Alun Menai Williams 20th February 1913 to July 2nd 2006. A gentle man….

Alun Menai Williams in Catalunya, May 2005.

I should really blame Alun for all this! But who is he? Well, let me try and explain…..

Eight years ago I received a typewritten manuscript from Alun Menai Williams entitled “Survivor”. I remember that it was a  quiet Saturday morning and I spent quite a while in the bathroom reading the pages with fascination. Alun had read a review of our first book (Book of the XV International Brigade) published by Warren & Pell Publishing in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Association’s newsletter “The Volunteer” (www.alba-valb.org), and had sent me his autobiography for consideration.

Within a short time we had struck up a close friendship and slowly badgered away together to produce in October 2004 his autobiography “From the Rhondda to the Ebro”. I remember when I handed him the first copy of his book he said “It’s all fantasy! Its all make-believe!” I was for a moment slightly worried that I had met a Walter Mitty type character, but he explained that he had never believed that he would see his autobiography published. To add more salt on the wound, he showed me a highly critical letter from a Meic Stephens who had read the manuscript a couple of years earlier and had offered to rewrite it and present it for possible publication for an appropriate fee and his name on the cover(Oddly enough, Meic Stephens later published the first obituary of Alun’s death in the Independent riddled with innacuracies subsequently corrected in the next day’s newspaper). But here we were with a very happy man and a very relieved publisher!

And over the next few years before his death I was priviliged to know a man who taught me so much and enriched my life with new experiences, and new friends. It has been an amazing time for both of us. I have been astounded by his curiosity and willingness to try new ideas. Whilst celebrating his birthday in February 2005 I showed him some photos of Hill 705 where a plaque was to be unvelied in May that year. This plaque had been first suggested by Martin Green, the son of George Green who had been killed on the day of the withdrawal of the International Brigades from the battle of the Ebro on September 23rd 1938. Under the guidance of the International Brigade Memorial Trust, David Leach, (who had produced the excellent programme “Voices from a Mountain” concerning the discovery of a memorial with the names of officers killed in the battle of the Ebro which had been constructed in the summer of 1938 and had survived the subsequent destruction of Republican memorials by the victorious Nationalists)  organised the unveiling of the plaque on Hill 705 close to the Ebro. But who was to unveil it? Just for the hell of it, I asked Alun if he would like to attend the event, to which he replied “Yes!”. And so began a momentous journey for so many of us back to the last great battle of the Spanish Civil War. To cap it all, a radio presenter from BBC Wales, Sarah Dickins, of Blue Egg Productions had at the time been asking me for help in the possible production of a television programme on Welsh brigaders. To our surprise, Alun was not only escorted by his son and daughter in law aswell as myself and the daughter of another Welsh brigader, Mary Greening, to Catalunya and Hill 705 but also by a  BBC film crew as he returned for the first time in 67 years. 

Alun unveiling the plaque in May 2005.

Alun had served as a sanitario or medic with the International Brigades from the end of May 1937 with first the Thaelmann, then the George Washington , Abraham Lincoln, Garibaldi and eventually with the British battalion on the Ebro. His experiences had been horrific. Scrambing around trying to dress wounds and give succour gave his account a rare humanity at odds with the memoirs of those holding a rifle.  ” To kill a man is one thing, but to be with him when he dies is worse. waiting for him to go is the worst thing” stated  Alun in one of his last interviews.

The cemetery at La Bisbal de Falset where Harry Dobson is buried

The weekend was also important in that Alun was able to leave some lumps of Welsh coal at a mass grave in La Bisbal de Falset where one of his friends, Harry Dobson, had been buried. Alun had been beside Harry and another officer of no 4 company on Hill 481 when both of the officers had been wounded by machine gun fire. Alun dressed and evacuated the company commander, Morris Davies on the only available stretcher, but believed that Harry had been killed outright. Recent research had discovered that Harry had actually been evacuated to a cave hospital behind the Ebro and had died and been buried in a mass grave or fossa commune close to the cave hospital.  It was therefore with great emotion that Alun paid his respects to Harry Dobson along with the 140 other dead buried in the same cemetery. Work by historian Angela Jackson on the cave hospital has been published by Warren & Pell under the title “Beyond the Battlefield. Testimony, Memory and Remembrance of a Cave Hospital in the Spanish Civil War”, 2005

More information will be added as we go along, but I hope that this has whetted your appetite for the moment!

Published on September 25, 2007 at 11:59 am  Leave a Comment  

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