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MANY books, films, documentaries and lectures have done a great job focusing on the dedication and sacrifice of the men and women who served in and cared for the international brigades, including the forensic work of academics dedicated to this complex and instructive period of history.
Yet for any newcomer to this bloody and romantic arena, what’s needed is a reporter, one who doesn’t indulge in purple prose but who nevertheless pens poetry which captures the heights and depths of human emotion.
Step forward Jimmy Jump who as a young man of 21 went to Spain to the very heat of battle. There he wrote — even while terrified — under fire, sipping wine in a village bar or seriously ill in a hospital bed.
Already in love, he was engaged to Spanish refugee Cayetana Lozano Diaz, who’d escaped her homeland as Generalissimo Franco took it in his stranglehold and this memoir has been edited by his son Jim Jump, also a journalist and current chair of the International Brigade Memorial Trust.
His father was a reporter on the Worthing Herald when he resolved to join the fight against fascism in November 1937 when the death toll was already terrifying, especially at the Battle of Jarama nine months earlier.
Undeterred, he set off via Paris and was given responsibility as a group leader, thanks to his speaking French and Spanish. En route, they encountered men returning, some with missing limbs. One asks if they are bound for Spain and Jump says yes. “Suckers,” replies the man, advising that they are on their way to hell.
In Spain, and in training, there’s a rifle to handle — a Russian model, dating from 1901. There are language lessons, too, with key phrases, “Nurse, you are very beautiful” and “My best friend is my rifle.”
Interwoven with episodes of vital office work, heart-warming encounters with local people and the brigaders’ constant concerns about food and tobacco, there is gnawing anticipation as they edge towards battle.
The poems deftly edited into the memoir weave a realistic determination with inevitable fear. A young man in love does not want to die: “Slumber sweetly, soldier: no nightmare knit your brow. Tomorrow’s sleep may be more deep than the sleep you’re sleeping now.”
Ever the newspaperman, Jump livens up the orders of the day, which he translates. He and fellow clerk Jose select passwords and counter-passwords to amuse their comrades, so “Generalissimo” requires the response “hijo de puta” (son of a whore).
The warm weather of Spring 1938 sees Jump sitting in a village square and the sense is of his falling in love with Spain. Watching children play at soldiers, he writes: “There always seemed to be a toddler at the end of the column who fell over and burst into tears or who had to be reprimanded for his slowness. It was just like our training.”
The duties with which he’s entrusted means he’s at the heart of breaking news, as when he learns of the capture of Teruel late one December night. That news meant Christmas of 1937 saw celebrations, with parcels from home. His delight is evident as he lists the contents including sugar, chocolate, cigarettes, toothpaste plus two Penguin novels and a Christmas card signed by Harry Pollitt, general secretary of the Communist Party.
In July 1938, on a pitch-black night, Jump and his comrades are told to be ready to leave in half an hour to cross the river Ebro. He sums up the fierce concentration of soldiers anywhere — checking firearms, stuffing ammunition into pockets and tying grenades to their belts.
His greatest fear is of being injured and lying in an exposed position “where rescuers could not reach me” and he recalls the cries of wounded comrades as they lose consciousness.
This highly recommended book is beautifully crafted and, as you’d expect, diligently researched. It is indeed a memorable love letter from Jump to “a free and democratic Spain.”
The Fighter Fell in Love by James R Jump is published by Clapton Press, £9.99.
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