Like many others I went to fight in Spain. In July 1936 I was 14 years old and unemployed. I had left school—or rather an orphanage—the previous Easter, had my first job and lost it after joining in my first industrial dispute.
I had also been on my first demonstration—a protest of the unemployed that was attacked by the police.
Like many new converts I was desperately trying to influence others. But things that seemed so simple to me also seemed hard to convey.
Overnight, in the middle of July, there was a tremendous change. Suddenly, not only were people listening, they were becoming vocal themselves.
One word had brought about the change, one single word that fired the mind, a word that was soon to become etched deeply into the hearts of that generation and even more deeply into their political consciousness—Spain.
Already in England we had seen Mosley’s blackshirts strutting though the streets. Suddenly, there in Spain, was living proof of all we had been saying about fascism.
Now the rank and file needed no more convincing. Now they could see the evil in action. They could see the resistance of the Spanish working class. It had become really easy to take sides.
Out there all that we hoped for and believed in was being paid for in blood. Yes, it was easy to take sides and the world did. My heart was in Spain.
I longed to get out there and fight with my comrades—but was considered too young. Instead I joined the navy and joined a cruiser destined for the Mediterranean. On 13 March 1938, my 16th birthday, was a black day indeed. The press was full of speculation that the Spanish Republic was on its knees. Hitler had marched into Vienna.
The cruiser I was on, the Devonshire, was hovering around Valencia and I made up my mind to jump ship and at last do what little I could. I fought in Spain throughout the period that the Republican resistance was crushed. How could I have done anything else?
Unlike many of my comrades I came out alive.
Some of the young comrades want to know why I and others like me joined the International Brigades and went to fight in Spain. From the first rising of the Spanish workers, our hearts and minds were in Spain.
We fought alongside them, even though we weren’t there. I worked in the Govan wireworks in 1937. In Glasgow then you couldn’t but be active in the class struggle. Poverty was rife.
Glasgow had a strong workers’ movement then as now and we all fervently believed in the emancipation of the working class across the world.
In an attic above Collett’s bookshop in Glasgow we had a Daisy air gun. This gave the comrades from Scotland some practice, very discreetly—one or two at a time at the most. All who practised were on their way to Spain.
I was anxious to get to Spain. Like many another I believed that the whole future of humanity was being fought out there. Either socialism or fascism would win through. That’s why we felt that we had to go. Spain became your lifeblood.
But I was not a member of the Communist Party, having disagreements then as I do now. So I wasn’t allowed to go. But, come 1937, they relented. There were conditions attached of course.
The conditions were that I should not discuss politics. Needless to say, I accepted and went on my way to fight for what I believed in then and still believe in just as fervently now. For socialism.
For the revolution. For a society where the workers rule their own lives and where production is undertaken to meet the needs of all.