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Spanish Civil War

John Simkin

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I am currently updating my Spanish Civil War page:


This includes a page on Marty Hourihan. Hourihan was a member of the American Communist Party when he decided to fight for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. He joined the Abraham Lincoln Battalion and soon after arriving in Spain took part in the Battle of Jarama. Hourihan's commanding officer was Robert Merriman. When the battalion was ordered over the top they were backed by a pair of tanks from the Soviet Union. On the first day 20 men were killed and nearly 60 were wounded.

On 27th February 1937, Colonel Vladimir Copic, the Yugoslav commander of the Fifteenth Brigade, ordered Robert Merriman and his men to attack the Nationalist forces again at Jarama. As soon as he left the trenches Merriman was shot in the shoulder, cracking the bone in five places. Of the 263 men who went into action that day, only 150 survived. One soldier remarked afterwards: "The battalion was named after Abraham Lincoln because he, too, was assassinated." Edwin Rolfe survived but wrote: "When we were pulled out of the lines I felt very tired and lonely and guilty. Lonely because half of the battalion had been badly shot up. And guilty because I felt I didn't deserve to be alive now, with Arnold and Nick and Paul dead."

Hourihan was made the new commander of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion by a committee of the soldiers. In Comrades and Commissars: The Lincoln Battalion in the Spanish Civil War (2007) Cecil D. Eby claims that "Party hard-wires distrusted the new Lincoln commander, a political maverick so defiant of the Party line that at times he seemed not even to know what it was."

Jason Gurney, the brigade observer, was impressed by his new commanding officer. "Marty, in his role of Commander, inevitably lived a rather lonely life; he had to maintain absolute neutrality without any close friendships or favourites, but he was by nature a gregarious man and the friendship which we had formed for one another was very strong. He had a terrific sense of humour and, although he had little formal education, a very good mind and a superb sense of human sympathy. He never bore grudges or carried on feuds, he could be tough as hell in public, but there was much more of sorrow for human weakness than condemnation of wickedness in his outlook."

Marty Hourihan became completely disillusioned by the actions of the Political Commissioners in the Spanish Civil War. His close friend, Jason Gurney, became convinced that Steve Nelson was "responsible for the mysterious disappearances of a number of people from among our ranks and for the secret trials, for real or imagined offences, which caused so much fear and suspicion within the Battalion." Gurney later recalled: " The nobility of the cause for which I had come to Spain was clearly a fiction, and now the sudden and absolute conviction that life was an experience with no past and no future, merely ending in annihilation."

Hourihan shared Gurney's feelings about the behaviour of the Political Commissioners who were taking their orders direct from the Soviet Union. On 5th April 1937 Vladimir Copic told Hourihan to leave their trenches to attack the Nationalist forces at Jarma. Hourihan refused and Copic replied: "You're cowards! You don't perform your duties! You're not aggressive enough!" Hourihan later told Steve Nelson: "I'm not going to give any orders to the Battalion to climb out of the trench and get themselves slaughtered until there is some real support." Gurney commented that Nelson and Copic accepted this because he knew "the entire Battalion was sufficiently angry to mutiny, as it had done before."

On 6th July 1937, the Popular Front government launched a major offensive in an attempt to relieve the threat to Madrid. The main battle took place at Brunete. In the subsequent attack on the town Hourihan was hit in the leg by a sniper that resulted in his thigh bone being broken.

The medical board at Albacete ordered Hourihan to be repatriated as he was considered to be unfit for further military service. When he arrived back in the United States he resigned from the American Communist Party. As a result he was denounced by the Daily Worker as "an enemy of the working-class". Hourihan was also criticised for not having lost too many men during the attack on Nationalist forces on 27th February 1937. As the historian Cecil D. Eby pointed out, this was "proof for them that he had been more interested in saving lives (including his own) than in exterminating Fascists."

After the Second World War Hourihan obtained a teaching post in Greenlaw County. He also attended Huntingdon College, Alabama, graduating in 1959.

In 1967 Marty Hourihan was manager of a country club in Terra Haute, Indiana. The historian, Cecil D. Eby, who managed to find him later reported that: " Hourihan... made me promise never to divulge his whereabouts because he feared as a former Communist he would lose his job. To my surprise, he was not afraid of being denounced by the FBI but by the CP or VALB, as punishment for straying from the faith".


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There is little information on the web on the activities of Kenneth Sinclair Loutit. The main reason for this was that he refused to join the Communist Party of Great Britain. Unfortunately, it is communist historians who dominate the history of the International Brigades on the web.

In 1930 Loutit won a place at Trinity College, Cambridge. At university he joined the Cambridge Socialist Society where he met John Cornford. Loutit became concerned at the growth of fascism in Italy and Germany. He also became an active opponent of Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists. He later wrote: "there was an ever increasing consensus, uniting men and women of all ages and all backgrounds, in a simple refusal of complaisance toward fascist thinking... We were ready to do something about the world we lived in, rather than to accept whatever might happen next."

After completing his degree at University of Cambridge he began a medical degree at St Bartholomew's Hospital in London. However, Sinclair Loutit decided to volunteer to help the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. According to Tom Buchanan, the author of Britain and the Spanish Civil War (1997), "he disregarded a threat of disinheritance from his father to volunteer." Loutit was appointed Administrator of the British Medical Aid Unit that had been set up by the Socialist Medical Association to help the victims of fascism.

In August 1936 he left for Spain with twenty other volunteers and a fully equipped mobile hospital. According to the woman who later became his second wife: "He found himself heading an autonomous municipal department employing several hundred staff in first-aid posts, a mobile medical unit, rescue parties with light engineering capacity, motorised stretcher parties and a mortuary." They eventually set up hospitals at Cuenca, Murcia and Albacete.

While in Spain he met the journalist Tom Wintringham. When asked what he was up to, Wintringham replied: "Look, the Party as you saw in Paris is the brain, heart and guts of the Popular Front and it's even more so in Spain. Unless the unit is right with the Party you'll be lost." According to Sinclair Loutit, Wintringham was already "formulating the concept of the International Brigades."

At this time Sinclair Loutit described himself as "a non-party, radical intellectual aged 23, frightened and disgusted by the inhumanity of the depression." Tom Wintringham, who was a leading member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, befriended the young doctor: "He (Wintringham) was helpful and kind in great things and small. To be with a warmly human Marxist who was also a cool soldier made it possible for me possible for me to find the beginning of the path and I count him one of the best friends I ever had."

After returning from the Spanish Civil War he completed his medical degree at St Bartholomew's Hospital. He married Thora Silverthorne and the couple lived at 12 Great Ormond Street. Sinclair Loutit was elected as a “unity front” councillor for Holborn. Unfortunately, the marriage was not a success and ended in divorce.

Kenneth Sinclair Loutit became a doctor in London and in 1938 helped establish Finsbury Health Centre. His second wife, Angela Sinclair Loutit, later recalled that it had been "founded on socialist principles that would later become the bedrock of the National Health Service. For the first time, doctors worked side by side with nurses, social workers, radiographers and physiotherapists."

On the outbreak of the Second World War Loutit was appointed Medical Officer in Paris to the Polish Relief Fund and Medical Officer for Civil Defence in Finsbury. He was on duty during the Blitz. On 10th May, 1940 he was involved in trying to extricate survivors from a collapsed block of flats in Stepney. He later told a journalist: "On May 10, the borough was hit so badly it was just a jungle of smoke and flames. I led my rescue team into the wreckage and the first few yards of tunnelling were always the worst; if the building was going to cave in on top of you, it would most likely be at the start. Each bomb that dropped, he said, was a form of Russian roulette in which the trigger is pulled by someone else."

Loutit was awarded a MBE for his work during the early stages of the war and it was suggested that he stood for the House of Commons. However, his second wife, Angela, persuaded him not to embark on a political career: "I wasn’t really into politics at the time, so I advised him to take another job offer with the World Health Organisation." He remained with the WHO for the rest of his working life.



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In December 1936 Peter Kerrigan decided to help the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. Kerrigan's first commander was Wilfred Macartney. According to Jason Gurney: "it soon became evident that he (Macartney) had very little idea of the duties of a Battalion Commander." Kerrigan added: "He was not terribly popular in the battalion but I think he was respected for his ability. He was a capable military officer. He had a rather arrogant style." The Political Commissar was Dave Springhill, a senior figure in the Communist Party of Great Britain. He did not impress the author of Crusade in Spain who described him as being "a well-intentioned man who was completely out of his depth in the position in which he found himself."

Kerrigan became commissar for English-speaking volunteers in the battalion. Jason Gurney was one of those men who was a member of the British Battalion. He later wrote about his impression of Kerrigan in Spain: "As I remember him in Madrigueeras, he was a tall, well-built man with a thick poll of tightly crinkled hair, as dour and ill-tempered as only a Scot can be, utterly devoid of any trace of humour and with a total acceptance of the Party line." John Jones had a more positive view of Kerrigan: "He was a very stern and severe but good commissar. He did things for everyone's good."

Wilfred Macartney was an unpopular commander. It was decided by the Communist Party of Great Britain that McCartney should be recalled to London and that he should be replaced by party member, Tom Wintringham. On 6th February, 1937, Kerrigan went to see McCartney. Kerrigan later recalled what happened during this meeting: "I visited him in his room before he went back to have a talk with him about the situation with the battalion and so on. It was the intention that he would come back. This was about mid-January but he had a big, heavy revolver and I had a rather small Belgian revolver, and he said: Look Peter, how about you giving me your revolver. I am going through France I don't want to lump this thing about. I said all right. He asked to show me how to operate it. I took the revolver in my hand but I can't say for sure whether or not I touched the safety catch, or whether it was off or not, or whether I touched the trigger, but suddenly there was a shot and I had hit him in the arm with a bullet from the small Belgian revolver. We rushed him to hospital, got him an anti-tetanus injection and he was patched up and off he went."

Charles Sewell Bloom, an intelligence officer at the International Brigade Headquarters, had a different opinion on the shooting: "We were going to the front and Wilfred McCartney didn't want to go back. He said he was going with the fellows to the front. Peter Kerrigan and the rest of us thought he shouldn't, and it so happens that he shot him in the arm to make him go back to hospital. That was the only way to get him back because we didn't want to give him a bad name."


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