I notice that once again the knives appear to be out for my late uncle, George Dickie, and on the 100th anniversary of his birth too.
I am extremely grateful for the generous support offered by a number of people, and also the unstinting support from the Dumfries Trades Council. These supporters have given excellent reasons why it is right to honour and remember the men and women who volunteered to fight fascism and defend republican Spain, and who came from all over the world to do so.
Geordie was 25 when he volunteered and was wounded while rescuing an injured comrade at the Battle of Jarama in February 1937. He eventually died as a result of his injuries in 1951, in my parents prefab at 1 the Park, Whithorn.
It’s true that he deserted from the Cameron Highlanders, in peacetime, at a period when the national government was making conditions for serving soldiers increasingly difficult, with wage cuts and heavy-handed discipline.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, many young men signed up to escape the grinding poverty of the times; I doubt if it was for staunchly “patriotic” reasons.
However that 19-year-old travelled to London and in the ensuing years learned a great deal about the way the world was going, he saw firsthand the rise of fascism with the advent of the Blackshirts on the streets of the capital and knew what had to be done.
Geordie returned badly wounded from Spain and spent the rest of his life organising the release of International Brigaders from fascist prisons, so that they could join the struggle against the Axis powers.
Significantly, many of the brigaders brought skills to the allied armies that they learned fighting Franco. They brought the tactics of guerrilla fighting to the resistance movements, the medical experience of frontline field hospitals and even how the Home Guard should be organised (Tom Wintringham who commanded the British Battalion compiled the handbook).
Geordie saw clearly what was needed and, despite his dreadful injuries, gave leadership throughout the Second World War. He was even a significant player in the campaign to use the London Underground as bomb shelters.
Oh, yes, and seeing the way the wind was blowing, he advised his older brother, my father, to join the Territorial Army in Whithorn.
My father rarely spoke about his war years and always felt he was lucky not to have ended up on the war memorial; he did spend six years in the KOSB, many of them as a sniper.
And, just in case there are any other people who think my family were not aware of the sacrifice that men made for king and country, look carefully and you’ll see two brothers listed as First World War dead. They were uncles of John and Geordie.
My father and my uncle did not fight for hing and country – they fought for their people and their class, and that still makes me very proud.
2 Western View, Black Lion Hill, Northampton.