This month marks the 75th anniversary of the battle of Jarama in the Spanish Civil War, seven months following the army revolt led by Franco on July 18th 1936. Almost immediately foreign volunteers enlisted in left wing militias to defend the Spanish Republic.
On February 7th the fascists unleashed an offensive on the Jarama Valley, the river was strategically important, and their the aim was of cutting communications between Valencia and Madrid, and hence the Republican Forces.
Jarama was the first battle that the British Batallion of International Brigadiers went into battle, with as many as 500 British volunteers fighting.
Jarama marked the beginning of a bruising and often dispirited campaign. By the end of the first day of battle, the British batallion found itself with less than half the number they had set out with, the next few days were a bloody brutal ordeal.On February 12th the British, deployed in the hills on the east bank of the river Jarama, in a place that became known as 'Suicide Valley", the fascists were able to virtually surround the British Batallion but even though they were outnumbered, they still managed to keep the fascists at bay, but suffered heavy losses.
On February the 18th the brigadiers lauched a counter attack, but this was stopped by the fascists. Despite the poor conditons, the brigadiers managed to stand firm , which resulted in a stalemate situation that would carry on untill the end of the war. Of the 500 brave men only 140 survived, the memory of this battle haunting them for many years later. But the vital road that Franco needed to have cut remained open. I remember those who throughout this conflict their faith and ideals remained intact,with their bravery, sacrifice and committment to their noble cause. Comrades that stood together and fought for good against the evils of fascism.
The battle of Jarama 1937
A poem by the young International Brigades volunteer John Lepper charts the day's fighting in the Jarama valley .With music by John Webster with Brindaband featuring flamenco guitarist Steve Homes.Followed by two more reflections on this battle.
Battle of Jarama - John Lepper.
The sun warmed the valley
But no birds sang
The sky was rent with shrapnel
And metallic clang
Death stalked the olive trees
Picking his men
His leaden finger beckoned
Again and again
Dust rose from the roadside
A stifling cloud
Ambulances tore past
Men torn by shell-shards lay
Still on the ground
The living sought shelter
Not to be found
Holding their hot rifles
Flushed with the fight
Willed for the night
With the coming of darkness
Deep in the wood
A fox howled to heaven
Smelling the blood.
Jarama Front - T.A.R Hyndman
I tried not to see,
But heard his voice.
How brown the earth
And green the trees.
One tree was his he could not move.
Wounded all over,
He lay there moaning.
I hardly knew:
I tore his coat
it was easy -
Shrapnel had helped.
But he was dying
And the blanket sagged.
'God bless you, comrades,
He will thank you.'
That was all.
No clenched fist
Except in pain.
Jarama Valley - Woody Guthrie
Jarama - A.M. Elliot
Unrisen dawns had dazzled in your eyes,
Your hearts were hungry for the not yet born.
In agony of thwarted love and wasted life,
Through all long misery, from countries torn
With savage hands, you did not shrink or bend,
But marched on straighter, prouder to the end.
Not blindly, fighting in another's war
Lured by cheap promises and dugged with drums,
Striking down brothers in the name of lies,
Slaves of the blackest with all senses numbed-
But clear-eyed, bravely, counting all the cost,
Knowing what might be won, what might be lost.
The rifles you will never hold again
In other hands will speak against the night.
Brothers have filled your places in the ranks
Who will remember how you died for right
The day you took those rifles up, defied
The power of ages, and victorious died.
Comrades, sleep now. For all you loved shall be.
You did not seek for death, but finding it-
And such a death - better than shameful life,
Rest now content. A flame of hope is lit.
The flag of freedom floats again unfurled
And all you loved lives richer in the world.
Civil War Veteran in his own words.
Poems reprinted from
The Penguin Book of Spanish Civil War Verse
Two earlier posts of interest here