Monday, 25 March 2013

Spanish Civil War for Infants

Book Review:  'From Manchester to Spain' by Bernard Barry. Price £5: A5 – 57 pages. Published in 2009 by the Working Class Movement Library, Jubilee House, 51, The Crescent, Salford M5 4WX. 
The Strange Entries in Mr. Barry's 'Roll of Honour'
WHEN it was first published in 2009, Mr. Barry's book was intended 'to mark the 70th anniversary of the stand down of the International Brigade in Spain in October 1938' and he says 'it was felt that a new pamphlet incorporating such [new] research' in the Working Class Movement Library's 'ever-expanding archive on the subject' of the Spanish Civil War should be brought up to date with a new pamphlet to replace one published in1983 by the Greater Manchester International Brigade Memorial Committee entitled 'Greater Manchester Men who fought in Spain'.  He asks us to note that 'Manchester' covers an area now known as Greater Manchester which did not exist in the 1930s and now includes ten Metropolitan Boroughs: Central Manchester, Salford, Bury, Bolton, Oldham, Rochdale, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford, and Wigan.  The book contains no bibliography and we are asked to check Mr Barry's 'facts' by 'reference to the Spain archive held by the Working Class Movement Library in Salford': the website lists 19 boxes of relevant material and a computer list of volunteers. 

The pamphlet describes the historical background of the 1930s in brief, referring to Oswald Mosley, the rise of right wing governments in Europe, the depression and the non-intervention agreement by several European powers including Germany, Italy, USSR, Britain and France, and there are some good thumb nail sketches of some of the Greater Manchester volunteers such as Syd Booth, Ralph Cantor, Maurice Levene, George Brown, Sam Wild, and Clem Beckett from Oldham. One sub-heading is entitled 'The Franco Revolt' and goes on to say 'General Franco [on July 18th, 1936] launched a revolt against the constitutionally elected government of the Spanish Republic'.  Franco, based in the Canarias, was not the leader of the rebel Spanish Generals at the time of the rebellion on July 18th; 1936; General Mola (code name 'Director') in Pamplona was 'the main organiser of the conspiracy' (see Antony Beevor's 'The Battle for Spain') .  Mola led the rebel nationalists until his death in an air crash on June 3rd, 1937. By personalising the rebellion Mr Barry lends a comic book quality to his account.  He gives no serious description of the level of opposition of the Spanish people themselves to the Generals' revolt nor does he analyse why it was that the Spaniards and the Catalans became the first people to seriously resist Fascism in July 1936: what was the special quality in Spanish society that blocked the march of reaction in Europe in the 1930s?  Presumably it must have something to do with the historical development of the Spanish working classes, their trade unions, and their culture that set them on a level that made them more capable of resistance than the more organised, highly educated and disciplined German workers, whose big left-wing parties and trade unions collapsed before the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. 

The most troubling and controversial aspect of Bernard Barry's account is his production of a 'Roll of Honour' at the end of his pamphlet.  He gives us 187 names of individuals from Greater Manchester and he writes: 'The Roll of Honour given at the end of this pamphlet includes the names of those from Manchester known to have served in the International Brigade.' He warns that: 'Unfortunately for some no more than the name is known but for a large majority there are varying amounts of detail.' This represents a rather weak health warning that doesn't distinguish between which names are reliable and which are dodgy or at least who are deserters. In 2010, as Secretary of Tameside Trade Union Council, I was in correspondence with James Carmody, the archivist of the International Brigade Memorial Trust (IBMT), who asked me to look for evidence that a man named Greenwood from Ashton-under-Lyne had gone to serve in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. On the 16th, June 2010, I and Barry Woodling of Northern Voices editorial panel went to the Working Class Movement Library and were shown a computer coded list of international brigade volunteers dated 1981 (page 199 to 209) entitled 'Records Office, Kew 1981' research by Jimmy Moon and placed on the records at the Working Class Movement Library by International Brigader, Syd Booth. These official records listed an 'F. Greenwood' of 9, Gerard Street, Ashton-under-Lyne as a 'deserter' (the Ashton-u-Lyne electoral register in the early 1930s shows a James Greenwood living with Lily Greenwood at this address; in the later 1930s the register shows Mr. Greenwood is no longer listed at this address), yet Mr Barry lists 'F. Greenwood', categorised on the Records Office document as a 'deserter', on his own International Brigade 'Roll of Honour' in this pamphlet. Of another Ashton man included on Mr Barry's 'Roll of Honour', Daniel Albert Boon of Taunton Road, it is reported in a note on the Records Office file that while in San Pedro prison in Burgos, he offered to join Franco's forces and we could go on showing other perverse entries on the 'Roll of Honour' in Mr. Barry's pamphlet. 

A couple of years ago at a meeting on the Spanish Civil War, addressed by local historian Chris Carson at the Working Class History Library, Carson was asked about a 'Peter Grimshaw', now deceased, an ex-communist and later a councillor for the Labour Party in Salford who, it was claimed at the meeting, had definitely served in the International Brigade in Spain. Mr Carson, a friend of Eddie Frow the communist founder of the Working Class Movement Library in Salford and a rigorous researcher, told the meeting that he had no evidence Grimshaw had ever served in Spain. Our examination of the list, which we assume Mr Barry must have used, showed that a 'Peter Grimshaw' had gone to Spain but had been rejected at the Catalan town of Figueras and had been repatriated on the 10th, February 1938, his record shows 'NO SERVICE'. Yet, Mr Barry does not hesitate to place 'Peter Grimshaw' on his 'Roll of Honour' as having 'served in Spain' in the International Brigade. Another name given on Mr Barry's list is Ivor Hickman as being from Ashton-u-Lyne. Ivor Hickman did serve in the Spanish Civil War and was killed in action, but he didn't come from Ashton-under-Lyne in Greater Manchester, as he is commemorated on a memorial in Southampton. Our research, despite some who have told us he never came up North, suggests that he may have lived in Stretford, South Manchester, and have worked at Vickers for a time – this is perhaps the least serious of Bernard Barry's errors so far but it could have caused problems for Tameside TUC, where the local Trades' Council applied for a blue plaque for an Ashton lad, James Keogh, who fought and died in the Spanish Civil War in Aragón. If Hickman had been in Ashton-u-Lyne, as Mr Barry claimed, the Keogh application would not have been 'unique' and the Tameside Council Arts & Events Panel could probably have used it to reject the Keogh application. Arthur Clinton from Swinton in Salford, is on Barry's Roll and he certainly fought in Spain, but Clinton didn't serve with the International Brigade as Barry claims, as he was with George Orwell in the Independent Labour Party contingent of the POUM. Interestingly, there is no reference to the POUM or the Independent Labour Party in Bernard Barry's pamphlet, let alone the CNT (National Confederation of Labour) or the anarchist militias. Clinton is mentioned in George Orwell's 'Homage to Catalonia'; in a letter from Orwell's wife, Eileen, to her own brother* and a sketch of his involvement in the ILP contingent is to be found in a recent book by Christopher Hall on the Independent Labour Party volunteers and the Spanish Civil War entitled 'Not just Orwell' [2009]. Reading some of the parochial accounts like Bernard Barry's and others, one wouldn't think that the CNT and the anarchists were the most influential forces in Catalonia, Aragon and Andalucia and sometimes one could easily conclude from these kind of narrow histories that the Spanish people themselves played a bit part in the Civil War on the Republican side. Some of these accounts (not Mr Barry's) are patronising to the Spaniards, and imply that it was the International Brigades that were crucial in saving Madrid. In truth they did not arrive in time to affect the Madrid fighting on November 8th, 1936 and they represented only 5% of the republican forces (see Antony Beevor's 'The Battle for Spain'). 

Mr Barry's short pamphlet contains list inflation, double counting and bias: our investigations show a man called Greenwood from Gerrard Street, Ashton-under-Lyne, went to Spain yet is listed as a 'deserter' on the Kew official list, and Mr Peter Grimshaw before crossing into Spain was found to be too unfit to fight, never-the-less Mr Barry has no difficulty placing them both on his 'Roll of Honour' in 'From Manchester to Spain'; Ivor Hickman's link to Ashton-under-Lyne is dubious; Arthur Clinton from Salford, referred in George Orwell's book 'Homage to Catalonia',  was with the ILP contingent of the POUM not the International Brigade and so on.  A problem with misleading and exaggerated claims, however well meaning, is that they undermine genuine material and in a way Bernard Barry's pamphlet casts a shadow on the Working Class Movement Library that has published and endorsed this document. When the poet, Steven Spender, who was associated with the Communist Party in the 1930s, returned from his last visit to Spain after the Writer's Congress in the summer of 1937, he was visited by another poet and communist sympathiser W.H. Auden, who he reported in his book 'World Within World' as saying that 'political exigence was never a justification for lies.'  Auden and Spencer were concerned about the nature of the cynical communist and Soviet propaganda put out at that time; Mr Barry's booklet is not guilty of lies but rather of over enthusiasm: a desire to make claims that are not substantiated by documentary evidence.  On our count 21 people on Bernard Barry's 'Roll of Honour', either are 'officially' listed as 'deserters' or as 'not serving' according to the list provided to us by the Working Class Movement Library.  A scientific approach or just doing research methods generally, involves a clearly defined system of classifications by the author not just an uncritical list of names cobbled together without regard for distinctive features such 'desertion' or being 'rejected' for being unfit to serve in the International Brigade on health grounds. Mr Barry has not done this properly, but as Mr Barry is an old man without an obvious academic background one would have thought that the publishers or someone should have had the responsibility for sub-editing this booklet. With something so glaringly flawed it ought not to be left to a reviewer to do the detective work. 

*Writing to a relative from Barcelona on 1st, May 1937, Eileen says: 'There is a chance Arthur Clinton, who was wounded, may go & recuperate in the cottage. He is perhaps the nicest man in the world...' 
I am grateful to the Working Class Movement Library for all their help in allowing us to examine their records. According to one Library assistant interviewed, it seems, Mr Barry used his own sources and is no longer able to answer questions about his sources, yet his book refers to the Library resources.  I didn't publish this review earlier because Mr. Barry is an old man and I was reluctant to offend him or his family, but as the International Brigade Memorial Trust is still promoting Mr. Barry's booklet I thought I ought to draw their attention to the errors and oversights in it. 

No comments: