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Tom Picton

 

Thomas Issac Picton was born in 1895 and became a miner in Treherbert, Rhonnda Fawr, South Wales.

 

He was one-time amateur middle weight boxing champion of Wales. During the 1914-18 War he was light-heavy weight champion in the Navy. His ships were torpedoed on two occasions and received decorations for bravery on two occasions. Tom was a noted bare-knuckle `mountain’ fighter in the years after the war.

 

Like most of his generation, class and nationhood, Picton became radicalised by the experiences of the 1920s and 1930s. He was a close friend of Communist Councillor George Thomas of Treherbert but little else marked him out from the ordinary until he became aware of the consequences of the passing, on the 11th January 1937, by the British Government of the Foreign Enlistment Act of 1870 applicable to the Spanish Civil War. The effect was to criminalise the finest segment of British youth of the 1930s in the shape of all who volunteered to fight for the International Brigade in Spain. Whilst the Act made little difference to IBA recruitment, in certain parts of France, no less, its provisions were rigorously enforced. Many volunteers were arrested there and even deported.

 

Enraged by the unfairness of this Act and despite his age – he was 52 years – Picton must have convinced his way into the IB due to his fitness and legendary prowess as a fist-fighter. He joined the Communist Party either just before going to Spain, or actually while in Spain. But, unfortunately, he was one of those detained in France. Yet, miraculously, even inexplicably, he found himself freed from jail and finally arrived in Spain after telling a rather unbelievable story to the French authorities at Perpignan: “I told them I could not fight - I was deaf just blind and 52 years old.” The reality could not have been more different; as Tommy Picton put it: “I am proud to be here. I have accounted for a hell of a lot of Fascists. At last the poor class of Spain, kept 500 years behind the times, kept under like dogs, have risen.”

 

Tom Picton was taken prisoner and executed despite being a prisoner of war in San Pedro de Cardeña, a prison in Bilbao, by Franco's fascists in April 1938. Only in very recent times was his remaining family – principally his now aging daughter, Ivy - told the full details of Tom’s astonishing bravery. It was typical of the man that he had protested at the brutal treatment of a fellow prisoner but was in consequence shot dead on the spot by a prison guard. His widow, Maud, had always refused to believe the news, as no body was found. Maud spent years on several futile visits to Spain to try to establish his whereabouts, on which she took her daughter.

 

Sources: Letter from Tom Picton to George Thomas, date probably 25 January 1937, p271 “Miners Against Fascism: Wales and the Spanish Civil War” Hywel Francis, Lawrence and Wishart Ltd. 1984 (thanks to MW for the reference); South Wales Echo July 18th 2006; Material relating to Tommy Picton: letters from Tommy Picton whilst in Spain to his wife (Maud) and daughter (Ivy) [c1937-8];a letter from Will Paynter to Mrs Cox; material relating to inquires into the death of Tommy Picton (?1940); letters from E M Picton [Tommy Picton's wife] to the Foreign Office, with a reply, relating to Tommy Picton's death and her request for a war widow's pension (1940); copy of the Daily Herald with a leading article Beaten up by Franco Men; Britons in Spain by William Rust pp65-6 (1939).