Jarama Valley, International Brigades Remembered in SCW Tours

July 10, 2013
David Mathieson. Photo Credit: The Guardian

David Mathieson. Photo Credit: The Guardian

“Now we’re far from that valley of sorrow/But its mem’ry we’ll never forget/In the midst of the struggles around us/Let’s remember our glorious dead.”  The lyrics of the International Brigade ballad “Jarama Valley” immortalized by Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger continue to ring true 75 years after the survivors of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade were pulled back after heavy fighting. Although time has changed much of the landscape, the scars of the battle are still easily found, as the New York Times’ Raphael Minder reports.  The soldiers’ dugouts can still be easily spotted and visitors may occasionally stumble upon the occasional memorial to the fallen  Indeed, one of these memorials attracted the attention of Englishman David Mathieson’s daughter 15 years ago:

Mr. Mathieson came across the memorial on a weekend stroll around the park with his daughter. She wanted to know what it stood for, but since the memorial’s plaque provided no explanation, “I first had to find out the answer for myself,” he said.

Since that fateful day, Mathieson has become a historian of the Spanish Civil War and has begun to lead battlefield tours around Madrid to teach visitors about how the battle shaped the course of the war.  He recounts the decisive role that International Brigade members  played in the battle and reads from Ernest Hemingway’s account to illustrate the conditions.  As Madrid has no official museum dedicated to the Spanish Civil War, these tours play an important role in keeping the Civil War in Spain’s historical memory.

Apart from [a private museum in Morata], and given how little Franco and subsequent Spanish governments have done to commemorate the battle of Jarama, it can be hard to picture just what kind of atrocities were once committed across this parched countryside. But as he takes visitors around the abandoned dugouts and trenches, Mr. Mathieson leaves visitors in no doubt as to the importance of the events that unfolded here.

“You cannot understand fully the modern history of Europe without knowing something about the Spanish Civil War,” he said. “It’s around these hills that Fascism for the first time ran into serious and armed opposition, from people who had even crossed the Atlantic to stop it.”

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