Monday, 17 February 2014

Tribute to Welsh fighters against Franco

Pit tribute to anti-Franco miners
Alun Menai Williams, on his first return to Spain after 70 years
Mr Williams, who nearly died at the Ebro battle, on a return to Spain
A ceremony marking the sacrifice of Welsh miner volunteers in the Spanish civil war has paid tribute to Wales' last survivor, only days after he died.  An estimated 300 people from Wales enlisted in the International Brigades, fighting Franco in Spain from 1936-39.

About a third were miners, and a plaque marking their struggle was unveiled at Big Pit, Blaenavon, on Sunday.

Alun Menai Williams, originally from Gilfach Goch, who died this month aged 93, would have been guest of honour.

The event marked the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the civil war.
It is the latest in the campaign by the International Brigades Memorial Trust (IBMT) for more recognition of British volunteers in their fight against Franco's fascist movement in 1930s Spain.
At least a third of the volunteers from Wales were miners - for its size, Wales made a huge contribution to the effort
Wendy Lewis, South Wales IBMT
Mr Williams, who lived in Barry, and other Welsh-born volunteers were among the estimated 45,000 international volunteers from 54 countries, who signed up.
Around 35 Welshmen died in the fighting and Mr Williams was almost killed in fighting at the Ebro river.
Sunday's ceremony reflected on his role as a medic, and as the last man living in Wales who was able to recount the horrors and heroism of the conflict.

More than 500,000 people died in the civil war, about 200,000 of them in combat.
Wendy Lewis of the South Wales IBMT said the plaque unveiling and the exhibition aimed to highlight the support in Wales for the fledgling Spanish republic. 
Alun Menai Williams (right) and his Canadian friend, Billy, in Spain, c. 1937
Mr Williams (seated) with his friend, Billy Davies, who was later killed
She said:  'At least a third of the volunteers from Wales were miners. For its size, Wales made a huge contribution to the effort. Almost every mining community had an aid-for-Spain group.  When [American singer, actor and activist] Paul Robeson came to Britain, he addressed 7,000 people in Mountain Ash - the cause struck a huge chord in Welsh mining communities.  People saw Spain trying to build a better future which was something they were aspiring to, and also saw the rise of fascism.  Most of the volunteers were also actively involved in opposing Moseley's blackshirts.'

'Humble man'

Mr Williams experienced street fighting against Moseley's blackshirts, Britain's home-grown fascist movement, before he volunteered for the International Brigades.

But he almost did not make it to Spain as the ship taking him to Barcelona was torpedoed.  He was rescued by fishermen and went on to serve as a medic in many of the major battles of the conflict.   He published his autobiography in 2004 and returned to Spain for the BBC Wales television documentary, Return Journey.

The Big Pit event included a screening of the programme as well as an appearance by the Spanish Civil War re-enactment group, La Columna as well an exhibition of Wales' support for the Spanish Republic.

Guests included Aberavon MP Hywel Francis, whose father Dai was general secretary of the South Wales National Union of Mineworkers, which helped organise aid to Spain throughout the coalfields.
A Big Pit spokeswoman said:  'The day was a tribute to Alun Menai Williams, recognising that he was the last surviving international brigader in Wales.  It's a very sad loss - he is recognised as a very humble man who did not see himself as a hero, he just did what he believed in.' 

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