The number of combatant volunteers has been estimated at between 32,000 – 35,000 though no more than about 20,000 were active at any one time
They came from a claimed “53 nations” to fight against the Spanish Falangist forces led by General Francisco Franco, who was assisted by German and Italian forces.
An estimated 300 people from Wales enlisted in the International Brigades, fighting Franco in Spain from 1936–39. Of the battalion’s 170 Welsh volunteers:
- 116 were miners
- One in five was married
- And the average age was over 30.
The South Wales miners provided the largest regional group in the British battalion.
August–September 1936 – a number of British volunteers arrived in Spain during and formed the Tom Mann Centuria – a rifle company in the German-speaking Thälmann Column.
December 1936 – 145 British volunteers formed No. 1 Company of the French-speaking Marseillaise Battalion.
During January 1937 – they fought on the Cordoba and on the Madrid fronts. Heavy fighting on 15 January at Las Rozas reduced the active ranks to 67.
At the end of January 1937– the survivors of No.1 Company joined with 450 new British, Irish, and Dominion volunteers. They were formed into an English-speaking battalion, with three infantry companies and a machine-gun company. The battalion was numbered the 16th battalion of the International Brigades. It was formally named after Shapurji Saklatvala, the former Communist MP for Battersea. However, this name never caught on and they were known as the “British Battalion”.
In February 1937 – the battalion fought at the Battle of Jarama. In a single day’s bloody fighting on 12 February against Franco’s Army of Africa, the British Battalion suffered 275 casualties leaving 125-rifleman fit for duty.
At the Battle of Brunete in July 1937, reinforced by new recruits and strengthened by returnees from hospital, the British Battalion mustered 331. After the battle only 42 members of the battalion were left fit for service.
On 21 September 1938 – Juan Negrin announced to the League of Nations that the Republican government would disband the International Brigades. The British battalion was withdrawn into reserve at the end of September 1938, and on 17 October, the battalion took part in the International Brigades’ farewell parade through Barcelona.
On disbandment, 305 British volunteers left Spain. They arrived at Victoria Station on 7 December, to be met by a crowd of supporters including Clement Atlee, Stafford Cripps, Willie Gallacher, and Will Lawther.
Veterans and historians to preserve and catalog the history of the British Battalion established the International Brigade Memorial Trust.
They have compiled a Roll of Honour, listing the members of the British battalion who fell in Spain. The list is assembled primarily from documents held in the International Brigade Archive in the Marx Memorial Library, London and the International Brigade Archive in the Russian Centre for the Preservation and Study of Recent Historical Documents, Moscow.
The Memorial commemorates the 526 killed in Spanish Civil War who went to Spain from Britain and Ireland it stands 4.5 metres high and consists of a bronze sculpture of four figures supporting a fifth wounded and kneeling figure on top of a marble plinth.
Ian Walters, a renowned sculptor who designed many monuments around the UK, most often of high profile political figures, sculpted it; including a bust of Nelson Mandela sited at the Royal Festival Hall, London and a statue of Harold Wilson located in Huddersfield.
The initial appeal for funding the construction of the International Brigade memorial began in 1984, with contributions coming from:
- Various trade unions,
- Democratic bodies,
- Members of the public
- And from the Greater London Authority, who also offered the site on which the memorial is located here on the South Bank, London.
The memorial was unveiled on 5th October 1985 by Michael Foot, former leader of the Labour Party.
In April 2012, a grant of £937 was offered through the Small Grants Scheme for repairs to the memorial.
These works included cleaning of the memorial using non-metallic bristle brushes and de-ionised water, then careful isolated cleaning of the corroded areas of the bronze sculpture was undertaken using wire wool, soft wire brushes and metal picks in order to fully remove all signs of active corrosion. Following this, selective re-patination was undertaken to the areas of the figures where the patina had been damaged then the entire bronze statue was coated in a protective microcrystalline wax and lightly buffed to re-new its finish. The damaged and cracked areas of the marble plinth were repaired using a colour matched resin then the lettering was re-gilded where required and the failed joints were re-filled, also using resin filler. Finally, Smart water was applied to the bronze figures.
The memorial was moved to this site and on 5th July 2012 following completion of the work a rededication ceremony took place, coinciding with the International Brigade’s annual commemoration service.
The honour of unveiling the newly renovated memorial was given to International Brigade British Battalion veteran David Lomon, who was 93 years old.