Monday, January 26, 2009

A fighter to the end

BOB DOYLE. Beatings by Blueshirts
left permanent eye damage, but his
political vision remained clear

BOB DOYLE died at the end of last week aged 92, in the St.Raphael's area of Brent, North-West London. Born in a poor Dublin tenement, he never left his class, nor forgot his Irish heritage, but he was an internationalist, and a fighter to the end.

Bob joined the Irish Republican Army in the 1930s, after being beaten up in street fights with the right-wing Blueshirts, which left him with a permanent eye injury. Bob was not just a patriot, he was a socialist. When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, and the Blueshirts supported Franco, an Irish Republican contingent was raised to fight the fascists, known as the Connolly Column. Bob Doyle's friend, IRA veteran Kit Conway was killed at the battle of Jarama, as was the poet Charles Donnelly. It was Bob Doyle's 21st birthday. He decided to go out to Spain.

His first efforts were unsuccessful. After stowing away on a ship, he was arrested and expelled from Valencia. But later in the year he crossed over the Pyrenees and reported to a battalion at Figueras. Assigned to train new volunteers because of his IRA training, he disobeyed orders and joined a group heading for the front.

After fighting at Belchite, he was captured at Gandesa by Italian fascist troops in 1938, along with the famous IRA commander Frank Ryan, the leader of the Connolly Column, who later died in Germany. Bob was imprisoned for 11 months in a concentration camp near Burgos. There he was once brought out to be shot and he was regularly tortured by Spanish fascist guards and interrogated by the Gestapo before being released in a prisoner exchange.

During the Second World War, Bob Doyle served in the British merchant navy, afterwards settling in London with his Spanish wife, Lola. A Communist Party member, he became active in the Fleet Street print trade unions, and was involved in the 1958 printworkers' strike. He also undertook dangerous missions to Franco Spain to help the underground Left. After Franco went, Bob became a regular visitor to Spain and Ireland for International Brigade commemorations. He published a book about his experiences in Spain, Brigadista: An Irishman’s Fight Against Fascism.

He is survived by his sons Bob and Julian, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

In his old age, Bob Doyle's voice may have weakened, and he still had that damaged eye, but as this speech in Belfast, in 2006, shows
(text below), he retained the strength of conviction and clarity of vision that career politicians rarely attain.

Hello Everyone, I have prepared something to say to you all, but I’m not as strong as I used to be, so I will read what I can, but please bear with me if I hand over to my comrade Harry Owens, should I need to. I’d like to tell why I’m here. Some of you may wonder why a 90 year old veteran of a war that happened a long time ago in a far off country is here speaking to you today. Some of you who know a little about the Spanish Civil War may see it as a glamorous episode in working class history, when young poets, like Byron in Greece, fought and died in a foreign land for a noble cause. Perhaps you have come to see me, a decrepit romantic relic. But I am not here to indulge in emotional memories, though I have many memories of comrades and events that affect me deeply. I am not here to make you sad with tragic recollections of a heroically fought war, or to make you happy with my survival into old age. I am here to make you boil with anger; the powers that supported Franco in Spain are still active, and today their reach is global. The same US corporations that supplied the fascists with oil in Spain are today pilfering the oil of the Iraqi people. The British government that lied to the people while secretly giving financial credits and hypocritically allowing arms to be smuggled to the Spanish fascists is the same government that lied about weapons of mass destruction and led the British people into a war that they did not want. Those who lie and cheat in order to hold on to power, who exploit child and slave labour in the third world to make yet more profits, who torture, murder and massacre in defence of ‘their interests’ - they are still in control. When I am told that Spain was the last noble cause, I know that I am speaking to someone who doesn’t want to see the obvious truth. In 1936 there were many apologists for racism and oppression who did not want to see fascism for what it was. Today the fight against those who put profit before people is just as intense, and the stakes are higher than ever. We must make common cause with those in the third world who are now in the front line, as Spain once was. No more Kenyan peasants must be forced off their land and into urban slums so that supermarkets can sell cheap roses and out of season strawberries. No more Congolese child soldiers must kill and be killed so that Nokia can sell ever cheaper mobile phones. Those who stand up to corporate global capitalism, like Chavez in Venezuela and Castro in Cuba, must be defended. Those whose greed would destroy our environment, with catastrophic consequences for humanity, must be defeated. It is indeed a noble struggle and it will not be over until the liberation of the entire human race. La lucha continúa.

Speech given by Bob Doyle, September 16th. 2006

Last year, after hearing about Spanish civil war veteran Howard Andrews from Dave Chapple, Brent Trade Union Council of which I am a member decided that we would try to get something done about commemorating local men who served in Spain. That was when I heard Bob Doyle's name come up as someone we ought to see. The local history museum has shown some interest, and it would be good if we could take this bit of history into the schools. Bob Doyle is no longer here to inspire us, but his memory ought to.

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