Fred Williams in Spain

May 10, 2018
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Fred Williams in Spain

Twenty-one-year old Fred Williams was living in St. Louis Missouri when he volunteered to serve in the International Brigades.  He sailed for France on October 23, 1937 aboard the SS Champlain and crossed into Spain arriving in Figueres on November 5, 1937.  Williams arrived in Tarazona the American training base on November 11, 1937. He was selected for additional training and sent to the Pozo Rubio Anti-Gas School in December 1937.[1] Very little additional information is currently available regarding his service in Spain.  In May 1938, he was listed as a Soldado on the Mackenzie-Papeineau Battalion roster.  Williams was serving with the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion when killed in action between July 25th and August 5th 1938 during the Ebro Offensive.[2]

Much of what we know about Williams’s life before Spain comes from a series of letters written to the State Department by his older sister Tassie Smith.[3]  In her first undated letter she noted that she received a letter from her brother in December 1937. She stated that the letter included the return address of SRI Plaza Del Altazona, 10 San Albacete, Spain. She added that she had written to him at that address but had not received any additional letters. She also indicated that he was a “Colored man”.[4]

Using the information included in Smith’s letter was used to conduct a search on Ancestry.com that returned a copy of the 1920 census that listed the Williams family as residents of Lexington, in Holmes County, Mississippi.  Fred Williams was listed as the youngest son of Add and Lizzie Williams.  Add Williams was a farmer and his wife was a laborer and housewife.  The family included three sons and four daughters (The 1930 census listed an additional son).[5]

The State Department responded and reported that Fred Williams indicated on his passport application that he planned to

 . . .travel to France, Germany and Russia. He executed a sworn affidavit indicating that he did not intend to use his passport for travel to Spain. He also executed an affidavit indicating that he did not intend to enter any foreign military service.[6]

The letter also conveyed the information that “the present orders are that no volunteer can leave Spain until the termination of the war.” It went on to indicate that the State Department would contact American consular officers in Spain to seek information on the health of Fred Williams. They also indicated she should contact the Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade “which maintains a representative in Spain and may be in a position to furnish information regarding present whereabouts. . .”[7]

Douglas Flood, the American Vice Consul in Barcelona replied to the State Department inquiries on July 19, 1938.[8] He relayed that the International Brigades stated that as of July 14, 1938, “Fred Williams (colored) is in good health and serving in the 15th Brigade.”[9] By August, when the State Department sent the information to Tassie Smith her brother was already dead. Fred was a Cabo in the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion when he was killed in action on July 26, 1938.[10]

Mrs. Smith again wrote to the State Department in November 1938. She stated that she read an article in the Saint Louis, Missouri Star-Times that listed her brother among a group of destitute American volunteers “waiting to come home.” She indicated that the family had no money to pay for his return nor had she heard from him.  She inquired about provisions for taking care of American volunteers and helping them return home.[11]

The State Department replied on December 2, 1938 stating that they had received no additional information regarding Fred Williams but would request additional information from the Vice Consul in Barcelona.  The letter advised that arrangements to return the repatriated American volunteers “have been made by interested organizations in this country” and funds have been provided for this purpose.”[12] The State Department sent telegrams to the American Consular Officer in charge, in Havre, and Marseille, France, and to the Vice Consul in Barcelona requesting that they inquire about Fred Williams. These telegrams included information that Fred Williams had not returned to the US nor was included on any POW lists.[13]

Mrs. Smith wrote again on June 28, 1939, to follow up on her original inquiry about Americans stranded in France.[14] Harry A. Havens, Acting Chief, Foreign Service Organization, responded on July 17, 1939, with a telegram that stated that Williams was not listed as returning to the US nor was he listed on any POW lists. Havens communicated that inquiries were placed with consular officers and reiterated that she should contact the Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.[15]

George M. Abbot, American Consul, Marseille, France responded to the State Department inquiry on July 21, 1939.  Abbot indicated that Fred Williams was on a list of Americans who served in the XVth Brigade but was not known to be “among the refugees and volunteers who entered France from Spain after the defeat of the Republican Armies.” Further, he indicated that requests were sent to all department in the Marseille area asking for the names of any Americans “in concentration or refugee camps in their departments, but no persons not already known to this consulate have been reported.”[16] The State Department sent a telegram to Mrs. Smith dated August 7, 1939, communicating the above and noting that they would continue their efforts.[17]

[1] SACB, Sail List, Fred Williams arrived at the American training base on November 11, 1937, A report on his personal information included: age 22, vocation decorator, languages spoken English, military training no, party affiliation CP37, training to serve with infantry. Occupation Record by Groups, undated, RGASPI Fond 545, Opis 6, Delo 47, ll. 65; Full list of American Volunteers, American Base, Tarazona, hand-written note indicates anti-gas, December 31, 1937, RGASPI Fond 545, Opis 6, Delo 40, ll. 21.

 

[2] Roster of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, RGASPI Fond 545, Opis 3, Delo 455, ll. 65; Mackenzie-Papineau list of men who were not paid in July, Opis 3, Delo 459, ll. 239a; Mackenzie-Papineau pay list under Cabos, August 1938, notes “reintegrado” or refunded; RGASPI Fond 545, Opis 3, Delo 459, ll. 263.

 

[3] Much of the information on Fred Williams comes from the fifteen letters and telegrams that make up the United States State Department archival (USSDA) record on Fred Williams.

 

[4] Tassie (Tessie) Smith to State Department, undated, USSDA 852.221-Williams, Fred/1.  Tassie (Tessie) Smith provides both the name of her parents and her home address in her letter.  The address matches the address listed on Fred Williams Passport. Williams was issued passport # 479613 on October 7, 1937 which listed his address as 2912 Madison Avenue, St. Louis, Missouri, SACB.

 

[5] Lincoln-Washington Tree, Ancestry.com.

 

[6] Nathaniel P. Davis reply to Mrs. Smith, May 18, 1938, USSDA 852.221-Williams, Fred/2.

 

[7] IBID.

 

[8] State Department to American Consular Officer in charge, Valencia Spain, May 18, 1938, USSDA 852.221-Williams, Fred/3; State Department to American Consular Officer in charge, Barcelona, Spain, May 18, 1938, USSDA 852.221-Williams, Fred/4; Douglas Flood, Vice Consul, American Consulate, Barcelona reply to State Department, July 19, 1938, USSDA 852.221-Williams, Fred/5.

 

[9] USSDA 852.2221-Williams, Fred/5.

 

[10] Harry A. Havens, Acting Chief, Division of Foreign Service, Administration to Mrs. Tassie (Tessie) Smith, August 8, 1938, USSDA 852.2221-Williams, Fred/6.

 

[11] Tassie (Tessie) Smith to State Department, November 10, 1938, USSDA 852.2221-Williams, Fred/7.

 

[12] Pierrepont Moffat, Chief, Division of European Affairs reply to Mrs. Smith, December 2, 1938, USSDA 852,221-Williams, Fred/8.

 

[13] State Department to American Consular Officer in charge, Barcelona, Spain, December 2, 1938, USSDA 852.221-Williams, Fred/9; State Department to American Consular Officer in charge, Havre, France, July 11, 1939, USSDA 852.221-Williams, Fred/11; State Department to American Consular Officer in charge, Marseille, France, July 11, 1939, USSDA 852.221-Williams, Fred/12.

 

[14] Tassie (Tessie) Smith reply to Mr. Pierrepont Moffatt, June 28, 1939, USSDA 852.2221-Williams, Fred/10.

 

[15] Harry A. Havens, Acting Chief, Division of Foreign Service Administration Reply to Tassie Smith, July 11, 1939, USSDA 852.2221-Williams, Fred/13.

 

[16] George M. Abbot, American Consul, Marseille, France, July 21, 1939, USSDA 852.2221-Williams, Fred/14.

 

[17] Nathaniel P. Davis, Chief, Division of Foreign Service Administration to Mrs. Smith, August 7, 1939, USSDA 852.2221-Williams, Fred/15.

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