• U.S.

Foreign News: Abies & Georgies

4 minute read

In the Philippines, Hawaii, Alaska and every one of the 48 U. S. States are members of the Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (which now includes the George Washington Brigade) of Leftist Spain. Total membership of the Friends is about 25,000, all paying annual dues of $1, and many contributing more besides. About 3,500 are blood relatives of the jaunty “Abies and Georgies” who in devil-may-care brown berets are fighting the Spanish Rightists. The Friends have been collecting about $15,000 per month, last week launched a campaign to raise $50,000 per month from now on. Their spirit is that of Leftist Spanish Novelist Ramon J. Sender, who stepped off the Queen Mary last week in Manhattan to announce: “Even if Franco wins, this war in Spain will last throughout the century!”

In Leftist Spain last week the regular staff correspondents and Novelist Ernest Hemingway were looking for survivors of the 450 Abies & Georgies who for a whole gallant day held a hilltop near Gandesa against the sweeping offensive of the Spanish Rightists (see above). About 150 were said to have escaped Death. After finding eight, Mr. Hemingway wrote: “When we saw them at noon they were barefooted and had just been given clothes. They had been naked since they had crossed the Ebro River at daylight. The Ebro, they said, was a fast-flowing, very cold river, and six others who had tried to swim it, four of whom were wounded, drowned. . . . We listened to their story of their break-through after the battalion had been surrounded.”

Soon after three of the five commanding officers of the Abraham Lincoln-George Washington outfit reached safety in the Leftist rear. Of these Mr. Fred Keller, a former choir boy, elevator boy, newspaper reporter and amateur boxer, who is a political commissar of the Abies & Georgies, had the most hair-raising tale to tell. Placed by his Rightist captors under guard in a house, chunky, muscular Commissar Keller overpowered and killed his guard, crept away into the night, had wandered about for four days behind Rightist lines, swum the Ebro River three times with a bullet in his hip before he was able to slip through to the Leftists.

Meanwhile last week there slipped completely out of Leftist Spain and over into France three ragged, mud-bespattered Abies & Georgies whose shoes were coming to pieces and who appeared half-starved. The most communicative of these was John Gordon Honeycombe, 37, of Los Angeles, a former U. S. seaman born at Ilion, N. Y. “I remember the last thing my wife said to me when I left her and my six-year-old kid in Los Angeles,” mused Mr. Honeycombe. “She said: ‘You’ll regret the day you left for Spain.’ She was right! The whole Republican line —those that were left of us—just cracked and ran. . . . This war cannot last much longer. . . . That man Franco has everything! The Spaniards don’t want to fight . . . and those Americans that are left want to go home.”

Mr. Honeycombe said that he once worked in the American Communist Party in California, and in general his long statement was annoying to the Friends of the Abraham Lincoln-George Washington Battalion, spokesmen for whom were soon declaring in Manhattan: “Honeycombe is nothing but a liar!”

Barcelona correspondents got a more authoritative statement from Battalion Lieutenant Alvin Cohen: “Honeycombe behaved badly and ran away, finally coming to me in Barcelona, begging to be sent back to America. I threw him in jail instead, to think it over, and then sent him back to the Brigade. Now he has run away again.” Lieutenant Cohen called the figure of 8,500 Americans killed, wounded and missing in Spain given by Mr. Honeycombe “highly exaggerated.” Barcelona Correspondent Herbert L. Matthews again cabled as the total U. S. enrollment in the People’s Army the figure of 2,000 he gave in his recent book Two Wars and More to Come (Carrick & Evans, $2.50). In this Timesman Matthews wrote: “The outcome of the Spanish Civil War is not going to be changed by the advent of some 2,000 or more Americans: it is in the United States that they will make their deepest mark.”

European observers incline to believe that the Communist Internationale and its section, the American Communist Party, were instrumental in creating the Abraham Lincoln-George Washington outfit, but according to its members it arose spontaneously in Leftist Spain on Christmas Day 1936. Around a campfire were some 90 U. S. Leftists who had simply gone to Spain as individuals and they formed the nucleus of the Battalion. Its money-collecting Friends organized themselves in Manhattan on April 20, 1937. According to their latest balance sheet, they have raised $115,701.42 of which administrative expenses have consumed $13,830.97 and there has been disbursed to the Abies & Georgies $95,395.38.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com