Born in Liverpool on 3 January 1914 into a family of socialists, Jack worked as a motor mechanic after leaving school and, as a member of the Young Communist League, was on several occasions involved in clashes with Sir Oswald Mosley’s fascist Blackshirts in the early 1930s.
Edwards began to think he should set out to join the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War almost as a spur of the moment thing whilst he was selling copies of the Daily Worker newspaper in Liverpool in 1936. By nightfall, his mind was made up and the 22-year-old travelled across Europe to join the fight against Franco. He travelled with two other British volunteers to Spain, eventually ending up in the town of Albacete, which became the headquarters for the Brigades, in January 1937.
He fought with the British Battalion at Jarama in the following month, where he was wounded. He afterwards joined the 1st Transport Regiment and later the 129th Artillery Division, seeing action in Aragón and the Ebro.
In February 1937 his unit was sent to the Jarama Valley to help to stop rebel, fascist forces from cutting off a road that linked Madrid with Valencia. “I had the gun and was firing it, waiting for the fascists,” he said. “When they started coming over we shot at them.” On day three Mr Edwards was hit by a bullet and was sent to hospital. He spent the rest of the war supporting the republican units.
Despite his wounds, Jack Edwards stayed in Spain, determined to help. After convalescing, he found himself separated from the International Brigades. Using his work skills, he began working on vehicles with the Spanish republicans around Valencia. "Being with the Spanish people helped me understand what they were fighting for," he says. "They had voted for that government, and there it was being overthrown." Because of his isolation, Edwards was unaware of the withdrawal of foreign troops. He eventually made it back to Liverpool in March 1939. Straight after his return, Edwards joined the RAF, with which he served during the Second World War from 1940 to 1946. "It was a continuation,” he told a reporter when he was in his 80s. “I wasn't fighting against Germany or Italy, I was fighting for democracy. If Germany had won there would have been none."
Aged 95 in 2009, Edwards said of his time in Spain: “You were fighting for something you believed in. You never think of getting killed. We had about six weeks’ training at the most. There were three of us to a machinegun. It was the first time I had fired a weapon.”
In common with other veterans, he received Spanish citizenships in a ceremony at the Spanish embassy on June 9, 2009 in London. A recent change in Spanish law had allowed this for volunteer fighters from the International Brigade.
Writing about his thoughts on the Spanish Civil War in Max Arthur’s “The Real Band of Brothers”, he said: “People think of it as a forgotten war, but it should be remembered, really, as a fight against fascism, for democracy; that’s the main point of the war. It’s becoming a forgotten war because it wasn’t worldwide. It’s only because people keep bringing it up now and again, but I’m surprised it’s not taught in the schools – they should teach it out of respect for democracy. That would leave behind the legacy of the Brigaders – something that people could remember us for.”
A “cheerful and loyal friend to many people in the International Brigade Memorial Trust (IBMT)”, Edwards attended the Trust’s annual general meeting in Liverpool in October 2010, only weeks before his death. He also unveiled a newly located plaque to the Liverpool volunteers in Jack Jones House. He was in recent years one of the most vocal and active veterans of the British Brigade and, until the 2010 AGM, a member of the IBMT committee.
Edwards died on 26th January 2011 in hospital in Telford at the age of 97.
Sources: The Times May 26, 2009; The Guardian 10th November 2000; Jim Jump (IBMT Secretary)