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Basically, the whole thing had been an adventure. Not a bucket and spade, seashore, rock pool sort of adventure, like down Margate on a bank holiday. But an exciting moment in his life and of that there was no doubt. He stood there in his uniform. It was November 8th, 1936; and he was a machine gunner in the XI International Brigade, part of the Commune de Paris Battalion. He had gone to war and he stood to attention whilst the Jewish General Kléber addressed him and his comrades at Atocha Railway Station. He had not the faintest idea what was being said, as his knowledge of Spanish was nonexistent and his knowledge of English was marginally better. He struggled to read and write in his native tongue. Words were difficult to him. His primary means of discourse had been with his fists in argument and disagreement. He was a great big clod of a man, the perfect warrior, but he knew what he believed in. Unlike Hamlet’s soldiers, he knew he was fighting for a something.
“Considerar cuál es vuestra proegenie: hechos no estáis a vivir como brutos, mas para conseguir virtud y ciencia,” harangued Kléber.
The Madrilènes cheered, “¡Vivan Los Rusos!” as he marched with his battalion up the Gran Via and turned left down the Cuesta de San Vincente. How incongruous he looked with his bright blue eyes of Irish ancestry. Eyes that had seen clearly all that distance away.
He reflected on matters as he waited: on how the world was changing. There was the Irish with their struggle for home rule, the General Strike, Mosley’s fascists were on the march in his East End, supported by Rothschild’s Daily Mail, “Hooray for the Blackshirts” (15th Jan 1934); and his own Labour MP, upon returning from Germany, had eulogised how, “marvellous Hitler had made things there.” The hunger marches too, with people in the streets calling them ‘reds.’ During the Great Depression, when he had been working on a ship, the government had imposed a ten per cent pay cut on wages for all public workers but the cuts had not been equal for all. The lower ranks had twenty-three per cent of their wage removed but his commander had only a three per cent cut.
For it were these things that made him understand the true meaning of leadership and the true meaning of injustice; and made him realise that his politics should have no borders. Somewhere he had to defend his beliefs.
So he was there with his Capstan filter tips, making a stand, waiting for his commander to order him to shoot. It would only be history that would either prove him right or wrong. He was there to defend the rights of social justice, equitable distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges. He did not know but in amongst the dead of that night, and later found in the morning, would be himself, his legs brutally removed above the knee.