On Saturday 27th August, the valour of a group of men from Dunbartonshire was honoured at the unveiling of an iron statue of a Spanish bull, outside the MA Centre in Renton in the Vale of Leven. The worthy event was organised by the Renton Community Development Trust.
The five Communists from Renton made their way to Spain to join the International Brigades to combat General Franco’s fascist uprising against the country’s democratically elected Republican government.
The heroic efforts of brothers Patrick Joseph, Tommy and Daniel Gibbons, along with James Arnott and Patrick Curley, was acknowledged in a fine tribute by the Reverend Ian Miller of Bonhill Church who unveiled the statue.
Danny was wounded in the Battle of Jarama 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 be rescued.
He went on to fight the fascists in numerous battles during the Civil War and was wounded in the arm after a tank belonging to the fascists 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.
549 Scots left their homeland to fight mostly with the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War against Franco’s fascist forces and 65 of them lost their lives. According to Drew McEwan who helped to organise the event,” 31 came from West Dunbartonshire, including the five from Renton, and another 11 from Alexandria.” Others came from Clydebank, Dumbarton, Duntocher and Dalmuir.
Seventy-two years on from the end of the Spanish Civil War the newly erected statue in Renton, the one of La Pasionaria in Glasgow, and memorial plaques throughout Scotland to local volunteers of the International Brigade, serve to remind us of a radical history and urge us to be vigilant and to guard against a return of the fascist threat. Recent electoral successes of the BNP and the emergence of the English and Scottish Defence Leagues have drawn comparisons with the rise of fascism in the 1930s. Such comparisons are not idle and the democratic forces in Scotland must be prepared to challenge the fascist menace which has been responsible for so much misery and injustice in the world.
Report by Stephen Coyle