s Liverpool Regiment; deserted, apparently, from the British army, and arrived in Spain on January 7, 1937; captured, or possibly deserted, at Jarama in February, and held until late May when he was released with other British soldiers in exchange for Italians; on May 18 he was moved to Salamanca, tried by military court for ‘aiding a military rebellion’, and sentenced to 20 years; was among 23 prisoners released in late May and returned to London.

George F. Gorman, born in Derry in 1900; lived in Folkstone, Kent, before spending 12 years in the British army, serving in India and, during World War 1, in Iraq; arrived in Spain on May 3, 1938; later a sergeant in no.4 company, British battalion; taken prisoner at Sierra Caballs; George Wheeler, a British volunteer who was also captured in that incident, states that Gorman was killed by friendly fire. He died on September 23, 1938.

William McChrystal, born 28 December 1905, lived at 36 Cross Street, Waterside; worked as a tailor and organized unemployed in Vancouver; a member of the Communist Party of Canada in January 1936; arrived Spain on August 14, 1937; taken prisoner at Caspe-Belchite on 17 March 1938.

Éamonn McGrotty, the best known of the Derry volunteers and remembered as the ‘brave young Christian Brother’ in Christy Moore’s song Viva la Quinta Brigada; born in 1911, into a republican family, lived at Marlborough Road and later in 4 Mount St, Rosemount; in the Christian Brothers between 1925 and 1932; moved to Dublin with his family when his father died in 1932; lived in 9 Upper Drumcondra Road; active in Conradh na Gaeilge, Na Fianna, and the IRA; worked as a journalist; arrived in Spain on December 22, 1936; was adjutant of the Irish company (the James Connolly centuria), Lincoln battalion when he was killed in action during the assault on the Pingarron Heights in the Battle of Jarama on February 27, 1937.

Charles McGuinness, born 6 March 1893 and raised in Derry; an adventurer extraordinaire, and the title at least of his autobiography is no exaggeration: Nomad: Memoirs of an Irish Sailor, Soldier, Pearl-Fisher, Pirate, Gun-runner, Rum-runner, Rebel, and Antarctic Explorer (London, 1934); after the Antarctic expedition he developed an interest in the Soviet experiment, and became harbour master in Murmansk, Russia, from where he went to Spain, the first Irishman to join the International Brigades according to himself; after brief service with the British battalion, he returned to Ireland and wrote fanciful and self-serving pro-Franco articles for the Irish Independent; he was lost at sea when the schooner Isalt foundered off Wexford in 1947.

John Murphy, born 1902 and lived at 8 Mountjoy St; arrived in Spain from London on September 1, 1937 and served with the British battalion; gave his occupation as ‘fruit seller’ and his next of kin as his wife at 14 Boscombe Road, London W12.

Herbert Pollock, a boilermaker and Communist Party of Canada member; arrived in Spain on June 27, 1937.