Spanish Civil War veteran Published: 18 April 2007 James Maley, labourer and political activist:
born Glasgow 19 February 1908; married 1949 Anne Watt (four sons, five daughters); died Glasgow 9 April 2007.
(From "The Independent" newspaper)
James Maley was captured during the Battle of Jarama in February 1937 when the Spanish Republic rebuffed a ferocious attempt to encircle Madrid which had been launched by General Francisco Franco's rebel army.
As a volunteer in the International Brigades, Maley expected to be executed immediately. Indeed, Franco issued a proclamation soon afterwards saying that any foreigners captured under arms would be shot. The edict was not carried out in the case of the captured Britons thanks to a stiff note sent by HM Government which, despite its distaste for the International Brigaders, reminded Franco of his obligations under the Geneva Convention. In addition, Benito Mussolini put pressure on Franco to use the prisoners to negotiate exchanges for Italian soldiers being held by the Republicans.
Maley and the other prisoners were later paraded before newsreel cameras. Franco also decided to stage a show trial. A military court in Salamanca in May 1937 found the men guilty of "aiding a military rebellion" - they had, of course, been fighting on the side of a democratically elected government and against a Fascist-backed military uprising - and Maley was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment.
News of the capture had not reached Maley's mother in Scotland, who feared the worst for her son's fate. However, footage of the captive Britons was screened in cinemas around the country as part of a British Movietone News broadcast. By chance, she was among those who watched it and was so relieved to see that, contrary to expectations, her son was alive that she asked the projectionist in a cinema in Paisley to cut out two frames of the newsreel.
She kept the pictures as a memento until his return home soon after the trial as part of a prisoner exchange involving the British prisoners and a similar number of the Italian troops sent by Mussolini to assist Franco's rebellion.
Maley, from the Calton district of Glasgow, was one of 500 volunteers from Scotland (out of a total of 2,300 from the British Isles) who enlisted with the International Brigades to defend the Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War. He arrived in Spain in December 1936, five months after the start of the war, and joined the newly formed British Battalion. The Battle of Jarama saw the battalion in action for the first time. It suffered horrendous losses as it resisted Franco's attempt to cut the main road from Madrid to Valencia. Out of the 500 who advanced towards enemy positions on 12 February 1937 near Morata de Tajuña, 125 were killed and a similar number injured. Maley was one of the 30 members of the machine-gun company who were captured.
The British volunteers, who had received only basic training beforehand, faced Franco's crack troops: the foreign legionnaires and Moors of the Army of Africa which Nazi German transport planes had ferried from Spanish Morocco to the mainland. Maley, who had served in the British Territorial Army in the early 1930s, later recalled the confusion of the battalion's advance while Spanish Republican units were in retreat:
After 200 yards going forward, the retreat was coming back and going down past us and we were going through. There were soldiers running past us and we were going up. And there were soldiers of the British Battalion dropping as we were going up. Without firing a shot they were getting killed.
In fact Maley nearly avoided capture after his machine-gun company found themselves stranded in no-man's land on what was named by the surviving volunteers as "Suicide Hill". They hid among the olive groves for two days before finally being taken prisoner by the Fascists. They were initially mistaken for Russians. "Somebody shouted, 'Inglés?' " Maley recalled. "If it hadn't been for that we would have been shot one at a time."
The story of Maley's capture and the strange way that the family found out that he was still alive inspired a play written by two of his sons, John and Willy, entitled From the Calton to Catalonia. It was first performed in December 1990 in the Lithgow Theatre, Glasgow.
One of a family of six, Maley left school to help his mother, Anne Sherlock, a hawker, wheel her barrow around Glasgow. In 1929, following the death of his father, he emigrated to Cleveland, Ohio, where he worked briefly in a car factory, but returned to Scotland the next year, homesick and disillusioned by American attitudes to immigrants. In 1932, aged 24, he joined the Communist Party and became a familiar public speaker at Glasgow Green and Govan denouncing the rise of Fascism in Europe and the inequalities and social injustice which the economic slump had exacerbated in Britain.
After his repatriation from Spain, Maley gave in to his mother's pleading for him not to return to the International Brigades and face certain death if he were recaptured. He continued to speak on public platforms, campaigning for an end to the British government's non-intervention and its refusal to sell arms to the Spanish Republic until its eventual defeat in 1939.
In 1941 he enlisted with the King's Own Scottish Borderers, then the Highland Light Infantry, serving in Burma and India. After the Second World War, he worked in Maryhill Barracks as a telephone operator until demob in 1947. He was then employed for the next 12 years laying tracks for British Railways and afterwards as a building labourer for Glasgow Corporation. Astonishingly for a father of nine, he remained politically active as a lifelong Communist, trade unionist and tenants' association campaigner.
Maley was an avid fan of Glasgow Celtic and two 30ft-long banners were unfurled in his honour at Hampden Park on Saturday during the cup-tie against St Johnstone. Quoting the slogan used by the defenders of Madrid during the Spanish Civil War, "They shall not pass," the banners said: "James Maley RIP. No Pasarán".
James Maley Herald Ccotland staff
Published on 14 Apr 2007
Obituary: James Maley, a born fighter, threw himself headfirst into the fray on February 19, 1908. In 1936, James answered the call of the Spanish Republic after hearing La Pasionaria on the radio.
Scottish Communist and Spanish Civil War combatant;
Born February 19, 1908;
Died April 9, 2007.
This is the original tribute, a version of which appeared in the Herald, which was read at Maryhill Crematorium on 14th April 2008 and written by James' son, Willy Maley:
James Maley, a born fighter, threw himself headfirst into the fray on 19th February 1908. His father, Edward (Ned) was from Mayo, his mother, Anne Sherlock, from Glasgow. Raised in Stevenson Street in the Calton district of Glasgow’s East End, James attended St Alphonsus. An older brother – Edward, an altar boy – died aged ten in 1911, leaving James, an older sister, Annie, two younger brothers, Willie and Timmy, and a younger sister, Mary. James worked from an early age, helping his mother, who was a hawker, wheel her barrow all over Glasgow. Sometimes he’d take the empty barrow home with his wee brothers sitting in it.
Out on an errand in 1919, aged eleven, James took a detour to George Square, where the tanks had rolled in to crush dissent. In the 1920s, James listened to his father and his friends talk at the close mouth and the corner about politics and the state of the world. Men who had come back from the war had views shaped by their experiences and expectations. This was the era of Red Clydeside, and James developed strong political convictions. In the Calton, a hotbed of radicalism, James used to go to political meetings and report back on who was worth listening to. He heard Maxton, among others, at Glasgow Green. In 1926, during the General Strike, James was hospitalized with pneumonia and had part of his lung removed, leaving a scar on his back. James was considered to be at death’s door, so much so that a priest gave him the last rites, but he heard the sound of a band in the distance. Whether it was the priest or the pipes that did it James was soon back on his feet. That was his last stay in hospital up until his death, when, eighty years on down the line, bronchial-pneumonia came back to take the rest of him away.
Within a couple of years of this near-death experience, James had to bury his own father. In 1929-30, James left Glasgow for Cleveland, Ohio, where three of his Irish aunts had emigrated. There he worked in a car factory and got into an argument with some Italians who challenged him, but when a crowd of them came running down the metal stairs at the end of the shift to see James waiting for them alone and unafraid they let it drop. Once, he went to a ten cents a dance event, saw a woman who wasn’t being danced, walked over to her, gave her all his tickets and left. His aunts had married well and were enjoying life in the States, but when remarks were passed about the new generation of immigrants James took the humph and decided to go home to Glasgow. He returned tanned and smartly dressed, carrying a case, and his brother, thinking he was selling something, closed the door on him.
In 1932, aged twenty-four, James joined the Communist Party. He was a speaker and tutor for the Party. He took an avid interest in world affairs and watched events unfold in Spain with the miners in the Asturias and in Germany with the rise of Hitler. He joined the Territorials and learned how to use a rifle. He became a noted public speaker at Glasgow Green and Govan. When he walked along Argyle Street trams would toot their horns at him as the drivers recognised him as a firebrand socialist whom they admired. In 1936, James answered the call of the Spanish Republic. It was hearing La Pasionaria on the radio that inspired him. He left from Glasgow’s George Square in a bus. The people he travelled with all came from Glasgow. They were ill equipped and poorly led but as the story goes, they went because their open eyes could see no other way. After six weeks training in Albacete, James was in action at the Battle of Jarama in February 1937 as part of a heavy-machine gun company, covering the retreat for three days. James recalled literally jumping out of the back of a lorry into a battlefield. He described it later as like coming out of a close into a street fight. He was captured at Jarama, with his machine-gun company. One of his comrades was executed. He was sentenced to twenty years with the others, but eventually released as part of a prisoner swap for fascist POWs. After his release he came home and didn’t return to Spain at his mother’s request.
Home from Spain, James continued to speak on public platforms, often ones he carried under his own arm from Glasgow Green to Govan. Before the war he worked in Beardmore’s, Parkhead Forge, and helped bring two thousand men out on strike. He was a well-known agitator and activist. When war broke out in 1939, James, quick off the mark in Spain, waited till 1941, when the Russians went in, before enlisting. He was in the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, then the Highland Light Infantry, serving in Burma and India, where he got involved with communists newly released from prison, and took part in a public debate about the causes of the war with an army captain, at the end of which he was met by two military police. After the war, James didn't do any more public speaking. He recognised a change in the working class in Britain, and realised that the Labour Party – for which he never had any time – was here to stay. James worked in Maryhill Barracks as a telephone operator until 1947, never staying at the barracks but walking home each night to his mother’s house in Shettleston Road. In 1947, he left the army and went for a job at the Telecom Office in George Street.
He didn’t get the job and left with the impression that he had the right experience but the wrong name and the wrong religion. He half-wished he had stayed in the army long enough to have that interview since being in uniform might have offset any anti-Catholicism. This discrimination was something he experienced later workingon the railway and for Glasgow Corporation as a labourer. Around this time, James went to the Highlander’s Institute, a popular social venue, where he met his future bride. James was forty years old and had a rich life behind him. Anne Watt was twenty-six and had been on the Kintyre coast during the war as a Land Girl. At the Highlander’s Institute James asked Anne to dance and never let her dance with anyone else. He said she was too young to be there. They didn’t exchange addresses or telephone numbers but arranged to meet at Boots Corner in Argyle Street the following Saturday. James was late getting back from a Celtic match in Dundee. Anne waited at the notorious ‘Dizzy Corner’. She never had to wait for him again.
James was ready to settle down and had found the love of his life. He proposed within two weeks and a few months later, in March 1949, they were married. Friends had told her she would be a young widow since she was marrying an older man. He was a one-woman man, a one-party man, and one of a kind. He could be dogmatic, and his mother did recommend to Anne that she use a frying pan on his head if he got out of hand, but they were a pair of lovebirds. Within the next fourteen years they had nine children, five daughters - Barbara, Cathy, Marina, Anne and Patricia - followed by four sons - Jimmy, Willy, John and Eddy.
There were always nine pints of milk, and in the days before the fridge they would be in the bath in cold water. Although he never smoked or drank, never spent time in pubs or clubs, never socialized with friends outside of the house, James was the life and soul of his family, and a popular local presence in Possilpark, active in the Tenants Association, in the Communist Party, and in the scheme. Although James was raised a Catholic, his children were not, and once, when a priest came to the door asking after this big family with the Irish name, and saying the word ‘turncoat’, my father said he couldn’t be in heaven knowing there was one person in hell. James was an avid reader and educator who borrowed books from the Book Exchange at Gilmorehill and gave his children a week to read them before taking them back in exchange for others. The small bookshelf never expanded, but the reading list was long and rich and better than anything to be had at school. The collected works of Marx and Lenin sat alongside Dickens, Agatha Christie, and Harold Robbins. His other loves included walking and whistling, and in later years he swapped a bunnet for a baseball cap and seemed to have rediscovered his youth.
James was never one for harping on the past. He was a volunteer for liberty in 1936; one of what Pablo Neruda called that “thin and hard and mature and ardent brigade of stone”. He remained to the end a committed socialist and internationalist, but he was passionately interested in what was happening today. He watched Channel 4’s evening news religiously, but waited patiently till Anne had watched Emmerdale before switching channels. He always lived in the present, which is probably why he was still kicking at ninety-nine. His communism owed more to the Calton than the Kremlin, so he kept the faith when others lost theirs.
James Maley was one of the last of a generation, a working-class hero, but first and foremost a hero to his family, a loving husband, father, grandfather – to Clyde, Louisa, Sonny, Norma and Josephine - and great grandfather – to Connor, Tyler and Mason. He raged against the dying of the light till the very end, and when he found himself in hospital again after eighty years of blazing good health, he treated his oxygen mask like a muzzle, pawing at it and speaking incessantly, still in charge, still in control, still the boss. When my mother kissed him and said “Night- night” the warrior was at peace. He took his last breath in the Western Infirmary just after midnight on Easter Monday, surrounded by his family. A few days earlier, while his granddaughter Louisa was cutting his hair, before she left for a holiday in Spain, he remembered some phrases in Spanish from his time in captivity seventy years earlier. He knew more than ‘No Pasaran’, and in his passing he leaves an exit wound his family will struggle to close.
NB: After James died, his family discovered that he had had three other brothers who had died in infancy, two before James was born, Michael and John, and a second Edward who died aged seven months on 2nd December 1912, so James was actually one of nine as well as a father of nine who lived to ninety-nine.
The National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh has celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War with a special day-long event. Almost 600 men went from Scotland to fight on the side of the democratically-elected Republican government. BBC Scotland's social affairs correspondent Reevel Alderson spoke to one of them, 98-year-old James Maley.
Veteran recalls Spanish Civil War
The Spanish Civil War captured the imagination of intellectuals romantically drawn to the conflict between a democratically-elected Republican government and Fascist insurgents led by General Francisco Franco.
Poets such as WH Auden, Stephen Spender and, most famously, writers like George Orwell and Ernest Hemmingway wrote hopefully of the fighting and the brave determination of the ordinary people involved.
This literary legacy has ensured a continuing fascination with the civil war, which took place between 1936 and 1939.
A day-long symposium at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh on Friday sold out several weeks in advance.
But the conflict also captured the enthusiasm of communists and socialists in unemployment-ravaged Britain.
About 2,300 volunteers went from Britain to join the newly-created International Brigades. Only 21 are still alive, among them just two of the 600 people from Scotland who left via France to join the fight.
One of them was James Maley, a Communist Party member from the Calton district of Glasgow.
He helped organise the journeys of other Glasgow men before setting off himself in December, 1936.
Three buses were drawn up in George Square with the men paying £5/8/0 (£5.40) each for the journey.
"It was like a Celtic supporters' outing. I recognised some of them who'd gone to school with me," he said.
"There were about 150 of us, and we went to London first where we caught the boat train to Paris.
"We were met by the Communist Party there, and we spent a day in the city before we were on our way to Spain."
Arriving in Valencia to join up, his idealism was shattered by chaotic disorganisation.
Sitting in an armchair in his sheltered home in the Maryhill area of Glasgow, he recalls: "It was chaotic, and it seemed to take a long time.
"We sat around for three or four weeks; there was no training, until all of a sudden the stuff had arrived."
It was the start of the defence of the Jarama Valley, a strategically important south-eastern approach to Madrid.
The lack of organisation was equally apparent when the volunteers were taken to the front.
As they were getting off the lorry, the Republicans were already in retreat in a battle which was raging less than quarter of a mile away.
"There were four of us with two cannons as well as 12 men with rifles," Mr Maley told BBC Scotland's news website.
"As soon as we jumped off the lorry we had to begin firing. It was pandemonium, but we didn't have enough ammunition.
"There was no organisation; we fired until we ran out of ammunition, until there was nothing left."
With the battle having passed him by, Mr Maley and his comrades hid among the olive groves for two days.
By then the battle had ground to a stalemate which was to last for another 18 months and, as Spanish Moorish forces withdrew, he was captured.
Back home in Glasgow there was no word of him until his mother caught a glimpse of him in a Movietone newsreel shown at the Palaceum cinema in Shettleston.
He was in the front row of a group of prisoners-of-war paraded for the cameras as rations were handed out.
She followed the newsreel to Paisley where a sympathetic projectionist was persuaded to clip out two frames of the film.
Mr Maley was freed and returned home several months later. He is one of only two surviving Scots Brigaders, along with 86-year-old Steve Fullarton.
The Scotsman: Obituary: James MaleyScotsman, The (Edinburgh, Scotland)
April 16, 2007
Author: Jim Gilchrist
JAMES MALEY Scottish volunteer with the International Brigade, political activist
Born: 19 February, 1908, in Glasgow. Died: 9 April, 2007, in Glasgow, aged 99,
JAMES Maley was a tenacious and committed fighter who stood by his
communist and humanist principles all his days, whether on his political soapbox,
on the shop floor, or squaring up to Franco's Moorish Regulares at the Battle of
Jarama. He was one of only two surviving Scottish members of the International
Brigades who fought for the Republican government against the fascists during
the Spanish Civil War.
He stayed physically and mentally wiry all his life. When I interviewed him last
July, on the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Spanish conflict which
presaged the Second World War, he was in fine fettle, crisply dressed and
sporting the red-starred International Brigade veterans' medal presented to him
in 1996, when he'd returned to Spain for the first time since the civil war.
Recalling for me the chaos of the Jarama Valley, he referred to it, nonchalantly
as "a bit of a hassle-bassle". In fact, he and his fellow volunteers in a heavy
machine gun company had arrived there straight out of training at Albacete, with
orders to cover the Republican retreat. Having been decanted from a truck, they
found themselves facing what must have been one of the last cavalry charges in
history, as Franco's crack Moorish troops bore down on them.
Eventually, he and his compadres were rounded up by the North Africans. One
of them was summarily executed: others might have met with the same fate, but
for the arrival of some regular Spanish Nationalist soldiers who stopped the
shootings, possibly because they recognised the Republican captives as being
Maley and his companions were sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment but he
was eventually released as part of an exchange - although not before his
mother, watching a newsreel in a Glasgow cinema, was astonished to see her
son standing on a truck with other prisoners in some fascist propaganda
footage. His Spanish exploits inspired his sons, Willy, a lecturer in English
literature at Glasgow University, and John, to co-write a play From the Calton to
It was in Glasgow's East End Calton district that James Maley grew up, the son
of Edward Maley, from County Mayo, Ireland, and Anne Sherlock of Glasgow.
One of six children, he was educated at St Alphonsus school but worked from an
early age, helping his mother who was a hawker, wheel her barrow around
Politicisation began early: he was just 11 when he was in George Square on the
infamous occasion in 1919 when troops and tanks were called in after a
demonstration for a 40-hour working week became a riot. This was the era of
Red Clydeside, when disillusioned men not long returned from the trenches to a
thankless civvy street discussed politics at close mouths. The young Maley
started attending meetings, and listened to the Independent Labour Party
firebrand, Jimmy Maxton, at Glasgow Green.
As a bright lad with a natural propensity for speaking, Maley was groomed
briefly for the priesthood, but after becoming a communist at the age of 24, and
following his Spanish experiences, had little time for the Roman Catholic
hierarchy and didn't bring up his children in the faith. Perversely, however, he
was a die-hard Celtic supporter, and hated anti-Catholicism, on which he was
sometimes on the receiving end. His son Willy recalls: "When I once asked him
whether I should explain to people that I wasn't a Catholic, despite my name, my
politics, and my football team, he said, 'No, tell them nothing, and let them stew
in their own prejudice'."
In 1926, he was hospitalised with pneumonia and had part of a lung removed.
He was so ill that a priest administered the last rites, but he recovered, and
never entered a hospital again until his final days. After a short spell working in a
car factory in Ohio (he had three emigrant Irish aunts there), he returned to
Glasgow and became a speaker and tutor with the Communist Party. He also
joined the Territorial Army - as he told me during last summer's interview: "I
always knew there would be a war against the fascists and I knew I had to learn
By this time, he was a well-known public speaker, and in 1936, all too aware of
what was happening in Europe, he became one of the 500 Scots who went to
Spain to fight fascism among the 40,000 volunteers of the International Brigades.
Steve Fullarton, now the sole surviving Scottish International Brigader, knew
Maley, and recalls him speaking after his return from Spain, daring his audience
to disagree with him.
After his return from Spain, Maley worked at William Beardmore's Parkhead
Forge, where he helped bring 2,000 men out on strike. After the Russians
entered the Second World War in 1941, he joined the King's Own Scottish
Borderers, and served in Burma and India.
After the war, he gave up public speaking, although he still leafleted and
campaigned, remaining a CP card-carrier until the British party finally dissolved
in 1991. "When it split," says Willy Maley, "he said nobody had gone the right
way and he was waiting for a real party to start up again. His communism owed
more to the Calton than to the Kremlin."
Leaving the army in 1947, he worked on the railways, and as a labourer with
Glasgow Corporation. He was 40 when he met his wife, Anne Watt, at a
Highlanders' Institute dance and they married in March 1949. She was 14 years
younger than him, and they went on to have five daughters followed by four sons
- all of whom survive him, along with five grandchildren and three greatgrandchildren.
A lover of walking and reading, a non-smoker and teetotaller, who
never socialised outside the house, he remained the life and soul of his family,
as well as a popular figure in his Possilpark area.
Vigorous to the last, he avidly followed current affairs on television. Just a few
days before his death, he was still coming out with Spanish phrases recalled
from his days as a guest of General Franco.