Edinburgh veterans’ experience of Spanish Civil War revealed for first time

Republican forces during the Battle of Irun in 1936. More than 500 Scots volunteered to join the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War. Picture: Wikicommons
Republican forces during the Battle of Irun in 1936. More than 500 Scots volunteered to join the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War. Picture: Wikicommons
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First-hand testimony from two Scots veterans of the Spanish Civil War is to be made public for the first time as part of an exhibition celebrating the links between the University of Edinburgh and Spain.

John Dunlop and George Drever were interviewed by the university in 1985 on their experiences fighting for the Republican movement, which attempted to halt the fascist coup led by Francisco Franco, but the tapes have never been publicly shared until now.

John Dunlop was a trained accountant when he signed up for the International Brigades. Picture: Sean Hudson

John Dunlop was a trained accountant when he signed up for the International Brigades. Picture: Sean Hudson

The duo were among some 2,000 men from the UK, including around 500 Scots, who volunteered to travel to Spain in 1937 to join the Communist-controlled International Brigades.

Their accounts of the conflict are being shared as part of a wider exhibition to mark the 100th anniversary of the Spanish language being taught at the University of Edinburgh.

Dunlop, who was raised in the capital and attended George Watson’s College, recalled that he felt “disgusted” that other European governments had failed to help “the legal government in Spain against an attack which obviously was being supported by both the fascist government of Italy and the Nazi government”.

He added: “I felt very strongly that if they were allowed to continue their attack on the people of Spain that it wouldn’t be so very long before the rest of Europe were going to be engulfed in a war. The war would be definitely provoked and commenced by the German and Italian governments, as indeed it proved to be the case.”

Leith-born George Drever volunteered to join the International Brigades while living in Manchester. Picture: Sean Hudson

Leith-born George Drever volunteered to join the International Brigades while living in Manchester. Picture: Sean Hudson

During the battle of Brunete he was badly wounded and almost killed when a shell exploded.

Dunlop returned to Britain in December 1938 and later served with the Scots Guards during the Second World War. He died in Edinburgh, aged 90, in 2006.

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Drever was born in Leith in 1910, the son of a shipyard labourer, and went on to study chemistry at Edinburgh. After losing his job with ICI in 1937 he volunteered to join the International Brigades.

He recalled the meeting of the Communist Party in Manchester where he volunteered. “I was single, I wasn’t married at that time, so I went along,” he said.

“(They asked) ‘why do you want to go?’ and I said, ‘you’ve told us that they want the best comrades. I consider myself one of the comrades.’ And I’m sure, of course, the people that know me now would do the same.”

Drever died in 1996.

The exhibition, Conectando: Scottish Encounters with Spanish and Portuguese, runs until June 29 at the university’s main library in George Square.