Blast from the Bast: The Artillery Series Comes to an End

November 10, 2015
By and

Editor’s note: At the initiative of ALBA board member Chris Brooks, who maintains the online biographical database of US volunteers in Spain, the ALBA blog will be regularly posting interesting articles from historical issues of The Volunteer, annotated by Chris.Over the next three months, Blast from the Past postings will showcase articles about the American volunteers who served in the Artillery. Many of these articles ran in The Volunteer during Ben Iceland’s tenure as editor. Iceland, who served in the Artillery, recruited several of his fellow artillerymen to document their experiences. Iceland also shared his own experiences in a series of articles he originally wrote in the early 1940s. Together these articles shine a light on some lesser known American volunteers.

Letter to the Editor
Claire Hartford Hornstein

[Originally published in The Volunteer, Volume 12, Number 2, December 1990.]

September 24, 1990


Dear Editor:

When Ben Iceland died in early September 1990 it was the end of a chapter in my life that began over sixty years ago when I was a teen-ager and he a fledgling college student. It was “first young love” for each of us and despite the Depression we had the courage to marry. Personally and politically we matured together believing that society could be transformed to serve the many instead of the few—and that we were obligated to play a role in making it so.

I went on to become a CIO union organizer and Ben went off to fight in Spain, hoping to save the infant Republic from Fascism. As a slender, sensitive poet and scholar, so unwarlike in body and temperament, Ben seemed a most unlikely soldier. Yet he toughed it out in the muck and mud of the trenches, through the heartbreaking retreats. But even at the worst of times his letters to me showed that his wit and sense of humor remained intact.

A couple of years ago Ben asked me to write a letter for the “Volunteer” describing the feelings of women whose men had gone off to fight with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. The letter was printed and signed C. H. It told how our separation by the war and my union involvement eventually led to a painful parting of the ways after seven years of marriage. Though we went on to live our respective lives, the strong and special bonds between us endured.

Ben was a modest man of monumental character, sensitivity, humor, warmth and ability. Innately he had the soul of a poet and lived his life accordingly. He will always be remembered – and missed.

Claire Hartford Hornstein


Letter to the Editor
Claire Hartford Hornstein

[Originally published in The Volunteer, Volume 5, Number 2, June 1983.]


The wives whose men went off to fight in the Spanish War felt quite different from those whose husbands fought in wars throughout history when their own countries were involved. The ALB men went to fight in a far-away war that seemingly had nothing to do with their own nation; they went voluntarily and in defiance of their government.

This couldn’t help but cause mixed feelings, even though the wives shared the same beliefs as their husbands. One couldn’t help but wonder why their love and marriage was secondary to some principles or ideals. Was the marriage shaky and in need of a respite? Were you less dedicated than he in your conviction?

The first news of the Republic’s fight against Fascism shook me in an objective political sense since it was a question of democracy versus military dictatorship. But I was appalled when my own husband suddenly determined to fight in that war. It immediately changed the war from an abstract intellectual political matter to a very personal and emotional situation. How could I take seriously that this man who was my husband would be so foolhardy as to volunteer?

Desperately I hoped to talk him out of it, and so did our friends and relatives. But we both had a good laugh when someone said with a perfectly straight face, “Of course you’re anti-fascist, but do you have to take it so seriously?” Somehow that remark made me realize that I could no longer stand in the way or be dilettante about Fascism. Yes, you had to be serious about it – enough to let your husband leave you and go to war.

Of course I knew nothing of the involved arrangements that had to be made, but I well knew the pain of breaking our cozy little apartment and closing the door (temporarily? Permanently?) on our life together. He left on the long and devious journey to Spain, I to the Midwest as a CIO union organizer; both too young to fully comprehend the course on which we had each embarked or the perils ahead.

Each day the newspapers were a barometer for my fears and apprehensions. Though I had to believe that their reports of the war were biased, it nevertheless filled me with gloom and foreboding. I lived from letter to letter, knowing that as of the last date on the envelope he was a least alive. But then letters came so infrequently and were so heavily censored that they were hardly reassuring.

The continuing blockade of Spain by the world’s democracies added to my anguish and I tried desperately to aid protests against the blockade, even sending a personal cable to Leon Blum, urging him to lift the embargo.

Meeting other women whose loved ones were also in the International Brigade brought some solace, along with new friendships. But in the end, when there was no word for weeks or months you anguished alone, especially as the end drew near for the Republic.

The mix of political convictions with emotional gut feelings is always tenuous and subjective at best. When youth is spirited and life experiences beckon two or three years of separation proved too much for some relationships and they became unglued, another cost of political ideals and convictions. But in light of the spread of Fascism and the world conflagration that followed there is no doubt in my mind that the men [who] fought in the ALB were the best that humanity could offer in the struggle against evil. And I am still proud to have played a little part in that momentous panorama of our times.


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