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Last Updated: Monday, 3 May, 2004, 14:05 GMT 15:05 UK
Spanish Civil War's last survivor
Mark Palmer
BBC Wales political unit

Alun Menai Williams
Alun Menai Williams says his fellow soldiers should be remembered
"If you were a Rhondda boy, you were politically minded and most of all you were a natural anti-fascist - so that was me and that's why I went to Spain".

Those are the words of Alun Menai Williams, the last surviving Welsh member of the International Brigades that fought against Franco in the Spanish Civil War in 1936-39.

Alun Menai was speaking at the South Wales Miners' Library at Swansea University at the launch of the new edition of Hywel Francis' book "Miners Against Fascism: Wales and the Spanish Civil War".

Born in Gilfach Goch, south Wales, in 1914, Alun Menai first went to work in the local pit, but then joined the British Army and ended up in the Medical Corps.

On leaving the army, he moved to London and witnessed the rise of fascism under the leadership of Oswald Moseley in the UK and, more disturbingly, under Hitler, Mussolini and Franco across Europe.

On the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, Alun Menai said he had no choice: "I was young, fit, a trained army medic and most of all I was an anti-fascist".

General Franco
The International Brigades fought against General Franco

But he almost did not make it to Spain.

"I was smuggled onto a ship, 'The City of Barcelona', at Marseilles.

"We set sail but, three miles off the Spanish coast, we were torpedoed by a warship.

"Luckily I was picked up by Spanish fishermen - others weren't so lucky."

In Spain, Alun Menai witnessed the horrors of war at the bloody battle of Jarama.

"I remember it as though it were yesterday.

"At nine in the morning, the shelling started and I heard the words 'Sanitario! Sanitario!'- the Spanish for doctor, and that was me.

"I was confronted by a Spanish lad with his hand hanging off.

"I thought, 'is this really worth it?', and sadly yes it was, we were fighting against fascism."

I hear people talking, and they're talking about the last Welshman alive - I realise that they're talking about me!
Alun Menai Williams

Men like Alun Menai are remembered in "Miners Against Fascism".

Author Dr Hywel Francis, the Labour MP for Aberavon, said that the Welsh miners who fought against Franco "were men ahead of their time".

"They understood the threat of Hitler, Mussolini and Franco before anyone else.

"It's important that we remember them today because of that."

As part of that remembrance, there is a growing call for the survivors of the International Brigades to be included in the Remembrance Day parade at the Cenotaph in London's Whitehall every year.

Dr Francis said there was a very good case for them being involved.

"Very few are still alive but they fought the same battle as those men and women who fought and died in the Second World War.

"It was a battle for democracy against tyranny and fascism.

Alun Menai Williams and Dr Hywel Francis
Alun Menai Williams with Dr Hywel Francis

"It will also remind us that today when fascists are still active across Europe, and sadly in the UK as well, that there have always been people who are brave enough to fight intolerance, and there always will."

Alun Menai also believes that the veterans of the International Brigade should be at the march past.

"Whenever I talk to kids about the war in Spain, they ask me if John Wayne was there because the only Civil War they've ever heard of was in America.

"Never a day goes by when I don't think of those gallant lads who fought for freedom.

"They should be recognised by the government", he says with a hint of sadness as he thinks back to those events of the 1930s.

But with a smile, he comes back to today.

"By the skin of my teeth, I'm the last surviving Welsh member of the International Brigades.

"I hear people talking, and they're talking about the last Welshman alive - I realise that they're talking about me!"




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