My three novels set during or in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War feature fictional journalist Jack Telford.
But I needed a real-life newspaper for which he could report. And I chose the Sunday weekly Reynolds News.
It had been founded as Reynolds’s Weekly Newspaper in 1850 by radical journalist William MacArthur Reynolds. In 1925, the paper’s name was changed to Reynolds Illustrated News. Then it was acquired by the National Co-operative Press on behalf of the Labour Party, and it eventually ceased publication in 1967, by which time it was known as the Sunday Citizen.
The complete archives were later donated by the Co-operative Society to Bradford University, courtesy of Prime Minister Harold Wilson. The collection is now housed in the university’s J.B. Priestley Library.
Along with other progressive newspapers of the period, Reynolds News played a major part in keeping British readers informed about the conflict in Spain. While I’d read a lot of the paper’s Spanish Civil War articles in the process of writing the Telford novels, I decided it was high time to study them properly. So, my huge thanks to Archivist Julie Parry who arranged my visit.
Naturally, the conflict featured strongly – often the main front page article – in all editions from mid-July 1936 until March 1939. So far too much content to cover in this piece. But at least here’s a sample. And, naturally, all photos in this article are courtesy of Bradford University’s Special Collections Archive.
So, where to start? The beginning, naturally. Here, the paper’s first edition after news broke of the military coup in Spain. 19th July 1936. Rebel Army Rules In Morocco.
After that, there isn’t a weekly edition without a front page headline and/or inside feature bringing detailed accounts of the Spanish Civil War to the newspaper’s estimated 400,000 readers.
Within a couple of weeks, Reynolds News was providing proper analysis of the situation. The myth of neutrality among the other fascist nations of Europe, Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy. The question of whether this was truly a civil war or, indeed, the opening shots of a more global conflict. Here is H.N. Brailsford on 9th August 1936.
H.N. (Henry Noel) Brailsford was born in 1873 and became a prolific left-wing journalist and writer. A regular contributor to Reynolds News and the New Statesman, he was considered too old to join the International Brigades when the conflict in Spain began. But he chaired the Labour Spain Committee and spent some time on the front lines reporting on the British Battalion’s actions. “God bless old Brailsford,” Fred Copeman (then commander of the battalion) said of him later. “We need more men like him.”
In the same edition, news that the French had closed their border with Spain the previous evening, and although international supporters of the Republic were already volunteering to join the fight against the rebel forces, the closure of the border was now going to make the journey perilous.
Over the next couple of months, the paper carefully covered developments such as the desperate fighting during the ill-fated War in the North – from Irún, through the Basque country and all the way into Asturias. Or the fighting around Toledo. But then, in the 8th November edition, news of the Siege of Madrid.
Early in 1937, of course, detailed reports on the fighting around Madrid, at Jarama and Guadalajara, then the tragedy of Bilbao. The edition on Sunday 2nd May brings analysis of Guernica – and the paper’s organisation of a petition. This was the first of many, many campaigns that the editor, Sydney Elliott, would instigate over the next couple of years.
Sydney Elliott was born in 1902. He was the editor of Reynold’s News from 1929 until 1941. He appointed H.N. Braisford and Hamilton Fyfe as columnists. As a fervent supporter of Spain’s Popular Front Republican government, he campaigned for Aid Spain committees all through the conflict. Support for the various foodships. Support for the Co-op’s Milk Tokens campaign.
Throughout the rest of 1937, there are some fabulous pieces: Brailsford’s exposé of the sham Neutrality Pact; the continuing heroism of Madrid’s defenders; interesting articles about the war’s strategy and the role of the International Brigades, written by the British Battalion’s first commander, Wilfred Macartney; the prospect of this civil war becoming a considerably wider conflict; and then, in May, the sad news that Bilbao was unlikely to hold out much longer.
In the 23rd May edition, this article…
The Habana, of course, and her cargo of 4,000 refugee Basque children.
On 20th June, the fall of Bilbao itself…
Meanwhile, and continuing through August 1937, Reynolds News had been hammering home the message about the number of British vessels attacked, wrecked or sunk by Franco’s Nationalists, of by German planes of the Condor Legion, or by Italian U-boats – and about the total absence of any response by the British government or by the Royal Navy.
The role and number of Franco’s foreign forces – plainly operating in contravention of the Neutrality Pact – was neatly captured in this cartoon by Giles on 31st July. Does anyone here understand Spanish? Franco asks his assembled army.
Carl Giles was born in 1916. He began working for Reynolds News in 1937, creating a cartoon strip under the title Young Ernie, as well as individual cartoons. He later became famous (and rich) working for the Daily Express, though he was always at pains to point out that he despised the paper’s politics and felt guilt at having abandoned his left-wing roots with Reynolds News.
The end of 1937 came, of course, with the battle for Teruel. The 26th December edition carried to great news of the Republic’s initial success in capturing the town.
But, by 23rd January 1938, after the Nationalists’ counterattacks, the street fighting through that cruel winter, word that the battle was finally lost – and an article written by Tom Wintringham (who had commanded the British Battalion during the fighting at Jarama): After Teruel… What Next In Spain?
Reporting on the various campaigns continues through 1938. The Nationalists’ Aragon Offensive in March, their push to the Mediterranean in April, effectively cutting the Republican sector in two. The fighting towards Valencia. The continuing defence of Madrid.
Also, in March, news that a certain Liverpool Councillor, Jack Jones had left to fight in Spain.
And, of course, from the end of July onwards, the many months of the Ebro Campaign – the Republic’s attempt to reunite its territories.
But throughout the year, the paper also continues educating its readers that the Spanish conflict is just one part of the struggle against fascism across the globe. There’s the Japanese invasion of China also. And, of course, the developing crisis about the Sudetenland, with Reynolds News one of the only British papers to pour scorn on Chamberlain’s Munich deal.
And this latest appeasement towards Hitler’s ambitions resounded in Spain as well. It undermined Republican morale very badly. The edition on 30th October carried the story of the previous day’s departure of the International Brigades from Barcelona and the speech made by La Pasionaria. Then, on 6th November, news that the Ebro Campaign was finally lost, the Nationalists having taken their last objective at Mora de Ebro.
The final months of the war are tracked through the opening months of 1939. In January, there’s even a note of optimism. General Miaja, hero of the Defence of Madrid, weighing the odds of an eventual victory, even at this stage, if they can mount a final defensive line and hold out until, inevitably, the wider European conflict begins – and Francos’ German and Italian allies are finally forced to leave Spain.
But that, of course, is just before the fall of Barcelona, and then British and French recognition of Franco’s Nationalist government the following month, followed by the final fall of the Republic in March. Beforehand, Brailsford’s final comment on the conflict.
And the last word? This article written by Air Commodore L.E.O.Charlton with his chilling analysis of the implications for Britain from Spain’s defeat. And how right he was!
So let’s finish with that cutting paragraph about Spain: “It is another country thrown to the wolves in the vain hope that the Axis Powers will now cry halt instead of havoc, and not unloose the dogs of war.” Well, now we know just how vain that hope was in practice. Just six months later and the dogs of war were set loose. The Spanish Civil War had indeed become the opening chapter to the Second World War.