A WAR that started 75 years ago this summer saw a young steel erector fighting in a country he had never been to before and whose language he did not understand.
Sam Wild was among 2,500 volunteers from Britain and Ireland who were prepared to lay down their lives for an international brigade in the Spanish Civil War.
Five hundred were never to return, including nine of 34 who went from South Yorkshire, as a result of the struggle for freedom against fascism.
Sam, the natural rebel, was almost among them.
He was dragged to safety after being hit by four machine gun bullets.
In a makeshift hospital, doctors removed the bullets, patched him up and told him he should go home. Just three months later, he was back on the frontline.
The ideological commitment and heroism of Sam and others like him is being recalled in a series of events in Sheffield in July.
Exhibitions, concerts, lectures, films, poetry readings and rededication ceremonies are being held, starting at the South Yorkshire Festival at Wortley Hall on Saturday.
Activities are being organised by the local group of the International Brigade Memorial Trust along with Sheffield University.
An exhibition, Antifascistas, will be staged at the University’s Jessop West Building from July 4 to 15. The Showroom Cinema will show films through July and there will be a display in The Workstation.
A plaque in the Peace Gardens commemorating the volunteers will be re-dedicated on Saturday, July 9.
A folk concert at Sheffield Trades and Labour Club in Duke Street on Wednesday, July 13, organised by Sam Wild’s father, Mike, will include Roy Bailey, Dave Burland, Fay Hield and Sam Sweeney, Robin Garside, Ray Hearne, members of the university’s Spanish department and Jim McDonald.
Mike describes the men who went to Spain as “freedom fighters. These young men went over there because what was happening in Spain, and to the Spanish people, was wrong. Their democratically-elected government was being overthrown.
“The British government didn’t ask them to go – in fact the UK was part of a non-intervention agreement which made it illegal – but they did it anyway.”
Sam, then living in Manchester, signed up for the Republican cause at the age of 28. Once in the navy, he had become highly politicised while unemployed in the 1930s.
He wasn’t a Communist when he went to fight in Spain but he became one when he saw what was going on.
A Commander in the Brigade’s British Battalion, he stayed in Spain throughout the conflict was eventually given the Spanish Medal of Valour.
But there was to be no glorious victory. The Franco regime was recognised as the new government in February 1939 and the country was a military dictatorship until 1977.
Sam moved to Totley in Sheffield in the late 60s – he organised the local 50th anniversary of the commemoration of the Spanish Civil War – and died in 1983. He was posthumously granted Spanish citizenship.
He is remembered by Mike as “a very strong-willed rebellious character and he was vindicated in that democracy came back to Spain. Young people in Spain almost worship the brigadeers.”
The events in Sheffield will commemorate the war, and the part played by international volunteers, particularly those from South Yorkshire.
They include Tommy James, a Rotherham socialist, who would later arrange for Pablo Picasso to speak in Sheffield, and Arthur Newsum, a Sheffield communist who was killed at the age of 26.
Mike Wild, aged 71, who lives in Skye Edge, is renowned for his commitment to making Sheffield greener since arriving more than 50 years ago. He was last year’s overall winner of the Sheffield Telegraph’s Environment Awards.
His father took a different commitment to extraordinary lengths and, after his research on the Spanish Civil War, Mike believes there should be no sweeping of history, however painful, under the carpet.
“It’s best to dig it out, examine it, find the truth, come to terms with it and move on.”