Please send me SCA's fortnightly briefing:

August 24, 2011

Saluting the past, building civic pride

Later this week, a West Dunbartonshire community will pay special tribute to the bravery of five of its own– 70 years after the event.   A keen awareness of local history has always been a feature of Renton Community Development Trust’s work and it was only recently that the story of these five young men came to light.  In memory of their valour and their extraordinary story, a statue in the shape of a Spanish bull is to be unveiled

Saluting the past, building civic pride

11 Aug 2011

It has taken 70 years to happen – but a special tribute will finally be unveiled to five brave Scots volunteers who fought against fascism. Later this month the valour of a group of men from Dunbartonshire will be honoured at the unveiling of a statue.

The five, from Renton, made their way to Spain to join the International Brigades to combat General Franco’s fascist uprising against the country’s elected Republican government. The heroic efforts of brothers Patrick Joseph, Tommy and Daniel Gibbons, along with James Arnott and Patrick Curley are to be recognised at a special ceremony on August 27 when an iron statue in the shape of a Spanish bull will be unveiled in their home town.

Danny was wounded in the Battle of Jamara in February 1937, and was allowed to return home – but he made his way back to Spain again, distressed that his brother Tommy had been killed in the battle for Brunete in July that same year. He was eventually captured by Franco’s troops at the battle of Calaceite in March 1938. Kept in filthy conditions in a concentration camp, he and a handful of others secretly combined to keep up the morale of their fellow prisoners.

They were eventually exchanged, in February 1939, for Italian and German prisoners. Patrick Joseph – ‘Joe’ – the third brother, who volunteered as part of a Chicago-based battalion in Spain, was on a Barcelona-based ship that was torpedoed by an Italian submarine.

Two hundred other volunteers were lost at sea, but Joe bravely kept two colleagues, neither of whom could swim, afloat for hours in the water until they could all be rescued. He went on to fight the fascists in numerous battles during the Civil War. He was wounded in the arm after a tank belonging to the fascist forces opened fire.

Of the Renton five, James Arnott was repatriated and Patrick Curley was killed at Jarama – the same battle in which Danny Gibbons was wounded.

The statue, which will be sited at the MA Centre in Renton, is the idea of the Renton Community Development Trust.

We were investigating the history of Renton and came across the Gibbons family – three brothers who fought in Spain  Drew McEwan, the Trust’s chief executive, who with Archie Thomson and Jim Bollan, a Scottish Socialist councillor, has co-authored a booklet detailing local involvement in the Spanish Civil War, said:

“Renton has had an interesting political history – we are still the only area that has returned a Scottish Socialist councillor. Long before then, we used to return two Communist councillors on a yearly basis. We were investigating the history of Renton and came across the Gibbons family – three brothers who fought in Spain. There was even a fourth brother, John, who was keen to fight but was refused entry to the International Brigade in Spain. We did further research and came across James Arnott then Partick Curley, both from Renton.”

“Scots made up about 20% of the Britons who volunteered for the International Brigades in Spain, and 31 came from west Dunbartonshire, including the five from Renton, and another 11 from Alexandria. Others came from Clydebank, Dumbarton, Duntocher and Dalmuir. It wasn’t young and impressionable men who volunteered, either,” Drew added.

“Danny Gibbons was 35 and brother Tommy was 34. James Arnott was 29 and Patrick Curley was 47.

“The chances are that many had experienced the First World War, which is still seen as one of the most barbaric wars ever conducted. It wasn’t as if they went out to Spain with blinkers on, thinking it would be a romantic experience – that they would go out there for a couple of weeks and come back with a suntan. They knew what they were getting into.”

“It has been really interesting to do research into this aspect of local history. Bear in mind that some of these men left this area and walked over the Pyrenees to join a war, which is just a remarkable feat. What also can’t be forgotten is that desperate pleas by the Spanish Republican government for assistance from the European democracies of Britain and France fell, overwhelmingly, on deaf ears. Instead, an agreement was made not to intervene in the conflict, to which Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and the USSR all agreed to adhere.”

“You could get prosecuted for taking part – it was illegal to fight. It wasn’t just that you got a bad name. Volunteers who returned from Spain would come back to nothing. These men never got the accolades they deserved. Whether people agreed or disagreed with the war doesn’t matter – they showed considerable valour in Spain in the fight against fascism.”

The memorial, which has cost an estimated £2000, will commemorate the bravery of all the local volunteers.

“Hopefully it will last for all time, and will be seen as a fitting tribute to the men who wanted to fight the rise of fascism,” added Drew.