• Tom Jones, Rhosllannerchrugog - socialist, peace activist and International Brigader
THE world is much smaller today than it was in 1936. Most Welsh workers had barely left their own communities, let alone country.
But that year saw hundreds leave Wales to fight in the Spanish Civil War - the battle between fascism and democracy that was a rehearsal for World War Two.
The Basque communist La Pasionara welcomed these fighters - mainly communists, mainly miners: “The barricades stretch from Madrid to Tonypandy to Maerdy”.
Thirt-three of them never came home and many more were injured. They are today remembered in modest plaques and memorials across the southern coalfield. Now it’s the turn of the northern coalfield to remember its International Brigader.
Tom Jones was a miner from Rhosllannerchrugog, near Wrexham. He was secretary of the local peace group but felt it necessary to take up arms to defend the Spanish Republic against Franco’s forces.
He was 27 when he told his parents he was going to Colwyn Bay for the weekend. He was soon illegally entering Spain via France and became involved in the volunteer resistance.
He was appointed political commissar of his anti-tank unit - a sort of military shop steward. The unit lost half its men in the battle of Blumete and Tom himself was later shot in the foot at Saragossa. He quickly recovered but by now the republican forces were in retreat. In 1938, his unit was surrounded on the Ebro and despite trying to surrender all the prisoners were shot. Tom was hit twice and left for dead with his comrades. As he later tended his wounds, an enemy patrol found him and took him prisoner.
He was to spend a month in hospital before being transferred to prison - where he would spend the next four months. Conditions were atrocious. The prison was built for 250 but housed more than 4,500 with just one toilet for every 350 prisoners. He was suddenly taken to a military court, which found him guilty. In a daze he heard his defence counsel argue for the death sentence to be commuted to 30 years - Tom argued that he’d rather die quickly than suffer a slow death in prison.
Ironically, his parents already thought he was dead - the republican government had sent a death certificate believing the whole unit had been wiped out on the Ebro.
By the end of the war in 1939, Franco was keen to make money from the Brigadistas - he offered to sell Tom and another UK citizen for £2,000,000 plus a trade pact. In April 1940 he was freed but what should have been a joyful occasion was cut short when he learned both his mother and father had died while he was in Spain.
Socialists in the area are trying to organise a memorial similar to that in Aberdare. It’s a particularly appropriate time to honour his memory because of the ongoing war in Iraq as well as the rise of fascism across Europe.
There is renewed interest in Spain as well - www.geocities.com/brigadistasdegales/index.html.
The final words on the Brigadistas belong to La Pasionara: “You are history. You are legend. You are the heroic example of democracy’s solidarity and universality. We shall not forget you and when the olive tree of peace puts forth its leaves again - come back!”
For more information on the Tom Jones memorial, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
[taken from SEReN 17 - December 2004]