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Last Updated: Friday, 17 November 2006, 15:51 GMT
Veteran recalls Spanish Civil War
The National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh has celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War with a special day-long event.

Almost 600 men went from Scotland to fight on the side of the democratically-elected Republican government. BBC Scotland's social affairs correspondent Reevel Alderson spoke to one of them, 98-year-old James Maley.

James Maley
James Maley was captured as a prisoner of war

The Spanish Civil War captured the imagination of intellectuals romantically drawn to the conflict between a democratically-elected Republican government and Fascist insurgents led by General Francisco Franco.

Poets such as WH Auden, Stephen Spender and, most famously, writers like George Orwell and Ernest Hemmingway wrote hopefully of the fighting and the brave determination of the ordinary people involved.

This literary legacy has ensured a continuing fascination with the civil war, which took place between 1936 and 1939.

A day-long symposium at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh on Friday sold out several weeks in advance.

But the conflict also captured the enthusiasm of communists and socialists in unemployment-ravaged Britain.

About 2,300 volunteers went from Britain to join the newly-created International Brigades. Only 21 are still alive, among them just two of the 600 people from Scotland who left via France to join the fight.

There was no organisation; we fired until we ran out of ammunition, until there was nothing left
James Maley

One of them was James Maley, a Communist Party member from the Calton district of Glasgow.

He helped organise the journeys of other Glasgow men before setting off himself in December, 1936.

Three buses were drawn up in George Square with the men paying 5/8/0 (5.40) each for the journey.

"It was like a Celtic supporters' outing. I recognised some of them who'd gone to school with me," he said.

"There were about 150 of us, and we went to London first where we caught the boat train to Paris.

"We were met by the Communist Party there, and we spent a day in the city before we were on our way to Spain."

No training

Arriving in Valencia to join up, his idealism was shattered by chaotic disorganisation.

Sitting in an armchair in his sheltered home in the Maryhill area of Glasgow, he recalls: "It was chaotic, and it seemed to take a long time.

"We sat around for three or four weeks; there was no training, until all of a sudden the stuff had arrived."

Soldiers from the civilian army fighting for the Republican government in Barcelona
Volunteers from many countries defended the government

It was the start of the defence of the Jarama Valley, a strategically important south-eastern approach to Madrid.

The lack of organisation was equally apparent when the volunteers were taken to the front.

As they were getting off the lorry, the Republicans were already in retreat in a battle which was raging less than quarter of a mile away.

"There were four of us with two cannons as well as 12 men with rifles," Mr Maley told BBC Scotland's news website.

"As soon as we jumped off the lorry we had to begin firing. It was pandemonium, but we didn't have enough ammunition.

"There was no organisation; we fired until we ran out of ammunition, until there was nothing left."

Fascist volunteers march through Burgos, Northern Spain
Fascist rebels rallied against the government forces

With the battle having passed him by, Mr Maley and his comrades hid among the olive groves for two days.

By then the battle had ground to a stalemate which was to last for another 18 months and, as Spanish Moorish forces withdrew, he was captured.

Back home in Glasgow there was no word of him until his mother caught a glimpse of him in a Movietone newsreel shown at the Palaceum cinema in Shettleston.

He was in the front row of a group of prisoners-of-war paraded for the cameras as rations were handed out.

She followed the newsreel to Paisley where a sympathetic projectionist was persuaded to clip out two frames of the film.

Mr Maley was freed and returned home several months later.

He is one of only two surviving Scots Brigaders, along with 86-year-old Steve Fullarton.

Civil War legacy divides Spain
18 Jul 06 |  Europe
Spanish Civil War fighters look back
28 Feb 03 |  From Our Own Correspondent

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