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The grainy, sepia {photograph} exhibits two males, an Australian and a New Zealander. Sydney dock employee Jack Franklyn is partly obscured by bush, leaning ahead, his rifle poised and prepared. New Zealander Bert Bryan, bare-chested and sporting a beret, crouches on the fringe of a trench whereas taking pictures on the enemy. They’re in Spain, the battle of Ebro in 1938, and the very fact they’re preventing collectively in one of many Spanish civil conflict’s most seminal and bloody battles lends a gritty new dimension to the revered legend of Anzac.

The {photograph} was just lately found amongst private mementoes within the western Sydney house of 80-year-old Vanessa McNeill. Her father, Wollongong metal employee Jim McNeill fought the fascists alongside Bryan and Franklyn at Ebro, which started 85 years in the past this July. McNeill was shot by a machine gun at Ebro, his second wounding in Spain.

McNeill entrusted the {photograph}, together with a dusty suitcase of her father’s papers, pictures, postcards, publications, and castanets with ribbons within the colors of the fallen Spanish Republic to historian Michael Samaras. Samaras positioned many of the materials with the native Illawarra Museum, and now he’s providing the photograph to the Australian Struggle Memorial.

Regardless of Australia’s obsessive celebration of abroad army conflicts since colonial days, the experiences of its individuals who fought and died within the Spanish civil conflict fee barely a point out in official army historical past or commemoration.

Their exceptional tales is likely to be identified to their now aged kids and, maybe, grandchildren. And the actions of some have been chronicled in books. They have been actually coated in modern newspapers. However the 70 or so Australians who joined the Worldwide Brigades to battle or function nurses in help of the Spanish Republic’s bitter, failed army resistance to Franco’s fascist forces should not acknowledged.

This, even supposing all the volunteers have been precocious army opponents of world fascism when many international locations – together with the conservative Menzies authorities of Australia – have been nonetheless set on appeasement of fascist leaders like Franco and Hitler. Certainly, a few of the Australian Worldwide Brigadiers had beforehand battled the fascist New Guard on Australia’s streets within the early Nineteen Thirties. Others, in the meantime, returned from the Spanish civil conflict and instantly signed as much as battle fascist Nazi Germany and Italy within the second world conflict as soon as Australia joined.

The unimaginable tales – of why they volunteered, how they reached Spain, their experiences of fight, their unlikely survival and their deaths – deserve formal nationwide remembrance. That the majority of these Australians who served within the Worldwide Brigades have been of the sharp left – together with many communists and unionists – likely contributes to the official amnesia about them.

Consequently, many of the private collections – letters, postcards, journal writings, pictures and ephemera – of the Australians who went and returned have in all probability been confined to containers in suburban attics and sheds or worse, to landfill.

That’s why the invention of the {photograph} is so important; it is likely to be the one identified {photograph} that depicts an Australian preventing within the Spanish civil conflict.

“It’s a highly effective picture,” says Samaras. “There they’re, an Australian and a New Zealander, brothers in arms, a good distance from house, preventing a doomed marketing campaign. The Anzac echoes are sturdy, nonetheless members of the Worldwide Brigades didn’t go to conflict as a result of their authorities despatched them, they have been as an alternative motivated by deeply felt private convictions.

“There are a handful of pictures of Australian members of the Worldwide Brigades in reserve [conflict] areas, however that is the one photograph I’ve seen of them in motion. If anybody has one other, it might be nice to see it,” Samaras says.

On the reverse facet of the {photograph}, beneath the names of Bryan and Franklyn, is written in McNeill’s hand:

Hill 481 close to Gandesa [Battle of Ebro]

The place Invoice Younger died

Bill Young, an Australian who died fighting in the Spanish civil war.
Invoice Younger, an Australian who died preventing within the Spanish civil conflict.

It’s unclear if McNeill took the {photograph}. However it’s invaluable, regardless, for its evocation of the experiences – and post-Worldwide Brigades life – of a number of Australians and the New Zealander, Bryan. A portal into their pasts and futures.

Invoice Younger is described in a Could 1948 booklet, Australians In Spain, as having been identified within the Worldwide Brigades as “the Large Aussie”.

He labored within the bush and in development, and was member of the Communist occasion (like McNeill and Carter) earlier than stowing away on a coal bunker set for Europe. After he was found the ship, two fingers quick, enlisted him as crew.

“Within the Ebro preventing he was put in command of his part when the NCOs [noncommissioned officers] have been killed. Within the crucial try and take the hill dominating Gandesa, which was held by Moors and fascist Italians and closely fortified, Younger led an assault – and didn’t come again. His physique was by no means discovered.”

In a 1974 interview with Wendy Lowenstein for her e book Weevils In The Flour, McNeill recounted how “Invoice was a marvellous thrower of the hand grenade.” McNeill stated Younger was killed in a burst of machine gun hearth beside the well-known British Worldwide Brigadier Lewis Clive.

Younger is listed on a memorial in Spain, together with Clive and two different Australians killed at Ebro.

One other photograph taken after Ebro, late in 1938, depicts a gaggle of Australians together with Franklyn and Wollongong co-steelworkers Carter and McNeill, and New Zealanders together with Bryan. Bryan apparently wears the identical beret he had in fight. They current wiry, proud and hardened although nonetheless youthful, fight survivors. There are traces of smiles. Steely-eyes.

Mockingly that they had come via battle with Franco’s fascist forces and have been making ready to return house whereas Australia was nonetheless appeasing fascism – together with Hitler’s Third Reich.

In July 1939, for instance, Australian prime minister Robert Menzies stated, “Historical past will label Hitler as one of many actually nice males of the century.”

When McNeill and Franklyn returned to Australia they enlisted to battle fascists once more within the second world conflict (McNeill, by then 39, put his age down by six years so he would possibly be part of on the primary day of enlistments in Wollongong).

All would have been deeply affected by the brutality of Ebro the place casualties and fatalities among the many brigades have been excessive. Timaru-born Bryan actually returned house a broken man.

In response to New Zealand Geographic journal, “He arrived in Spain in early 1938 and got here via the horrific Battle of the Ebro earlier than being repatriated. He was severely affected by his experiences underneath hearth, by no means absolutely recovered and died of alcoholism in 1961.”

New Zealand and Australian International Brigadiers awaiting repatriation from Spain.
New Zealand and Australian Worldwide Brigadiers awaiting repatriation from Spain. Again row, left to proper: Kevin Rebecchi (Australia), Lloyd Edmonds (Melbourne, Australia), William ‘Murn’ MacDonald (Wellington & Dunedin, NZ), Joe Carter (Sydney, Australia). Entrance row, left to proper: Jack Franklyn (Australia), Bert Bryan (Wellington & Dunedin, NZ), Jim McNeill (Sydney, Australia). {Photograph}: Nationwide Library of New Zealand

Vanessa McNeill says her father, Jim – 37 when he went to Spain – carried for all times the trauma of his Spanish expertise.

“Some elements of his well being have been difficult for the remainder of his life, resulting from his service [in Spain]. He was not a younger man when he went to Spain, not younger to be concerned in one thing so hideous when the fascists did such horrible issues to the folks resisting them.”

McNeill was stationed in England in the course of the second world conflict, the place he met his English spouse, Mabel, who labored for the Committee for Spanish Reduction in help of the republicans. He was medically discharged in 1943, due largely to his civil conflict wounds, and returned to Australia. Each Vanessa’s dad and mom remained dedicated communists.

In Australians in Spain, McNeill wrote “ … it must be remembered that on the time a person desirous to battle for democracy in Spain was regarded on virtually as a legal by the [Australian] ‘powers that be’ and plenty of Australians needed to go away for Spain secretly and furtively with out even letting their associates know.

“Simply as there have been males of all international locations within the Brigades so there have been males of many alternative political and non secular beliefs. Communists and Labor occasion males fought facet by facet with Irish republicans, members of Youth Leagues, Christian Pacifists and males of no explicit occasion.’’

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McNeill said the International Brigades represented “something written in the blood of men of all countries who had died together in a new sort of a war.

“Not a national war, but a war for the liberation of all men and women of all nations. And the International Brigade that fought in Spain is today part of a bigger International Brigade of the millions of men and women – democrats of all lands – who carry on the struggle for human liberation.”

McNeill’s mate from the Wollongong steelworks, Joe Carter, had earlier been an itinerant bush labourer and “swaggie” in the 1920s. He first joined the Communist party of Australia in 1930 but was expelled in 1931 for being “drunk and not disciplined”. He re-joined the party in 1937 and went to Spain “in cahoots” with McNeill where, as a machine gunner, he too fought at Ebro.

The International Brigades and the Communist party of Spain made detailed pre-repatriation assessments of every volunteer. It seems Carter had redeemed himself in the party’s eyes.

“This comrade has had a good record … and is one of the most sober of all the comrades. Indications seem to show that he has definitely overcome the weaknesses for which he was expelled in 1931.”


While the precise number of Australians who went remains unclear, there is an unofficial memorial in Canberra’s Lennox Gardens, dedicated to what it says were the 70 Australian men and women (women mostly served as nurses and support and supply workers) who participated in the civil war on the side of the Spanish republic.

Only one Australian, Nugent Bull, is known to have served in Franco’s forces.

According to the Australian War Memorial, 66 Australians served in the International Brigades. This excludes several people of Spanish descent who went home to fight. About a quarter were killed.

Before he went to Spain, Young was, according to his mate McNeill writing in Australians in Spain: “A good man with his fists when fists were needed, he helped to defend workers’ meetings against attacks from the fascist New Guard in the Depression days.”

Long before he fought in Spain, McNeill was himself violently clashing with members of the New Guard – a fiercely pro-monarchist, anti-communist, secretive pro-fascist organisation – on the streets of Sydney.

In Weevils in the Flour, McNeill recounts almost being shot dead in the “conservative, well-to-do suburb” of Drummoyne on the western shores of Sydney harbour.

“A New Guard shot at me at a [Communist party] council assembly in Drummoyne . . . I felt a bullet whistle previous my ear. I used to be hit a few times in Spain, within the Worldwide Brigade, however I by no means felt one come nearer than this with out truly hitting me.” The incident was confirmed in a up to date newspaper report.

Jim McNeill died on the Harmony Repatriation hospital in 1976.

Jack Franklyn, the Australian pictured in fight in Spain, didn’t have such a protracted life. However then as Tribune, the official paper of the Communist occasion of Australia, mused upon his dying, “few males have packed a lot journey into 50 years as did Jack Franklyn”.

Born in Lancashire, England, he fought on the European western entrance for 4 years in the course of the first world conflict. He then got here to Australia by way of the US in the course of the Nice Despair, labored on the docks and have become a militant, strike-leading unionist. He was deported from Darwin to Fremantle resulting from his militancy, and from there sailed to England en path to Spain. After preventing in Spain the place “he confirmed the fearlessness within the face of hazard that had been his attribute” he returned to the Sydney docks. He signed up for the second world conflict however because of the bodily toll of the Spanish battle, he was medically discharged with out seeing motion.

After Franklyn died in a 1945 Sydney waterside industrial accident, 400 commerce unionists marched in a procession in entrance of his coffin on the funeral.


Vanessa McNeill believes official acknowledgment of Australian volunteers to the Worldwide Brigades is lengthy overdue.

“The [Australian] Struggle Memorial has not likely commemorated or had something a lot to do with those that went to the Spanish civil conflict. The nation as a complete has not given acceptable recognition to those that went and fought and infrequently died. That’s as a result of the federal government of the day was set on appeasement and didn’t condone what the volunteers have been doing,” she stated.

A bugler plays the last post at the Stone of Remembrance during Anzac Day commemorations at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, Tuesday, 25 April, 2023.
The Australian Struggle Memorial on Anzac Day 2023. Those that died in Spain should not on the roll of honour. {Photograph}: Lukas Coch/AAP

Whereas the conflict memorial has a small assortment of pictures, manuscripts and memorabilia of Australians who fought in Spain, those that died there should not on the roll of honour which data Australian service deaths.

Samaras believes the dearth of acknowledgment is “partly because of the enormity of the second world conflict which adopted so carefully – it overshadows every thing”.

“However additionally it is true that the women and men who went from Australia to assist the Spanish Republic resist the fascists are an ungainly and uncomfortable reminder that not everybody adopted the official coverage of appeasement.”

The Communist occasion was banned in Australia underneath nationwide safety legal guidelines in June 1940 as a result of it stood with Stalinist Russia’s opposition to the second world conflict on the grounds that it was an imperialist battle. This modified after the Nazi invasion of Russia in 1941. Regardless, communists like McNeill and Franklyn ignored official Communist occasion stricture and volunteered instantly to battle within the second world conflict.

Samaras says, “The Australians who fought for the Spanish Republic have been of the broad left. The Communist occasion was strongly represented and there was a handful of ALP members, however most weren’t formally occasion affiliated. However maybe any affiliation with communism, particularly in the course of the chilly conflict, was ample to suppress the popularity they have been due as the primary Australians to battle fascism.”



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