A King’s Ransom for a Welsh Miner

Tom Jones (centre)

Welsh miner Tom Jones survived a death sentence to be repatriated from Franco’s Spain after the UK government paid a massive ransom.

Jones, from Rhosllanerchrugog, Denbighshire, travelled to Spain in 1937 to fight for the International Brigades. He was wounded during the fierce battle on the River Ebro, in July 1938, and captured by Franco’s troops.

At one point he was sentenced to death, but this was subsequently changed to thirty years’ imprisonment – although his family was sent his death certificate.

Most of the International Brigaders returned to their home countries in December 1938, but Jones remained a prisoner in Spain when the Second World War broke out.

Then, in 1940, after the UK Government paid a £2m ransom – a colossal sum at the time – to Franco’s fascist regime, Jones was released.

On his return from Spain he became active in the Transport and General Workers’ Union. He died in 1990.

Next week Jones, who had worked in Hafod, Vauxhall and Bersham collieries before the war, will be honoured at the National Eisteddfod in Wrexham.

A specially-commissioned exhibition panel featuring Jones, also known as Twm Sbaen, and his extraordinary story is to be unveiled at the Cymru-Cuba stand on the Eisteddfod field on Thursday August 4, at 3.30pm.

It is hoped that a permanent location for the exhibition will be found in the area after the Eisteddfod finishes.

* Look out for ITV Wales’ special programme from the Eisteddfod which is due to be broadcast at 8pm on Friday, August 5.

The Bullseye Killer

John Cooper is one of the most notorious criminals in British history.

He burgled, raped and murdered during a 15-year reign of terror, which included four executions by shotgun. And, far from keeping a low profile between crimes, he even took time to appear on the gameshow Bullseye.

This year, he was jailed for life. ITV Wales had exclusive access to the police enquiry and forensic science which finally trapped Cooper.

An hour-long programme The Bullseye Killer was transmitted the night Cooper was jailed in May. But it’s still on-line. Follow this link to watch it now.

Defying the Government to fight in Spain

A Bullet Saved My Life

Seventy-five years ago this month a group of military officers led a coup in Spain.

But when the cities of Madrid and Barcelona held firm, the failed coup d’etat became a bloody civil war which would last from 1936 until 1939.

The far-right governments of Germany and Italy supported the right wing rebels of General Franco, but the Spanish government had foreign support too.

Thousands of volunteers went to Spain to fight as part of the International Brigades.

This week, the National Archives released newly-discovered documents which revealed that many more people from Britain and Ireland volunteered than was previously thought.

The volunteers defied the British government’s official policy of non-intervention in the war. In doing so, they came to the attention of the British Security Service, MI5.

The National Archives’ documents show that MI5 was tracking the movements of around 4,000 people it believed were trying to travel to Spain to fight with the International Brigades.

It was previously thought that there were around 2,500 British volunteers.

This was believed to have included around 180 people from Wales – more than 30 of whom would die on Spanish battlefields.

This week the Western Mail asked whether that figure might now be revised upwards.

Among the volunteers listed in the 200 pages of MI5 files is “Robert Peters”, of Penarth, who was to return home on December 7, 1938.

On their return the men were monitored by the security services and, at first, were banned from joining the British armed forces.

That changed soon after as Hitler’s Blitzkrieg swept through Western Europe.

  • Bob Peters’ story is told in the book ‘A Bullet Saved My Life’. The book is priced £10 including p&p and is available by emailing greg_lewis@hotmail.co.uk

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