Seven surviving British veterans who joined the International Brigades were granted dual Spanish citizenship, yesterday, June 10th, at the Spanish embassy in London. The eldest veteran, Lou Kenton is 101 years old. Joseph Khan, aged 94, was the youngest survivor to be granted a Spanish passport. Carles Casajuana, Spain’s ambassador to the UK also awarded Spanish citizenship to Penny Feiwel, aged 100, Paddy Cochrane, 96, Thomas Watters, 96, Sam Lesser, 95, and Jack Edwards, aged 95.
An eighth veteran, Les Gibson, aged 96, was forced to decline the offer due to ill health. The offer also came too late for two other former members of the International Brigades, Jack Jones and Bob Doyle. Jack Jones, the general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, from 1969 to 1978, died just over a month ago, on April 21st, but his son picked up his passport on his behalf. Bob Doyle died at the beginning of the year, on January 22nd.
Carles Casajuana was quoted in an article on The Times website:
‘This is an act of gratitude, an act of recognition […] We wish to pay homage to a group of extraordinary men and women who 70 years ago decided to give up their comfortable life and go to Spain to fight for democracy and freedom.’
‘It should have been done earlier, but better late than never.’
Quoted by The Times, the 96-year-old Scotsman, Thomas Watters, described his feelings yesterday:
‘I feel great, elated. This is one of the great days of my life’.
Watters was a bus driver in Glasgow, when he decided to volunteer in Spain. He worked as an ambulance driver for the Scottish Ambulance Unit ferrying wounded republicans from the frontline. He explained how, unlike some volunteers, he was not primarily motivated by political conviction and anti-fascism:
‘This opportunity to do something of some good attracted me immediately […] Nothing to do with politics; I had no interest in politics.’
Paddy Cochrane, on the other hand, had strong leftwing sympathies. He was born in Dublin to a father who was killed by the Black and Tans. He left Liverpool, where he was looking for work, travelled to London and signed up as an ambulance driver. He was wounded by a hand grenade and taken to hospital. He also described his experience in an interview with The Guardian:
‘It was terribly hot there, practically unbearable, and we all slept out in the open. As well as us there was a whole row of chaps with shocking head wounds that could never be cured. They were dying … I remember one of them kept shaking the flies away. It was awful … I was coming to and passing out, coming to and passing out.’
The International Brigade Memorial Trust, which was formed in 2002, believes that there may be more surviving veterans who would be eligible for Spanish citizenship. Yesterday, its secretary, Marlene Sidaway, appealed for veterans who had fought in Spain to contact the trust.
The website of the International Brigade Memorial Trust is http://www.international-brigades.org.uk/
Obituaries of Bob Doyle and Jack Jones are available on the website of The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/feb/16/obituary-bob-doyle
For further information on the Spanish Civil War, visit the ‘timeline of Spanish history’ section of our Spanish History focus page.