Colin Carritt reveals his very personal reasons for wanting a memorial for the Oxfordshire volunteers who fought in the Spanish Civil War

In October 1936, my dad Noel Carritt went to war – the Spanish Civil War. He hadn’t long finished university in Oxford and was in his first proper job teaching in Sheffield when he decided that the march of fascism across Europe had to stop.

A few years earlier he had married a Jewish girl, Leisel, from Germany, who had escaped to the UK. But Liesel was at risk of being sent back to Germany as an alien once she became of age so Noel married her to save her from what- ever fate the Nazis would have had for her. They both decided that they had to make a stand against fascism and to do so by volunteering for the International Brigades who were being mobilised to fight on behalf of the democratic Popular Front government in Spain against the insurgency of General Franco and his supporters, Hitler and Mussolini.

Liesel went ahead of Noel, who left Sheffield without telling anyone of his intentions, and it was only when he got to London that he scribbled a brief note to his parents in Oxford telling them where he was heading. He knew it would be dangerous but he was determined.

A few months later his younger brother Anthony also joined up.

Noel was given some cursory training before being thrust into the action as an infantryman at the battle for Jarama just east of Madrid. It was a blood bath. Of the 500 members of the British battalion at Jarama, only 160 survived. Noel was lucky to suffer no more than a shrapnel wound to his hand.

When he recovered, he returned to the front as an ambulance driver. This was no sinecure as the fascists deliberately targeted ambulances and medical staff.

In the next set piece battle at Brunete to the west of Madrid, Noel was fortunate once again. Anthony, who had also signed up to drive ambulances was not so lucky.

His vehicle was obliterated during a sustained aerial bombardment and he did not survive.

Anthony was one of six people from Oxfordshire who were killed in the Spanish Civil War from the total of 31 local volunteers.

Some were students from Oxford’s world famous university, some industrial workers from the Morris Motor works at Cowley, and some were farm workers from Oxford’s rural hinterland.

Few had any military experience but all were committed anti-fascists determined to stop Franco, Hitler and Mussolini from spreading their poisonous ideology.

The International Brigade Memorial Trust (IBMT) is a national charity committed to keeping alive the memory and spirit of the 2,726 volunteers from these islands who went to Spain – 543 of whom gave their lives there.

There are more than 100 memorials in towns and cities across the British Isles but Oxford has been notably absent from the list; it is now 80 years since the start of the civil war and my colleagues and I from the IBMT plan to put that right.

At the end of 2014, we set up a design competition for a memorial that would capture the public imagination and be emblematic of the 1930s worldwide struggle against fascism, and to have it sited near to the city centre.

The commission was awarded to sculptor Charlie Carter and a mock-up of his design is pictured, left. It is planned to be a pale grey granite monument standing 6ft tall and just over 3ft wide.

Oxford Mail:

  • Colin's father Noel served in the International Brigades

The image of the clenched fist grappling with the scorpion represents the iconic symbolism of the democratic struggle against the poison of fascism.

The three-pointed star is the emblem of the International Brigade and the engraved names will be of the six volunteers who were killed in the fighting.

A plaque in resin bronze will memorialise all 31 volunteers who went to Spain without naming them individually.

Simultaneously, and working with two Oxford historians and a retired journalist, we have published a history of Oxfordshire’s involvement in the war called No Other Way: Oxfordshire and the Spanish Civil War. It includes biographies of the 31 volunteers and is available priced £8 from John Haywood, 1 Queens Road, Banbury OX16 OED (cheques payable to IBMT).

The city council is considering a site in St Giles near the present memorial for those killed in the First and Second World Wars.

We believe this to be an appropriate site given the close connection between the Spanish war and the subsequent world war. Hitler’s bombing of Coventry Cathedral in 1940 and other British cities precisely replicated his ruthless bombing missions against the defenceless town of Guernica in northern Spain in April 1937.

We hope the memorial will provide a permanent reminder of the dangers of fascism and the need for resistance. For details or to make a donation, go to the IBMT website,