Wigan's Spanish civil war heroes to be honoured

Fighters during the Spanish Civil War
Fighters during the Spanish Civil War

A memorial is set to be unveiled to 12 freedom fighters from Wigan who volunteered to fight Franco’s fascists in the Spanish Civil War.

Campaigners from Wigan Trades Council are behind the plaque, to be unveiled behind Wigan Town Hall to the dozen, including a trio who gave up their lives in the struggle.

Names of Wigan freedom fighters who served in the Spanish Civil War

Names of Wigan freedom fighters who served in the Spanish Civil War

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Ex-miner Michael Gallagher, of Ashton Street, Scholes, took part in hunger marches in 1934 and 1936, to London from Wigan, and was killed in the Battle of Brunete, in 1937.

Another former collier Bernard Sweeney lost his life at the Battle of Belchite and Paul Francis Dewhurst, from Lowton, whose family later ran the Theatre Royal in Leigh, also perished at Brunete.

A spokesman, stressing that many of the volunteers were trade unionists, said: “A big crowd is expected and some high-profile guests will be attending.”

Trades council officials say the memorial is also in memory of one of their stalwart members, Ron Thompson, who lobbied heavily for such a plaque before his death in 2014.

The ceremony at noon on Saturday, April 14, in Southside Gardens, between the town hall and Wigan baths, has been timed to coincide with the Spanish Dia de la República, or Day of the Republic, when the second republic was declared in Spain.

Several speakers are expected to pay tribute to the 12, who went abroad against the express wishes of the British government at the time, which remained neutral in the conflict.

An exhibition on the war is also planned at the Museum of Wigan Life, where there will also be a performance by Joe Solo and the Bolton Clarion Choir, as part of the event.

Trades council leaders had maintained that the memorial should be in Believe Square previously but council bosses insisted that, with statues to Billy Boston and Gerard Winstanley, another location should be found.

Campaigners have been eager to mark the dedication of the dozen, who they say were treated as returning heroes by townsfolk in the 1930s but have long been ignored by the Establishment.

Others to be commemorated next month include nurse Lily Robinson, who grew up at The Wiend in Wigan, and had a history of radical activism.

She was smuggled out to Spain and is believed to have worked as a nurse, echoing her later career at Billinge Hospital, on her return.

Fellow survivors being remembered are Michael Gallagher’s friend Edwin Blood, also from Scholes,

Tommy Degnan, Pat Deignan, Arthur Evans and Thomas Connolly, all ex-colliers from Wigan, ex-Leigh resident Hector Coop and bus driver Benny Hoath.

Harold Croston, who had served previously with the Army and Navy, and was involved in skirmishes during the Russian Revolution, was wounded in Spain but later returned to work as a trawlerman.