SOLD Hammer price: €1700, Estimate: €800-1200
Three long A.L.S. from O’Duffy at the Spanish front to Capt. Walsh in Ireland, dated respectively 2.3.37, 22.3.37, 12.5.37, about 25 pages folio in all; the manuscript Unit Diary of “A” Coy (Irish Brigade) from its departure from Caceres (17.2.37) to 25 April 1937, with daily details of positions, actions, casualties etc., about 18pp, stamped and signed by Padraig Quinn Capt.; manuscript Report on Disposition of “A” Coy, 20.2.37, from D. O’Suilleabhain Capt., O/C; m/ss. Report on Incident outside Village of Ciempozuelos on 19.2.37, signed Geo. B. Timlin Lieut., “A” coy (5pp); also a typescript document (14 pp, carbon copy) entitled ‘With the Irish Brigade in Spain,’ by John C. Maguire, ex cpl (‘Jay Sceamm’).
The record of O’Duffy’s Brigade in Spain is described in generally negative terms in Mc Garry’s recent biography, discounting much of O’Duffy’s claims in his published Crusade in Spain. The letters to Walsh in this file show O’Duffy’s immediate reaction on the spot to his difficulties, rather than his later recollections, and may offer material for a reassessment. There is a great deal of detail and much interesting comment, of which we select only a few points:
(2.3.37) ‘I cannot deal fully with the circumstances of the death [from ‘friendly fire’] of poor Tom Hyde & young Tuite [Chute] – except to say that Tom died bravely leading his men. He got a burst of machine gun fire in the neck cutting the jugular vein – he died in a few minutes, but thanks to be God the priest was near by and he had the consolations of the Church, moreover he was a weekly Communicant.. Young Tuite of Kerry was a good boy also – sent home all his savings for Masses.. Cur Bandera is now in the front firing line – shells falling all around them – last Thursday 58 shells fell on our trenches in 22 mins.. I believe we are now over the worst. We are simply holding our position until the big attack beings on Madrid When it does begin it will not last more than 10 days – & then the war is practically over. We will be in the final assault, but unless we are very unfortunate we should have few if any causalities.. I can get through no officer work at the front, and the Volunteers want me to be with them all the time. This is also my desire, and my position is almost impossible. When Tom Hyde was killed there was gloom in the Irish ranks. I arrived five minutes afterwards, and the gloom was turned immediately into cheers. The trouble is that Caceres is so far away and to get to the front I have to pass through violent red territory. The Red battery in this part is ‘Death to O’Duffy.’ I do not mind death any more now than in the past, & I feel I must lead the boys here.. The Free State Govt. approached his [illegible] Majesty’s Got to ask me ‘as an act of Grace’ to send home young O’Connor of Tralee and to induce him to agree to go home. I am inclined to release him if they pay the expenses.. It shows the close and friendly relations existing between Dev & [the English Prime Minister] Mc Donald. They are working in cordial co-operation. Since then I have received representations from the Irish Minister to the Communist Gt. Of Spain to release a number of others under 21 years of age on the grounds that if they met with an accident here it might embarrass his (the Fianna Fail) Gvt. I have ignored Mr. Kearney’s appeal which came to me through Gen. Franco.’
‘It was very fortunate that we had not 300 causalities on 13th March [when the Irish brigade was ordered to take the village of Titulcia on the far bank of the Jarama River.] Our men had absolutely no cover in the advance, the Reds got their range, over 1500 shells were dropped on our lines over a period of 11 hours and for the first time in the history of this was not a Red shell failed to explode. To add to it all the rain came down in bucketful’s, soaking the poor boys through. But their spirit never wavered, and such skill and resource was seldom before seen on a battlefield. I was provided with a safe observation post with the Col. in charge of the section, but at 9 a.m. I could stand it no longer and I went down to my men.. My arrival at the front on the morning of 14 March saved our Bandera from annihilation – I cannot write details, & can only say thanks be to God [it appears he secured permission to cancel the advance].
‘cannot write details, & can only say thanks be to God [it appears he secured permission to cancel the advance].
‘You sent a Miss Fraser here. Lest this letter fall into other hands I cannot say much – except that she is being left at the frontier. She has caused me much annoyance, and disgrace to our Brigade. She knows nothing about nursing and has been under arrest since her arrival, having got mixed up with undesirable Italian officers ’
‘The phone is ringing.. poor old Gabe Lee is dead. When I was leaving him yesterday he tried to raise his hand in the Fascist salute.. ‘Germany makes no secret of it here, that even one Irish Bandera here is big propaganda for Hitler – Ireland is fighting in the same cause as German.. The German Officers and even the rank and file could not be more friendly..’
There are full details of wounded and repatriated soldiers, much about the Brigade’s financial problems, references to various people in whom he is disappointed (including a person from Bray, un-named) and (in the first letter especially) appeals for more men to be sent over, so that the Brigade can form a reserve.
The letters convey a powerful sense of immediacy, of the closeness of the fighting, and of the intense pressure on O’Duffy from all sides. There are many interesting but elliptical references, which it may be possible for scholars to elucidate.