Thursday, June 30, 2011
The first name on the list is John Angus. The records say little about him. He was, they suspected, from London. In September 1938, he was reported "fighting in Spain". He was a communist. In longhand, someone has later added "Returned". Further than that, the record is silent. But Angus is caught in the spotlight today because he is on a remarkable list of more than 4,000 British people who volunteered on behalf of the Spanish Republic in the civil war of 1936-39, which has now been made public in the National Archives. To MI5, which compiled the list, John Angus and the others who fought for Spain were suspicious, perhaps with reason in some cases. To many reading the newly released list today, however, Angus and his companions are heroes, bathed in romance. A few – like the poet John Cornford, against whose name a clerk wrote "DEAD" in December 1936, and then underlined it – were famous in their time. Most were not. They were mainly working-class, often communists, Scots and Jewish. More than 500 people from these islands died for Spain in those three years – more than have died in Afghanistan in nearly a decade. The names of the dead have long been collected together on the International Brigade Memorial Trust website. Now, thanks to a liberal gesture by the security service, the dead and their comrades who survived have been reunited in this much longer list, an enduring roll call of a generation and a company who should be remembered in honour.