James Maley

JAMES MALEY Scottish volunteer with the International Brigade, political activist

Born: 19 February, 1908, in Glasgow. Died: 9 April, 2007, in Glasgow, aged 99

JAMES Maley was a tenacious and committed fighter who stood by his communist and humanist principles all his days, whether on his political soapbox, on the shop floor, or squaring up to Franco's Moorish Regulares at the Battle of Jarama. He was one of only two surviving Scottish members of the International Brigades who fought for the Republican government against the fascists during the Spanish Civil War.

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He stayed physically and mentally wiry all his life. When I interviewed him last July, on the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Spanish conflict which presaged the Second World War, he was in fine fettle, crisply dressed and sporting the red-starred International Brigade veterans' medal presented to him in 1996, when he'd returned to Spain for the first time since the civil war.

Recalling for me the chaos of the Jarama Valley, he referred to it, nonchalantly as "a bit of a hassle-bassle". In fact, he and his fellow volunteers in a heavy machine gun company had arrived there straight out of training at Albacete, with orders to cover the Republican retreat. Having been decanted from a truck, they found themselves facing what must have been one of the last cavalry charges in history, as Franco's crack Moorish troops bore down on them.

Eventually, he and his compadres were rounded up by the North Africans. One of them was summarily executed: others might have met with the same fate, but for the arrival of some regular Spanish Nationalist soldiers who stopped the shootings, possibly because they recognised the Republican captives as being British.

Maley and his companions were sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment but he was eventually released as part of an exchange - although not before his mother, watching a newsreel in a Glasgow cinema, was astonished to see her son standing on a truck with other prisoners in some fascist propaganda footage. His Spanish exploits inspired his sons, Willy, a lecturer in English literature at Glasgow University, and John, to co-write a play From the Calton to Catalonia.

It was in Glasgow's East End Calton district that James Maley grew up, the son of Edward Maley, from County Mayo, Ireland, and Anne Sherlock of Glasgow. One of six children, he was educated at St Alphonsus school but worked from an early age, helping his mother who was a hawker, wheel her barrow around Glasgow.

Politicisation began early: he was just 11 when he was in George Square on the infamous occasion in 1919 when troops and tanks were called in after a demonstration for a 40-hour working week became a riot. This was the era of Red Clydeside, when disillusioned men not long returned from the trenches to a thankless civvy street discussed politics at close mouths. The young Maley started attending meetings, and listened to the Independent Labour Party firebrand, Jimmy Maxton, at Glasgow Green.

As a bright lad with a natural propensity for speaking, Maley was groomed briefly for the priesthood, but after becoming a communist at the age of 24, and following his Spanish experiences, had little time for the Roman Catholic hierarchy and didn't bring up his children in the faith. Perversely, however, he was a die-hard Celtic supporter, and hated anti-Catholicism, on which he was sometimes on the receiving end. His son Willy recalls: "When I once asked him whether I should explain to people that I wasn't a Catholic, despite my name, my politics, and my football team, he said, 'No, tell them nothing, and let them stew in their own prejudice'."

In 1926, he was hospitalised with pneumonia and had part of a lung removed. He was so ill that a priest administered the last rites, but he recovered, and never entered a hospital again until his final days. After a short spell working in a car factory in Ohio (he had three emigrant Irish aunts there), he returned to Glasgow and became a speaker and tutor with the Communist Party. He also joined the Territorial Army - as he told me during last summer's interview: "I always knew there would be a war against the fascists and I knew I had to learn to shoot."

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By this time, he was a well-known public speaker, and in 1936, all too aware of what was happening in Europe, he became one of the 500 Scots who went to Spain to fight fascism among the 40,000 volunteers of the International Brigades. Steve Fullarton, now the sole surviving Scottish International Brigader, knew Maley, and recalls him speaking after his return from Spain, daring his audience to disagree with him.

After his return from Spain, Maley worked at William Beardmore's Parkhead Forge, where he helped bring 2,000 men out on strike. After the Russians entered the Second World War in 1941, he joined the King's Own Scottish Borderers, and served in Burma and India.

After the war, he gave up public speaking, although he still leafleted and campaigned, remaining a CP card-carrier until the British party finally dissolved in 1991. "When it split," says Willy Maley, "he said nobody had gone the right way and he was waiting for a real party to start up again. His communism owed more to the Calton than to the Kremlin."

Leaving the army in 1947, he worked on the railways, and as a labourer with Glasgow Corporation. He was 40 when he met his wife, Anne Watt, at a Highlanders' Institute dance and they married in March 1949. She was 14 years younger than him, and they went on to have five daughters followed by four sons - all of whom survive him, along with five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. A lover of walking and reading, a non-smoker and teetotaller, who never socialised outside the house, he remained the life and soul of his family, as well as a popular figure in his Possilpark area.

Vigorous to the last, he avidly followed current affairs on television. Just a few days before his death, he was still coming out with Spanish phrases recalled from his days as a guest of General Franco.

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