Spectrum 469 and Spectrum 470. I remember Jarama

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Tono kōrero mai

A two-part Spectrum documentary.
It was a civil war - but many of the Left saw it as a crusade, and so to Spain came the International Brigade, to fight Fascism and help preserve the government of the Left.

Among them was New Zealander Tom Spiller. He talks to Alwyn Owen about what led him to join the International Brigade and the Spanish Civil War.

(This programme was a Mobil Radio Award winner.)

The programme opens with Tom reading a quote from Lenin. A longtime unionist he was involved in later life in the Waterfront Dispute of 1951 and the occupation of Bastion Point.

He explains how he joined the Communist Party in the early 1930s after being fired from the Railways during the Depression. He explains as a single man he got no government support and went to a work camp in Hawkes Bay in very tough conditions.

He says after he joined the Communist Party his family were persecuted, which was one of the reasons he decided to go overseas to the war.

He gives a history of the origins of the Spanish civil war. In England in 1936 he became involved in anti-Fascist rallies and experienced police brutality against the communist and Jewish protestors. The New Zealand government refused to issue him with a passport, so he left England illegally and went to France where he met up with the International Brigade recruiters.

He had been in the cadets and Territorials in New Zealand so had some military training already. They left by train to cross the Pyrenees into Spain. There were many different nationalities in the Brigade. He fought with the 'Ingleterra" or English Battalion. He speaks about how the members felt they were on a world crusade against fascism, with plans to go to Germany and beat fascism there after Spain was won.

They crossed the border at Figueres and then marched through the streets of Barcelona, where they were warmly welcomed.

In the second programme, Tom recounts the scant equipment or training his battalion received in Spain. They only received rifles 24 hours before they went to the Front, which were poor quality.
He says at Jarama (near Madrid) they fought Moorish soldiers from Morocco and the Spanish Foreign Legion. They were bombed extensively.

He describes the man next to him being shot and his feelings at first coming under fire. He gives a detailed description of the fighting conditions and consoling a Jewish British man who was distressed by the shelling, when a man next to them was blown up. He says he saw the Moorish forces bayoneting the British Battalion wounded as the Brigade retreated.

He was in Spain for 10 and a half months in total. After the Battle of Brunetti, he moved to the southern front. There were only 20 of the British Battalion left at this point. He was sent for officer training but then was asked in November 1937 to go back to England and Australia to recruit more volunteers for the Brigade. He recruited 50 more from Australia. In New Zealand police attended every meeting he held and questioned him.

By the beginning of 1939 the Republicans were in disarray and many remaining International Brigade members were shot, as he believes he would have been if he had remained there. He says he was very sad at this and the way the Spanish people were not supported in their fight against Fascism. At the time of the interview he is fighting cancer, but says he is not frightened by it.

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Year 1984

Reference number 19732

Media type AUDIO

Collection Sound Collection

Credits RNZ Collection
Spiller, Tom, -1984 (d.1984), Interviewee
Owen, Alwyn (b.1926), Interviewer

Duration 01:08:05

Date 1984

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