Wise and Foolish Dreamers exhibition

“I am here because I know that these fellows fought not only for Spain but for me and the whole world. It is my duty to be here.”
Those were the words of Paul Robeson on the return to their homes of the South Wales veterans of the Spanish Civil War in December 1938.
Seven thousand people heard him speak. The communities felt an affinity to the people of Republican Spain in their fight against Franco.
And the names of the Valleys volunteers live on. Among them, Alun Menai Williams, of Gilfach Goch, who I knew for a short time before his death last year.
Alun had been at his friend Harry Dobson’s side when he was mortally wounded.
He never forgot that moment.
The Rhondda has not forgotten Alun, Harry or the others.
And for the next few weeks (until November 4) an exhibition called Wise and Foolish Dreamers will take pride of place at the Rhondda Heritage Park.
As Robeson noted all those years ago, it is our duty to remember them.

Meanwhile, Paul Robeson Junior comes to Wales this week to meet more than 100 pupils from Neath Port Talbot comprehensive schools at the official opening of an exhibition on racial equality.
Mr Robeson will take questions from the pupils at the opening of the
Croeso Project at the Princess Royal Theatre in Port Talbot.

Wales & Spanish Civil War, exhibition latest

Wise and Foolish Dreamers, an exhibition about Wales and the Spanish Civil War, is now touring Wales following its Swansea launch.
It is currently at Ammanford Library (until August 2); and will then be at the National Eisteddfod (August 3-11); Rhondda Heritage Park (Oct 1 – Nov 4). More dates soon as it travels around Wales.
The film produced to accompany the exhibition is on You Tube in three parts.
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
If you have visited the exhibition or watched the short film, please let me know what you think.

Wise and Foolish Dreamers

Head to the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea if you can.
The centre is the first host for the Wise and Foolish Dreamers exhibition, which is part of a major project about Wales and the Spanish Civil War.
It will tour every area of Wales over the next two years.
The exhibition, which was put together with pupils from three schools, tells the story of the war and explores themes of tolerance and nationalism.
The Dylan Thomas Centre is also hosting an accompanying festival of film and poetry. The exhibition will be on display there until May 20.
The project has had some great coverage, particularly from the BBC and South Wales Evening Post.

Who’s asking silly questions?

Governments like to tell us how well the country’s doing.
Our future prime minister, Mr Brown, has been particularly adept at it.
But bare, hypothetical economics often disguises real hardships.
For instance, while luxury goods such as clothes in fashionable high street shops, DVDs and electrical goods continue to fall in price, food and energy costs rise.
This means the elderly and vulnerable suffer most, with inflation on essentials running three times as high as the national figure.
It is not exactly what we would expect after 10 years of a Labour Government.

However, politicians don’t see any concerns about cash when it comes to spending between £25bn and £70bn on the new range of intercontinental ballistic missiles to replace Trident.
There was, it was mooted last year, going to be a consultation on the decision but it’s most likely you’ll have missed it.
And when the crunch comes, the Blair babes and blokes – jaded though they now might be– will stand in line and wave it through.
Not surprising then that a sense of helplessness overtook protesters at Faslane in Scotland earlier this month when a number were arrested for blockading the weapons base.
Among those carted off were Jill Evans MEP and AM Leanne Wood. The demo featured elected members from Westminster, Scottish, Welsh, Dutch and European parliaments, and local councils.
In lieu of real and meaningful consultation this is what it naturally comes to: protest.
There is, after all, a cowardly aspect to the way many politicians fail to recognize any alternative to the Trident replacement. They live in fear of a public they believe will turn on a government which supposedly leaves it defenceless.
This is at the heart of the nuclear obsession.
And so we will take on some system designed to destroy the centres of Prague, St Petersburg and Bucharest – work now done at weekends by stag and hen parties.
We will also be told that Britain must remain strong – when true strength would be to lead the way in disarmament, not to puff out our chests, beef up our muscles further, and act again like the agitator rather than the peacemaker.
Rhondda MP Chris Bryant was among the first to slag off Evans and Wood for their protest.
“I think trying to get yourself arrested is childish politics,” he said. “They should be representing their constituents. I think it’s a shame they have got their priorities all wrong.”
Childish politics? I’d love to know what Bryant sees as grown-up issues…
Four years ago this week, for instance, while working on Wales On Sunday, I posed the following question to all Welsh MPs: “Would you support British forces taking part in a war on Iraq without the backing of the United Nations?”
As we know the backing never came; the war did.
Almost all MPs responded with few sitting on the fence.
Ann Clwyd, Cynon Valley, whose response to Saddam’s execution featured here last time, was according to her assistant “not making herself available to answer that question.”
And Chris Bryant? Well, his response was priceless.
“I don’t do surveys,” he said pompously. “I don’t answer silly questions.”
Childish politics? Silly questions?
He’s the one who is not taking the real issues seriously.

Bob Peters learnt his politics from conviction.
Growing up in the 1920s, he couldn’t find work in his hometown, Penarth.
With his mother struggling to make ends meet – she was alone with nine kids – the Salvation Army stepped in to train him for a trade. Aged 16, he sailed for Canada.
There, as a deckhand on the cargo ships of the Great Lakes, he worked hard for union recognition, a battle that sparked a political fire inside him.
Within a short time he was in Spain, fighting against General Franco’s Hitler-backed forces.
I knew Bob for a short time before he died last week, aged 92. We worked together on a book.
Its title, ‘A Bullet Saved My Life’, alluded to an incident in Spain when Bob was shot in the back: the wound took him away from a unit which went on to suffer terrible losses.
But Bob was more than a war veteran. He was humble and kind. A gentleman.

:::from The Big Issue Cymru, January 22

Bob Peters

WALES’ last veteran of the Spanish Civil War has died.
Bob Peters, was the last surviving member of a brave generation of Welsh men, who volunteered to fight fascism in Spain in the 1930s.
He died on Monday, aged 92, after a brave battle with cancer.
Today First Minister Rhodri Morgan paid tribute to Mr Peters, saying Wales could “take pride in his memory”.
Mr Peters was born in Archer Terrace, Penarth, in 1914 and was the youngest of nine children.
He left Wales to find work in Canada when he was just 16 and was working as a deckhand when he learned about the war in Spain.
He volunteered to fight for the democratically-elected government against the military uprising led by General Franco and supported by Hitler. The volunteers were called the International Brigades and around 150 went from Wales.
However, in July 1937, he was badly wounded and transferred from the frontline. As casualties were so high in his former unit, Bob says if he had stayed on the battlefield he would have been killed.
For 70 years he kept quiet about his time in Spain. All that changed when in 2006 his remarkable story was recorded in a book called ‘A Bullet Saved My Life’ published by Warren and Pell.
“Maybe we were naive, I don’t know,” said Bob. “We thought we could help and that’s why we went.”We never considered we might be killed. Not until we got there.”
When Mr Peters was shot, medics could not at first remove the bullet as it was too near his spine.
However, he recovered to become a motorcycle despatch rider, taking messages to the frontline. While riding on rough roads the bullet moved and it was cut out. In October 1938, the International Brigades were withdrawn. Although the war was lost they were treated like heroes.
During the Second World War Mr Peters served in the British army in Sicily, Italy and Yugoslavia. He later settled in Kent where he worked as a fork-lift driver.
His wife Frances died in 1990 and Rodney, the eldest of their four sons, died last year.
First Minister Rhodri Morgan said: “Bob’s death is almost the closing page of the history of Wales and the Spanish Civil War – one of the great ideological dividing lines of the 1930s; his was a life charted not only by unemployment, hunger and the other necessities that guide working people everywhere but also by his commitment to fight for his socialist principles.
“We all take pride in his memory and pay our respects for his contribution, and send our strongest sympathies to his family.”

Brief details: A Bullet Saved My Life

A Bullet Saved My Life tells the remarkable story of Bob Peters, one of the last surviving veterans of the Spanish Civil War.
Penarth-born Bob left Wales to go to Canada during the Depression. He found work on the Great Lakes and also became interested in politics.
Early in 1937 he sailed from New York to France and was smuggled into Spain where he joined the International Brigades.
He went into battle against Franco’s armies at Brunete and was shot in the back while crawling through a trench.
The bullet was too near his spine to be removed.
Bob was transferred from the frontline to work as a motorcycle dispatch rider.
Incredibly, the bullet moved with the jarring impact of the rough roads and doctors could eventually cut it out.
As casualties were so high in his former unit, Bob says that if he had stayed on the battlefield he would have been killed.
The book features more than thirty photographs and fascinating reproductions of Bob’s membership, pay and safe passage documents relating to not only the International Brigades but the Socorro Rojo Internacional and the anarchist CNT union.
It features a foreword by First Minister of Wales Rhodri Morgan and a preface by the late Alun Menai Williams, another International Brigader.
The book is available from http://www.warrenandpellpublishing.co.uk/ and from Amazon.
: Further reading Western Mail & Western Telegraph

Salud, Alun

Alun Menai-Williams, one of the last remaining British veterans of the Spanish Civil War, died yesterday.
He was 93.
Alun lived a remarkable life. As a medic in Spain, as an RAF policeman in World War 2, as a loving family man who rarely talked about his experiences.
And then after his wife died in 1998 he wrote a wonderful book of his early life in the Rhondda and his travels to Spain. It made him new friends around the world.
He had close friends here in Wales, like Alan Warren and Mary Greening, friends in Spain, like Anna Marti, and received emails and letters from around the world.
I met him once or twice a week for a cup of tea and a biscuit during the last year of his life.
We chatted about all sorts, every topic under the sun. Even this blog.
Sat in his favourite chair, Alun would say to me: “Thank you for talking to me, Greg.”
No, Alun. Thank you for talking to me.

The Welsh in Spain

For those interested in Welsh links to the Spanish Civil War, there is an article on Alun Menai Williams in April’s Military History magazine which is now in all good bookshops (as they say).
I’m presently working with Alun on a book about the Battle of the Ebro. It’s a follow up to his engrossing memoir From The Rhondda To The Ebro.
Alun, who recently celebrated his 93rd birthday, is one of only two surviving Welsh International Brigaders. Until recently it was thought he was the only Welsh-born survivor.
However, during the last few months I’ve had the honour of meeting and interviewing Bob Peters, another Welshman who fought against Franco.
His story, A Bullet Saved My Life, is due to be published by Warren & Pell in July around the time of the 70th anniversary of the start of the civil war.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑