FROM THE ARCHIVES

Challenge archive: Salute to the fallen

From 1936-1939 the Spanish Civil War waged between the people of Spain and the forces of General Franco. Over 35,000 men and women from over 50 countries left their homes in order to volunteer willingly to help the Spanish people, including 2,500 from Britain & Ireland. Just under 200 of them were listed as members of the Young Communist League, and Challenge Magazine gave lots of coverage throughout. The following article from January 9th, 1937 is dedicated to three comrades who were killed on Christmas Day in 1936.
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The Young Communist League of Great Britain lowers its banners to three of its members, Sydney Avner, Ray Cox, and Frank Messer, killed while defending democracy in Spain.

On Christmas Day in University City, Madrid, our comrades fell, killed by the foul hand of Fascism. They died like heroes, inspired fighters for the cause of freedom. They will be mourned by every young man and woman in Britain to whom liberty is dear and freedom is something to cherish.

Ray Cox was a member of the Southampton Young Communist League. All his life he worked to end the injustice of a system which robs youth of its rights and of life itself. In his mother he found a friend who understood him and the things he fought for.
“It was a terrible wrench for me when he left for Spain.” she said. “He told me of his reasons: I understood them and made no attempt to dissuade him.”

He went alone, and alone his mother stood with heavy heart but great courage, waving farewell to her son on the boat that was taking him to fight for democracy.

Sydney Avner, student, one of the first to go to Spain, was a member of the Stoke Newington Young Communist League, of which he had been a keen secretary for many months. He arrives in Madrid from Barcelona during those fateful days when Franco’s Moors were marching on the city behind his German tanks. Avner also played his part with the other men in the International column in stopping Franco.

The Maryhill Branch of the Young Communist League will cherish Frank Messer’s memory. A keen and resourceful lad, he left for Spain knowing that the defence of world democracy was being fought out in that country.

It was this common feeling for justice and foe the defence of freedom that made these lads, each from different part of Britain, join the Young Communist League.

They were not compelled to go. They went voluntarily: there were neither cheering crowds nor bouquets of flowers for them when they left. They volunteered like hundreds of others angered by the Generals’ revolt against the people of Spain.

They were young communists. Yet there are some who say that communists are opposed to democracy. Let them talk now! Their slander can be repeated no longer. If all those who talk of democracy were as prepared as these three heroes were to defend it, democracy would be stronger than it is to-day. 

From the friends of democracy we expect action in support of the Spanish people, that kind of action that speakers louder than words, action a hundred times stronger than exists to-day.

The blood of these boys and the cause of Spain’s people demands that the great Labour movement puts an end to its shameful record of weakness and acts to the greatest extent of its gigantic forces to defend the people of Spain.

Challenge supporters rallying for Spain

We are proud of our boys––Britain should be proud of them––as they were proud to be members of the Young Communist League.

Young Communists! Young people! Guard jealously the honour of your organisation so bravely upheld by these heroes.

Such members can ill be spared. To the youth we appeal; join now with us, and continue the work to which they dedicated their lives.

Answer the Fascist destroyers of life by joining our ranks in thousands.

Intensify all efforts to assist our Spanish comrades. Make the campaign for the second Youth Foodship an answer to International Fascism. Collect food and money now.

The people will triumph in Spain: hundreds of young men, eager to fill the vacant places, have left to join the forces of democracy. The Young Communist League National Committee have released two leading comrades, John Lochore, of Glasgow, and Frank Graham, of Sunderland, to help organise the British youth forces in the International column.

We are proud of them: we know that they will ably fill the places vacated by Avner, Cox and Messer.

The struggle goes on, but democracy will triumph and Madrid be the graveyard of Fascism. There boys died that Fascism might not pass, and with the truth we can say, “Their names will live for ever…”

We salute the fallen, and pledge ourselves to the cause for which they died.

On behalf of the National Council of the Young Communist League
––John L. Douglas, W. Wainwright, John Gollan, Mick Bennett, Joe Goss.

January 9th, 1937

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