Capital hails heroes who signed up to stop fascists

Volunteer nurse Annie Murray lays a wreath at the Spanish Civil War memorial in Princes Street Gardens in 1980

Volunteer nurse Annie Murray lays a wreath at the Spanish Civil War memorial in Princes Street Gardens in 1980

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THE Capital will today mark the 75th anniversary of Scottish involvement in the Spanish Civil War.

Almost 600 brave Scots volunteered to fight the fascists for the republican cause during the 1936 to 1939 battle, many of them from Edinburgh who had never left the city before.

Around one third – up to 200 – lost their lives, and there are now no living Scottish volunteers.

A commemoration ceremony was to be held this afternoon at the Spanish Civil War memorial in East Princes Street Gardens, to which people were invited to bring flowers in the red, yellow and purple of the Spanish republic.

An event will also be held tonight to commemorate those who paid the ultimate sacrifice after leaving Scotland to fight – or nurse – in the war.

Co-organiser, Leith-based author, Daniel Gray said: “The people who fought in the war are heroes who deserve to be talked about and remembered. We can learn a lot from them – they were extremely gallant and bold people, and really inspirational.”

The Spanish Civil War started in July 1936 with large numbers of Scots travelling to Spain in October 1936. The conflict ended in April 1939. Today’s commemorative events focus on the start of the Scots going to Spain.

Tonight, Stories and Songs of Spain will take place at the Pilmeny Youth Centre in Leith from 7pm. The free event will feature live anti-fascist Spanish music from Gallo Rojo and a rare screening of a documentary, Scotland and the Spanish Civil War.

Daniel Gray will also read from his book, Homage to Caledonia, in which he traced the stories of the Scots who volunteered.

Among his discoveries were letters from 37-year-old Edinburgh shoe repairer Harold Fry’s wife following his death on the battlefields.

Mrs Fry, who was left a widow with a month-old baby her husband had never seen, wrote: “His experience of fascist methods of warfare and their brutal treatment of prisoners behind the lines only helped to strengthen his determination to carry on the fight until Franco, Hitler and Mussolini were beaten.”

City nurse Annie Murray was one of only a handful of Scottish women to serve in the war.

She left her career at the Royal Infirmary to volunteer in the British Medical Aid Committee. Near Barcelona, Annie saw young children blown to pieces by bombs dropped by Italian planes, disguised in sweet tins.

In a letter to her sister Agnes, she said: “The poor little mites of children picking up what they took to be the long-desired chocolate and quickly opening them were suddenly left handless, their faces burned beyond recognition.

“Nothing could surely be more brutal. What a bloody awful war this has been.”

Co-organiser of the commemorative events, city councillor Gordon Munro, said: “The contribution these people made was immense.

“You’re talking about ordinary working men and women going across to Spain and fighting.

“We were conscious that their contribution needed to be marked and remembered.”

laura.cummings@edinburghnews.com