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Steve Fullarton: Spanish Civil War veteran

Wednesday 12 March 2008 01:00 GMT
Soon after the Second World War started Fullarton joined the RAF and was stationed in South Africa
Soon after the Second World War started Fullarton joined the RAF and was stationed in South Africa (PA)

Steve Fullarton was the last survivor of the 500 Scots who fought with the International Brigades against General Franco's rebels in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39. Aged just 18, and halfway through his engineering apprenticeship when he crossed the Pyrenees in April 1938, he was also one of the youngest of the 2,300 men and women from the British Isles – of whom nearly one in four died – who enlisted as soldiers or medics to defend the Spanish Republic. Indeed, he had to lie about his age, since the Communist Party – the recruiting agent for the volunteers – had a policy of only accepting those aged over 21.

Fullarton was one of a family of five raised by his widowed mother in the Shettleston district of Glasgow. He made up his mind to volunteer after seeing cinema newsreel of the bombing of Spanish cities by Franco's German and Italian allies. "There were women running around with terror in their eyes," he recalled. "Some people could ignore it and say: 'It's none of my business'. I made it my business." He watched the newsreels with mounting anger as Britain and the other democracies, by their policy of non-intervention, effectively allowed Hitler and Mussolini to topple Spain's elected government.

Then came an encounter in a dance-hall one Saturday night with the local Communist Party organiser. Fullarton was already involved in the regular street collections of tins of food and condensed milk to send to Spain. Soon he was travelling through France with five other volunteers. With the border sealed, the group entered Spain by night along smugglers' paths, wearing rope-soled sandals to silence their footsteps.

After basic training with wooden rifles near Figueras, Fullarton was sent to Marsa on the north bank of the Ebro where the British Battalion and other units of the XV International Brigade were billeted. His arrival in Spain had coincided with the rout of Republican forces through Aragon and southern Catalonia in the spring of 1938. Now a daring counter-offensive was being prepared. He was one of those selected for training as a corporal by a Soviet instructor in the village and assigned to the battalion's infantry company.

He crossed the Ebro with the rest of the battalion on 25 July 1938 and took part in intense fighting around Gandesa. Injured by a bullet in the groin on 1 August, he was rushed to a cave hospital and operated on without anaesthetic. He arrived home on 23 December.

Soon after the Second World War started Fullarton joined the RAF and was stationed in South Africa for most of the war. He moved to Edinburgh in 1945 and worked as a draughtsman in the engineering industry. Warily, he set foot again in Spain in 1969. After Franco's death in 1975, he made the journey more frequently, his last visit being in 2003.

Jim Jump

Stephen Collins Fullarton, political activist and draughtsman: born Glasgow 23 August 1919; married 1945 Isabella Macdonald (died 1968; two sons, one daughter); died Edinburgh 29 February 2008.

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