Welsh International Brigader's

Some of the Welsh SCW Volunteers - PROFILES

Welsh Volunteers in the National Brigade:


Edwin Greening
was born in Aberdare (1910) and campaigned against the 'poverty, misery and frustration' he witnessed in the South Wales Valley's in the 1930's. He joined up with the Welsh contingent on the 1934 hunger march to London and became an activist against unemployment and the much hated means test.
He saw action in Spain and later recalled: "We had been in the front line for ten awful days. In the blazing heat of that stony hell one could smell the revolting odour of putrefying corpses. It was a real slaughterhouse".

Will Paynterwas born in Whitchurch, Cardiff in 1903. He was a Communist Party activist / organiser and miner's leader involved in the hunger marches of the 1930's and setting up the National Unemployed Workers Movement.
He joined the International Brigade in Spain on 24th April 1937 and returned to Wales on 3rd November 1937. On his return he travelled to Blackpool to address the Trade Union Congress. He told them: "It must be clear to every delegate in this Congress that the issue in Spain is one of which the outcome will not only determine the destinies of the people of Spain; it must be clear to everyone that the outcome of the conflict in Spain will involve the destinies of the people of all countries... The conquest of Spain can well mean the commencement of further attacks upon other European democracies." Paynter was actively involved recruiting more volunteers and raising money in Wales to support the fight against Franco. He would send prospective Welsh volunteers to a bookshop in Castle Arcade, Cardiff to register in the back room, before they went to London to join up with other volunteers. (It was illegal to travel to Spain to fight Franco). Later in life he became President of the South Wales Miners Federation and later the General Secretary of the National Union of Miners. He died in 1984.

Harry Dobson- was born in Blaenclydach and worked as a miner in the Rhondda where he was one of 36 people sent to Court for demonstrating against Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists in Tonypandy. Harry was one of those sent to prison and is known for coming out of prison 6 months later and saying the famous words: "How do I get to Spain" ? He went to Spain in July 1937 avoiding the land border by sailing from Marseilles to Barcelona. The ship he was travelling in was torpedoed and many men drowned but Harry was able to reach land and eventually joined up with the International Brigade and went straight into action at Brunete, where he was wounded. He returned to the front line however taking part in the battles at Aragon, Teruel and Gandesa on the Ebro river where he was killed in August 1938. He is buried in the cemetery at La Bisbal de Falset.

Margaret "Lilly" Powell- from Llangenny, Monmouthshire. A farmer's daughter she trained as a nurse and midwife in London before leaving for Spain in 1937 to work for the Spanish Medical Aid Committee. Margaret served on the front line as a nurse in Aragon, Teruel and the Ebro - assisting in thousands of operations. She met her future husband (International Brigadier Sam Russell) in Barcelona. She was the last International Brigade nurse to leave Spain after the war and interned in Argeles-sur-Mer with 70,000 refugees. Margaret was made Dame of the Order of Loyalty to the Spanish Republic for her outstanding work.

Thora Silverthorne- a nurse from Abertillery. Thora was the daughter of a miner who had joined the Young Communist League at the age of 16. She trained as a nurse i Oxford and gave medical help to the passing hunger marchers, many of them from Wales, heading to London. She left for Spain in August 1936 after volunteering with the British Medical Unit. She recalled standing with other nurses at Victoria station in London before heading to Spain. She said they were given a great send-off by banner waving supporters who gave them bunches of flowers. Thora was placed in charge of a hospital on the Aragon front, where she was regarded as 'outstandingly competent' sometimes working 20 hours a day.

Leo Price,who had travelled to Spain with Jack Russia to fight for the Republicans in the Civil War, did not cover himself in glory by being accused of deserting into France after being sent to Barcelona to collect the mail ! To be fair he had previously been wounded at Brunete and developed a 'weak and nervous' condition and spent time in hospital. Jack Russia & Leo Price returned home with another comrade from the same Abertridwr - Wyndham Watkins - known as "Windy". A memorial to their heroism can be found at the Nazereth Chapel in Abertridwr.

Jack "Russia" Robertswas born in Abertridwr, Caerphilly in 1899.
A miner from the age of 14 he was elected to the local Council as a 'Christian Nonconformist Communist' and served for 18 years. He became a local hero for his political activities and was known as 'Jack Russia'. On one occasion he cycled all the way to London to show his solidarity to the 1936 Unemployment March. He was often up before the local magistrates for his involvement in political agitation and received a 6 month jail sentence in Cardiff prison. In January 1937 he left for Spain with his comrade Alun Menai Williams (see previous fb post) They were apprehended by French police at Perpignan, near the Spanish border, and taken to Marseilles and put on a boat back to the UK. 6 months later however Jack Russia got to Spain - this time with fellow Abertridwr miner Leo Price walking across the Pyrenees together. Jack saw action in Brunete and Aragon. He was appointed Battalion Commissar for the Brigade and undertook Officer's training. Despite being wounded in action at Quinto he returned to the battlefield after a period in hospital. Back in Wales he continued serving the local community on the local Council and worked hard to gain support through the village Spanish Aid Committee. He died in 1979.

Alun Menai Williamsborn the Rhondda in 1913. He started his working life as a miner but moved to London and joined the British Army serving in Egypt. He was a committed anti-fascist and took part in the Battle of Cable Street against Oswald Moseley's Blackshirts in London (1936). After a number of attempts he found his way to Spain and saw action in a number of places including Jarama, Brunete and the Ebro. He was wounded but lived until 2006 - said to be the last living Welsh veteran of the Civil War. He said: "If you were a Rhondda boy you were politically minded and most of all you were a natural anti-fascist - so that was me and that's why I went to Spain". He wrote a book of his time in Spain "From the Rhondda to the Ebro - The Story of a Young Life and Its Survival in the First Half of the Twentieth Century".