SEPTEMBER 8, START OF NEARLY 900 DAYS OF NAZI SIEGE
On 21st June 1941 Hitler broke Nazi Germany’s non-aggression Treaty with the Soviet Union and invaded through Poland, sending roughly 3 million personnel through, in addition to its Finnish and Romanian allies, in a three-pronged attack.
Leningrad was one of the primary objectives as it was the most industrialised next to Moscow, with numerous arms factories among its 600 factories turning out 11% of all Russia’s industrial production, along with being the port of the Russian fleet. For those reasons it was important to the Soviet Union too but there was another very important one: the Petrograd Soviet had played a key role in the 1917 February and October revolutions in Russia.
The Nazi German advance in its various Army Groups through Soviet Russia overcame most resistance fairly easily but in September the advance of Army Group North was finally halted in the Leningrad suburbs. The German and other Axis troops had air dominance and a massive artillery capability. Hitler instructed his troops not only to besiege the city but to wipe it out. The Finnish troops controlled the area to the north and the Nazis placed the División Azul (the Blue Division), the fascist Spanish unit, along the south-east1.
“The Führer has decided to erase the city of Petersburg from the face of the earth,” he wrote in a memo. “It is intended to encircle the city and level it to the ground by means of artillery bombardment using every caliber of shell, and continual bombing from the air.” The memo stressed that requests for surrender negotiations were to be ignored, since the Nazis didn’t have the desire to feed the city’s large population.2
Civilians in Leningrad worked frantically on the construction of defences, digging trenches and constructing antitank fortifications as the Red Army and partisans lost one battle after another. The town of Mga was taken, recaptured and then taken again by the Nazis, severing the city’s last rail connection. With the capture of Shlisselburg in early September, the last road was cut. The only way to supply Leningrad now was across Lake Ladoga.
IRON RING AROUND THE CITY
Artillery and air bombardment of the city began almost immediately; the city could receive supplies only by barge across the lake which could also be targeted by Luftwaffe attack. Incendiary attacks caused huge damage and destroyed vital supplies of oil and food and on September 19th Nazi aircraft dropped 2,500 high explosive and incendiary bombs.
The authorities evacuated around 600,000 civilians before the Nazi “iron ring” closed around the city but 2.5 million civilians still remained inside. It is said that officials had been negligent in stockpiling food, so the only way to feed the city was to bring fresh supplies across Lake Ladoga, the only open route into the city. Transport of Food and fuel was by barge until the lake froze, then by trucks and sleds – all of these frequent targets of Nazi aerial attack.
“By November, food shortages had seen civilian rations cut to just 250 grams of bread a day for workers. Children, the elderly and the unemployed got a scant 125 grams—the equivalent of three small slices.”3
The winter of 1941-’42 was bitterly cold and as many as 100,000 a month died of starvation. “In their desperation, people ate everything from petroleum jelly and wallpaper glue to rats, pigeons and household pets. For warmth, they burned furniture, wardrobes and even the books from their personal libraries. Theft and murder for ration cards became a constant threat, and the authorities eventually arrested over 2,000 people for cannibalism. As the famine intensified, one 12-year-old Leningrader named Tanya Savicheva recorded the dates of the deaths of all her family members in a journal. “The Savichevs are dead,” she wrote after the passing of her mother. “Everyone is dead. Only Tanya is left.””4
And yet the city held out. Another 500,000 civilians were evacuated early the following year, 1942, which reduced the city’s population to 1,000,000. As the city thawed in Spring, the survivors went out to bury the dead lining their streets and cleared bombardment rubble. Courtyard areas and parks were planted for vegetables but even so and despite the “Road of Life” across Lake Ladoga, food was short.
A number of Red Army attempts to break through to the city failed, with very high loss of Russian soldiers. In January 1943 the Red Army won a land strip from the Nazis and its engineers built a special railway link to run through it which, by the end of the year nearly 5 million tons of food and other supplies had been delivered into Leningrad. Machinery and ammunition were soon being turned out in the factories by a workforce nearly 80% composed of women.
MUSIC OF RESISTANCE
In august 1942 it was played and broadcast towards the Nazi German lines over loudspeakers.
The Red Army finally broke the Nazi blockade on 27th January 1944 and, with the Nazi forces all over Russia in retreat, the city was free. Survivors celebrated but the death toll was huge; some had lost all their family during the siege.
Altogether an estimated 75,000 bombs were dropped on Leningrad during the period of the siege and killed many – but more died from hunger and hunger-facilitated illness.
Because of the declared intentions of Hitler and the Nazis and the effect on the civilian population of the city, many historians categorise this siege as genocide; it was also the longest siege of WWII and one of the longest in history.
“In total, the siege of Leningrad had killed an estimated 800,000 civilians—nearly as many as all the World War II deaths of the United States and the United Kingdom combined. Soviet-era censorship ensured that the more grisly details of the blockade were suppressed until the end of the 20th century, yet even while World War II was still underway, the city was hailed as a symbol of Russian determination and sacrifice.”5
Perhaps the most appropriate accolade to the resistance of Leningrad was penned by the New York Times in 1945: “There is hardly a parallel in history for the endurance of so many people over so long a time. Leningrad stood alone against the might of Germany since the beginning of the invasion. It is a city saved by its own will, and its stand will live in the annals as a kind of heroic myth.”6
Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony performed by the Frankfurt Radio Symhony in 2019 (Russian composition, played by a German Orchestra, conducted by a Finn!) almost 1 hour 25 minutes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GB3zR_X25UU
MONUMENT TO THE HEROIC DEFENDERS OF LENINGRAD AND SCULPTURAL GROUPS IN VICTORY SQUARE PETROGRAD
Foster Islamic fundamentalist groups and arm them to overthrow a competitor’s puppet government. Use a nearby ally as a conduit.
Portray the fundamentalist insurgency as a liberation war and keep supplying them with weapons, training, through your nearby ally. This might cost as much as US$20 billion. Have a film made about it in which a former male porn film star is the USA hero with the local fundamentalist Islamic militias (underplay the Islamic part).
When they’ve overthrown the competitor’s puppet, attempt to instal your own puppet instead.
When your Islamic fundamentalist warlords don’t accept this and become a problem, invade the country. You have to get lots of your own soldiers killed because you armed and trained the opposition, they have grown more powerful and why should anyone fight them for you?
Keep telling the relatives of your dead soldiers (and those not yet dead) that they are fighting for democracy and to protect their homes (although they are nowhere near their homes).
Set up your own puppet regime, build a local army, let your investors back home in to gobble up what they can, dispense bribes (even to notorious warlords, torturers, murderers).
Use airpower to bomb your previous allies, even though you will be killing a lot of uninvolved people (and even though airpower didn’t work in the end for the other’s puppet government)
When it’s clear you are not going to win without an even more massive investment of money and your soldiers’ lives (which will make your politicians unpopular at home), pull out. Leave your puppets and local employees behind (shoot some as they try to get on your planes).
Then blame your puppet government for running. Blame the puppet army soldiers for surrendering, ignoring the fact that thousands of them have been killed even when you gave them air cover and that was then withdrawn or that surrounded units fought on for days on promises of relieving columns that never came.
You might lose some superpower status and get criticised at home. BUT your arms industry has increased its profits at least TEN TIMES since the invasion. After all, who really matters in all this?
https://www.democracynow.org/shows/2021/8/17# (For Afghanistan jump to Haran Rahoumi at 17.19 mins. on video to 31.4 mins; and again to from 37mins. with Azmat Khan to 46mins. In my opinion much more informative than ex-US Col. Amy Wright, now in Codepink, Vets for Peace.)
On June 6th 1944, a flotilla of more than 4,500 ships would transport 130,000 soldiers, and 20,000 vehicles across the English Channel, becoming the largest movement of people and material in the history of mankind. Known as D-Day, the Normandy Landing was the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany, but it would not have been possible without the key participation of a Spanish double agent, Juan Pujol, alias “Garbo,” who led Hitler to believe that the invasion would take place in Calais, 300 kilometers away. Garbo became a legend but recent investigations seem to indicate that perhaps the spy was not he but rather his beautiful wife. Today we know of a film-like story, the story of Araceli González Carballo, the Galician who deceived Hitler and who changed the course of a war1.
Araceli was born in Lugo in 1914, into a wealthy family. In the middle of the Civil War she volunteered to work in a blood bank hospital, until in 1938 she decided that she wanted to leave her hometown. Her father got her a position in Burgos, where she would work as secretary to the Governor of the Bank of Spain.
In February 1939, she met Juan Pujol, a young Catalan officer who had started the war on the Republican side and later switched to the National2 side, although he no longer believed in it. They get married and move to Madrid.
The two were of the opinion that Hitler would eventually lead Europe into disaster so they decided to offer themselves to the British to act as spies on the Germans in Madrid.
The British turned a deaf ear to her offer, so, in a risky decision, Araceli suggests to her husband that if they win the trust of the Third Reich, then they will be accepted by the British. Pujol, an officer in Franco’s army, appears at the German embassy in Madrid and offers himself to the Nazis. The ploy works and he begins working for the Third Reich’s Secret Services, the Abwehr. He is christened “Arabel” (from Araceli bella) and Friedrich Knappe is assigned as his contact.
Without knowing a single piece of information of interest, they pass reports to the Nazis, making them believe that they reside in London and that they have a network of informants when, really, they live in Lisbon and all they share with the Germans are inventions and rumors.
Knowing that their cover was really weak, Araceli travels to Madrid to fake a fit of jealousy in front of Knappe. She shows up at the Embassy to tell him that she knew the German had held meetings with her husband and to ask him if he knew anything about Pujol, since she had left for London unannounced and had no news from him, fearing that he has abandoned her. Knappe succumbs to Araceli’s tears and beauty and reveals to her that Juan Pujol is doing essential work for the Third Reich. The deception had worked.
After that meeting, Pujol sent Germany highly valuable information about a British fleet that had left for Malta. He had learned the details by chance and considered it to be as false as the rest of the information he sent to the Nazis. But this time he was right, and the Abwehr took the information as a sign of Pujol’s skill.
That report was intercepted by the British and made their Secret Services very nervous so Araceli, without informing Pujol, decided that it was time to try again. And for this she turned to the North American Naval Attaché in Lisbon, Edward Rousseau, who got her an interview with the English. Araceli drops the bomb: “The spy you are looking for is my husband.” British Intelligence recruits Pujol and that is how “Garbo” was born, one of the most important and decisive double agents of the Second World War who, from London, and with a network of 27 false spies, misinformed the Nazis from the year 1942 until the end of the war.
At the orders of MI5, the British Secret Service, they transmitted information to the Germans about which areas should be bombed by their air force, the Luftwaffe, without the Nazis knowing that they were unpopulated targets and without strategic interest. To confuse them, they sent them doctored photos of ruins and corpses, making them believe that the bombings had been a success.
But it is in 1944 when his performance becomes so decisive that there are those who consider that thanks to this couple the Allies won the Second World War3. With their fake spy network, they informed German Intelligence that the D-Day invasion would take place at Calais and not on the beaches of Normandy. That information delayed the German response long enough for the invasion to be a success. The same morning of June 6th, Pujol sent a message to the Germans in which he told them that the real landing was not the one that was taking place, but that it would be in Calais, days later. Hitler bought it.
What is surprising is that, according to declassified MI5 reports, Araceli almost ruined the entire operation. In 1943, Pujol was keeping his wife and his two children confined and controlled at home, which eventually enraged Araceli. “I don’t want to live another five minutes with my husband. Even if they kill me, I’m going to the Spanish Embassy to reveal the truth about him”. To avoid this, the British deceived the Galician woman into believing that her husband had been arrested because of her, so that she would come to her senses, which she finally did.
Despite the collapse of Germany, the Nazis never suspected Garbo, and Hitler would award him the Iron Cross, the highest decoration of the Third Reich.
He would also receive the Order of the British Empire, becoming the only person decorated by both sides of World War II, but was unable to collect it, since he returned to Madrid with his family before he could receive it. In Madrid he was summoned by the Abwehr but it was Araceli who attended for fear that it was a trap. However the Germans just wanted to give him a monetary bonus for services rendered to the late Reich.
Now separated from MI5, they moved to Venezuela but Araceli did not adapt to that life, so she returned to Lugo with her children and separated from Pujol. Three years later, in a precarious financial situation, she settled in Madrid, where the British remembered that Garbo’s wife also got them to win the War, so they helped her with a job as an interpreter for the British and American embassies.
In 1956 news reached her that her husband had died in Angola4 from malaria and she married Edward Kreisler, with whom she maintained a hectic social life in the capital, where they received the most illustrious guests from the United Kingdom and the United States, and they founded an art gallery that would eventually have branches in New York and Miami and which is still in operation today.
However, a twist in this real-life film script was still missing. In 1984 the writer Nigel West met Pujol on the shores of Lake Maracaibo and convinced him to return to London and receive formal recognition of his achievements during the war. It turns out that his former boss at MI5 had spread a rumour that he had passed away in order to get the spy out of circulation. All the British and Spanish newspapers and different European television stations presented him as the hero that he was. And Prince Philip of Edinburgh publicly paid tribute to him in a commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Normandy Landings.
The former spy traveled to Spain and, after asking Araceli for permission, he was reunited with his children and met his grandchildren. The Spain-based family also traveled to Venezuela where Pujol had rebuilt his life and had three other children.
Juan Pujol died in Venezuela in 1988, in Choroní where, in one of his residences, can be read: “Here was the greatest spy in history.” Araceli would die too just two years later, in Madrid, following a stroke. Her remains rest in the Sacramental Cemetery of San Isidro.
No one knew her true story until MI5 declassified a large part of the files that revealed Araceli’s true participation in her husband’s adventures, and writers and journalists such as José de Cora, director of Progreso de Lugo, Ben Macintyre, editor from The Times, Javier Juárez or Edmond Roch (winner of a Goya for his documentary on Garbo), began to investigate.
But Garbo was not a person, it was a team. It would not have existed without Pujol, but neither would it have existed without the help and courage of Araceli. One has to wonder which of the two was really the spy. The answer is not as clear as it might seem.
This is the story how a Galician from Lugo allied herself with a Catalan from Barcelona to have an adventure that would change the course of history, in which they would deceive the Third Reich, the Nazis and Hitler himself. Without them the history of Europe and of the world would have been very different.
1Certainly the Nazi focus on Calais allowed the the US, British and Dominion troops to fight their way ashore and eventually establish a beachhead. But most analysts would say that it was the Battle of Stalingrad that was the real turning point in the War and sealed the fate of the Nazi’s military plans and of the regime.
2The military-fascist side called themselves the “Nationalists” and much of the world’s media used that description in their reporting and many historical references continued that description. They were engaging in a coup against a democratically elected government and in so far as they were “nationalists” they were Spanish nationalists but suppressing the nationalist aspirations of the Basques, Catalans and Galicians, also doing so with foreign military forces of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. They should be called what they were: military-fascist coupists.
3This is obviously an inflated claim, if it is indeed true that historians are of that opinion; there is rarely one point other than the final battle which can be said to “win” a war (see also earlier footnote with reference to Stalingrad).
He also asked not to be wrapped in a shroud but a blanket. The idea of a shroud he found humiliating. His remains being wrapped in a blanket was not a shock. The blanket had defined the prison protest and he identified as a blanketman, even telling British secretary of state Roy Mason “bury me in my blanket.”
In London in 1847 (i.e the worst year of the Great Hunger — Editor Rebel Breeze), though images of the suffering and starvation in Ireland appeared in newspapers, few upper class British people were moved to help. One exception to this indifference was a Polish count who became a naturalized British subject, Paul (Pawel) Strzelecki. A new exhibit at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin: A Forgotten Polish Hero in the Great Irish Famine, Paul Strzelecki’s struggle to save thousands, honours this selfless Pole who helped feed at least 200,000 starving people in the west of Ireland. Created by Nikola Skowska-Moroney at the Polish Embassy in Dublin, the exhibition will be part of a nationwide tour at various venues throughout the country.
Strzelecki was not only a great humanitarian, but also a fascinating character in his own right. Born into a minor aristocratic family, he served in the Prussian army and had his heart broken when the family of the young woman he had fallen in love with refused his offer of marriage on account of his modest means. Crushed, he decided to leave Poland and traveled the world, visiting Africa, North and South America before traveling to Polynesia and Australia. He became a self-taught scholar in geography, geology and anthropology and corresponded with Charles Darwin. In Australia, he climbed the continent’s highest peak, naming it for the great Polish revolutionary Tadeusz Kosciuszko and explored Tasmania. He became a British subject in 1845 and published his Physical Description of New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land, for which he received the Founder’s medal of the Royal Geographical Society.
In 1845, he returned to London where he became friendly with Samuel John Lloyd, an associate of the powerful banker Baron Lionel de Rothschild. The two bankers, moved by the suffering of the Irish, founded the British Relief Association, which collected money for famine relief. Strzelecki volunteered to go to Ireland as an unpaid agent of the B.R.A. Traveling across the famine stricken land, Strzelecki was shocked by the suffering and death he saw around him. In Co. Mayo, Strzelecki organized soup kitchens and gave cash to relief committees. He focused much of his relief work on children. Strzelecki decided to stay in Ireland because, unlike others, he correctly predicted that famine would return to Ireland the following year. The B.R.A. named Strzelecki as agent for all of Ireland and he helped the hungry until the organization’s funds were depleted. He then returned to London where he pled for further funds and explained that humanitarianism must take precedence over every other consideration. In 1849, he again returned to Ireland where he tried to feed the hungry.
Strzelecki also helped many Irish families to emigrate to Australia and the United States. His efforts were recognized by the Crown and he was knighted in 1849. For many years Strzelecki’s heroism was forgotten, but the Polish Embassy in Ireland has sponsored the exhibition to remind Ireland of this great Polish humanitarian. Hopefully, Strzelecki’s story will resonate both with the Irish and with the many Polish people who now call Ireland home and bond the two groups closer together.
Postscript from Editor Rebel Breeze: There is a plaque in Dublin commemorating this man on the side of the Clery’s building in Sackville Place, at the corner with O’Connell Street. Do our readers know of any other such plaques or monuments to him, for example in Mayo?
On 26th July 1914 there was unusual crowding on the East Pier of the fishing harbour of Howth, Dublin and great excitement which grew as the sail of yacht was spotted making for the harbour. Among those gathered on the pier were members of the Irish Volunteers and of Na Fianna Éireann, the Irish Republican youth organisation. As the yacht, the Asgard, maneouvered to pull into position along the pier, mooring ropes thrown were quickly made fast. Then an amazing number of Mauser rifles and ammunition began to be unloaded into eager hands.
On Sunday 26th July this year the annual commemoration of the historic event was organised by the Anti-Imperialist Action group to take place in Howth. A group of people formed up at the start of the pier and proceeded along to the end, where the commemorative plaque is and where the ceremony was to be held. A small colour party preceded the procession, followed by a banner against the extradition of Liam Campbell, in turn followed by another banner stating: “This Is Our Mandate, This Is Our Republic” (from the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil, 1919), with the rest of the procession following behind.
The idea of arming the Irish Volunteers to counter the arming of the Ulster Volunteers, who had declared their aim to prevent the limited autonomy of Home Rule being given to Ireland by the British Government, had been discussed in 1914 by a group that could best be described as Anglo-Irish, middle class and including even an aristocrat – nearly all of Protestant background. The eventual sailing of the gun-laden yacht from off the Belgian coast to Dublin was accomplished by a crew of the Asgard assembled for the purpose: Erskine and Molly Childers, Molly Spring-Rice, Conor O’Brien and two seamen from Gola in Donegal: Patrick McGinley and Charles Duggan. Apart from the Captain, Erskine Childers, they all had some Irish in their backgrounds but only Conor O’Brien and the Donegal men were of indigenous stock, with only the latter two native Irish speakers.
The rifles were successfully landed and were used effectively during the 1916 Rising, though only single-shot against the five-shot magazines of the British Army’s Lee-Enfield rifles, of which the Volunteers had only a few (and no machine-guns at all).
When the commemorative procession reached the pier head, the attendance fanned out in a square with an open end facing Margaret McKearney, who was to chair the event. The colour party stood to to one side, the flags bearing the designs of the Irish Citzen Army and Na Fianna Éireann, along with the Tricolour, fluttering in the gentle sea-breeze.
McKearney called for a minute’s silence in remembrance and honour of all those who had given their lives in the struggle for Irish independence, during which the colour party performed the presentation, lowering and raising of the flags. Floral wreaths on behalf of Anti-Imperialist Action and Spirit of Freedom Westmeath were then laid underneath the commemorative plaque to the historic landing of the weapons.
McKearney, a life-long Republican from a Republican family in East Tyrone, had once been described by Scotland Yard as “possibly the most dangerous woman terrorist in Britain” but had legally defeated extradition attempts to extradite her from the Irish state in 1975. Two of her brothers had been killed on active service and another murdered by Loyalists during the three-decades war in the Six Counties; another brother had barely survived 53 days of the 1980 hunger strike upon its termination.
Recounting the events of the obtaining of the rifles and ammunition and their landing at Howth in 1914, McKearney went on to tell of the failure of the colonial Dublin Metropolitan police and British Army to confiscate the weapons and how at Bachelors’ Walk, the King’s Own Scottish Borders opened fire on a crowd mocking their failure and bayoneted at least one, killing four and injuring 38.
The guns had been used in the 1916 Rising, McKearney related and went on to refer to the long struggle for Irish independence since, still uncompleted, with the Good Friday Agreement seeking to draw a line under it and preserve the status quo.
Referring to the growing danger of fascism in Ireland and in the world, McKearney pointed out that as the financial losses incurred during the Covid19 epidemic mounted, the ruling class in Ireland and its government would be seeking to break the resistance of the people in order to impose austerity upon them and it was then that they might well turn to the fascists.
The chair then introduced historian Peter Rogers of the Spirit of Freedom who delivered a lengthy speech on the nature of Irish Republicanism and the struggle for independence. Rogers referred to Good Friday Agreement as having failed to resolve the situation with even Francis Molloy (a Provisional Sinn Féin TD, i.e member of the Irish Parliament) remarking that they “had been sold a pup”. The speaker concluded saying that Sinn Féin must be given time to fail in the Dáil when the option of a united Ireland would be more easily embraced.
A speaker from Macra – Irish Republican Youth was then called forward and delivered a short statement.
Diarmuid Breatnach, representing the Anti-Internment Group of Ireland, was next to speak. Pointing out that internment without trial of Republican activists was continuing albeit under other forms, Breatnach related how Irish Republicans were being charged and refused bail prior to being brought before non-jury special courts on both sides of the British Border. In the unlikely event of their being found not guilty subsequently, they had nevertheless spent two years in jail. Also the practice of rearresting without trial or even charge of Republican prisoners released on licence constituted a form of internment, Breatnach said.
Going on to speak of the historic Howth event, the speaker remarked upon the varied nature of those who had planned and carried out the operation, including a number who would not have satisfied the criteria for “Irishness” of the current crop of Irish racists and fascists of the Far-Right in Ireland. Yet some involved in the gun-running had made that contribution before leaving the struggle, while most had gone on to fight in the 1916 Rising, joined there also by the workers’s Irish Citizen Army. Many had gone on the fight in the War of Independence and while some had sided with the Free State in the split and Civil War in 1922, most of the fighters had remained on the Republican side.
The lesson he drew from that, Breatnach continued, was that the fight for freedom had to be extended in as broad an alliance as possible but also remaining aware that some of that alliance would be temporary and to prepare accordingly.
The speaker commented on the historical importance of possession of weapons when facing an armed enemy and concluded by saying that though the time for weapons might not be now, the lesson of history is that such a time would come in the future.
McKearney thanked the organisers, attendance and all the speakers for their contributions and announced the handing over of a donation from Anti-Imperialist Action to the Loughgall Memorial Martyrs’ fund.
The event then concluded with the singing of a verse and chorus of Amhrán na bhFiann, the Irish national anthem, sung in Irish by Breatnach.
HISTORICAL POSTSCRIPT: THE ASGARD TODAY
The boat was built in Norway by an acclaimed Scottish migrant boat-builder and sold in 1904 to the Erskine Childers and his USA bride, Molly (Mary Alden Osgood), with the interior built to the specifications of Erskine and Molly. Childers, though English and had volunteered for the British armed forces during WWI, nevertheless took up the cause of Irish independence, joining the IRA in the War of Independence and continuing on the Republican side. He was captured by the Free State forces and executed by the State in 1922 (his son Erskine Hamilton Childers was elected the 4th President of the State in 1973).
The Asgard was sold and in 1961 Journalist Liam Mac Gabhann discovered the vessel in the River Truro, Cornwall and wrote about it. After lobbying, the Irish State purchased and overhauled the ship and sailed back to Howth in 1961, where the original event was re-enacted with surviving members of the Irish Volunteers. The Irish Navy used her as a sail training vessel but in 1974 the Yacht was dry-docked in what was in essence a large shed in Kilmainham, partly open to the elements, until new restoration work began in 2007. In 2012 the yacht was moved to the National Museum complex at Collins Barracks, where it has resided since in a separate and permanent exhibiton, along with memorabilia and related information and photographs. In normal times the National Museum is open six days a week and entry is free to both the Asgard exhibition and the general Museum exhibitions.
Mick Healy of the Irish Marxist History Project was kind enough to interview me about some of the issues about which I have been active. Parts I and II were published together a couple of months ago and here’s Part III now.
Mostly its snippets about the founding of the Irish in Britain Representation Group, my involvement in the foundation of the Lewisham branch of IBRG in SE London and from there, the Lewisham Irish Centre. Also my participation in Kurdish solidarity and a trade union delegation to Turkish-occupied Kurdistan (the YPG placard photo is of me in Trafalgar Square, London a couple of years ago when I was over visiting kids & grandkids) and the anti-water charge campaign in Ireland.
(Article originally published 2017 in New York Irish History, journal of the New York Irish History Roundtable, abbreviated slightly and reprinted here with kind permission of the author)
In her article, “Dr. Gertrude B. Kelly: A Forgotten Feminist,” Wendy McElroy summarizes the paradoxes in Dr. Kelly’s worldview that make her a complex, seemingly contradictory figure: A labor radical who was deeply skeptical of unions, a medical doctor who opposed state licensing of medicine, a staunch anti-statist who broke with the most prominent individualist anarchists of her day, an ardent feminist who denied that there were “women’s rights” as distinct from “human rights.” (McElroy, “Gertrude B. Kelly”)
Kelly’s seemingly paradoxical and contradictory juxtapositions come into focus, though, in the light of her Irish birth and anarchist beliefs. Individual anarchists, like Kelly, were a group of anti-authoritarian radicals who regarded total individual autonomy and free labor as the answer to the social and economic problems of the day. Kelly believed that overthrowing power structures and maximizing individual autonomy and responsibility would create a truly free society, which would evolve organically once society had liquidated the oppressive state. Because individualist anarchists regarded labor as the source of value and exchanges of unequal values to be exploitative, they may be regarded as a part of the broader socialist movement. Kelly’s views not only were highly uncommon and radical, but they also placed her in direct conflict with the establishment: the church, the state, and the capitalist order.
Shaping Kelly’s perspectives was that in her eyes, Ireland was victim of both capitalism and the British state.
Although she left Ireland at age eleven, the experiences and opinions of her parents profoundly shaped Kelly’s perspectives. She was born into a family of Irish nationalist educators in 1862 in Carrick-on-Suir, Co. Tipperary (Co. Waterford identifies Kelly as being born in the same year but in Ballyneale, across the border from Tipperary). Her father was a schoolmaster apparently forced out of his job for his Fenian sympathies. He left Ireland in 1868, five years before Gertrude would join him in New Jersey in 1873. He would become a high school principal, but he and the whole family remained passionately devoted to Irish affairs. Her older brother, John, played a huge role in shaping her anarchist worldview.
Kelly was one of twelve children, but little is known about any of her other siblings except for John who had a profound influence on her attitudes towards Ireland and anarchism. John graduated from Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken and went on to earn a Ph.D at age twenty-two in electrical engineering. An assistant for a time to Thomas Edison, Kelly became one of the world’s foremost experts in using dynamos to transmit telephone signals. During Kelly’s lifetime he held over seventy electrical related patents and pioneered high voltage electricity generating and transmission systems.
However, he was not just a man of science; he was also devoted to Ireland and used his considerable wealth generously to advance the cause of Irish freedom. In the 1880s, he wrote articles for individualist anarchist publications including Liberty, Alarm, and Lucifer, which must have greatly influenced his sister. John Kelly spent the last years of his life supporting Irish causes, working closely with his sister. From 1916–18, he served as the president of the Massachusetts State Council for Friends of Irish Freedom. From 1920–21, he wrote a third of the Irish World’s anonymous political commentaries, and in 1921, from July to December, he and his young sister agitated for a nationwide boycott of British goods.
Despite being in America, Kelly still remained keenly interested in events within Ireland. Although she was busy with her medical studies she followed Ireland from articles in the Irish World, published in New York, and the Boston Pilot. Both newspapers featured several stories on the failure of the Irish Land Act of 1870 to improve the lot of tenant farmers, the formation of the Irish Land League in 1879, the subsequent Land Wars, the No-Rent movement, and the indiscriminate evictions of Irish tenant farmers from their land by agents of absentee English landlords. These stories cemented Kelly’s rejection of British imperialism and private ownership of land.
In 1879, John Devoy of Clan na Gael in the United States forged a broad-based coalition called the “New Departure,” with Michael Davitt of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and Charles Stewart Parnell of the Home Rule League to create a joint front that united believers in physical force, agrarian agitation, and constitutional nationalism to aid the suffering Irish tenant farmer and demand Irish Home Rule from England. Parnell and Davitt were also members of the Irish National Land League. In support of that initiative Fanny and Anna Parnell founded the Ladies Land League in America in 1880 with branches in Hoboken, Jersey City, Newark, and Patterson.
Young Gertrude Kelly became an active member of the League and a vocal supporter of a No-Rent Manifesto published by the National Land League in 1881. Kelly’s understanding of individualistic anarchist philosophy was strengthened by the columns of “Honorius” in the Irish World, an organ of the Irish No-Rent movement. Honorius was, in fact, a pseudonym for the American natural rights advocate Henry Appleton, who contributed frequently to the early issues of Liberty, both under his own name and under the pen name of “X.”(McElroy, “Gertude B. Kelly”)
PROLIFIC WRITER AND FEMINIST
Anger at how British imperialist government had subverted its proper role in Ireland shaped Kelly’s anti-authoritarian worldview. Kelly was not only a dedicated Irish-Nationalist, but she was also a prolific writer and insightful social and political commentator. In articles published in the individualist periodical Liberty and the Irish World she expressed her indignation and abhorrence at the lack of fairness empathy or sense of humanity inherent in the attitude of the ruling elite towards the poor of Ireland. She contributed a number of other well-received articles for Liberty whose founder and editor, Benjamin Tucker, said of her “Gertrude B. Kelly…by her articles in Liberty, has placed herself at a single bound among the finest writers of this or any other country.” (McElroy, “Gertrude B. Kelly”).
Kelly, however, would later break with Tucker and cease writing for Liberty, a sign of her fiery independence. Kelly was more than a mere analyst of Irish anti-imperialism. She was also an avant garde feminist who understood the struggles that women faced, especially poor women, with whom the doctor had a lifelong affinity and her articles for Liberty reflect a keen understanding of the special problems females faced. In one of her articles for Liberty she developed a highly controversial argument about prostitution. Instead of seeing prostitutes as “fallen women,” Kelly saw them as economic victims. Her first article in Liberty, “The Root of Prostitution,” claimed that women’s inability to earn enough money through respectable forms of labor was the root cause of sex work. She wrote: “We find all sorts of schemes for making men moral and women religious, but no scheme which proposes to give woman the fruits of her labor. In her writing, she railed against men forcing women to conform to paternalistic codes of behavior. Men…have always denied to women the opportunity to think; and, if some women have had courage enough to dare public opinion, and insist upon thinking for themselves, they have been so beaten by that most powerful weapon in society’s arsenal, ridicule, that it has effectively prevented the great majority from making any attempt to come out of slavery.” (McElroy,“Gertrude B. Kelly”)
Despite Kelly’s sincere feminism, she could make the following statement that must have alienated her from many of the leading feminists of her day: “There is, properly speaking, no woman question, as apart from the question of human right and human liberty.” She added: “The woman’s cause is man’s— they rise or sink/Together—dwarfed or godlike-bond or free.” She saw women’s struggles in the wider context of humanity’s struggle against all forms of coercion. Women would gain their deserved social status only when all of society had also liberated itself. Kelly also became a militant suffragette, believing that women with the power to vote could solve many of the issues they faced. (McElroy, “Gertrude B. Kelly”).
In Kelly’s eyes both women and men were in fact the victims of a coercive capitalist society. Radical individualists of nineteenth-century America, like Kelly, saw capitalism as the root cause of poverty and social injustice. Kelly subscribed to the labor theory of value espoused by the anarchist individualist theoretician Josiah Warren who posited that capitalists stole the fruits of labor by underpaying the worker for his or her efforts. She also accepted the popular radical belief that capitalism was an alliance between business and government, in which the state guaranteed the rich their privileged position. Kelly considered all forms of capitalism to be what individualist anarchists called “state capitalism.”
In Irish-America, where so many fellow immigrants had climbed the ladder by joining the civil service, her anti-government stance was especially incendiary.
KELLY’S WORK AS A DOCTOR
Kelly’s becoming a physician is an extraordinary story in itself. She became one of the very few women to study medicine and become a doctor thanks to two English sisters, Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell who set up the first school to grant women licenses to practice medicine, the Women’s Medical College of New York. Kelly graduated from Blackwell’s school in 1884 with an M.D. degree and became an accomplished surgeon.
If Kelly is recalled today in New York City, it is not for her important role in agitating for Ireland, but in helping the city’s poor through her work as a doctor. Although she campaigned for many deserving causes during her lifetime, her primary focus was on treating the downtrodden and poor working women and their families in the clinics she worked in. She set up such a clinic in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood where she became legendary for surreptitiously leaving cash under her dinner plate when she made house calls at the homes of impoverished patients. Kelly was also a renowned surgeon who, in addition to her work at the clinic, was a member of the surgical staff at the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, the institution where she had received training. During her medical career she authored and co-authored papers on abdominal surgical procedures and other medical and health care-related issues.
KELLY AND THE RISING
Kelly would play an oversized role in the events before and after the 1916 Easter Rising. In 1901, John Redmond, who assumed leadership of the reunited Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP), established the United Irish League of America to raise funds for the IPP and promote its Home Rule agenda in the United States. Dr. Kelly supported the United Irish League, even though its acceptance of continued British sovereignty over Ireland disturbed her. In accepting home rule, she reasoned that it could serve as an intermediary step before launching a nonviolent, anti-British, grassroots campaign that would lead to an independent Irish Republic.
In October of 1914, Kelly issued a call to “women of Irish blood” to join the first chapter of Cumann na mBan formed in the United States. Hundreds of women met at the Hotel McAlpin, where Kelly, Mary Colum, and Sidney Gifford, a recently arrived émigré from Dublin outlined the aims of the organization. Their chapter would follow the lead of Cumann na mBan in Ireland by raising funds and garnering support for the Irish Volunteers formed in 1913 in response to the formation of the anti-independence Ulster Volunteer Force the previous year. The declared aim of the Irish Volunteers was “to secure and maintain the rights and liberties common to the whole people of Ireland.” (“Dr. Gertrude B. Kelly” in Feniangraves.net). Chosen as president of the organization, Kelly helped set-up other branches and arranged for speakers from Ireland to address its members, conduct lecture tours and help in fundraising efforts.
When Redmond in a speech called on young Irishmen to enlist and fight in the British Army, it was too much for the anti-imperialist Kelly, who issued the following statement: “May I, as a woman, an Irishwoman and physician, spokeswoman of hundred, thousands of my sisters at home and abroad ask our leaders what it is they propose to Ireland to do—commit suicide? Admitting for the moment that this is “a most righteous war” not—”a war of iron and coal”—a war between titans for commercial supremacy— why should little Ireland have to do what the United States, Switzerland, etc., do not. Is Home Rule to be secured for the cattle and sheep when the young men of Ireland are slaughtered, the old men and old women left sonless, the young women obliged to emigrate to bring up sons for men of other climes.” (“Dr. Gertrude B. Kelly” in Feniangraves.net)
After the Easter Rising, Cumann na mBan’s fundraising efforts were redirected to the support of the thousands of families of imprisoned Volunteers. Kelly and other Irish women activists including Margaret Moore, a Land League veteran and labor leader Lenora O’Reilly led the highly successful fundraising campaign.
In 1917, America entered World War I on the side of the British. President Wilson threatened members of any organizations that protested against the British Empire with jail sentences. Nevertheless, in the same year Dr. Kelly was part of a group that formed the Irish Progressive Party, whose aim was to lobby the government in Washington to protest British imperialism and recognize the Irish Republic.
In 1920, Dr. Kelly would perform her greatest services to Irish freedom. She understood that women could take bold actions, such as in public protests, that would capture popular attention and focus the American public on the continued presence of Britain in Ireland, which violated one of the Fourteen Points identified by Wilson in 1918 as necessary for world peace—self-determination for small nations. The first official meeting of the activist group, American Women Pickets for the Enforcement of America’s War Aims, was held in New York on April 20, 1920, organized by Gertrude Kelly.
With Irish men in America mired in fighting one another, this women’s movement grabbed headlines through a succession of highly effective public acts, some of which created chain reactions across the eastern seaboard of the United States. In September, 1920, Kelly was one of the organizers of a female blockade of the British Embassy in Washington as response to their actions in Ireland. Kelly was arrested for her part in the agitation.
In December, 1920, the women pickets and the Irish Progressive League organized a strike at a Chelsea pier in Manhattan to protest the arrests of Irish-born Australian Archbishop Daniel Mannix, an outspoken foe of British rule in Ireland, and Terence MacSwiney, the Lord Mayor of Cork, who was on hunger strike and near death. Kelly, Leonora O’Reilly, Hannah SheehySkeffington, and Eileen Curran of the Celtic Players assembled a group of women who dressed in white with green capes and carried signs that read: “There Can Be No Peace While British Militarism Rules the World.”(“Dr. Gertrude B. Kelly” in Feniangraves.net)
The strike which, lasted three and a half weeks, was directed at British ships docked in New York. Striking workers included not only Irish longshoremen but also, Italian coal passers, AfricanAmerican longshoremen, and workers on a docked British passenger liner. According to a New York Sun report it was “…the first purely political strike of workingmen in the history of the United States. The strike became famous and spread to Brooklyn, New Jersey, and Boston. When reporters asked who exactly was behind these protests, Dr. Kelly responded “American women.” (“Gertrude B. Kelly” in Irish Echo).
By the end of 1920, many thought the only prospect for an independent Ireland was an acceptance of partition. Dr. Kelly was a fiery opponent of division and expressed her views on Ireland being divided: “The thing itself is absolutely unthinkable. We have always been slaves, but unwilling slaves. Now we are subscribing to our slavery. I cannot believe that the Irish people will do this. The whole thing is a fake from start to finish. Summed up I would say that after 750 years we have given England moral standing in the world when she has none: it’s a tremendous defeat.” (“Gertrude B. Kelly” in Feniangraves.net)
Nevertheless, partition did take place, much to Kelly’s dismay. Bitterly disappointed, she continued her work treating the poor of the city. In the first quarter of the twentieth century she was on the “must meet” list of every Irish political and literary figure who came to the United States.
Kelly passed away on February 16, 1934. The poor of Chelsea mourned her and remembered her acts of kindness. In 1936, Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia named the Dr. Gertrude B. Kelly Playground located in Chelsea west of Ninth Avenue between Sixteenth and Seventeeth Streets in her honor. It was one of five model playgrounds developed in New York City during the mid-1930s. (“Gertrude B. Kelly Playground” in NYCgovparks.org)
The playground is perhaps the only public tribute to a woman who made an outsized contribution to Irish independence and to the City of New York. Perhaps in the future Dr. Kelly will garner more.
The original article in full may be found here, including also a list of sources: nyih32.CobbG_pdf2%20(3)%20(1).pdf
From Workers’ Republic, 18 March 1916.
Transcribed by The James Connolly Society in 1997.
Proofread by Chris Clayton, August 2007.
The question often arises: Why do Irishmen celebrate the festival of their national saint, in view of the recently re-discovered truth that he was by no means the first missionary to preach Christianity to the people of Ireland? It is known now beyond the shadow of a doubt that the Christian religion had been preached and practised in Ireland long before St. Patrick, that Christian churches had been established, and it is probable that the legend about the shamrock was invented in some later generation than that of the saint. Certainly the shamrock bears no place of any importance in early Celtic literature, and the first time we read of it as having any reference to or bearing on religion in Ireland occurs in the work of a foreigner – an English monk.
But all that notwithstanding there is good reason why Irish men and women should celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. They should celebrate it for the same reason as they should honour the green flag of Ireland, despite the fact that there is no historical proof that the Irish, in the days of Ireland’s freedom from foreign rule, ever had a green flag as a national standard, or indeed ever had a national flag at all
The claim of the 17th of March to be Ireland’s national festival, the claim of St. Patrick to be Ireland’s national saint, the claim of the shamrock to be Ireland’s national plant, the claim of the green flag to be Ireland’s national flag rests not on the musty pages of half-forgotten history but on the affections and will of the Irish people.
Sentiment it may be. But the man or woman who scoffs at sentiment is a fool. We on this paper respect facts, and have a holy hatred of all movements and causes not built upon truth. But sentiment is often greater than facts, because it is an idealised expression of fact – a mind picture of truth as it is seen by the soul, unhampered by the grosser dirt of the world and the flesh.
The Irish people, denied comfort in the present, seek solace in the past of their country; the Irish mind, unable because of the serfdom or bondage of the Irish race to give body and material existence to its noblest thoughts, creates an emblem to typify that spiritual conception for which the Irish race laboured in vain. If that spiritual conception of religion, of freedom, of nationality exists or existed nowhere save in the Irish mind, it is nevertheless as much a great historical reality as if it were embodied in a statute book, or had a material existence vouched for by all the pages of history.
It is not the will of the majority which ultimately prevails; that which ultimately prevails is the ideal of the noblest of each generation. Happy indeed that race and generation in which the ideal of the noblest and the will of the majority unite.
In this hour of her trial Ireland cannot afford to sacrifice any one of the things the world has accepted as peculiarly Irish. She must hold to her highest thoughts, and cleave to her noblest sentiments. Her sons and daughters must hold life itself as of little value when weighed against the preservation of even the least important work of her separate individuality as a nation.
Therefore we honour St. Patrick’s Day (and its allied legend of the shamrock) because in it we see the spiritual conception of the separate identity of the Irish race – an ideal of unity in diversity, of diversity not conflicting with unity.
Magnificent must have been the intellect that conceived such a thought; great must have been the genius of the people that received such a conception and made it their own.
On this Festival then our prayer is: Honour to St. Patrick the Irish Apostle, and Freedom to his people.
I seem to recall that Connolly wrote something else about celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, perhaps when he was living and working in the USA but can’t find it now. For similar reasons to what he lays out here, I supported and indeed organised public celebration of the feast day in London.
And I might have agreed with Connolly in the case of Ireland at the time he wrote it: the whole country under British occupation, in the middle of the First World War with thousands of Irish casualties in the British armed forces and coming up to the 1916 Rising.
But now? I don’t think so, neither with what it celebrates nor how it is celebrated, which always makes me want to get out of Dublin. Republic Day, which Connolly was party to creating but could perhaps not have anticipated being a national festival day, is what we should be focusing on now, I think.
The 5th of March is the anniversary of the naval Battle of Cape Machichaco (cabo matxitxakoko borroka, in Euskera/ Basque), which took place on 5 March 1937 off Bermeo (Bizkaia province, Basque Country), during the Spanish Anti-Fascist War, between the Spanish Military-Fascist heavy cruiser Canarias and four Basque Navy trawlers escorting a Republican convoy. The trawlers were protecting the transport ship Galdames, which was sailing to Bilbao with 173 passengers.
(The following account of the battle is from Wikipedia; the section titles and comment are mine)
On 4 March, four armed trawlers of the Basque Auxiliary Navy section of the Spanish Republican Navy, Bizcaia, Gipuzkoa, Donostia and Nabarra departed from Bayonne, France. Their intention was to defend Galdames‘s mail, passengers, machinery, weapons, supplies and 500 tons of nickel coins property of the Basque government.
Canarias sailed from Ferrol with Salvador Moreno as the captain, with orders to stop the transport ship. Galdames, which was steaming up with the lights and the radio switched off, and was unknowingly left behind by Bizcaya and Gipuzkoa.
FOUR CONVERTED TRAWLERS AGAINST A BATTLE CRUISER
Next morning, while all the trawlers were watching for Canarias, Galdames rejoined them. Bizcaya‘s captain was Alejo Bilbao, Nabarra‘s Enrique Moreno Plaza from Murcia, and Gipuzkoa‘s Manuel Galdós. The trawlers had the intention of luring Canarias close to the Biscay coast to have the assistance of the coastal batteries.[
The first trawler to spot Canarias was Gipuzkoa, 30 kilometers (19 mi) north of Bilbao. The Basque trawler was hit on the bridge and the forward gun. Return fire from Gipuzkoa killed one Canarias seaman and wounded another. The armed trawler, with five fatalities and 20 injured aboard, managed to approach the coast, where the shore batteries forced Canarias to retreat.
Nabarra and Donostia tried to prevent Canarias from finding Galdames and engaged the cruiser.
Donostia withdrew from the battle after being fired on by Canarias, but Nabarra faced the enemy for almost two hours. She was eventually hit in the boiler and came to a stop; 20 men abandoned the sinking trawler, while other 29 were lost with the ship, including her captain, Enrique Moreno Plaza.
The transport Galdames, which was hit by a salvo from Canarias and lost four passengers, was eventually captured by the military-fascist cruiser.
Gipuzkoa arrived at Portugalete seriously damaged and Bizcaia headed for Bermeo, where she assisted the Estonian merchantman Yorbrook with a load including ammunition and 42 Japanese Type 31 75 mm mountain guns, previously captured by Canarias and released.
Donostia sought shelter in a French port.
The 20 survivors from Nabarra were rescued by the military-fascists and taken aboard Canarias. Instead of the expected hostility and mistreatment, they were given medical assistance, and both the cruiser commander, future Francoist Admiral Salvador Moreno and Captain Manuel Calderón interceded with Franco when the Basque seamen were sentenced to death in retaliation for the shooting of two crewmembers of the armed trawler Virgen del Carmen, captured by Republican sympathizers and diverted to Bilbao in December 1936. The survivors were eventually acquitted and released in 1938.
In contrast, one of the passengers aboard Galdames, Christian Democrat politician Manuel Carrasco Formiguera, from Catalonia, was imprisoned and executed on 9 April 1938.
COURAGE, COWARDICE AND CRUELTY
The story is one of incredible bravery of a number of converted trawlers and their Basque crews, in particular that of the Nabarra and her Captain from Murcia. One account I read related that her Captain consulted his crew and they agreed to fight to the death or the sinking of their ship. Their valour and stubbornness (two qualities which commentators often associate with the Basques) was of such magnitude as to impress even their military-fascist opponents, to the extent of their interceding with Franco to save their lives.
It is also the story of the cowardice of at least the captain of the Donostia.
And of the bestiality of the military-fascists in the execution of a member of the Catalan Governmentreturning to his country with his family, guilty of no crime but to serve his the administration of his elected republican government (one of hundreds of thousands of such crimes of the miiltary-fascists coupists and their victorious regime).
VISIT TO CAPE MATXITXAKO
I visited the land part of the location on a number of occasions in recent years. Access by public transport is by a bus every hour but I was driven by friends.
On a windy promontory on private land I saw one of the shore artillery battery sites (which has had nothing done to conserve it) and, close enough, the monument to the battle. Not far from there is a local bar-restaurant which is popular and a short trip by car, the iconic hermitage of Gastelugatxe. Many tourists visit the area but I wonder how many get to hear of the story.
Thinking of the determination and courage of those crews, not even trained for war, in converted trawlers, facing a trained naval crew of a huge battle cruiser, I am not ashamed to say my eyes fill and my lip trembles.