FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Captured or Killed: The Irish Anti-Fascist Fighters at the Aragon Front

After the Battle of Teruel in the Spring of 1938 Franco’s forces began the Aragon offensive which pushed into Catalonia and severely hampered the Republican cause. From March 7th through to April 19th the Francoists, who were backed up by the Nazi Condor Legion and Mussolini’s volunteer corps, brutalised the exhausted Republicans.

The Aragon offensive was conducted with severe force by the Francoists.  From the air Nazi planes conducted a campaign of terror bombing while on the ground Italian expeditionary forces crushed a deflated Republican force. Amid all this chaos and destruction were brigadistas from Ireland who continued the fight against fascism.

James O’Connor from Dublin was killed in action at the Aragon front on March 11th. Born in 1905 on Lower Gloucester Street, he emigrated to Canada where he worked as a labourer in Vancouver. O’Connor joined the Communist party there and in the Summer of 1937 he travelled to Spain to defend its republic against the fascist coup.

Thomas Sheehan was born in Skibbereen, West Cork, in 1904 and went to England to work as a shop assistant in Brighton. Sheehan joined the British Communist party in 1935 and in February 1938 he arrived in Spain with the International Brigade. A month later he fell under a barrage of fascist bullets on the Aragon front.

Ben Murray from Monaghan had served with a Canadian Cavalry regiment during WWI and when he returned to Ireland he joined the Irish Communist Party. Murray became a familiar face in West Belfast where he would cross the divide and go door to door selling the Daily Worker newspaper in the Protestant Shankill Road and the Catholic Falls Road. Murray went to Spain to fight  against General Franco and  received wounds at the Battle of Brunette but, once he recovered he got back into the thick of action and on the 14th of March he was killed by a bomb in Abalate. He was buried in an olive grove by the Ebro River, in the crater made by the bomb that extinguished his life.

During the retreat in Belchite Matthew McLaughlin was gunned down by advancing fascists. Born in Derry city in 1908, he emigrated to Canada at the age of 19 where his left wing ideals flourished through the Canadian Communist party. In the summer of 1937 McLaughlin went to Spain to fight, and subsequently die, for the Republican cause.

Another Derry man to lose his life in the same retreat was James Donald. Born in 1916, his family relocated to Scotland where he worked as a miner in Fife. With the British battalion of the International Brigade, Donald arrived in Spain in January but by March he was buried in a mass grave in Belchite.

Alexander Madero from Dundalk Co. Louth, was wounded during the retreat from the Aragon front and was captured by Franco’s troops on March 17th, St Patrick’s Day. He died of his wounds a month later in a fascist concentration camp.

John Finnegan was born in 1909 in Castleblaney Co. Monaghan and emigrated to Canada at the age of 20. He worked as a blacksmith and joined the Communist party before going to Spain in 1937. In April 1938 he went missing in action on the Aragon front.

Another Irishman to disappear in the hell of the Aragon offensive was Francis Ash from County Down. Ash was born in 1909 in Downpatrick and was still an infant when his family moved to Glasgow. Ash was a merchant seaman and emigrated to Canada where he joined the Canadian reserve rifles. He also joined the Communist party and arrived in Spain in January 1938. Two months later he went missing in action during the Aragon retreats.

Those who did not die or escape were captured and placed in concentration camps. Joseph Leo Byrne from Dublin was one of those who was captured by Franco’s troops during the Aragon offensive. A welder by trade, Byrne had gone to Liverpool to seek employment but left wing politics diverted his attention to stopping the spread of fascism on the Iberian peninsula. Byrne arrived in Spain in February 1938 but, just weeks later he was captured and made prisoner near Calaceite. Another Dubliner by the name of Byrne also fell into the clutches of Francos troops in March 1938. Patrick Byrne from Dame Street in Dublin City was a seaman who deserted his ship The Florentine on route to Barcelona at Christmas 1937 but his adventures in Spain were cut short in March 1938 when he was rounded up with hundreds of other anti fascist fighters and imprisoned.

Thomas Heaney from Galway was just 19 years old when he was taken prisoner during the Aragon offensive in March 1938.  Heaney was the son of a butcher from Galway’s Upper Abbey Gate Street but emigrated to London in 1937 where he worked as a van guard in Bishopsgate station. David Kennedy was a house painter from Armagh who arrived in Spain in February 1938 but was imprisoned only a month later. Both Heaney and Kennedy, like many others captured during the Aragon offensive were later repatriated back to their homeland where, unfortunately, many faced blacklisting.

Jackie Lemon from Waterford was working at the HMV gramaphone factory in London when he joined the Communist party and went to Spain in the summer of 1937. He was captured in March 1938 and repatriated a year later.  William McChrystal from the Waterside in Derry was a tailor but on St Patrick’s Day 1938 he was captured during the Belchite retreat and repatriated in 1939.

Maurice Levitas from Warren Street in Dublin was a plumber who joined the British Communist party when he moved to London. On the 31st of March he was captured with Frank Ryan, leader of the famed Connolly column of the International Brigade. Ryan was leading over 300 men on the road between Gandesa and Alcaniz when Italian troops surrounded and arrested them. Ryan was sentenced to death but was later allowed to escape and died in Dresden in 1944. Levitas was repatriated a year after his capture in Spain but his fight against fascism did not end there, he would later serve in the Royal medical corps during WWII.

Frank Ryan had left Ireland in December 1936 with 80 volunteers to defend the Spanish Republic. By spring of 1938 the defence of the Republic was in tatters and Ryan, along with many other Irish men fell into the hands of Franco while others fell into Spanish graves and as the months passed many more would join them.

More articles by:

Pauline Murphy is a freelance writer from Ireland. 

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

Weekend Edition
April 19, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What Will It Take For Trump to Get His Due?
Roy Eidelson
Is the American Psychological Association Addicted to Militarism and War?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Time is Blind, Man is Stupid
Joshua Frank
Top 20 Mueller Report “Findings”
Rob Urie
Why Russiagate Will Never Go Away
Paul Street
Stephen Moore Gets Something Right: It’s Capitalism vs. Democracy
Russell Mokhiber
Why Boeing and Its Executives Should be Prosecuted for Manslaughter
T.J. Coles
The Battle for Latin America: How the U.S. Helped Destroy the “Pink Tide”
Ron Jacobs
Ho Chi Minh City: Nguyen Thai Binh Street
Dean Baker
Fun Fictions in Economics
David Rosen
Trump’s One-Dimensional Gender Identity
Kenn Orphan
Notre Dame: We Have Always Belonged to Her
Robert Hunziker
The Blue Ocean Event and Collapsing Ecosystems
Theodore C. Van Alst, Jr.
Paddy Wagon
Brett Wilkins
Jimmy Carter: US ‘Most Warlike Nation in History of the World’
John W. Whitehead
From Jesus Christ to Julian Assange: When Dissidents Become Enemies of the State
Nick Pemberton
To Never Forget or Never Remember
Stephen Cooper
My Unforgettable College Stabbings
Louis Proyect
A Leftist Rejoinder to the “Capitalist Miracle”
Louisa Willcox
Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic and the Need for a New Approach to Managing Wildlife
Brian Cloughley
Britain Shakes a Futile Fist and Germany Behaves Sensibly
Jessicah Pierre
A Revolutionary Idea to Close the Racial Wealth Divide
George Burchett
Revolutionary Journalism
Dan Bacher
U.S. Senate Confirms Oil Lobbyist David Bernhardt as Interior Secretary
Nicky Reid
The Strange Success of Russiagate
Chris Gilbert
Defending Venezuela: Two Approaches
Todd Larsen
The Planetary Cost of Amazon’s Convenience
Kelly Martin
How the White House is Spinning Earth Day
Nino Pagliccia
Cuba and Venezuela: Killing Two Birds With a Stone
Matthew Stevenson
Pacific Odyssey: Guadalcanal and Bloody Ridge, Solomon Islands
David Kattenburg
Trudeau’s Long Winter
Gary Olson
A Few Comments on the recent PBS Series: Reconstruction: America After the Civil War
Ellen Lindeen
What Does it Mean to Teach Peace?
Adewale Maye and Eileen Appelbaum
Paid Family and Medical Leave: a Bargain Even Low-Wage Workers Can Afford
Ramzy Baroud
War Versus Peace: Israel Has Decided and So Should We
Ann Garrison
Vets for Peace to Barbara Lee: Support Manning and Assange
Thomas Knapp
The Mueller Report Changed my Mind on Term Limits
Jill Richardson
Why is Going Green So Hard? Because the System Isn’t
Mallika Khanna
The Greenwashing of Earth Day
Arshad Khan
Do the Harmless Pangolins Have to Become Extinct?
Paul Armentano
Pushing Marijuana Legalization Across the Finish Line
B. R. Gowani
Surreal Realities: Pelosi, Maneka Gandhi, Pompeo, Trump
Paul Buhle
Using the Law to Build a Socialist Society
David Yearsley
Call Saul
Elliot Sperber
Ecology Over Economy 
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail