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Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Scots who fought aganst Franco remembered at Glasgow ceremony

Statue on the banks of the Clyde re-dedicated to the international volunteers who fought fascism in the Spanish Civil War.

The sacrifices made by Scottish volunteers who fought in the Spanish Civil War are being remembered at a re-dedication ceremony at a monument in Glasgow.

The statue of La Pasionaria - with the inscription "Better to die on your feet that live for ever on your knees"- commemorates the British volunteers to the International Brigades who fought against Fascism in the war that was fought between 1936 and 1939. Over 2,000 volunteers went from the UK, and over 500 died in the conflict, 65 of whom came from Glasgow.

At part of the International Brigade, the volunteers fought for the democratically elected Republican Government which was eventually overthrown by authoritarian leader General Franco.

The statue, which was installed in the late 1970s on the banks of the Clyde, is in the figure of Dolores Ibárruri, known as La Pasionaria, with her arms outstretched. She was a leading politician, leader of the Spanish Communist Party, and a heroine and leader of the Spanish Republican movement. The sculpture was commissioned by the International Brigade Association of Scotland and produced by Liverpool-based sculptor Arthur Dooley.

The last surviving Scot who served in the war, Thomas Watters, 97, was among those attending the event in Clyde Street. Mr Watters served in the Scottish Ambulance Unit, which worked at the front line on the battlefields of Spain to aid wounded fighters and volunteers from across the world.

Mr Watters was a Glasgow bus driver who volunteered to go to Spain with the Scottish Ambulance Unit during the conflict. In his time during the war he witnessed many horrors, including an incident when German aircraft bombed a village, destroying his vehicle. Last year, 70 years after the conflict, he was awarded dual citizenship by the Spanish government in recognition of his service.

The statue had undergone a £10,000 restoration after its fabric had begun to deteriorate. The work was backed by Glasgow City Council, Glasgow City Heritage Trust, STUC and International Brigades organisations.

Councillor Gordon Matheson said: "With this memorial, we pay homage to a group of extraordinary men and women who, more than 70 years ago, gave up the certainties of their everyday lives to travel to a country in the grip of violent turmoil.

"We remember sons and daughters of Glasgow who stood in defiance of fascism and in defence of democracy and freedom.

"I am proud and humbled to have the opportunity to welcome one of them, Thomas Watters, back to Glasgow today.

"The humanity and courage of a man who not only thinks, 'if I can drive a bus, then I can drive an ambulance - I can help', is awe-inspiring."

Grahame Smith, STUC Assistant Secretary said: "We are delighted to welcome Thomas back to the city of Glasgow and the streets he knew so well before leaving for Spain serving with the Scottish Ambulance Unit, saving the lives of Brigadiers injured in the fight against Franco's fascists.

"In our office we have a memorial to those who left to fight and never returned and many of those who did return are no longer with us.

"Trade unions played a proud role in fighting fascists in the Spanish Civil War.

"We continue the fight to this day. Only last November, a march against the fascist Scottish Defence League paused here for a moment's silence to reflect on the bravery of those who gave so much - and for people like Thomas who seized the opportunity to do something good."

During the march against the far-right Scottish Defence League in 2009, a banner was held aloft with the words 'No Paseran' ("They shall not pass"), a quote from a famous speech by Dolores Ibárruri. Since the Spanish Civil War the words have continued to be used to express defiance to an enemy, particularly one from the political right.