A STUDENT who has researched the roles of East Lancs contributors to the International Brigade's anti-Fascist battles is set to address a major commemoration this weekend.

Volunteer soldiers and nurses from Blackburn, Accrington, Burnley and Pendle headed out to Spain in the 1930s to aid the Republican movement and General Franco's forces.

And their work has been researched by Lewis Ashworth, from Barrowford, as part of his first-class history degree studies at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).

Lewis will this weekend speak at a Spanish Civil War gathering in Manchester, home to an International Brigade Memorial.

The Lancashire Telegraph as reported previously about longstanding efforts to secure a similar memorial for East Lancs volunteers.

Lewis has had help from Lancashire campaigners, libraries and museums, and used local newspaper archives.

The International Brigade Memorial Trust (IBMT) is this weekend highlighting the north-west’s links to the conflict, particularly the brutal Battle of Jarama in February 1937.

Britain did not intervene in the war - but nearly 2,400 British and Irish volunteers joined the International Brigade.

Franco would ultimately triumph, in what many consider to be a precursor to the Second World War, and remain in power until the 1970s

Today the IBMT raises awareness of the struggle, supports local memorials and wants the conflict taught in school history lessons.

Lewis' research has explored brigade volunteers from across the Red Rose county.

They included Harry Edward Gaze, from Accrington, and John Jolly, James Bridge and George Buck, all of Nelson. George was later in the merchant navy in the Second World War.

David Hartley King of Salterforth and Nelson, served in the Royal Marines before the Spanish Civil War

Others include Jack Howley, of Colne, who later served in the Royal Navy in  the Second World War. Freeman Drinkwater, of Valley Street, Burnley, was killed in Spain in July 1937. He served alongside Burnley's Samuel Martin and Frank Welsby, formerly of Rectory Road, who died in Spain in July 1938.

He has also traced the stories of volunteers from Blackburn, Blackpool, Chorley and Preston.  

He said: “There were at least nine Blackburn volunteers though most were staying elsewhere at the time they volunteered. There were five from Blackpool, five from Preston including two nurses, one Chorley volunteer and Bob Edwards, who led the ILP contingent.”

Lewis said Blackburn volunteers included Henry Abbott. He died of a heart attack shortly after enlisting in the British Army in September 1939 so has a war grave in Blackburn Cemetery. 

Also from Blackburn were Frederick Cronshaw, Joseph Moran, who also lived in Birkenhead, Joseph William Moran, born in Darwen and who also lived in Bolton; and Lawrence Jordan, born in Blackburn and later lived in Manchester. He was killed at Brunete, Spain, in July 1937. 

Others included Dr Leonard Crome, a junior doctor in Blackburn who gave up general practice to join an ambulance unit on the frontline.

He served alongside volunteers such as William Roscoe, Richard Pressman and Timothy McManus.

In addition to Lancashire volunteers travelling to Spain, others at home during the 1930s supported activity including the Aid Spain Movement, raising cash for ambulances.

Lewis said: “The Aid Spain movement was active across the country. In  1937, there was a North-East Lancashire Spanish Ambulance Fund, when different towns raised around £500 to buy and equip an ambulance. Towns included Accrington, Preston, Blackburn and Burnley were involved. The ambulance was sent to Spain  in July 1937.

“Ambulances were also bought in Burnley and Rossendale. The Rossendale one was used in Accrington for fund-raising efforts for another ambulance. Accrington also had a Spanish Medical Aid Committee raising funds. Aid Spain efforts were organised at grass-roots level and support came from organisations such as churches, political parties and trade unions.”

Edith Jolly was a weaver and honorary treasurer of Burnley Spanish Medical Aid Committee and active in Aid Spain and ambulance campaigns.

An appeal launched in Nelson in early 1939 raised more than £110 to provide funds for a Spanish food ship. It was launched by Richard Bland, Mayor of Nelson, and backed by the mayors of Colne and Burnley to help starving Spanish people.

Edith was the wife of John Jolly, from Burnley but also with links with Nelson. He was in the Burnley Labour Party, Burnley Co-operative Society and later the Communist Party, it is understood.

In Colne, Jack Howley, was an engineer and Communist Party member who travelled to Spain in September 1937 with the International Brigade, it is understood. Lewis has spoken to a relative of Jack’s, who recalled how he travelled from Colne to Southampton then Spain.

In Spain, Jack was later captured by Franco’s forces and held prisoner at San Pedro. He became part of a group of 100 British International Brigade volunteers who were exchanged with captured Italian troops, Lewis understands.

Jack’s wife, Evelyn, was also a Communist Party member and, with her daughter, raised funds for the International Brigade wounded and dependents’ fund. 

Lewis has gathered quotes and recollections from Lancashire volunteers reflecting their commitment to the Spanish Civil War cause and motivations.

John Jolly stated: “If we die out here it will be for a good cause, one of the best. We must keep the flag of freedom flying.”

James Bridge said: “VCs don’t count in this war. All we want is fascism smashed forever and a decent home for our families.”

Jack Howley recalled: “I know many people thought I was daft to go to Spain. But I was doing it because I knew what I was doing was right.”

Lewis had helped from local groups, libraries, newspaper collections and archives including the Working Class Movement Library near Salford University. Before university, he attended St Christopher’s High in Accrington.

He said: “I’ve been interested in history and politics for quite a while. I became really interested in the International Brigade and Spain. None of my relatives were in it but I know people in the IBMT whose relatives were volunteers.

“I wanted to find out more about Lancashire people and the Spanish Civil War. I used an IBMT database, visited libraries in Nelson, Accrington  and Blackburn, and looked at collections of old newspapers.

“I also saw information about a current campaign for an International Brigade memorial in Burnley and made contact with the group there.

"There was also an event in Nelson Library about local volunteers. I also had a lot of help from Gary Webb at Unity Hall in Nelson. The hall has historic links to the old Independent Labour Party and a library reading room with archives. It would be great if Nelson could get an International Brigade memorial too.”