Jams O’Donnell: Red Cushing and the Spanish Civil War

Red Cushing - Solider for Hire

[Update: Ireland and the Spanish Civil War has moved. The extract from Soldier for Hire is now here.]

On Monday, I posted that my friend Shaun Downey – described by Francis Sedgemore as ” Gentleman and Blogger of the Parish of Romford” – has died. Shaun was what I have called before a “citizen scholar”, a polymath, who rigorously researched and shared his passions. Among his interests were military history, anti-fascist partisans and Irish Republicanism.

When blogs are not attended, there is a terrible tendency for them to be hacked and become fonts for spam, which is a shameful fate for someone who has passed. Mindful of that, and in tribute to him, I have decided to re-post over time a long series he wrote on an extraordinary figure, Red Cushing. Here is the first installment, from August 2008. Shaun italicised his quotes rather than indenting them, so I have indented the whole post to make its authorship as clear as possible. I have added a couple of hyperlinks and two pieces of punctuation.

This post was inspired by recent posts by two of my favourite bloggers: Roland Dodds on the vandalising of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion memorial and Bob from Brockley’s Spanish Civil War in San Fransisco.

Irishman Thomas “Red” Cushing is almost certainly resting in his grave now (if he were still alive he would be in his late 90s) but he definitely had a life less ordinary. In the first 35 years of his life he was an IRA member, had a yoyo career in the US army with a sideline of training Sandino’s forces; served in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (his sobriquet refers to his hair not his political allegiance, he has bolshie, not a Bolshevik!), joined the British army, taken prisoner during the fall of France…. and then his adventures really began!

I first came across his name in “Renegades: Hitler’s Englishmen”, Adrian Weale’s excellent account of the Britisches Freikorps (the BFC) and other British traitors of WWII Cushing was mentioned in respect of the Reich’s farcical attempt to raise an Irish legion. He also appears in Mark Hull’s “Irish Secrets: Espionage in Wartime Ireland” and Terrence O’ Reilly’s “Hitler’s Irishmen”. However, he was no traitor himself and he continued his career in the British Army into the 1960s

Cushing wrote an account of his rollercoaster life in the book “Soldier For Hire”. It is long out of print but fortunately it is not hard to track down a reasonably inexpensive copy. The chapter “No Castles in Spain” which covers his time in Spain is very handily reproduced on Ciaran Crossey’s superb Ireland and the Spanish Civil War website. Plagiarism is not intended but I have a damaged wrist and anything that will cut down my typing is a godsend at the moment!

… While on demob leave, I stayed at the Army and Navy Club in Lexington Avenue, New York. I took the opportunity of visiting all the army posts where I had friends. To keep myself solvent I boxed a few times. Then, one morning in 1936, I wandered as far as the Army Base in Brooklyn, hoping to bump into somebody I knew…

My luck was out… I finished up in a saloon bar, sitting at the same table as five or six young fellows, listening to their conversation and occasionally chipping in when the talk became general. Somehow we had got on to the subject of soldiering abroad. During a lull in the discussion, an unmistakably military figure detached itself from the bar and slid easily into the seat next to mine.

‘I’m recruiting for the Lincoln Washington Battalion, now serving in Spain,’ he announced without preamble. ‘Any of you guys interested?’ ‘What are the prospects?’ I asked him. He shrugged. ‘Well, I guess that depends on what you can do. Have you soldiered before?’

I fished from my wallet the army documents I carried around with me and dropped them on the table in front of him. He scrutinised them in silence, lingering especially over an impressive list of courses I had passed. At last he looked up and eyed me appraisingly. ‘Seems to me you’re the type we want, brother. Can’t guarantee it, but with these qualifications you should swing a commission.’

‘Never mind the commission. My interests are tipple and bananas.’

… First we went to a building on the Grand Concourse, where I was medically examined and pronounced physically fit. Then, we proceeded to a dingy office not far from Union Square. There I completed a sort of application form, signed on the dotted line and was duly inducted. I received a cash advance of fifty dollars and was warned to hold myself in readiness… A day or two later, my instructions arrived. I was ordered to report to an address on Eighth Avenue and Sixteenth Street… I was introduced to a number of curious characters, all belonging to the school of thought that condemns soap and water as capitalist luxuries. Even before they opened their mouths, I knew what I had let myself in for. I had stepped into a gathering of Communist Party members.

Although I had no time for such crapology, I decided to ride along with them and find out how they ticked. I therefore listened patiently to my long-haired friend’s appreciation of the situation. .. I had been appointed conducting officer and was responsible for shepherding forty volunteers from New York to the Spanish front.

…The ‘Commissar’, as I had mentally labelled him, next led me into a dance hall, where I passed on his information to my comrades… When I first saw them, my heart sank. There were intellectuals, students from Columbia University and a generous sprinkling of Bowery bums and dead-beats, who had evidently espoused the Communist cause in order to be issued with meal tickets…. When I had finished, the Commissar gave them a long political speech, loaded with the usual Communist clichés. The workers of the world had to unite, fight for freedom, win a lasting peace and had nothing to lose but their chains. The students and the self-styled intelligentsia lapped it all up, but the talk made little impression on the bums. The squad was then dismissed and the Party members gathered round me, eager to give me a propaganda injection.

‘Gentlemen,’ I said to the shower of nanny goats, ‘I’m a professional soldier, not a politician. I’ve volunteered to go to Spain simply for the experience. As far as I’m concerned, you can stick your Communist racket up your jaxies! So cheerio, comrades! I’ll be seeing you at nine o’clock to-morrow morning.’ With an ironic bow to the Commissar, I made a quick exit…

To be continued

There are a couple of interesting comments on the post:

Anonymous Joseph Conlon said…

My dad met Red Cushing. We have a photo of him on our bathroom wall at home. I’m just reading the book ‘Soldier For Hire’ and its great so far.

I asked my dad today – Red’s dad seems like a bit of a nutter to which her replied “yes but Red’s daughter was even worse”… guess I have got more to find out…

Peter said…

I was Red Cushing’s platoon commander 9n Germany (Berlin) and Korea in the 1950’s. I have many stories about him – most of which revolved around his problem with “the drink” (he really loved his beer!). He was truly a one of a kind character, and I’m pleased to see that people are still interested in his exploits.

(more…)

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Spanish Civil War: British volunteers lists available for the first time

Via Shiraz, I see this. Some snippets:

Eric Blair (aka George Orwell) KV5/118

Eric Blair is better known as George Orwell, author and journalist. Orwell’s work includes 1984, Animal Farm and Homage to Catalonia, his personal account of his experiences during the Spanish Civil War. [At Poumista]

image 1

John Cornford KV5/119

John Cornford was a Cambridge–educated poet. He fought initially with the Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM) and saw action at Perdiguera and Aragon in 1936 before falling ill and returning to England. He quickly returned, having recruited several friends, to join the English Battalion of the International Brigades, and was badly wounded at the Battle of Madrid in November 1936. He was killed at the battle of Lopera on 27 December 1936, shortly after returning to the front. [At Poumista]

Robert ‘Bob’ Doyle KV5/120

Bob Doyle was an Irish member of the International Brigades. He was captured in 1938 at Calaceite, near the Aragon front, along with Irish Brigade leader Frank Ryan. After spending 11 months in a concentration camp he was among those exchanged for Italian prisoners of war. He died at the age of 92 on 22 January 2009. [At Poumista]

Frank Ryan KV5/130

Frank Ryan, a prominent member of the IRA, led a group of Irish volunteers to fight with the International Brigades in Spain. He fought at the Battle of Jarama and was seriously wounded in March 1937. He was later captured and imprisoned by Nationalist forces before being released to the Germans in 1940. [At Poumista]

Great men

The Cedar Lounge Revolution: A conversation with Roma Marquez Santo… veteran of the Spanish Civil War

Santo final copy

Roma Marquez is a 93-year old Catalan who joined the POUM militia on the outbreak of the generals’ revolt in July ‘36 and who later joined the anarchist militia after the POUM were suppressed.

He spent several years in prison after the war and returned to live in BCN where he has remained politically active.

Be sure to read the fascinating comment thread, including this from one of the organisers:

Roma [Marquez Santo] was born in 1916, the same year as Bob Doyle[1] and one of his earliest memories is being told by his mother of the death of Terence MacSweeny. This was at a time when anarchists were striking in BCN in support of the Irish Republic and Roma has continued to keep in touch with what passes here for political development.
Roma joined a mortar unit with the POUM militia on the Aragón front. His unit was in the line with anarchists, who encouraged them to sign over politically to avoid arrest by Soviet agents. Roma and his comrades joined the CNT militia and after it was subsumed into the Communist-controlled Republican Army, Roma was sent to an officer training camp. He was promoted to lieutenant and sent to the quiet front at Estramadura, where he says he ‘avoided the bloody slaughter of the Ebro’.
The POUM were affiliated with the ILP in the UK and George Orwell was perhaps their best known British volunteer. To a certain extent the SP occupy this political ground today. Roma also knew Durutti and attended his funeral after his death in Madrid.

And some interesting items from Jim Moneghan, such as:

Paddy Trench who was in the ILP in Britain worked with the POUM.
Brian Verschoyle Gould who was a comintern courier expressed doubts about the supression of the POUM, was kidnapped in Barcelona and died in the Gulag.
Nora Connolly O’Brien wrote a letter on behalf of the POUM when it was supressed.
I think the ILP affiliate in NI had a relationship with the POUM.[…]

On a footnote most of the Russians who were sent to Spain died in the gulag. The last major purge in the Eastern European states took many of the Spanish veterans. Read Arthur London’s “[The Confession]”, filmed with Yves Montand. Having fought in Spain was effectively evidence of Zionist/trotskyist deviations of at least that you were a spy. I think this purge turned many away from the Socialist/Communist ideal and to zionism. From the God that failed to the zionist God so to speak.
The awful La Pasionaria was still telling lies up to the end. She slandered the anarchist head of the Valencian collectives as a millionaire when he was a waiter in an hotel in South America. See Beevors book on the Civil War.
The best website on the Irish and the Spanish civil war is run by Ciaran Crossey who was if not still is a member of the Socialist party.
The safest place to be for a IB veteran was probably the USA and the West.
The defence of the purges and the mentality about it helped create the atmosphere in the Officials that aggravated the internecine fight with the IRSP. I remember the stuff about how Joe Stalin knew how to deal with these people.

Best film Gregory Peck as an anarchist fighter who refuses to give up. “Behold a pale horse”. With Anthony Quinn as the Franco police chief.
Best book “Hermanos” by Heerick. On a CPUSA member who is disillusioned.

Subversive Historian – 07/09/09

Oliver Law and the Lincoln Brigade

Back in the day on July 9th, 1937, Oliver Law, Commander of the Lincoln Brigade, died leading his troops during a campaign of the Spanish Civil War. Noted by history as the first African-American to command an integrated military force of U.S. citizens, Law suffered a fatal wound in the attack on Mosquito Ridge during the Battle of Brunete. Of internationalist concerns prior to the outbreak of Civil War in Spain, Law was born in West Texas and served in the segregated U.S. army. Following his career in the military he went to Chicago and became an organizer who was arrested for speaking at a rally against Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia. Firmly anti-Fascist, Law joined many other African-Americans and other U.S. citizens in forming the volunteer Lincoln Brigade to assist in the struggle against General Franco.

Wishing to enshrine the life of Law and others like him, Paul Robeson once said, “I would like to make a film on the life of a Black commander of the Lincoln Battalion who died there; but this would be refused by the big Yankee movie companies.”

More great men: Sam Wild, Bernard McKenna, the Welshmen of the XV.

Viva Orwell y Durutti

But I Am A Liberal: Abraham Lincoln Brigade Memorial Vandalized

A memorial to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in San Francisco has been vandalized by anarchist activists. [Read the rest]
Lots more here:

Bob From Brockley: The Spanish Civil War in San Francisco

Then more here (via BfB):