T. H. Wintringham

Comrades of Jarama

Source: Volunteer for Liberty, No. 2 February 1940, p. 4
Transcription: Phyll Smith
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2008). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

The name of Jarama means, to most of us who came back from Spain, the long and dreary weeks of trench warfare among the stripped olive trees of that valley, where the British Battalion spent three months in the line without relief. And to some it means the unsuccessful attacks carried out, during the earlier months of this trench warfare, the attempts to take Pingarron Hill.

Those months of fighting made the word Jarama mean something to us that is embodied in the words of our song: It is the valley in which ‘we wait patiently’. And those months were considered as a military job of work, almost as important as anything else that the Battalion did. The Spanish army was learning how to be dangerous in attack, and we made some of the experiments.

But the first days of the Jarama Battle included the severest fighting and had a greater political and military importance than has been realized by many people. If we had failed in those first days to hold our ground, under conditions more difficult and dangerous than any the Battalion met until the counter—attack at Brunete, the last road into Madrid would have been cut and the great city would have been surrounded.

That would have meant the loss of Madrid two years before its eventual surrender. And such a loss of Madrid might have meant the present world war would have reached us perhaps two years earlier.

But when we piled out of our lorries at the farm cook-house on the Chinchon road, early on the morning of 12 February 1937, we knew little of all this; the main thing we knew was that the British Battalion was going into action for the first time. And when we had begun moving up and a ‘dog-fight’ of planes swung over us, many of us were changed suddenly from spectators, or men marching as they had marched in demonstrations and in peace, to soldiers, men marching with weapons and a purpose more commanding than that of any peace-time march.

Whoever remembers Jarama is likely to remember the moment they crossed for the first time the sunken road, that later was our rallying point; coming out on the crest of the hill, they saw in front of them the grass valley and the slopes that most of us called ‘Suicide Hill’. Some, like myself, may have seen beyond those slopes the first parties of the Moors spreading out for their attack.

Many of the men who held Suicide Hill through almost all that grilling day did not realize why it was necessary for them to stay there, with their twenty-year-old, almost useless colts and ‘Shoshers’, without adequate support, and with cross fire striking them from both flanks. The reason was that we were the left of the whole line; beyond us on our left there was a gap of three miles through which Franco’s troops could have poured if we had failed to hold the hill—a gap not filled until the next day. And it was a very considerable feat of arms for a battalion put together within a few weeks, out of men the majority of whom had no training, to hold its position without artillery or machine-gun support against a whole brigade of trained and experienced troops.

Many other days of desperate fighting followed that first day, but it stands in my memory as the symbol of our effort in Spain and our achievement.

And I think also of the cost of that achievement, and of three men, company commanders, who can be representative of those who died in the first fight on the Jarama in order that Madrid, the symbol of freedom and true democracy, should live. These three are:

HARRY FRY of Edinburgh, at one time of His Majesty’s Brigade of Guards;

KIT CONWAY of Dublin, at one time of the Irish Republican Army;

WILLIAM BRISKLY of London, at one time of the Busman’s Rank and File Movement.

They were known by the man who commanded them and by the men they commanded to be equals, in courage and comradeship, to the fighting men of the past, whose names wake pride in the British people.