Following the Battle of Cable Street, Scottish communist Jim ‘Jock’ McKissock travelled to Spain to fight against fascism 80 years ago. He wrote letters to his comrades in back in London. They were passed by one of those long-standing communists in the 1970s to Colin Revolting’s father and he found them among his father’s piles of papers. The letters tell an inspiring, human and ultimately tragic story of a young communist’s sacrifice in the battle against fascism.
Fascism had already come to power in Italy and Germany when Franco’s fascist army declared war on republican Spain. Anti-fascists across the world were inspired by the fighting response of Spanish workers, socialist revolutionaries and anarchists. Tens of thousands volunteered to fight in Spain like Jock McKissock.
For obvious reasons I can’t tell you where I am and as a matter of fact I don’t know. I’ve been to Barcelona,Valencia and Albacete. We (combined English and French contingent) held a demo in Barcelona under the auspices of Barcelona CP [Communist Party] great reception. We (English) are about 50 strong, a full half are Scots, 5 from Motherwell, 2 Welsh, the remainder are split about equally between Liverpool, London and XXXX. 1 from Sheffield, 1 Yank.
Yesterday we lost half of them, went adrift in a lorry more than 24 hours ago and we haven’t heard anything of them since. There is a little bit of irony attached to our uniform and equipment as the bulk of it is what was left behind in the USSR by the British Interventionist Armies [Invasion 1918] so all the money was not wasted.
Fraternal greetings to all Woolwich comrades, J McKissock
PS Fred the jacket you gave me has been worth its weight in coal – an article I haven’t seen here so far. And another thing Fred, King St [CP London Headquarters] didn’t make the best job of organising our draft, for I would give anything for a good British set of pouches valise haversack and kitbag. They could be got in any army stores for a song and be got across too. I also could, as things went, have took the revolver too and how much more pleasant it would be being on guard than with a big heavy Mausser or Ross rifle, so long, J McK
Dear Eth and Harry
I’m feeling in the pink but Christ couldn’t I do with a woodbine [cigarette], also a dirty big black pint and various other things for that matter, for the grub here, when you get it, takes a bit of getting used to. I expect by now you will have heard about the death of Ralph ?????
I received your letter and fags yesterday for which I am very grateful. My parcel was the only one and it didn’t last long. About the beer Fred, I or none of us here would say thank you for a bucketful for most of our palates have got attuned to the food and drink here.
I met Jim Ruskin (a comrade from Woolwich) about a week ago when I was exercising my leg (slight flesh wound) and we didn’t know one another. Never had time to say much as he is in Brigade staff as an interpretor and he was apparently busy. However one bit of news he gave me was in a nature of a bombshell, Harry had got a job.
With the exception of being dirty (three weeks since I had a wash) I’m in good health. From the spirit point of view I’m in the dumps, lost two good pals both through the head, Dutchy and Yank. About news we get nothing apart from rumours and I don’t believe anything I hear and there are only five of us effective from the first English speaking company and the present one is on the third front. I saw Springhall going out day before yesterday with a bullet through the face. I got two Christmas cards from somebody in Eltham, no name. Fascism is dying hard here, but die it will. Give my regards to all Woolwich comrades,
yours fraternally Jock
I know a letter has arrived here for me and I am guessing it was from you, for I was in hospital when it got here and I have been informed that the letter has gone back to Albacete which is about a couple of hundred miles away and the hospital where I was detained is only about 14 km off with lorries running every day.
You can guess that I feel exasperated especially as I expect it to be forever marked down amongst the many hundred (the following have not arrived) and this only my second [letter received?]. I have written four letters to Woolwich one to Bert, one jointly between Eth and Harry and two to yourself.
The reason I was in hospital was the result of an accident in which our lorry with some twenty or so of us aboard left the road and did a somersault. We all had marvellous escapes for we had in the lorry besides ourselves a mixed load of bombs, grenades and mortars. Luckily none of them exploded and the lorry did not catch fire and no one was seriously injured, although I myself have not felt right since and that is a month ago.
My kidneys or liver or something internal gives me pain and I am feeling run down. And of course when one’s not feeling up to the mark, fed up too besides, all I had to show for my injured kidneys or what-not was a black eye and some skin off the side of my head. This coupled with the language difficulty and questions fired at you in the manner of a cross examination by people who could speak a little but not listen to English, as if one was trying to pull something over on them for a spell out of the line. Made me glad to get to hell out of it.
Yes as you can see Fred, I see things with a rather jaundiced eye at present, which I suppose will wear off. Anyway a bad mood is as worth recording as a good one, and besides there are more than the above gone to make up my present mood. And if I am spared to see this struggle through I will give you a version of things as I saw and understood them which will be unique, accurate and I hope a help when our time comes.
Things are quiet here and our EDE battalion has been made up to something like its just strength by the incorporation of a Spanish company. And we have some great guys in our Batt not the least of whom are Spanish of whom I have great admiration, respect and liking. All the best wishes to comrades in Woolwich and District,
J Mc Kissock
Russell House, 122 Park Street, Motherwell 31/5/37
to F C Trotman
I write to acknowledge yours of the 22nd. I am sure you will understand cause of belated reply. No words you could have used would have dulled the blow delivered only the fact stood out stark and staring. Jim my son is dead, My Beloved Wanderer would return no more. Please excuse seeming discourtesy and on my behalf thank all who knew him for their sympathy extended to me, his mother during this time of pain and suffering.
During Jim’s time in Spain I received three short communications from him which prepared me in a measure for what was to come to me. In one I read despair hoping to hear from you and at a later date particularly I would like to know the cause of Jim’s decision to make such a supreme sacrifice.
I am yours fraternally