The Volunteer Founded by the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Mon, 17 Nov 2014 23:51:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 “Fighters and Friends of the Spanish Republic” annual conference in Berlin, Germany Mon, 17 Nov 2014 23:51:56 +0000 Victor Grossman, of the German organization “Fighters and Friends of the Spanish Republic” sent a brief overview of their annual Spain Conference in Berlin to share with the ALBA community.

“Held in late October 2014, the annual Spain Conference, as always included friends from similar organizations in other countries – this time Spain, France, Italy, Russia, Denmark, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands. The group was especially happy to welcome one of the very last IB survivors, Joseph Almudever, 95, who has lived in France for many years.  Almudever was known by many for his participation in ceremonies in Spain. He was as amazingly vital as ever, both singing and speaking vividly about the history of the war, including his own participation and lucky escape afterwards.

Of great interest were also remarks made by the Danish visitor, Allan Christiansen, speaking about the first four Danes to fight in Spain – almost from the beginning – and the contribution by Col. Pavel Vranský, 93, who fought not in Spain but in North Africa and with Czech forces flying out of England. As president of the Czech organization of all anti-fascist veterans he hopes to establish a small group, similar to that in Germany, with descendants of Spanish volunteers and others close to the cause of the Republic.

A highpoint of the conference was a screening of , “Goodbye Barcelona”, a British musical about the war and the participation of a young British volunteer and his mother. Most of the audience was curious as to whether a musical could offer love duets and dancing, while packing a political, as well as an emotional message. Many admitted afterwards to having tears in their eyes – and were

Joseph Almudéver, veteran of the International Brigade, attended the Fighters and Friends of the Spanish Republic’s annual Spain Conference in late October in Berlin.

convinced of its clear, strong punch and fair story-line – and hoped it can be shown to many youthful audiences.

In less dramatic but also interesting discussions, participants discussed how best to coordinate activities in the next few years, especially to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Europe (except Spain) from  fascism in May 1945 and then, in October 2016, the 80th anniversary of the founding of the International Brigades, aiming for well-popularized events in many parts of Europe before concluding in Barcelona, Albacete and Madrid.

As every year, there was also a moving gathering, with short speeches and songs, at the statue, plaque and large relief honoring International Brigaders.”

Victor Grossman, November 17 2014


]]> 0
Dutch Brigader Biography Project Fri, 14 Nov 2014 23:20:26 +0000 scw_nlGreat news from the Netherlands, where a group of volunteers has started an online biographical database of all the Dutch who fought in Spain between 1936 and 1939 to defend the Spanish Republic against the forces of General Franco.

This is the first exhaustive investigation into the Dutch volunteers.In the Netherlands the Spanish Civil War is barely remembered, and estimates of the number of Dutch volunteers in Spain vary widely. We aim to collect any information on the background of these mostly forgotten fighters. We want to give these people a face, and to tell something about their lives.

The database will contain at least some basic information, such as date of birth and death, years spent in Spain, profession and political background. In addition, we hope that for a large number of these people  we can publish a more complete biography, with references to interviews, literature, links to other websites, etc.

The renowned International Institute of Social History (IISG / IISH) in Amsterdam and the University of Amsterdam are part of the project. A small number of students from the University of Amsterdam will perform the research and the digitisation of the collected data, under the supervision of and with the help of the Institute. The study is coordinated by Yvonne Scholten, who has done research on the Dutch volunteers in the Spanish Civil War for several years.

The research will start January  2015.

The project’s main website is in Dutch but summaries of the project are available English, Spanish, and French. We welcome any information from anyone who has information about Dutch volunteers. You can email us here.



]]> 0
The last FBI burglar Thu, 23 Oct 2014 03:54:23 +0000 THE-BURGLARYThe 1971 break-in at the FBI office in Media, PA, which led to the discovery of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s secret COINTELPRO operation, was never solved by the FBI. But the mystery of that break-in was revealed earlier this year in Betty Medsger’s book The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI. In June, Medsger told the burglars’ fascinating stories at the annual ALBA/BillSusman Lecture. Now the identity of the last of the eight burglars has finally emerged. Medsger added the 8th burglar’s story in the epilogue of the paperback version of her book, out this month.

Judi Feingold, the 8th burglar, was then 19, the youngest of the group. The Media burglary was her first and only act of her resistance, but it has impacted her life profoundly.

After the burglary, Feingold spent the first nine years in the underground with only a knapsack and sleeping bag as her possessions. Throughout forty-three years, she kept the group’s promise to remain silent about the Media break-in. As a result of the burglars’ exposure of the secret COINTELPRO program, congressional intelligence hearings were conducted by the Senate’s Church Commission in 1976, leading to reforms. After reading the news, Feingold was so overwhelmed with joy that she danced alone on a mountainside and yelled “Yay!” to the wilderness.

“I was really excited and happy,” Feingold recalls. “You do something like this, you were willing to give up your freedom, and then you find out what happened. It was an affirmation that the sacrifice was worth it.”

Looking back, Feingold says she has no regrets. “I chose a path of nonviolent direct action. I committed a federal crime with serious consequences. I knew my life would be fundamentally changed. I had made the right decision for me. My heart was breaking then over the deaths in Southeast Asia.”

Feingold has quietly carried the burden of history, and lived up to the moral principles. In some sense, the sacrifices she endured were made for us all.

Read excerpts of Betty Medsger’s story on Judi Feingold here.

]]> 0
Ireland pays tribute to IBers Sat, 27 Sep 2014 11:48:04 +0000 IBCC_posterThe voices of British Battalion’s Charlie Donnelly, Bob Doyle, John Cornford, Jim Haughey and Dolores Ibárruri (La Pasionaria) were heard again at the Shankill Road Library in Belfast this August.  Moving readings of their poetry and memoirs were delivered by Marlene Sideway, IBMT President and actor, Dr. Sinead Morrissey, Belfast’s first poet Laureate, and Dawn Purvis, former Belfast assemblywoman and women’s rights activist, presently director of the Marie Stopes Clinic.  IBCC’s Lynda and Ernest Walker, whose vast library served as a resource for many of the selected works, organized the program.   It was one of a varied program of events that took place during August’s month long Feile an Phobail Irish cultural festival.  The Shankill Road library was a most fitting venue for this program, as it is the setting for the latest plaque installed by the IBCC commemorating six Brigadistas from the Shankill Road neighborhood of Belfast.

John Gray, retired director of the Linen Library, began the program by posing the question “Why has so much poetry been written about the Spanish anti-fascist war?”  He set the readings to follow in context by characterizing the writing of poetry as “a movement of the passionate conscience.”

IBMT President Marlene Sidaway

IBMT President Marlene Sidaway

The overflow crowd at the library, most if not all of whom had not yet been born in 1936, were nonetheless able to draw inspiration from the long ago voices of these anti fascist heroes thanks to the moving presentations.      While the present day government of Burgos makes no mention of the International Brigade concentration camp which existed at the now restored monastery at San Pedro de Cardena, even removing a commemorative plaque installed by the Burgos anti fascist committee in 1998, the audience in Belfast heard first hand accounts of the horrific conditions taken from the memoirs of Bob Doyle and Haughey.  Dawn Purvis read the former’s Brigadista and the latter’s Lion of Lurgan, both of which related how the IB prisoners ameliorated their own conditions through the same solidarity and internationalism that they had exhibited on the battlefields of Spain.   Dr. Sinead Morrissey read the prophetic words of John Cornford, the great grandson of Charles Darwin, who wrote “We are the future” in his account of front line battle in Full Moon at Tierz:  Before the Storming of Huesca.

Dawn Purvis reads from They Shall Not Pass. Behind her is the Roll of Honor of Irish participants in the SCW.

Dawn Purvis reads from They Shall Not Pass. Behind her is the Roll of Honor of Irish participants in the SCW.

Listening to their words, learning of their individual histories and in some instances personal connections to the IBMT members whom I’d met at past commemorations both in Spain and here in Ireland, really brought home the international character of the Brigades, and the internationalism that motivated them.  I was asked to speak about the Americans in the arts who supported the republic and the International Brigades.  Selecting a few to introduce to the Irish audience was a difficult task, as so many generations of writers, artists and musicians had responded to what the visual artist Robert Motherwell termed “the most moving political event of the time”, the decisive moral issue they would go on to engage with from the deepest core of their lives and their art.   I focused on three artists whose lives spanned three centuries. I began with Paul Robeson, born in 1898, who called his visit to the front in Spain “the turning point of my life.”   The spirit of internationalism he shared with the International Brigades made him an artist who belonged to the peoples of all the 52 countries who went to Spain.  This was equally true of Pete Seeger, the next artist to whom we all paid tribute and honored that afternoon.  I concluded with the words of John Sayles, a filmmaker still working into this quarter of the 21st century, sharing the speech he delivered at the VALB 1985 reunion, “What About the Guys in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade?”

After the program, participants laid a wreath at the monument to the Brigades at Writer’s Square.  IBMT Ireland Secretary Manus O’Riordan sang a poem by Wilfred Owen which was set to music.

After the program, participants laid a wreath at the monument to the Brigades at Writer’s Square. IBMT Ireland Secretary Manus O’Riordan sang a poem by Wilfred Owen which was set to music.

That stirring address, in which Sayles related how the heroism of the Brigades helped him to counter the cynics of his day, underscored the value of programs such as the IBCC’s “In Their Own Words”, which let the voices and deeds of the Volunteers continue to ring out loud and clear.

ALBA Board Member Nancy Wallach is the daughter of Abraham Lincoln Brigade Veteran Hy Wallach.


]]> 0
Ruby Dee memorial celebration Thu, 25 Sep 2014 04:05:10 +0000 Ruby Dee, legendary actress, author and activist was honored with a public memorial celebration at the Riverside Church in New York City on Sept. 20. She and her husband Ossie Davis, long-time friends of the veterans of the Lincoln Brigade, were extraordinarily generous and bold, lending their celebrity to a host of leftist causes. Throughout her life, Ruby Dee refused to play the stereotypical roles of maid or Mammy, which were then the only available roles to black actresses, and chose to play assertive women in mostly progressive films.
Ruby Dee in 1972.

Ruby Dee in 1972.

From AP on the memorial celebration:

Actress and civil rights activist Ruby Dee was memorialized Saturday in poetry, dance and song at a packed Harlem cathedral where Alicia Keys sang her song “Superwoman,” Wynton Marsalis performed a stirring trumpet solo, and well-wishes were sent from Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte and the White House.

The three-hour celebration of Dee’s life was held at the cavernous Riverside Church in New York on Saturday. Dee died June 11 at age 91 and was called everything from a “small but mighty lady,” to a “street-fighter” to the “voice of our humanity.”

Read the obituary in the New York Times here.
View photos of the memorial taken by Len and Nancy Tsou here.

]]> 0 Exhibit: UK artists’ response to the SCW Wed, 10 Sep 2014 13:47:41 +0000 This article appeared in the 37th issue of the newsletter of the International Brigade Memorial Trust and is reprinted here with the IBMT’s permission.

ArtWhilst British literature about the Spanish Civil War has been widely celebrated, the story of how artists responded has remained largely untold. From 8 November Pallant House Gallery in Chichester will present “Conscience and Conflict: British Artists and the Spanish Civil War”, the first major exhibition to examine the involvement of British visual artists in the Spanish Civil War.

The exhibition will reveal how a generation of British artists in the 1930s were drawn to engage in the conflict, either by going to fight in Spain in the case of artists such as Felicia Browne and Clive Branson, providing artistic manpower for relief campaigns or creating independent works of art that made fierce political statements.

The British artistic response to the Spanish Civil War crossed boundaries between abstract and realist artists, uniting diverse elements of the avant-garde in the fight against fascism. The exhibition will feature works by leading modern artists, including Henry Moore, Edward Burra, Wyndham Lewis, FE McWilliam, Roland Penrose, SW Hayter and John Armstrong, alongside works by Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró that inspired them, such as Picasso’s iconic “Weeping Woman”.

Eighty artworks

It will feature more than 80 artworks in a range of media, including painting, printmaking, design, sculpture, photography, film and textiles: the IBMT has generously agreed to lend the British Battalion banner made by members of the Artists International Association. It is the first time that many of these works have been brought together and some have not been shown in public for several decades.

A key theme will be political engagement in Britain, including the fundraising and awareness-raising exhibitions and events organised by the anti-fascist Artists International Associa- tion, such as “Artists Help Spain” (1936) and the “Portraits for Spain” scheme (1938).

Several artworks depicting political protests in Britain will convey the strength of feeling in Britain at the time, including International Brigader Clive Branson’s “Demonstration in Battersea” (1939) showing workers waving flags and banners in support of Spain and “May Day” (1938) by the Bloomsbury artist Quentin Bell, whose brother Julian Bell was killed in Spain whilst serving as an ambulance driver.

The exhibition will feature original artworks for the posters designed by British artists in support of the Spanish Relief Campaign: Felicity Ashbee, E McKnight Kauffer and Frank Brangwyn. It also considers the role of the British surrealists who published manifestos campaigning against the official British policy of non-intervention, calling for “Arms for Spain” and created macabre paintings and sculptures. Even Henry Moore designed the cover of surrealist manifesto “We Ask Your Attention” (1937) and a later print, “The Spanish Prisoner” (1939).

The exhibition also explores artistic responses to the plight of refugees of the conflict, particularly the Basque children, and the work of later artists such as RB Kitaj and Terry Frost’s abstract prints based on the poetry of Lorca.

The exhibition has been generously supported by the IBMT and there will be a programme of talks, tours and events. After Pallant House Gallery it will tour to the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle.

Simon Martin is the Artistic Director of the Pallant House Gallery []. If any members of the IBMT have relevant artworks, photographs or ephemera or would like to support this exhibition email [s.martin].


]]> 0
Alicante plaque recalls final rescue voyage Wed, 10 Sep 2014 13:45:50 +0000 This article appeared in the 37th issue of the newsletter of the International Brigade Memorial Trust and is reprinted here with the IBMT’s permission.

BoatA memorial to the evacuation on a British ship of some 3,000 Spanish Republicans in the final days of the Spanish Civil War was unveiled on 30 March – almost exactly 75 years since the Stanbrook set sail from Alicante on 28 March 1939.

Captained by Welshman Archibald Dickson, the Stanbrook took the refugees to safety in Algeria. It was the last ship to leave the port before Italian troops entered the city.

Flowers were thrown into the harbour to remember not just the refugees who got away, but also the many thousands more who were captured and interned in cruel conditions at the Campo de los Almendros concentration camp.

Among those present on the quayside for the ceremony was Spanish-based IBMT member Malcolm Hardy.

“The event was very well attended and both moving and upbeat, as the organisers are intent on keeping the memory of the struggle alive.” But he added that it was a pity that the inscription doesn’t identify the Stanbrook as a British ship, noting that “the fascists are named and shamed as Italians” on the memorial.

Tragically Capt Dickson would lose his life later in 1939, as would all his crew, when the Stanbrook was torpedoed by a German u-boat in November of that year in the early months of the Second World War.


]]> 0
When writers and poets took sides Wed, 10 Sep 2014 13:44:52 +0000

This article appeared in the 37th issue of the newsletter of the International Brigade Memorial Trust and is reprinted here with the IBMT’s permission.

ConferenceThere was a full house for the IBMT public lecture day in Manchester on 1 March, which focused on the wealth of outstanding literature, film, photography and art generated by the Spanish Civil War. Some 200 people heard the four speakers, Carl-Henrik Bjerstrom, Professor Valentine Cunningham, Dr Carmen Herrero and Jane Rogoyska, all experts in their fields, explore ways in which the war has been portrayed in words and images.

Chaired by Professor Mary Vincent of Sheffield University, this year’s event was titled “Taking Sides: Artists and Writers on the Spanish Civil War” – a reference to the famous pamphlet produced by Nancy Cunard, WH Auden and Stephen Spender in 1937, “Authors Take Sides on the Spanish Civil War”.

Valentine Cunningham, of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, described how the war in Spain had “gripped the imagination” of the generation that lived through it. Speaking under the heading “Aestheticising Tragedy”, he explained how writers and poets – the overwhelming majority of them on the side of the Spanish Republic – used their art and influence in support of the cause.

Many writers tried to depict the Spanish Civil

War as a uniquely “new” conflict, said Cunningham, one that encompassed lofty hopes and political ambitions. But they could not escape the tragic reality of death and loss, something that was common to all wars.

In his talk “Radical Nation-Buildiing: Republican Education and the Arts”, Carl-Henrik Bjerstrom, of Royal Holloway, London University, outlined the Republic’s educational and cultural policies and how they were an important element in the mobilisation of support for the war effort. Conscripts, for example, were taught not only to read and write, but also to write poems and songs about their experiences and thoughts.

In her talk “Cinematic Depiction of the International Brigades in Spanish Cinema”, Dr Carmen Herrero, Principal Lecturer on Spanish Culture and Film at Manchester Metropolitan University, showed clips from three films: Carlos Saura’s “¡Ay Carmela!”, Ken Loach’s “Land and Freedom” and Oriol Porta’s documentary “A War in Hollywood” (“Hollywood Contra Franco”). All three were made in the 1990s, but each approached the subject from a different perspective.

They were also part of a wider output of films dealing with the Spanish Civil War – for example Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” of 2006 – that continued to inform and underwrite the movement for the recovery of historical memory in Spain in the face of official silence and denial. Writer and film-maker Jane Rogoyska, authorof “Gerda Taro: Inventing Robert Capa”, took her audience through the tragically short but romantic life of Gerda Taro, sweetheart of fellow photographer Robert Capa. She was killed in July 1937 in the Battle of Brunete, but not before taking memorable images of the Spanish Civil War.

This was the second year running that the IBMT’s Len Crome Memorial Lecture was held in the Manchester Conference Centre. The lecture is held annually in memory of Dr Len Crome, a GP from Blackburn who went to Spain in December 1936 and became the chief medical officer of the International Brigades.

A 10-minute video by Marshall Mateer about the conference can be viewed on the IBMT’s YouTube site.

]]> 0
Book Review: Pitch Battles Wed, 10 Sep 2014 13:42:54 +0000 “Fear and Loathing in La Liga by Sid Lowe (New York: Nation Books, 2014).]]> This article appeared in the 37th issue of the newsletter of the International Brigade Memorial Trust and is reprinted here with the IBMT’s permission.


Fear and Loathing in La Liga: Barcelona, Real Madrid, and the World’s Greatest Sport Rivalry. By Sid Lowe. New York: The Nation Books, 2014.

No visitor to Barcelona football club’s iconic stadium, the Camp Nou, can fail to notice the slogan splashed in huge letters across the back of the seats: mès que un club (more than a club). If one aim is to goad supporters of their archrivals, Real Madrid, it certainly seems to work. As Sid Lowe explains in his highly entertaining and exhaustive account of the rivalry between Spain’s two dominant football teams, the irritated Madrid fans have responded by inventing their own version. “Barcelona”, they chant, is “más que un puticlub” (more than a brothel).

At one level, “Fear and Loathing in La Liga” is a celebration of two highly successful football clubs who, while they may inspire mutual fear and loathing, also draw plaudits and admiration from around the world. They have also attracted some of the world’s most talented footballers, many of whom crop up in this book. There is Barcelona’s powerful forward of the 1950s, the Hungarian László Kubala, whose father optimistically bought him a violin as a child, only for the youngster to use it as a goal post. Another is the Argentine star, Alfredo Di Stéfano (who some still feel was a better player than either Pele or Maradona), whom Madrid infamously stole from under the noses of Barcelona. The detailed account of Johan Cruff’s time at Barcelona clearly outlines how much the current team of Messi, Xavi, Iniesta et al owe to Cruyff and the inspirational Dutch “total football” of the 1970s.

However, “Fear and Loathing” is mès que un libre about football for, in addition to being The Guardian’s Spanish football correspondent, Sid Lowe holds a PhD in modern Spanish history. He combines his areas of expertise effectively to demonstrate how the history of the two rival clubs is inextricably bound up with Spanish history itself. Just as there are fierce battles over the past and historical memory, so many of these arguments have become expressed through the tribal loyalties of football; “war minus the shooting”, as Orwell famously described it. However, it is, perhaps, no great surprise that much of the story of the rivalry between the two teams is about perception, rather than reality. Most football fans, “the twelfth man on the terraces”, are not neutral, dispassionate observers and – like everyone else – often choose to believe what they want to believe.

For example, the book outlines how supporters of rival teams within Spain – and around the world – often scorn Real Madrid as “Franco’s team”. For Catalans especially, Real represents the image of traditional, Castilian, centralised power, while Barcelona is portrayed as a beacon of democracy, the symbol of the separatist movement which Franco (and by extension, Madrid) brutally suppressed. Now it is certainly true that Franco’s regime was extremely partisan towards Real; the infamous match of 1943, which ended 11-0 to Madrid, is but one example of the regime’s meddling. And Santiago Bernebeu, the father of the modern club, was quite evidently pro-Franco, having volunteered to fight for the Nationalists during the civil war. However, as the author makes clear, things are not always as simple as some would like to make out; this simplistic binary division inevitably means that inconvenient truths are ignored.

In many ways this book is an exercise in myth busting; perhaps a response to some of the more trenchant (if not bizarre) opinions the author must have come across in newspapers’ online comments, or via some of his 140,000 followers on Twitter. So, for example, he points out that Rafael Sánchez Guerra, the president of Real Madrid from 1935 to 1936, was actually put on trial by the Franco regime, accused of being “a Red”. And while one of the current directors at Barcelona is allegedly a member of the right-wing Fundación Francisco Franco, the parents of Real’s former manager, Vicente del Bosque (now in charge of the Spanish national team), were imprisoned by Franco’s regime. To return to football, the author argues that “[Real] Madrid did not become the best because they were the regime’s team; they were the regime’s team because they became the best.” And it’s not as though Barcelona fans have a monopoly on feeling aggrieved: Madrid’s defeat in the 1960 European cup final still rankles, amidst rumours of bribes and dodgy English referees.

The book’s skillful interweaving of football, history and politics makes for an enjoyable and interesting read. Perhaps members of the IBMT who are not followers of the beautiful game may wonder why two books relating to football have been reviewed in recent newsletters. However, if Liverpool FC manager Bill Shankly’s infamous quote that “some people believe football is a matter of life and death … I can assure you it is much, much more important than that” does not convince, then perhaps an anecdote from the book concerning the supremely talented Danish footballer, Brian Laudrup, may do so. In 1994, Laudrup led Barcelona to an astonishing 5-0 victory over Real Madrid; the following year, he played in another el clásico, but this time around, the Dane led Real, in their turn, to a 5-0 victory. According to Laudrup, when he eventually decided to leave la Liga, a relieved King Juan Car- los confessed to him, “That’s good … now I can go back to being the only King of Spain.”

Richard Baxell is a historian and IBMT Trustee. The paperback version of his latest book, “Unlikely Warriors: The British in the Spanish Civil War” was published in April this year by Aurum Press of London, priced at £12.99. 

]]> 0
Felicia Browne: The first British casualty in Spain Wed, 10 Sep 2014 13:39:31 +0000 This article appeared in the 37th issue of the newsletter of the International Brigade Memorial Trust and is reprinted here with the IBMT’s permission.

Drawings“You say I am escaping and evading things by not painting or making sculpture. If there is no painting or sculpture to be made, I cannot make it. I can only make what is valid and urgent to me. If painting and sculpture were more valid and more urgent to me than the earthquake which is happening in the revolution, or if these two were reconciled so that the demands of one didn’t conflict (in time, even, and concentration) with the demands of the other, I should paint and make sculpture.”

Thus wrote Felicia Browne, artist, communist and fighter for a better world, in a letter to her friend, Elizabeth Watson. These haunting phrases echo the commitment of progressive artists down the ages, including Byron and Sylvia Pankhurst. She would be followed by more writers and artists who put the fight for a better world above their art.

Felicia Browne was a first: the first and only British woman combatant and the first British volunteer to be killed in Spain defending democracy and fighting fascism.

The IBMT is commemorating her this year, in the 110th anniversary of her birth, with a tour of the Aragon Front in October. The tour group will visit Tardienta, the small town closest to the spot where she was killed, and donate a framed copy of her artwork to the mayor and town council as a memorial to her.

SMILING: A rare photo of Felicia Browne and unidentified child. This one was published posthumously in September 1949 in Spain Today, the magazine of the International Brigade Association. Felicia Browne’s sketches will feature is the exhibition “Conscience and Conflict: British Artists and the Spanish Civil War” at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester from 8 November to 15 February 2015 and afterwards at the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, in the spring of next year.

SMILING: A rare photo of Felicia Browne and unidentified child. This one was published posthumously in September 1949 in Spain Today, the magazine of the International Brigade Association.
Felicia Browne’s sketches will feature is the exhibition “Conscience and Conflict: British Artists and the Spanish Civil War” at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester from 8 November to 15 February 2015 and afterwards at the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, in the spring of next year.

Felicia Browne was born to well-to-do parents in the London suburbs in 1904. She took various courses at the Slade School of Fine Art in London between 1921 and 1928. Then she went to Germany to study sculpture. Historian Tom Buchanan writes* that she witnessed the rise of Nazism in Berlin, and may have taken part in anti-fascist street fighting. She returned to Britain in the early 1930s and in 1933 joined the Communist Party.

She travelled by car to Spain via Paris with her friend, Edith Bone. They arrived in Barcelona just days before Franco’s attempted coup of 18 July 1936. The people rose up to defend the Popular Front government and Felicia Browne was immediately caught up in those heady days.

After trying unsuccessfully to enter the medical serv- ices, she volunteered to join the PSUC (Catalan communist) militia, the Karl Marx, heading for Aragon to defend the Republic. They made their headquarters in the small but strategically important town of Tardienta. It was situated near to the railway line from Zaragoza to Huesca, which took vital supplies to the rebel forces. An aqueduct that carried water supplies to the enemy also passed through the town.

When the Karl Marx militia arrived in Tardienta, other militia columns were already billeted there. Several small-scale exchanges of fire took place on 14 and 15 August 1936 between forces of the Columna del Barrio, which included Dutch miliciana and machine-gunner Fanny Schoonheyt, and the rebels.

Felicia Browne’s militia attempted to sabotage the railway line. In a surprise attack by fascist forces that greatly outnumbered them, an Italian miliciano was wounded. Felicia went to his rescue and both were cut down by machine-gun fire and killed, probably on 22 August 1936.

During her brief time in Spain, Felicia Browne sketched other members of the militia, local people and the scenes around her. Following her death, these and other sketches were exhibited in London in October 1936. A selection of them were later published by Lawrence & Wishart, using as a preface Felicia Browne’s letter to Elizabeth Watson. They have frequently been reproduced to illustrate books on the Spanish Civil War.

Pauline Fraser is an IBMT Trustee. Along with IBMT Treasurer Charles Jepson she is organising the IBMT trip to Aragon this October. See page 26 for more details.

* In “The lost art of Felicia Browne” in “The Impact of the Spanish Civil War on Britain” (Sussex Academic Press, Eastbourne, 2007). 

]]> 0