Wellington vs Glasgow Rangers’ International Brigadiers, and the origins of “No pasarán” and “No surrender”

Nominations for the noblest British fighter in a Spanish war, and speculative revisions of the history of two idiot idioms.

An interesting factoid flashed by this morning as Kevin McKenna got all weepy while pretending to practise historical journalism over at the Guardian: some of the 65-strong Glaswegian contingent of the International Brigades were basically interested in the Civil War because they liked killing Catholics, and they heard in the Spanish Stalinist “No pasarán” an echo of the Ulster Protestant “No surrender”. Which, if true, makes it rather difficult to agree with the sub-editor and “Be proud of those who fought in Spain”, irrespective of other considerations.

The sectarian claims actually strike me as improbable–Arthur Dooley, the sculptor of the La Pasionaria monument overlooking the Clyde, was a Liverpudlian Catholic and not completely daft–but if we submit for a moment to the sentimental folly that is pride practised at a distance and look around for admirable Brits in Spanish wars, then Wellington strikes me as a much more sensible choice:

Among his six volumes of standing orders for the Peninsular Campaign, all drafted by him, is a code of behaviour for the British Army while operating in Catholic Countries. His orders include:

  • The right of Catholic soldiers to go to Mass the army included many Catholics, mainly Irish (but Wellington was sceptical about their religious commitment, which, according to him, only showed itself in the soldiers crossing themselves to induce the local people to give them wine)
  • A prohibition to all soldiers against entering a church during a service unless it was to take part in the service. Also, an order to uncover their heads and otherwise act respectfully at all times when in a church.
  • An order to all officers, when meeting a procession bearing the Host, to come to a halt and remove their helmets or hats while the procession passed. Soldiers were ordered to put their hand to their helmet in salute. When the procession passed the guard, the sentry was to call out the guard, which was to stand to attention and present arms. (Dispatches V, 134-5 & Supplementary Dispatches VI 91-2).

Other nominations welcome, except for David Beckham.

Was “No surrender” used at the siege of Londonderry, or was it really a 19th century invention?

This afternoon in the pub neighbourhood Fenians maintained that “No surrender” was actually coined in the 1820s by Protestant supremacists to focus opposition to Catholic emancipation, pushed through in 1829 by Wellington for practical reasons but to his further glory. There are no pre-1820s citations on Google Books and a brief trawl of everything else in the world produces nothing to refute them. It would very interesting to know what experts like Peter Robinson (Their cry was “No surrender”. An account of the siege of Londonderry, 1688-1689) and Ian McBride (The siege of Derry in Ulster Protestant mythology) have to say.

Did La Pasionaria’s slogan ultimately come from the Bible?

I think it is generally and safely assumed now (see eg Michael Jackson, Fallen sparrows (1994)) that Dolores Ibárruri took her battle cry from French military propaganda at Verdun:

Throughout that long summer the battle cry of Verdun, “Ne passeront pas!” (“They shall not pass!”), was an inspiration to the French army and to the world. (March & Beamish, History of the World War (1919))

But her nickname apparently came from the Passion of Christ (communist sources prefer to attribute it to an unspecified association with Passiflora caerulea, not mentioning that flower’s religious symbolism), and her apparently studious Catholic background is said to have led her to contemplate the convent. And so that I find it quite difficult to imagine that she would not have been familiar with the following key assertion, in Mark 13:31:

El cielo y la tierra pasarán, mas mis palabras no pasarán.
Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.

This powerful little dichotomy turned up regularly in 19th century religious tracts and was widely reused (eg here, comparing the French revolutionary assembly’s ravings with Mirabeau’s realism), paraphrased, and parodied, as in for example one of the 19th century French theatre’s great export products, Frédérick Lemaître‘s Robert Macaire genre. In this popular scene, cited here by Thackeray, Robert is busy convincing his fellow swindler that it is time to desert the temporal for the eternal:

–En vérité, en vérité! Je te le dis, Bertrand, le temps de la commandite va passer, mais les badauds ne passeront pas. Occupons nous de ce qui est éternel. Si nous faisions une religion? Hein?
–Diable! Diable! Une religion, ce n’est pas facile á faire.
–T’es toujours bête, Bertrand. On se fait pape, on loue une boutique, on emprunte des chaises, on fait des sermons sur Napoléon, sur Voltaire, sur la découverte de l’Amérique, sur n’importe quoi. Voilà une religion, ce n’est pas plus difficile que ça.

Locating La Pasionaria and the French army’s ultimate source in the Bible of course gives a delightfully ironic twist to their words: instead of being a simple call to resist, the phrase confers a divine glow on its speaker. Pétain remained a semi-deity for only 24 years after Verdun, but La Pasionaria seems to be surviving post-humous attempts to rob her of her godhead with remarkable ease.

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Comments

  1. There’s a Glasgow prod Communist mason character in the Irivine Welsh book “glue” (section set in the 50’s-60’s) who states that the first to the wall after the revolution will be the Catholic priests. I think he was supposed to have fought in Spain, but can’t quite remember.

  2. I always used to think that stuff about the Civil War being a Protestant evangelical conspiracy was purely and simply the paranoid ravings of the Catholic conservative right, but Tom Buchanan shows that, although the CofE felt closer to Rome than Moscow, some British Protestant sects did indeed see the Republic and the war as an opportunity to change the status quo and impose their particular brand of madness. It’s all George Borrow’s fault, of course.

  3. There is, on line, a charming George Borrow text where he wanders through the Welsh borders bumping into a set of racial stereotypes. This link shows his humane support for the slavery, even as it was on its last legs…

    http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/borrow/george/wild/chapter3.html

    Then we have a laughable set piece clarifying the racial difference beween the Saxon and the Celt, and the superiority of the former, on the basis of a chance encounter with a wagoner.

    http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/borrow/george/wild/chapter5.html

    Ah racial science, such promising beginnings, but nobody seems to bother with it nowadays.

    Still, he’s a great source for the linguistic situation of Welsh in the 1860’s.

  4. We haven’t talked to Borrow since he came to Bala and didn’t buy anything in the family shop. I read somewhere that he was a right ba$tard, actually. I’ll try to dig it out one of these years.

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