The Spanish Civil War continues to excite the historical memory. In part this is due to the revived interest in Spain where the recent socialist government encouraged research into the war from the Republican side, particularly into the location of mass graves of victims. So the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Jarama is being commemorated on the weekend of 17-19 February and a new sculpture unveiled at the museum there. The monument is made of shrapnel found on the battlefield and moulded into the shape of a combatant. Now this interests me very much because Tom Wintringham, who led the British Battalion on the first two days of fearful blood-letting, later wrote a famous poem 'Monument' which contains the lines:
'Take then these metals, under the deep sky
Melt them together; take these pieces of earth
And mix them; add your bullets
And memories of death;
You have won victory, People of Spain,
And the tower into which your earth is built, and
Your blood and ours, shall state Spain's
Unity, happiness, strength; it shall face the breath
Of the east, of the dawn, of the future, when there will be no more
Tom Wintringham's grandson, Nils, will read this poem at the ceremony and we will tramp the battlefield, now an industrial wasteland on the southern edge of Madrid. As Tom's biographer I am excited by this - indeed, I shall be giving a lecture about him in Madrid on the previous evening - and I marvel that his poem is so apposite. Incidentally, it is now to be found in Spanish on new monuments that commemorate recently discovered mass graves, a continuing link between the International Brigades and the People of Spain.
The Battle of Jarama, by the way, dragged on through February to June 1937 and ended in a stalemate. Franco's army was still unable to encircle Madrid because it could not capture the Madrid-Valencia road near the Jarama River. The fiercest fighting was in the first two days when the British battalion lost 150 men, nearly one-third of its fatalities for the entire war.