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You may be surprised to find a cast iron bull outside a community hall in Renton. But why? The colours on the paving slabs may give a hint. Sometimes there is a flag as well. 

This is a memorial to the Spanish Resistance of WWII to combat General Franco’s fascist uprising against the country’s democratically elected Republican government. To appreciate why though we need to consider how the resistance movement achieved support from beyond Spain's borders and how 5 men from Renton joined it. 

These men identified themselves as Communists. While that may raise some eyebrows today, at the time such political orientation in the Vale and other working class areas within West Dunbartonshire was actually widespread. To understand this in its context you will have to look elsewhere, but two useful links are given below that throw light on the Spanish connection, one a book review in Counterfire. Links are given below and provide a good starting point to follow up. The resistance didn't win against Franco, but it did help turn the tide and we should be proud of Renton's contribution. Spain would be a very different place today without the efforts of that small group. This bull sculpture with its rippling muscles is likewise small, but it has quite a story to tell. 

Spanish history of this time was unsettled to put it mildly and with so much else going on during WWII, the role of Franco can be confusing to us so many years later. Communism at the time was seen by many as the answer to social inequality and other social ills. It had not yet morphed into what it was to become later. 

The Crann Tara website (see link below) notes that on Saturday 27th August, 2011 the valour of a group of men from Dunbartonshire was honoured at the unveiling of an iron statue of a Spanish bull, outside the MA Centre in Renton in the Vale of Leven. The worthy event was organised by the Renton Community Development Trust.

The heroic efforts of brothers Patrick Joseph, Tommy and Daniel Gibbons, along with James Arnott and Patrick Curley, was acknowledged in a fine tribute by the Reverend Ian Miller of Bonhill Church who unveiled the statue.

Danny was wounded in the Battle of Jarama in February 1937, and was allowed to return home – but he made his way back to Spain again, distressed that his brother Tommy had been killed in the battle for Brunete in July that same year. He was eventually captured by Franco’s troops at the battle of Calaceite in March 1938.

Kept in filthy conditions in a concentration camp, he and a handful of others secretly combined to keep up the morale of their fellow prisoners. They were eventually exchanged in February 1939, for Italian and German prisoners.

Patrick Joseph – ‘Joe’ – the third brother, who volunteered as part of a Chicago-based battalion in Spain, was on a Barcelona-based ship that was torpedoed by an Italian submarine. Two hundred other volunteers were lost at sea, but Joe bravely kept two colleagues neither of whom could swim, afloat for hours in the water until they could be rescued.

He went on to fight the fascists in numerous battles during the Civil War and was wounded in the arm after a tank belonging to the fascists opened fire.

Of the Renton five, James Arnott was repatriated and Patrick Curley was killed at Jarama – the same battle in which Danny Gibbons was wounded.

549 Scots left their homeland to fight mostly with the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War against Franco’s fascist forces and 65 of them lost their lives. According to Drew McEwan who helped to organise the event,” 31 came from West Dunbartonshire, including the five from Renton, and another 11 from Alexandria.” Others came from Clydebank, Dumbarton, Duntocher and Dalmuir. [Crann Tara website].

The bull very evidently represents Spain and the monument expresses a pride in how those Rentonians played such an important part. It even indirectly reminds of how society has changed locally in those intervening years and how the political landscape has become so different.

COUNTERFIRE : A fascinating review of a book : Giles Tremlett, The International Brigades: Fascism, Freedom and the Spanish Civil War (Bloomsbury 2020). https://www.counterfire.org/article/the-international-brigades-fascism-freedom-and-the-spanish-civil-war-book-review/

CRANN TARA website - 27/08/2011 - Honouring the Scots Who Fought Franco https://www.cranntara.scot/renton_statue_2011.html#

HISTORY website : https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/francisco-franco

LIB.COM website : https://libcom.org/article/armed-resistance-franco-1939-1965-antonio-tellez

WIKIPEDIA : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Civil_War

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