Dumfries and Galloway’s Connections to 549: Scots of the Spanish Civil War

This month, Wonder Fools are coming to Dumfries and Galloway with their fantastic show 549: Scots of the Spanish Civil War. The play which incorporates music is about people, relationships, and history of the people from Scotland who aided the fight against fascism in 1930’s Spain.

As part of Wonder Fools tour, they are looking for local stories from people who are connected to the 549 Scottish volunteers that fought from each of the places they are performing.

In search for these stories for Dumfries and Galloway, our marketing intern Erin began contacting local museums throughout the region in attempts to find information about volunteers from D&G.

After contacting Museums in Dumfries, Dalbeattie, Kirkcudbright and Stranraer, two men from Dumfries and Galloway who volunteered in the war were identified.

The first was a man who lived in Whithorn, called Jack Brent. Brent was born in 1912 with the name George Dickie, and lived on Isle Street, with his brother John, and their grandmother.

After apprenticing at Coid’s butcher’s shop in Whithorn, in 1929 he left to join the Cameronian Highlanders at Inverness and was Lance Corporal and oversaw clothing stores. He deserted and was briefly hidden by his family in Whithorn. From 1933-36 he lived in London and changed his name to Jack Brent. In 1936-1937 he accepted as a volunteer for the International Brigade, to fight on behalf of the Spanish Republic against the fascists.

In 1937 at the Battle at Jarama, to defend Madrid against the Fascist advance, Brent was part of a call for volunteers to go out and collect the wounded, many of whom had been shot as they emerged from their trenches. Brent was shot through the spine as he was bending over a wounded soldier. He never walked again without the use of crutches. From 1937 to his death in 1951, he had thirty operations, including an amputation of his leg, and ultimately of his other foot, and many skin grafts. He lived in almost constant pain, particularly in his last years.

The second man from Dumfries and Galloway who was part of the 549 volunteers was Robert Grierson, from Eastriggs near Annan. A member of the National Unemployed Workers’ Union, he worked as a farm labourer, spent two years in the Territorial Army, and joined the International Brigade at Albacete on 4th November 1937. He was reported missing, believed killed, at Aragon in 1938. He was 28 years old.

549: Scots of the Spanish Civil War explores the stories of the Scottish volunteers, like Brent and Grierson, who were involved in the war, focussing on four miners from Prestonpans who fought as part of the international brigade. The stimulus for the play was the verbatim account of George Watters from Ian Macdougall’s book Voices from the Spanish Civil War, which details George’s experiences of fighting in the conflict. Robbie Gordon and Jack Nurse the co-writers of the play spent 18 months visiting East Lothian and speaking to relatives of the four miners in the play to get a grasp on the details of each individual. Robbie and Jack also worked with historian Daniel Gray who wrote the well-regarded book about Scottish involvement in the Spanish Civil War, Homage to Caledonia and acted as historical consultant on the project.

Do you have a story from one of the 549? If so, get in touch at info@dgartsfestival.org.uk as we would love to share your story.

To learn more about the show and to view the archive of information that has been collected throughout Scotland about the members of the brigade, visit 549.scot. This website is run by Wonder Fools Theatre Company.

549: Scots of the Spanish Civil War will be performed over three nights in Dumfries and Galloway, at Castle Douglas Town Hall and Moffat Town Hall. Please visit our event page to find out more and to book tickets HERE.

Thank you to Joanne Turner, Peter Hewitt, Alan McFarlane and Ronald Murray for their help and contribution in finding this information.