LETTERS: Heroes fought fascism in Spain

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THE attack by William Lawrie (Letters, The Galloway Gazette, March 16) on the good folk who honoured Jack Brent, Whithorn’s International Brigader, is extremely offensive. To point out the “non-indigenous” status of people who contribute much to local society is inexcusable. This borders on racism, a curse I have never before encountered in Galloway, which is actually a very welcoming region, and I speak as a non-native.

Jack Brent (whatever his earlier history) and many thousands of other ordinary folk were idealists, and volunteered individually to fight Franco’s nationalists, one of the evil fascist regimes which later engulfed Europe.

The British government had stood by and allowed Franco’s mercenaries, backed and encouraged by the Catholic Church, to slaughter thousands of innocents, who sought only democracy and freedom. The International Brigade were doubtless inspired by the fact the criminal czarists in Russia had been deposed by the people, but it was the words of Karl Marx which inspired them, not the despot Stalin!

He gave mimimal help anyway, even when left-wing shipyard workers from the Clyde and miners from Fife – as was well as Whithorn “deserters” – joined the worldwide influx of volunteers, in defence of democracy.

Even when Adolf Hitler’s Luftwaffe devastated the Basque town of Guernica in an unprovoked attack, the spineless British government of the day took no action, and Stalin’s resolve buckled under the strain, viewing such British vacillation as guaranteeing the success of the fascist Axis powers – “A holiday for Adolf’s planes, with Spain the practice course, and Uncle Joe he pulled the reins when he backed the losing horse” (song by John Watt of Dunfermline, 1994).

Thousands of these idealists were butchered by the facists in Spain, but British fascists fought on the other side too, and also in Ireland, where Christy Moore’s song commemorates another disgraceful episode – “And the Bishops blessed the blueshirts in Dun Laoghaire”.

I was honoured recently to be asked to play music at a rededication ceremony at a memorial to an International Brigader in Swindon, and I am glad to report that the community down there was totally behind the project. It was with a real pride that they recognised the brave and selfless actions of one individual who did what he could to halt the tide of evil, and died in the attempt.

It is, therefore, sad to read such distortions of fact, as purveyed by Mr Lawrie, and whatever Jack Brent’s politics or his life before he went to Spain, he was part of a brave and unselfish movement which could have altered history. I would be proud to have such a man commemorated in my burgh rather than the politicians who got Britain into the tragedy of the Second World War and the current crop who continue to attack our democracy … but that’s a subject for another day perhaps.

Regarding the examples of wartime heroes who should, according to Mr Lawrie, be commemorated, I can only agree that this should be so. I would, however, point out to him that if more people had acted on principle, as Jack Brent did, and that the British government had acted other than in the interests of its right-wing allies, history might have been different.

Maybe many of those good and brave folk of Whithorn sadly commemorated on the burgh’s war memorial might have lived out their lives productively and in peace, and there would be no need for this discussion. As Bob Dylan wrote: “When will they ever learn?”

Jim and Francie Bainbridge,

53 Glentrool Village.

May I, through your letters page, write to express my view about the story you covered (“Freedom fighter is remembered” and “Anger over tribute to hero of Spanish war”, The Galloway Gazette, March 2 and 16 respectively).

Regarding George Dickie/Jack Brent, I wholeheartedly agree with the letters put forward by William Lawrie and David Doughty in last week’s edition.

Whithorn and District Business Association seems to deem it more important and proper to erect a plaque to the aformentioned, who was, to put it plainly, a deserter from the Cameron Highlanders, and then, to add insult to injury, completely ignore the terrible loss of all our young boys, men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice for king and country in both world wars to enable us to have the freedom that we have the great privilege of today. Where is their plaque?

My own great-grandfather Pivate James Keith, aged 24, was killed at Gallipoli in 1915 along with a lot of his mates, all Whithorn boys and men, who all unfortunately succumbed to the same fate. Not many returned home.

This is not to mention all those who fell for king and country in the Second World War. They should all be given recognition by way of a plaque long before a deserter.

Elizabeth J Keith,

137 George Street, Whithorn.