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

The Welsh Blitz

Seventy years ago the people of Cardiff and Swansea were suffering hardship, injury and death as the Luftwaffe increased its raids against British cities.

January 1941 saw a bomb cause severe damage to Llandaff Cathedral while, in February, Swansea became one of the first cities to suffer three consecutive nights of bombing.

A special programme on the Welsh Blitz, which was shown on the 70th anniversary of the Swansea Three Night Blitz, is available on the ITV Wales website.

You can watch it here.

The new Government and Dr David Kelly

The investigation into the death of weapons expert Dr David Kelly might be reopened, according to the Daily Mail.

The newspaper says new Attorney General Dominic Grieve is considering a review of the suicide finding of the Lord Hutton inquiry.

The Daily Mail says the Government might also reconsider the fact that there has still been no inquest, the usual procedure in sudden or violent deaths.

Last September, for a programme called Wales This Week: The Welsh Connection, I interviewed a friend of Dr Kelly’s, author and security expert Gordon Thomas.

He disagreed with Lord Hutton’s suicide conclusion and led calls for the inquest. The Daily Mail also claims that Justice Secretary Ken Clarke is considering a request from campaigning doctors to release medical files relating to the death.
As reported here in February the previous UK Government had claimed that the post mortem examination report into the death of biological weapons expert Dr David Kelly was being kept secret to protect his family.
Campaigning MP Norman Baker had asked then Justice Minister Michael Wills who had made the decision that medical reports and photographs connected to the death of Dr Kelly should not be closed for 70 years.
He also asked on what legal basis the decision was made.
Mr Wills told him: “No determination has been made that the medical reports and photographs connected to the death of Dr. David Kelly should be closed for 70 years.
“Rather, Lord Hutton noted in his statement on 26 January that he had requested that the post mortem examination report relating to Dr. Kelly not be disclosed for 70 years in view of the distress that could be caused to Dr. Kelly’s wife and daughters.”

The death of Dr David Kelly

The UK Government yesterday claimed that the post mortem examination report into the death of biological weapons expert Dr David Kelly was being kept secret to protect his family.
Campaigning MP Norman Baker asked Justice Minister Michael Wills who had made the decision that medical reports and photographs connected to the death of Dr Kelly should not be closed for 70 years.
He also asked on what legal basis the decision was made.
Mr Wills told him: “No determination has been made that the medical reports and photographs connected to the death of Dr. David Kelly should be closed for 70 years.
“Rather, Lord Hutton noted in his statement on 26 January that he had requested that the post mortem examination report relating to Dr. Kelly not be disclosed for 70 years in view of the distress that could be caused to Dr. Kelly’s wife and daughters.
“The Ministry of Justice is now considering the most appropriate course of action. The options available will need to be considered carefully.”
Rhondda-born Dr Kelly became caught up in media allegations that 10 Downing Street had interfered with an intelligence report ahead of the invasion of Iraq.
On July 17, 2003, after two days of a grilling by MPs, Dr Kelly left his home in the Oxfordshire village of Southmoor and went for a walk. His body was found in woods nearby the following day. There was a knife at the scene and a cut to his left wrist.
The official line taken by the 2004 Hutton report is that Dr Kelly took his own life. But there’s still been no inquest, the usual procedure in sudden or violent deaths. A group of doctors has raised objections about Lord Hutton’s conclusions.
Last September, for a programme called Wales This Week: The Welsh Connection, I interviewed a friend of Dr Kelly’s, Welsh author and security expert Gordon Thomas.
He also disagrees with Lord Hutton.
“Twelve or thirteen doctors are saying he almost certainly was murdered,” said Thomas. “I don’t believe he committed suicide but I don’t know for certain who murdered him.”
He called for a full inquest into Dr Kelly’s death.
A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office, which deals with MI5 and MI6, told me at the time it was “long-standing government policy not to comment on intelligence issues”.

Hope Not Hate Day

Three major events are being planned this month to commemorate those who fell in the battle against fascism in the last century.
Searchlight Cymru’s Wales Hope not Hate day on Sunday, May 17, will also highlight what the organisation describes as the “continuing threat of fascism in Wales in 2009”.
“This threat, although commonly perceived as being just against black and minority ethnic people, is actually a threat against us all,” said Searchlight Cymru.
“Everyone is threatened by the British National Party and everyone can work together to remove that threat.
“This special day will give supporters as well as Euro election campaigner’s space to come together and outline to the people of Wales just why the BNP and what it stands for is a threat to people like me and you.”
In Flint, Swansea and Cardiff, from 10.30am, simultaneous events will feature readings at the Cenotaph of 100 names of those who fell in World War 2 against fascism, a laying of wreaths and two minute’s silence.
Cardiff will also hold a similar event at the Spanish Civil War International Brigades Memorial at Cathays Park from 11.40am.

Spanish tribute to Welsh sea captain

A Welshman, who helped rescue more than 2,600 refugees from Spain during the civil war, was this week honoured by the people of Alicante.
Archibald Dickson, captain of the merchant steam ship Stanbrook, risked his life to enter the port as the civil war drew to a close.
On Sunday, his son and daughter, Arnold Dickson and Dorothy Richardson, joined an estimated crowd of 1,000 to hear tributes to their father.
The crowd – which also included survivors from the evacuation – was told that Republicans from all over Spain had converged on the port on March 28, 1939 in an attempt to escape the country as Franco’s troops advanced to victory.
Between 15,000 and 18,000 men, women and children gathered, desperate to flee Spain.
But Archibald Dickson was one of only a few skippers prepared to take their vessel into the port.
The Welsh captain filled his ship and ferried the refugees to Oran in North Africa.
Manus O’Riordan, son of Irish brigader Michael O’Riordan, said 1,000 people gathered in the rain last Sunday on the pier from which the Stanbrook left “to pay particular tribute to the memory of Captain Dickson”.
“For some of the survivors and their children this was a commemoration which, at times, was filled with unbearably raw emotion, culminating in a mass floral tribute to the sea, in remembrance of the dead,” he stated.
Archibald Dickson and his crew were all killed only eight months later when the 1,300-tonne Stanbrook was hit by a torpedo from a German U-Boat off Belgium.

Turning memorial into political football

The ‘Wise and Foolish Dreamers’ project which works with relatives of International Brigaders has been looking into the possibility of a new memorial to complement the one already in place in Cathays Park.
Some relatives have raised the possibility of a memorial in Cardiff either naming those IB-ers who died or all those who went to Spain.
At the moment there is a general plaque in Cathays Park and a list of names on a memorial in South Wales Miners Library in Swansea.
Quite separately, Leanne Wood AM has suggested a plaque be put somewhere in the vicinity of the Senedd. This is something the project thought was a pretty good idea, worthy of further discussion.
As a group, we hope to not only remember people who gave their lives but also to encourage modern-day discussions about tolerance, war and peace.
Leanne Wood was looking for AMs’ support for the memorial.
This is usually the kind of subject explored intelligently and sensitively…
…and then, as you may have seen in the Western Mail, Leighton Andrews got involved.

Dick Dastardly’s Middle Eastern promise

A week after What Is Wales? asked what Middle East peace envoy Tony Blair was doing about the crisis in Gaza he has apparently sprung into action.
Back from holiday he has been on the telephone to Jordan’s King Abdullah II and is planning a series of meetings today.
AFP reports that King Abdullah told Mr Blair that the world’s silence over Gaza has become “unacceptable”.
What has the former crusading prime minister been up to then as the hungry and desperate people of Gaza await the tanks and troops of the Israeli Defence Force?
According to the Daily Telegraph one of the things which has been occupying his mind is the design of the Congressional Gold Medal which he has received from George W Bush.
Mr Blair has not yet been able to pick up the medal, awarded for being Bush’s “staunch and steadfast ally” during the invasion of Iraq, and like Dick Dastardly’s sidekick Muttley, he’s understandably keen to see it looks just right.

:: Demonstrations and events relating to the crisis in Gaza are continuing in Wales. See the comments section of the previous post for details.

Gaza: where are the Christmas peacemakers?

I never thought I’d ask this question but where is Tony Blair?
As Hamas and the Israeli government square up – home-made rockets against F-18s – just where is our Middle East “peace envoy”?
I thought he might have come out and done something (although on past behaviour I don’t know what I could have been expecting.)
The people of Gaza have been living under a crippling blockade since the summer of 2007.
Its population of 1.5 million lack fuel, food and medical supplies. Seventy per cent are living without electricity.
In November 2008, John Ging, the United Nations’ senior official in Gaza, told the Washington Post: “This is a disastrous situation, and it’s getting worse and worse… It is unprecedented that the UN is unable to get its supplies in to a population under such obvious distress; many of these families have been subsisting on this ration for years, and they are living hand-to-mouth.”
That same month, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, while urging Hamas to end its rocket attacks, demanded the Israeli government lift its blockade.
“The Secretary-General is concerned that food and other life saving assistance is being denied to hundreds of thousands of people, and emphasizes that measures which increase the hardship and suffering of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip as a whole are unacceptable and should cease immediately,” said a UN report.
Three out of four people in Gaza are living in poverty and 45 per cent are unemployed. Those, too, are UN figures.
According to the Red Cross, “chronic malnutrition is on a steadily rising trend and micronutrient deficiencies are of great concern”, while Unicef has reported that one in five of the population has access to six hours of water every five days – and other’s access is limited.
Today, on the third day of the latest violence, the death toll stands at 312 inside Gaza (according to Hamas) and two in Israel (according to Israeli police).
And what will the latest round of bloodshed achieve?
Robert Fisk notes in today’s Independent: “The blood-splattering has its own routine. Yes, Hamas provoked Israel’s anger, just as Israel provoked Hamas’s anger, which was provoked by Israel, which was provoked by Hamas, which … See what I mean? Hamas fires rockets at Israel, Israel bombs Hamas, Hamas fires more rockets and Israel bombs again and … Got it? And we demand security for Israel – rightly – but overlook this massive and utterly disproportionate slaughter by Israel.”
As Israel’s people prepare to go to the polls to elect a new prime minister in the new year, its army is apparently preparing to go into Gaza on the ground.
Fisk takes an Israeli general’s claim that “no country in the world would allow its citizens to be made the target of rocket attacks without taking vigorous steps to defend them” and notes that when the IRA were firing mortars over the border into Northern Ireland, Britain did not unleash the RAF on the Irish Republic.
“Did the RAF bomb churches and tankers and police stations and zap 300 civilians to teach the Irish a lesson? No, it did not. Because the world would have seen it as criminal behaviour. We didn’t want to lower ourselves to the IRA’s level.”
And what of the people inside Gaza? What is their reaction to the Israeli government’s blockade and assault likely to be?
A yearning for friendship and peace with its neighbour? Or the harbouring of further hatred that will continue to expose the uselessness of our Middle East “peace envoys” for decades to come?

Behind the blank statements on St Athan

There was a very upbeat tale in the South Wales Echo yesterday, describing the military training privatisation at St Athan as “‘on track”.
There had been fears that the huge project in the Vale of Glamorgan could fall victim to the worldwide economic crisis, the Echo reported, but Armed Forces Minister Bob Ainsworth had told the House of Commons on Tuesday that “considerable progress has been made in driving down costs and towards achieving affordable, value for money.
“Package one is on track for an investment decision in the spring of next year, with contract signature expected approximately 15 months later.”
The new base is now being called the Defence Technical Academy, as opposed to the Defence Training Academy (name changes are always a sign of trouble), but Vale of Glamorgan MP John Smith, has hit out at “the negative rumours that have been bandied about by doom-and-gloom merchants”.
“The minister’s statement confirms what I have always maintained, that St Athan is the only location that will provide technical training for all our armed forces in a high-quality bespoke environment and purpose-built facilities,” Mr Smith said.
And a spokesman for the Metrix Consortium of private companies behind the academy said greyly: “We are pleased with the progress that has been made so far and look forward to working closely with the MoD to deliver the Package One programme and the Defence Technical Academy in St Athan.”
However, over at the Defence Management Journal, the experts paint a very different picture – and rabid leftie peaceniks those boys ain’t.
They are, however, “doom-and-gloom merchants”, describing the Government’s Defence Training Review (DTR) as “oft-delayed, over budget and controversial” – all elements of the DTR which have been regularly reported at What Is Wales?
“Numerous MPs have told Defence Management that the DTR’s funding is heavily reliant on the sales of vacant MoD properties,” it reported yesterday. “The current financial crisis has not allowed the MoD to do this which has delayed a final financial agreement.
“The project is believed to already be £1bn over budget and Metrix and the MoD are reviewing extensive cuts to the programme. Ainsworth told parliament that even the alternatives such as moving the DTR to a central location in the West Midlands would be just as expensive if not more costly.”
The MoD’s project leader Brigadier Geoff Nield said in a statement that the MoD was committed “to continuing with the current assessment phase”.
He acknowledged that there have been affordability challenges and that this had forced Metrix, the leader of package 1, to re-examine its proposal.
Ultimately, the St Athan training programme which was to begin in 2012 will now be delayed until 2014 at the earliest, Defence Management reported.