“Hark the rebel workers sing”: songs from Spain

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This tatty song sheet was among various other papers from Elizabeth’s time in Spain; it is densely printed and double sided, and contains the lyrics to about twenty different rousing socialist anthems. These include old favourites, such as “The Red Flag” and “Avanti Popolo” (aka “Bandiera Rossa”), but also a number that I haven’t heard of before, such as “Song of the Proletariat”, and – my favourite – the very catchy, “Hark the rebel workers sing” (“Tune – HARK THE HERALD ANGELS”). See below for lyrics. Continue reading “Hark the rebel workers sing”: songs from Spain

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Aunt Teedee’s gift of a “living wage”

I have been reading and thinking a lot about Virginia Woolf lately, and so reading this letter this afternoon brought to mind the various ways in which Woolf describes women helping other women – help without which any individual female achievement would be impossible. The help Woolf describes ranges from the practical (the £500/year left her by her aunt) to the intellectual; she imagines the great feminist, suffragette and composer, Ethel Smyth, as a “pioneer”, clearing the way for woman after her:

She is among the ice-breakers, the window-smashers, the indomitable and irresistible armoured tanks who climbed the rough ground; went first; drew the enemy’s fire; and left a pathway for those who came after her. I never knew whether to be angry that such heroic pertinacity was called for, or glad that it had the chance of showing itself.

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The help offered to Elizabeth by her “Aunt Teedee” (her father’s sister, I think) in June 1937, falls firmly into the practical category, however it is no less touching for that. Having left Oxford the previous summer, Elizabeth still had no set career – although clearly she wanted one – and had no immediate plans (or desire?) to marry. She had been active in politics at Oxford, and when she moved to London at the end of her degree she seems to have become involved with the N.U.W.M. (National Unemployed Workers’ Movement – I will post something about this soon). By June 1937 (when she received this letter), it seems that she was working for the League of Nations Union – an internationalist organisation, committed to the principles of the League of Nations (ie international co-operation with the aim of avoiding another world war) – in what must have been an unpaid capacity (I seem to remember my grandmother telling me that she had worked for the League of Nations itself, so it may have been this, rather than the Union that she was working for – hopefully future letters will bring clarity!).  Presumably, like many recent graduates, she didn’t know quite what to do with herself – especially, as someone who cared so much about politics, in the context of fast-moving domestic and international events. Or perhaps she knew exactly what she wanted to do, and was going about it the best way she could.

This was almost a year after the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, but it seems like going there wasn’t yet on Elizabeth’s horizon at this point – however, it would nevertheless have  been becoming increasingly clear that (nationalist) fascism and (internationalist) socialism were competing for the future of Europe. Meanwhile, Britain was blighted by high levels of unemployment – and by the consequences of this in a pre-welfare state – and so the work Elizabeth did, both to agitate for the cause of the unemployed (with the N.U.W.M.), and to support an internationalist organisation like the League of Nations, reflects some of the decade’s key issues.

However, the family narrative (from Elizabeth’s side of the family) was always that she was headstrong and a bit flighty, and that her politics were driven primarily by a desire to spite her mother. It is wonderful, therefore, to come across this letter – to realise that she had (female!) relatives who took her seriously,  and who, furthermore, supported her in concrete terms – such as with this birthday present of two weeks’ wages to continue her work at the League of Nations (/Union). It isn’t quite in quite the same league as the legacy left to Woolf by her aunt (which allowed her “a room of her own”) – but for Aunt Teedee, a middle-aged, middle-class, single woman, with only a small income of her own, it is a hugely generous gesture, and one that speaks of belief in Elizabeth’s capacity to do great, useful things (“a future strenuous life”), as well as tacit solidarity with her ambitions. Thank you Aunt Teedee!

Continue reading Aunt Teedee’s gift of a “living wage”

“I hope you will not worry about me”: a postcard from Frank

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I came across this postcard completely by chance yesterday, in the pages of a postcard album, along with a pile of much more recent postcards. I suspect that they were all part of a stamp collecting enterprise by my mother or one of her brothers – as, unfortunately, the stamp has already been steamed off this one.

It is wonderful to have something from Frank’s time in Spain – so much of what I have found so far is Elizabeth’s (especially letters, etc.), and what I do have of Frank’s tends to be from a bit later. I didn’t think I would ever find of any Frank’s letters home to his family – this gives me hope that some of them may have survived and that I may find more eventually.

This was sent to his parents (also, confusingly, called Frank and Elizabeth Girling) in Newcastle just before he crossed from France into Spain. The postmark looks to me like 9th October 1937, and this would fit with the Comintern report, in which Frank had stated that he had been working at Puigcerdà since the 10th October 1937 (for more, see: https://redthirties.wordpress.com/2016/12/07/franks-international-brigade-personnel-file-in-the-comintern-archives-2/).

The text is short and sweet, and reads:

I am in Perpignan now and will cross into Spain tomorrow. First to Barcelona and then to Puigcerdà on the French frontier.

The I.V.S.P. have a camp there – farming work.

Love to all

Frank

I hope you will not worry about me. Frank.

Continue reading “I hope you will not worry about me”: a postcard from Frank

Learning Spanish

By late September 1937 it seems that Elizabeth’s plans to go to Spain were becoming ever more concrete and she was on the search for a Spanish teacher to improve her language skills. Letters from the previous month between Elizabeth, her sisters, and Edward Cadbury make it clear that she had wanted to sell the property she had inherited in order to put the money towards relief work in Spain; having had this plan blocked (legal action was taken against her in the Scottish courts) it looks like Elizabeth quickly decided to go to Spain herself instead.

Janet Perry (1884-1958), the writer of this letter, was a lecturer in Spanish at King’s College, London. She went to Spain twice, with Quaker-organised relief units – and this again makes me wonder if Elizabeth also organised her travel and work in Spain through the Quakers (perhaps aided by Edward Cadbury). She had grown up with a number of Quaker family friends (including the Cadburys), and Dorothy Thompson (mentioned in this letter as the link between Elizabeth and Janet Perry) was Assistant Secretary to the Spain Committee of the (British) Friends Service Committee. Farah Mendlesohn writes in detail about Quaker relief efforts in the Spanish Civil War in her book, Quaker Relief Work in the Spanish Civil War – in which she mentions both Janet Perry and Dorothy Thompson. Alfred Jacob, who was mentioned in the security report on Frank, is a central figure in Mendlesohn’s book – again confirming the importance of the Quaker presence in Spain to both Frank and Elizabeth’s time there. Mendlesohn also briefly mentions Puigcerdà, explaining that it was initially set up (in 1937) as a “Quaker children’s colony” (the first of these in Spain); no doubt I will come across more Quaker links as I go through the boxes, but one day it would also be interesting to look at some of the archives explored by Mendlesohn (especially material relating the the Birmingham Quaker community).

Here is the letter, with transcript below:

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Continue reading Learning Spanish

Sex, lies and irrational hedonism

Looking for something vageuly new year-ish to post this morning, I came across this curious, gossipy letter (about the sex lives and sexual politics of Communist Party acquaintances) and I can’t resist sharing it – despite the poor image quality, and a few words that I can’t quite work out.

I’m not sure which year it’s from – my vague guess would be 1936 or 1937, and I can’t work out who any of the people mentioned are (Rosemary, Tom and David), nor who “Nobby” (its writer, from Bristol) is. The letter seems to be responding to one from Elizabeth on the subject of the sex lives of Communist Party friends. The chief question seems to be whether Rosemary and Tom’s activities should be classed as “irrational hedonism” – and whether they should be considered “on a par” with David, the villain of the piece (what on earth had he been getting up to? – possibly a divorce, as a “correspondent” is mentioned).

Most interesting are the hints at an ongoing discussion between Elizabeth and Nobby on gender equality amongst Communist Party (and Labour Party?) members. We are often told of how badly the left has historically treated its own women and it sounds like this is something Elizabeth was grappling with even then – realising perhaps that “equality” didn’t extend to women (Nobby quotes a previous letter of Elizabeth’s: “equality of sexes seems to have no meaning to this crowd”). I think (although obviously biased) that the points which seem to indicate prudishness on Elizabeth’s part are in fact a response to this question of sexual/moral double standards – and the poor treatment of various women. Elizabeth was by no means a prude (as I know from my own experience, and as various other letters attest), but she would certainly have had a problem with women being treated callously by men acting in the style of “nineteenth-century seducers”.

It all reminds me of a similar letter dating from Elizabeth’s time at Oxford – again apparently repsponding to her complaints about a lack of gender equality amongst Labour Club members there. I’ll post it if I can find it – and will post more on Rosemary, Tom and the Jack of Hearts (David) if I discover more on them. Meanwhile, here it is – Nobby to Elizabeth, 12th August, 1936 or 1937 (images of original letter below):

Continue reading Sex, lies and irrational hedonism

Frank’s International Brigade personnel file in the Comintern Archives: 2

I feel like most of the posts so far have been about Elizabeth (more of the ephemera is associated with her), but that when there is a post about Frank it is a cracker. I have described previously how I was sent the information on Frank from his International Brigade personnel file held in the Comintern archives (now in Moscow). The most exciting things in this file were a photograph of a very young (c. twenty-one) Frank, and an account in his own words of how he ended up in Spain (see Frank’s International Brigade personnel file in the Comintern Archives: 1 for more on all this). There were also two other main items: a “Biografía en España” questionnaire (answered by Frank in French), and an intriguing-looking three page document in German, that looks like some kind of security report on Frank by someone called Kurt.

My German is almost non-existent, so two very kind friends (Hannah and Jenny) have been working their way through this document for me over the last few months  – combining the translation of strange German documents (apparently some of the German is an unusual dialect) with various jobs and a new baby! It was a far greater task than I had first anticipated (far longer, and more intricate), and so much information has come out of it, that I have decided to break it up a bit and just post the report page by page. So here is page one, translation first (with the original – and some of my thoughts – below). Here goes:

Around 18 days ago Girling turned up in our delegation to take part in the Interbrigaden. He said that, since 10.10.37, he has been volunteering at the children’s evacuation center in Puigcerda. On his past he gave the following information:

Born in England. Studied at different universities. Then since May 1935 worked in Croydon in England in the Government Office: Civil Service Inland Revenue Department as a scribe. Girling states that this was a position subordinate to the finance ministry. He was here until December 1936. In January 1935 he wanted to enter the K.P.E. [British Communist Party – “Kommunistischen Partei Englisch“?], but left after 11 months, since he was in danger of losing his position in the civil service. After his dismissal from the service, he apparently worked as an unskilled worker in various companies.

Girling is in possession of an English passport no. 4634, issued on 15.7.35, valid for 5 years. In this passport he has various visas and visa stamps of entry and exit to France, from the time he worked in the Civil Service. He states that he went on holiday trips to the French coast. In July 1937 he went to France and joined the International Voluntary Service. Girling states that this is a service attached to the International Red Cross. He was allegedly used for building roads in Kanton Wallis [the Swiss Canton of Vallais] near Loetschental. He was there until the end of September 1937, then went to Bern, where he spent two weeks at the house of Therese Lautenburg, Bern, Falken Höhenweg 8. He states that this is a friend from the International Voluntary Service. In October 1937, he took a bus to Spain to pick up evacuated women. That is why Girling has a visa issued by the Spanish Consul in Bern. He arrived in Barcelona on the 10.10.37. He signed up at the Servicio Internacional de los Amigos Cuaqueros [“International Service of the Quaker Friends”], where he was sent to Puigcerda on October 13, 1937 to work in the children’s evacuation center. He is in possession of a confirmation on the 12.10.37 issued by this service, signed by Alfred Jakob. In Puigcerda he was mainly used for agricultural work by the Comite Ayuda Infantil [“Children’s Aid Committee”] until early January 1938. He then went to Barcelona.

In Puigcerda he met an Austrian physician, Dr. Wallis, who was married to the daughter of a Russian who is living in Barcelona, called Kleinmann. Kleinmann is the owner of a small celluloid factory and lives in Calle Provenza 82. Through the intermediary of Dr. Wallis, Girling met this little man and settled in Barcelona with him. For his time in Puigcerda he refers to the following 2 persons:

1. Friedel Funk (Swiss), head of the Comite in Puigcerda

2. Nic Carter (American), secretary of the Comite.

He first met both people in Puigcerda. Of Funk, we have nothing to complain about, but we are currently trying to inquire about him. Of Nic Carter, we were told that he was the son of an American millionaire. We have also been warned that he is an unknown quantity, with no exact details.

Continue reading Frank’s International Brigade personnel file in the Comintern Archives: 2

“We, the undersigned”: Oxford Aid for Spain

This open letter (transcript below) about the provision of medical aid to Spain is as interesting for its signatories as for its content: Lascelles Abercrombie (poet and literary critic),  James Leslie Brierly (law professor), Alexander James Carlyle (minister and historian), Robert Ensor (poet, journalist, historian, etc.), G. F. Hudson (historian), Gilbert Murray (classicist, internationalist, etc.) – an eclectic mix of an older generation of Oxford liberals. I’m not sure exactly when it dates from – probably 1936 or 1937 (the same year that Gilbert Murray’s son, Basil, was killed in Spain) – or if an ambulance was ever sent to Spain from the Oxford students (though there was a Scottish Ambulance Unit). Equally, I don’t know if Elizabeth was involved in the drafting of this letter, or the Oxford University Spanish Democratic Defence Committee that is referred to – this was all a year or two after she had left Oxford, so possibly she just had a copy as an interested party.

I can’t help but compare this to various efforts to help Syrian refugees at the moment – although the idea of university students funding an ambulance is hard to imagine.

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Continue reading “We, the undersigned”: Oxford Aid for Spain