Letter-Aug21_1980-P149This chronology is from some letters Bill wrote to Lee Burke and Wally Dent of the Veterans of the International Brigades, MacKenzie-Papineau Battalion of Canada.


The following dates are approx. correct and are from a very incomplete diary I tried to keep while in the Basque country.

July 19. 5pm Ar. Portugalete. Outer Harbor of Bilbao, Vizcaya. (As far as I could subsequently discover, the first Canadian to arrive in Spain.)

July 20. Enrolled in Communist Milicas. Depart with Columna for San Sebastian. (Columna Stalin)

July 21-25. Fighting in San Sebastian to recapture strong points held by Requetes & Falangistas. Many of Army came over to us.

July 25. Capture of Commandancia Militar. San Sebastian in hands of Republic.

July 26.          Column greatly enlarged and name changed to Columna Perezagua. (Brigada de Choque). Column advanced on Vittoria. Occupied the town of Orchandian and Ubidea. Column led by Jesus Larranaga.

Aug 1.             Transferred to mountains at Tolosa. Fighting to stop rebel advance.

Aug. 11 – 15.  Retreat from Tolosa.

Aug 15.          Retreat from Erlitz.

Aug 16-19     Rest in San Sebastian. City shelled by 3 Fascist cruisers, (Espania etc.) aided by German pocket Battleship. Many of us were sunbathing on the beautiful Playa de la Concha at the time.

Aug. 20.         In the hills above Irun.

Sept. 3.          Retreat from Irun to San Sebastian.

Sept. 13.        Retreat from San Sebastian.

Sept.               Column again greatly enlarged and name changed to Batallion Ferezagua.

Fall ’36           Oct 1. Attack on Oviedo, Asturias.

Later. Attack on Vittoria. During which I was blown up and suffered concussion. (But I was lucky one, as every other member of my machine-gun squad was either killed or very badly wounded.) After a few days in a field hospital returned to the Battalion.

Nov. ’36 – Jan 1937.

I seem to have lost the pages of the diary for this period, and I don’t rightly recollect the details of where exactly we were during this period, except that we [were] fighting most of the time. I do remember that on Christmas Eve 1936, found us on the gently sloping side of a mountain, the ground solid granite and altho there was no snow entirely covered in deep frost. The ground [was] too hard to dig foxholes. We gathered what brushwood was available which together with dwarf-trees we made into camp-fires. Each section gathered around a fire and huddled shivering in our ponchos. As far as the eye could see were these hundreds of fires twinkling in the night and way over on the far side of the valley were similar distant fires, showing were the fascists were encamped. About once or twice an hour one of their 75s would fire, the shells bursting harmlessly amidst the rocks way above us on the upper ridges of the mountain, looked along at all the flickering lights in the night and I though of the Christmas carol “While Shepherds Watched their Flocks at Night.” It was around this time that I began to read in the Euskardi Edition of “Mundo Orero” some very brief and isolated reports about a “Brigade of International Volunteers that had been formed, and was operating in the vicinity of Jaen, on the Central front, and that this Brigade included Americanos.” On reading this I at once put in for a transfer to this “Brigade.” By this time most all of my original “compadres” and “companeros” in Columna Stalin and the original Perezagua had either been killed or badly wounded and were no long around.


Feb. – Mar. Battalion Perezagua again transferred to the Asturian front in preparation for the 2nd assult on Oviedo. (The Battalion Perezagua had the honor of being called “Le Primero Batallion de Choque” on the entire Northern Front.

Feb. – Mar.    2nd Attack on Oviedo. Towards the end of March was wounded and sent to several hospitals in Vizcaya.

Mar 31. Was in the hospital in Durango when the town was almost destroyed in dive-bombing and machine gun attack by The Condor Legion. Was transferred back to Bilbao where I found that my transfer to the “International Brigade at Jaen” had come thru.

April.   Sent to small village between Bermeo and Guernica to await a boat to take me to France from Bermeo. It was from here at the end of April, only some two or three miles Guernica that I witnessed the destruction of the town by neverending waves of German bombers of the Condor Legion. The bombing started in the afternoon and continued until well after dark. On April 28, was transferred back to Bilbao. During the night of May1. Left Portugalete (outer port of Bibao) on a fast patrol boat for St. Jean de Luz, France.)

May 2. – 14. Leave and convalescence in Paris

May 14. Leave Paris for Spain (via Pyrenees)

May. (End) Joined Washington Battalion under Oliver Law.

July.    Brunete.

Then in Lincoln Battalion.

Aug.    Belchete & Quinto.

Transferred to Mac-Pac. Battalion

Sept.   Fuentes del Ebro. Where I was wounded.

Quit hospital after some weeks and rejoined the battalion near Madrid. Then Teruel & retreat to the Ebro. Then crossing of Ebro & attack on Gandesa. After some two or three weeks, due to reoccurring trouble with my right hand – result of wound at Fuentes – was pulled out and sent back to hospital, first in Barcelona and then in Gerona, from where I was evacuated at the end of December ’38., to hospitals in Sete, Cannes & Nice, along with some dozen East European Brigaders. With the aid of French comrads, managed to evade the police watch on us and made my way to Paris, where again with the help of comrades, obtained a job with a photographer in Ave. Jean Juares, where I worked illegally till August 1939, when I went to London England.