Interview with Gill Malpas
Tuesday, 30th March 2010
'In the long run - it is important to remember that it is only in the long run--the working class remains the most reliable enemy of Fascism, simply because the working-class stands to gain most by a decent reconstruction of society. Unlike other classes or categories, it can't be permanently bribed'.
(George Orwell - 'Looking Back On The Spanish War')
Hello Gill, many thanks for taking the time out to chat to me today about your father, Will. It is appreciated. I've compiled a number of questions to ask you but don't worry, you'll be relieved to know that it will not be a political grilling along the lines of Jeremy Paxman on 'Newsnight'. I'll be recording the interview if that's alright and then I shall transfer it over to the website in text format. Feel free to stop the recording at any time, if you want a break or wish to seek clarification about any matter.
Right, onto my first question. How old were you Gill, when you first became aware of your dad's involvement in The Spanish Civil War?
Hello, thank you Mark! I'm not really sure in relation to awareness. My father's politics were practically a way of life and influenced the household greatly. He would hold meetings there at home. He was shop steward of the union and he would have Communist Party meetings there, so it was something I suppose that you were always aware of. It was something that was there, that was part of your life and you don't realise that it's any different in anyone else's life. You think it's happening everywhere. As young children we were aware and he would sit and tell us stories about his experiences in Spain but as a child you think it's all make believe, it's like Peter Pan. You don't realise the importance of it. To be honest I didn't realise the importance of it, until I was fully grown up. On reflection, I think that I was always aware of it.
Will sounds a very principled gentleman. Did he, you think, inherit such principles or was he just a very independently minded and principled individual?
I'm not sure if 'inherited' is the word I would use. I do know that his mother became very political after his father died of malaria, which he contracted during the war in Salonika.He came home from that and died of malaria. So, she had six children, had no money and was living on parish, which would have offended her greatly as she was a very proud woman. She fought hard for a pension which she was eventually given and she joined the Communist Party, when my father was very young. There was something about the Communist Party and the Labour Party at that time, you could be in both Communist and Labour but then the Labour Party decided they didn't want the Communists so she became a Communist. Her house in Aberaman was called 'Red Square'. My aunty tells me that she had a signed photo of Stalin, which took pride of place in the living room. My father was strongly influenced by his mother as were lots of men of his generation. All left wing thinking men would gather at the house. He was also strongly principled probably because of his mother, yes, extremely principled. I remember him being Chairman of Penywaun Club, a Working Men's Club and the reps would come around with new beers and offer him a free pint to try and sell the beer. He wouldn't take the beer freely. Silly, it may be a bit silly really I think, as he took things to extremes on times you know.
I imagine it must have been a very difficult time for your mum and indeed your whole family, when your dad decided to go to Spain. How do you think your mum and the rest of the family felt at your father going away?
I really don't know but I think that his mother didn't exactly encourage him. Many of these men remember, went off in the middle of the night so they didn't tell their families. They went off and did it secretly. I imagine though that whilst his mother didn't encourage him, she didn't discourage him either because she felt as strongly as he did about the situation. She would have been quite proud that he went. My aunty, which is my father's cousin and his oldest surviving relative I think, told me something interesting. She's a bit older than me so remembers more. She is my father's brother's child. My dad's brother was named Harold and he was also very politically minded and involved with unions etc. Anyhow, she was telling me that my grandmother wouldn't let Harold go to fight in the Spanish Civil War. I don't know what that situation was?! Ultimately, I don't know what effect it all had on my grandmother. Obviously, she was worried about him and all that just like everyone else that went. At the same time, I think she would have felt some pride.
Are you and your family proud of what your father sought to achieve? Do you think he was successful in those aims?
Yes, absolutely proud of him, we are all proud of him and what he did and his principles and the way that he lived his life in general. I do think that he achieved his aims. From the days when my grandmother couldn't get money to feed her children as she'd lost her husband and became a widow. People can live better these days can't they with benefits and I think that's all down to the efforts of people like him fighting for the rights of the working man. Absolutely, I do think that they changed things. They worked towards social equality and social justice. Class structure, Royalty, he didn't like any of that sort of thing. Communism, that's what it's all about isn't it? Equality for all. So, yes, to some extent he did achieve his aims in as much that people don't starve in this country anymore do they and they can obtain benefits when they need them. I do think he can take credit for some of those things, for trying to change society for the better.
Do you think that William ever felt betrayed or disillusioned by the attitudes of certain local politicians and possibly, the general public, at the time of the conflict? This can also relate to both at national and international level. To put it in another way, do you think he felt the outside world was fully supportive to the Republican cause or not?
Supportive? No, absolutely not. In fact, there is a plaque in Aberdare Library, commemorating the people from this area that went to Spain.It was unveiled by Michael Foot and Ann Clwyd the local MP and there was a reception later up in Trecynon. He heckled them all night because the government had taken this non intervention stance so no, they had no support at all from the British state. He felt very strongly about that and had the attitude of 'No thanks to you and no thanks to you'. The Labour politicans were there now commemorating and celebrating the fact that men like my father had been to Spain but at the time, the support wasn't there at all.
Would your dad often talk about the conflict to you and your family? Do you think he ever had any regrets and would he have done the same again?
Yes, he certainly would have done it all again and I don't think he had any regrets whatsoever. He would indeed talk to us about it as kids but with humour. I was reading a book recently, a novel by Victoria Hislop, called 'The Return', I think, which is about The Spanish Civil War. Even though I was aware of the conflict, that it had happened, some people are not are they? The book shocked me, the loss of life was horrendous. Though my father talked about it, he never talked in a gloomy way or in a way that would haunt us as kids. He talked about the funny side. Yes, he would certainly have done it again I think.
After the conflict finished, did your father remain in contact with fellow Brigadiers and Brigade Associations? Would he meet up with them at reunions etc?
Not on a regular basis. He would keep in touch with them but mainly, they would come to him. He didn't tend to travel a lot. We did go to the unveiling of the memorial on the Left Bank in London, back in 1985. The GLC was being disbanded so they had to get it done before that happened.That event was excellent, it was great. We were put in contact with another fella who had also been in Spain and he loaned us a flat. It was really brilliant for them all to meet up. You get a different perspective on the range of people who went to Spain. We met a surgeon for instance. There were all levels and strata of society. He kept in touch in some respects, as he would do interviews for television programmes and Hywel Francis did his dissertation, I think, on my father's experiences or at least included his experiences. We do try and keep in touch now with Mary Greening, whose dad also fought in Spain. She is very involved with the International Brigade Memorial Trust. I keep in touch on the periphery but I'm not heavily involved though I do take an interest.
Did Will remain interested and actively engaged in politics for the remainder of his life?
Yes, absolutely. Always, always, always within the Communist Party. I do think he became disillusioned towards the end but moreso with the new Communist Party. I remember when we were young and we would go out helping in elections. We would put leaflets through letter boxes and people would come out and hit us with sticks and set their dogs on us. We didn't understand why they were doing it. When I got older, I began to understand why, as people were scared. The propaganda was that Communism was trying to take over. I asked my father what it meant. He told me that Communism was simply all for one, like a commune working for the good of each other. However, not everyone saw it like that. They had this folklore that it was the bogeyman. There was a terror attached. I did, as a kid, ask why he never stood as a Labour candidate and change things from within that party. Move it more left wing. However, that's not what they wanted, they wanted to do their own thing. He carried on fighting for people's rights, fighting for their jobs. He was often losing his own job in the process. He was often blacklisted and victimised. We would have to go down to Glanynys, for....eh, I can't think of the exact word....is it Parish? Anyhow, it was a form of relief or benefit. My mother was often struggling for money because he was fighting the good fight. She put up with a lot really as she stood by him when his principles made life very hard.< font>
Do you think he felt that there was a subservient attitude amongst the local population? For example, it was a poor, working class area and yet, there was this pandering towards and celebration of royalty. For instance, Edwin Greening mentions in his book, his disappointment that there were celebrations in the Aberdare Valley, with street parties and flags displayed in the streets for the King's Silver Jubilee, whilst the locals lived in poverty.
Yes, my father used to say that when people are hungry and crying for food, give them a circus. It's a sort of diversionary tactic to take people's minds off their misery. He was appalled at all that stuff, the royals, the hierarchy, the class structure and all that.
What do you think your father would have made of the break up of the Communist/Soviet Bloc ?
My father had passed away by the time the Soviet Union crumbled. I know this as I can remember my sister saying that he would have been so glad that it had happened. They have got him all wrong haven't they?! They haven't got it right, he certainly wouldn't have been glad. After all, he was passionate about and always active in left wing politics and the union.
Have your father's experiences and opinions left a strong impression on you as a person and possibly influenced you in any way? This can also apply to other members of your family.
I think he's influenced me more than anybody actually but sometimes I feel it's a curse you know. When you feel that something is wrong and that you should speak up. It's not popular today is it, people don't do it. They don't stand up for what's right so much , not as much as I remember it anyway. Perhaps people are more professional now, if that's the right word, I really don't know.
Do you mean that people are more selfish these days? There is an attitude of 'I'm alright Jack' and people just watch out for themselves rather than others?
Exactly yeah, that's right. So, yes, I do think he's had an influence and obviously, he's had an influence on all of us. He's shaped the way we think. You're brought up in a certain way. My father's attitude was always, 'You're no better than anyone else and nobody is better than you' and that shapes the way you think. It's difficult not to think like that when it is the way you were taught. Overall, yes, he certainly influenced us.
It is questionable whether today's generation would have been so principled as your father's generation and go off to fight voluntarily in a foreign conflict. Do you agree with this statement? By that, I don't mean the contemporary soldier as they are paid and unconscripted. I mean leaving on a purely unpaid and voluntary basis because they believed it was a just and worthy cause.
I don't think people would do that today, I really don't. I've read the school of thought that most of the people like my father, went to Spain because they were unemployed, had nothing better to do and just perceived it as an adventure. Whilst that may relate to the odd individual, I think my father went out of principle. He really felt the cause and he believed that if they could have squashed it all (i.e. Franco), the Second World War would never have happened. He certainly went out of principle but people wouldn't do the same today. There is no burning hunger in people now to change the world. People are complacent and happy in their own little world with their 'I'm alright Jack' attitude. They will go as mercenaries, just because there is good money involved. Maybe I'm being jaundiced in my opinion and there are people who would volunteer but you don't see much evidence of it.
Well thank you Gill, that was great. Once again, many thanks for taking the time to answer my questions and in doing so, providing an invaluable insight into your father. He has certainly proved to be an interesting and fascinating man and indeed, an inspirational figure. I greatly appreciate all the support and information that you've been able to provide. Diolch yn fawr comrade!
That's fine Mark. Time for a cuppa! :-)
Que en Paz Descanse
RONALD BROWN; ROBERT CONDON; WILLIAM DURSTON; EDWIN GREENING; THOMAS.H.JONES; WILLIAM.D.LLOYD; MORIEN MORGAN
This piece of music is dedicated to the above men.
YouTube. (2009) Manic Street Preachers: If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next (video) [online]. Available from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=cX8szNPgrEs[Accessed 23 November 2014]
You Tube. (2011) No Pasaran! [online]. Available from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TwLLdqR5BFE&feature=related [Accessed 20 January 2011]
You Tube. (2011) Samuel Barber - Adagio for Strings, op.11. Uncut [online]. Available from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=lV3SHBFyDZM [Accessed 20 January 2011]
YouTube. (2010) Song of the International Brigades [online]. Available from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojOmwYS3eU4 [Accessed 15 February 2010]
N.B. Mrs G. Malpas has also provided access to previously unpublished memoirs, written by her father, which are hereby acknowledged and these are available by clicking below:-