On Saturday 10 December 2022, the London Branch of the Young Communist League of Britain gave remembrance to The British Battalion, who had returned to London via Victoria Station on 7 December 1938, after serving as volunteer fighters during the Spanish Civil War 1936-1938 (read here for more details).
Members of the YCL walked across the Golden Jubilee Bridge and through the Southbank crowds, carrying flags of the International Brigades and photos of some of the League members who had been killed during the war, before reaching the International Brigades Memorial in Jubilee Park.
Here the following message from YCL General Secretary, Johnnie Hunter, was read aloud:
“Comrades, your commemoration of the return of the British Battalion today is a palpable demonstration that our history lives and burns bright in a new generation. The volunteers of the International Brigades, those who returned, those who made the ultimate sacrifice, those from Britain and those from distant shores, all exemplify the very best of our class and humanity – selflessness, bravery and dedication to the struggle.
Our greatest tribute to them is to build the struggle for peace and Socialism in our lifetimes. They will never grow old, they will never fade from our memories or their names from our lips, they live on through us – they are legend.
Long live the International Brigades!
Long live proletarian internationalism!
Before an address from YCL Agitprop Officer, Joe Weaver, featuring the following excerpt:
“We gather here, at the memorial for the International Brigades, to not only celebrate those who returned, but to remember all those who made the ultimate sacrifice in Spain.
We have here today posters featuring a number of the Young Communist League members who were killed. A task we have been working on has been to create a complete Roll of Honour of these boys who died as members of the League, to give them their full names back, and in the case of 20 of them, we have managed to use photos provided by the International Brigades Memorial Trust and process them through an AI enhancer to restore their faces and fully honour their memories.
Volunteers such as Jimmy Rutherford, who was 20 years old and from Edinburgh. He was among the first men to volunteer, and was captured and sentenced to death. He joked around in order to keep his fellow prisoners cheerful and hopeful, even though he expected to be killed at any moment. But he was released in an exchange of prisoners, and returned to England. But not satisfied with doing enough back home, he returned to Spain in spite of it all. Eventually he was recaptured, recognised, and executed by Franco’s forces.
Volunteers such as Thora Silverthorne from South Wales, who survived the war, but is the only known female volunteer from the Young Communist League, and she served as a nurse behind the frontlines, with many comrades surely owing their lives to her. After returning from Spain, she carried on the struggle for medical reform in Britain for many years, before passing away in 1999.
Volunteers such as Charlie Hutchison from Fulham, who also survived the war. Both in fact. The only Black volunteer from Britain, he was initially a machine-gunner, before an injury nearly sent the then 18 year old home due to his young age. But instead he managed to stay and worked as an ambulance driver. After returning back, it was less than a year before Britain entered WWII, and Charlie served in the British Army, taking part in the Dunkirk evacuation, the Italian campaign, the North African campaign, and in the liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, which he later described as the worst day of his entire life. Charlie had spent almost 10 years in armed conflict against fascist forces, and on his return he started a family, remaining an active Communist until his death in 1993 at the age of 74.
And volunteers such as John Cornford, one of the most well known. A YCL and Communist Party member from Cambridge, he was a poet and great-grandson of Charles Darwin. While in Spain he wrote to his partner Margot Heinemann saying:
“No wars are nice, and even a revolutionary war is ugly enough. But I’m becoming a good soldier, longish endurance and a capacity for living in the present and enjoying all that can be enjoyed. There’s a tough time ahead but I’ve plenty of strength left for it. Well, one day the war will end – I’d give it till June or July, and then if I’m alive I’m coming back to you. I think about you often, but there’s nothing I can do but say again, be happy, darling, And I’ll see you again one day.”
Two weeks later, on December 27 1936, Cornford turned 21. The next day he was killed in action near the town of Lopera in the south of Spain.
There are many stories like his, and in total we currently have a list of 63 members of the Young Communist League who were martyred in Spain. But their sacrifice wasn’t made in vain.”
This was followed by a speaker who had served as a volunteer in the International Freedom Battalion a few years back during the Rojava revolution, who talked about the importance of communist internationalism, and how the memory and spirit of the International Brigades had influenced those who had volunteered, even wearing the flag of the International Brigades as patches on their uniforms.
The names of all 63 known Young Communist League members who were martyred during the Spanish Civil War were then read aloud, before a minute’s silence was given.
Long live the British Battalion!
Long live the Young Communist League!
Challenge News Desk