Until recent years very few people knew of his involvement, including his own son. Alun decided to remain silent after being called a “liar” and accused of “Communist propaganda” by a fascist supporter at a meeting in Wales about the bombings of Guernica and Barcelona.
“Many people had been killed, my friend Billy Davies among them, fighting against fascism and these people couldn’t care,” said Alun. “They didn’t want to know. That is why I opted out of everything, all politics – isms, everything.”
His memories were locked away for decades. When his beloved wife died in 1998, Alun decided to break the secret on behalf of Maudie, who always wanted him to write his autobiography. Before he died he received visits from journalists and politicians, and replied to people from all over the world.
Alun said, “At the beginning I couldn’t remember a lot, I had forgotten and I was in denial. I didn’t want to remember but people started to ask me questions, to pull memories out and I gradually recalled them.”
He lived in South Wales, in the same region where he was born and grew up. When he finished school, and against his parents’ wishes, he resolved to become a miner.
An accident left him buried alive for several endless hours. He decided that he had had enough and set off for London in search of a better life.
His childhood friend, Billy, brought him into the anti-fascist movement and went to Spain before Alun.
Alun explained, “The reasons why I volunteered to go to Spain are complex.
“I was unemployed, a bit of an adventurer, a dedicated anti-fascist, my best friend was already there and I was an experienced medic—trained in the Royal Medical Corps. I offered my expertise to the Republican people in need.”
He reached the Catalan coast in 1937 by swimming after the boat he was in was targeted by nationalist planes. He had a hectic initiation in the war. Getting to know the reality of the country that he only knew from books made a big impact on him.
Alun said, “I knew Spain was a feudal country, ruled by the aristocrats and the Catholic church, but I was quite surprised to see how uneducated they were and how poor a lot of the people were. My first casualty was a German volunteer who had fled from Nazi Germany.
“His arm was hanging off. It was a very traumatic experience. The difficulty was that I was the only Englishman there among a lot of Germans and Spanish, I was isolated, but I got on all right in the end.”
He served with quite a few battalions—the German, the American, the Italian and the British ones.
“With the Americans there was the problem with the language,” he joked. “But they were a good crowd. Their supplies were better, they had plenty of cigarettes and better food. I quite enjoyed being with them, but I still wanted to join the British battalion, and eventually I did.”
His dear friend Billy was killed days after Alun was reunited with him in a village nearby. Alun was luckier. He was only wounded in the leg in a later battle. The weeks he spent in a hospital in Alicante offered the only opportunity to sleep in a bed.
Alun said, “For nearly two years I slept on the ground under the stars.” Despite the difficulties it never occurred to him to return home before the war was over. He said, “I had volunteered and I was prepared to go to the very end.” The lives of Alun Menai Williams and Jack Jones collided at Gandesa, by the river Ebro, where Jack was shot in the shoulder.
“I dressed him, put him on a stretcher and sent him down. He doesn’t remember. It is normal. Anybody wounded didn’t know what was going on around them.”
The rumours of fascist victory started to spread in June 1938. He remembered bitterly, “We were ragged, hungry, we didn’t have weapons, nor money.
“I felt very demoralised. But the fighting continued. Two days before we were sent home there was a brutal battle with many casualties.” He took part in the farewell parade in Barcelona.
Alun said, “That was a fine experience, people treated us like heroes. I knew La Pasionaria was speaking but I didn’t hear her, there weren’t microphones on hand.”
Raising his voice he announced that one of the proudest moments in his life “was being in Spain helping to fight fascism, while in England fascism was the fashion of the day. No pasaran! (They shall not pass!) We failed because the democracies let us down.”
About the legacy of the International Brigade he said, “We fought for our ideals. New generations are apathetic politically because they don’t trust the politicians.”
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