James Maley - International Brigader
Interview 12 July 2004
J: JAMES: Well, I was born in the Calton, Glasgow. The 19th of February 1908. My father had come from Ireland, county Mayo, along with his brother, and the three sisters went to America at the same time, same day. Oh, the Calton was a busy place. Well populated, tons of sport, tons of pubs, tons of everything.
C: CRAIG: You were saying there were six pubs, and it was quite a hard area?
J: JAMES: Oh, aye, it was a hard area. It was a rowdy area, so far as the police were concerned. They hated – I must say this – they hated the police. The police were the enemy.
C: CRAIG: And there were fights?
J: JAMES: Oh there were fights every Saturday night, last for hours. And that was the thing. Well, I was a labourer, just a general labourer, and when the Spanish thing came up, I recognized right from wrong. This was the first time there had been an attempt made by working-class people to take power and they were being attacked. And I was a member of the Communist Party, and I volunteered along with the rest to go to Spain. And we left in December 1936 from George Square, three double decker buses packed to the brim, some standing, to London. We got off at London, we had a night there at the pictures, then it was off to France.
C: CRAIG: You went to the pictures?
J: JAMES: Aye, I went to the pictures. Jeanette MacDonald was in it, and the man, the leading man, I can’t remember his name but he sang that song, “Donkey Serenade”. And we came out and we got the train to France.
C: CRAIG: And who was it you joined when you went to France?
J: JAMES: Well in France, we spent the day there, but we well, we never, the French never made much of a welcome for us. I went to this pub along with two or three other men that were my mates, and there was women walking up and down, and they were prostitutes. And they wanted to know if you wanted to go upstairs? That was in France, broad daylight. That’s right, broad daylight. Then from France we moved to Spain. And first thing there we went into a big, like a big fortress, down the big slope, like a what do you call it, the danger of the war and all these other things, and I got washed and shaved. And then after that it was off to Madrigueras, which became our base, and we were there for about four weeks, and all of a sudden [smacks fist] the weapons came, and it was hell for leather. Everybody outside all at once, all lined up, then this and the other thing, and we were put in different squads. I was put into the machine gun squad, and that was like we had two guns each squad, two men to a gun, that was sixty men and we put two guns, two machine guns in the one lorry and two, the four men beside them. And then there was, we had twelve men with us who were just for the rifles, a support group, and that was off to battle, Jarama. Well the rest of the UNCLEAR "rebels/battalion" had broken through and they were on their way to Madrid. And it was hell for leather with these Spanish drivers. By Christ they drove. And all of a sudden we found ourselves in the war. And the drivers, “Out, everybody out”, and the drivers turned round and away with the motors again, the lorries. And we were in the war, and it was hell of a … it was some bloody war. We saw them dying before our eyes … They were retreating all the time, and all of a sudden we were left, and over on that right hand side was the Franco-Belgians and they were retreating too and we just emptied the machine guns and machine guns and machine guns until there were no bullets left, nothing left, and they were all away behind us in the battle. No more did we hear the sounds of the war or nothing, but that was us left there We couldnae go back, couldnae go anywhere. And that was a Friday night. On Saturday morning we got our first shell, one shell. Two hours passed, and we got another shell. Then gradually the Moors appeared mounted on horses and we were surrounded, and rounded up. They pulled out one – there were two men in charge of us, and one was pulled out and shot right away through the brain. Just in time the Spaniards appeared on the scene and they saved us, saved the other ones from being shot or we’d all have been shot one at a time. And then we got tied, we got lined up and our hands were tied behind our backs, by the Moors, and lined up and we moved in twos and the horses on each side of us the whole way for hours to where we were going. And we all came up to this place and we were dismounted and put in, nine in a cell. All the cell had was a little toilet at the side that didnae flush. And nine of us were there. And then the following morning they came in with the big tureen full of, it was supposed to be soup. And there were no … we ate out the … with our hands in [gestures, hands to mouth] and fed ourselves. You see, everybody’s hands were black, never been washed, all the time. We’d nae toilet paper. We had to eat. So we all ate. And after about a week, an Englishman appeared, from Britain, to see who we were. And after that we got spoons. And we were there. Well, what could we do? That was us there. Until one night, the door burst open and two Moors with guns came in. One of the captured soldiers was kind of black looking, and they were pointing at him, saying “Moro, Moro”. They thought he was a Moor. See him. Then they were away. And the door shut, the cell door, and then a few months later we were taken away to a better place. A farmyard. There was a real big place for you to go into. On one side going up there was the boards, and up the other side was the boards, about this width, and up at the top, and it was more comfortable for lying down there. Except that when you woke up through the night there was someone standing above you with the trousers off and the lice was … feeling for the lice, and there were plenty of lice. And still the big, the same thing for eating, they came in with the big thingmy, like a basin full of soup, and we ate off that, we were dished out of that into a plate and we got a round thing again, with the bread. That was to do you for the day. Except for one day, by a bit of luck I was in the front. But this big Irishman was in the middle and when it was his turn he leaned over it and his bread fell into the soup and he took off the army jacket and rolled up the sleeves and his hand was down feeling for the loaf, and all the ones at the back of him got off their mark, by Christ. Who was going to eat after that, except him? And that soup was taken away, what was left of it, and the following day it was just filled up and taken back in again and that was our grub. Until as time went on we heard the Italians had suffered a big defeat by the Russians, air force bombing them and there was a possibility of us being repatriated. And then we were moved to Salamanca, a big home, like home from home compared to where we had been before. Then gradually we were told we were going to go home. And we were rounded up and we went on the march and of course I was a quick walker. They were shouting out ‘despacio despacio’, that means go slower. But I kept on going till we come to this place, it was a border between France and Spain, and halfway across we were in France, and that was us back home.
C: CRAIG: What was the name of the battalion that you were fighting for in Spain? What was the name of the International Brigade?
J: JAMES: Well we didn’t have a name at that time. We didn’t have a name for anything. The ammunition and everything had just arrived, and it was onto the lorries as quick as you could, and get there as quick as you could, and we died as quick as we could. That’s how most of the battalion died, in that one day.
C: CRAIG: Before you went, I mean, were you involved in anything before you went actually over to Spain?
J: JAMES: Well I was a member of the Communist Party, and the Communist Party of course that was them that started the recruiting, and made the arrangements for them that wanted to go, and it was them that made the arrangements for everything, for the three buses, and that was it.
C: CRAIG: But I mean you were saying that, eh, prior to that, after 1934, that you decided to join the Territorials?
J: JAMES: Oh aye. In Spain there had been trouble in 1934 up in the Asturias, with the miners, and the thingmy, and the miners had been, had been firing, using dynamite, against the thingmy, and I says that’s time for me to know what to do. And I joined the 58th Cameronians, West Princes Street, and I was there for two years, till 1936, when the war started in Spain, that was me. I knew I was able to shoot. And I knew how to look after myself. While some of them who went on these buses had never seen a rifle, except in the pictures. And I’m only sorry to say that a lot of good men died. In one day. The battalion never was the same. And after that it was whenever two Britishers come over to Spain they were put in among the Spaniards, another two or three would come, they were put in among the Spaniards, but the British battalion was finished, that one day.
C: CRAIG: When was this, do you know when that was?
J: JAMES: Well when we went into action it was the first Friday of ... the second Friday of February 1937, that’s when we went into action, the second Friday.
C: CRAIG: 13th of February.
J: JAMES: Well that’s when it was.
C: CRAIG: Do you know where it was you fought? In Jarama?
J: JAMES: Jarama, they sound the “J” as an “H”. Jarama, that was the first big thing in Spain.
C: CRAIG: Was that Hill 481 you fought in?
J: JAMES: Well I don’t know the name of the hill or nothing else but when we got there was no time to think about nothing, but get off the lorries, get the guns fixed right away, the ammunition boxes open. That’s the only thing that held us back. When we got there the ammunition boxes hadnae been opened. And we got off there, well, two of us jumped off the lorry, the other two handed the machine gun out, then the other machine gun out, then they hand out the boxes of ammunition. We still had to open the boxes of ammunition and it was hell for leather. The fighting was going on and then the brrrrrrrr. And the ammunition only lasted us, it actually only lasted that one day because the ammo in the guns, the ammunition just emptied like that. Guns – bullets, bullets, bullets. It finished up, when we got captured there was nae guns, they were empty and we had no ammunition. Well we had twelve men with us who had rifles, but they didn’t last long either. Ammunition was the main thing. Once the ammunition was done you couldn’t get any more ammunition.
C: CRAIG: Did you get any training, well, apart from what you got in the Territorials?
J: JAMES: Well there was no training because at Madrigueras there was no ammunition. There was no guns there, no nothing there. Well we got the uniform but I think that was, I heard it first, it was Belgian, I don’t know whether it was Belgian or not, it wasnae British but we got our uniforms before the ammunition. But there was no training or nothing up until we got to Jarama.
C: CRAIG: You’ve described it before as like running out of a tenement into a pitched battle. I think you’ve said before that you still thought about what it was like in Scotland at the time.
J: JAMES: We were there that night and you hear voices and you don’t know whether it’s wounded or not. We didn’t know if it was real or not or if it was a decoy because the Spaniards knew English and we could hear ‘Help, help’ all the Friday night but what could we do? We couldn’t do much about it. And that was it.
C: CRAIG: But when you were over there, when you were taken captive in Jarama, were you still thinking about what it was like at home?
J: JAMES: Oh aye, well I was wondering what they were doing at home, or what I’d have been doing at home, especially when it came to the Saturday morning, daylight, well that’s when we got our first shell fired at us.
C: CRAIG: What would you normally have been doing on a Saturday?
J: JAMES: Going to the football matches, Parkhead, when I was there back home, you’d nothing else to think about except if you wanted to do the toilet you had to go to the back of a tree and while you were doing it, whatever you were going to do, there was whssht whssht of the bullets.
C: CRAIG: Firing at you?
J: JAMES: Oh aye aye, we couldnae make a sound.
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