Watters (the shorter man in the picture – incidentally, no known close relation to Frank Watters, – see separate entry) was a Scots miner from Prestonpans, near Edinburgh, born on 26th September 1904. But he was barred from working in the pit as he was seen as an agitator and trouble maker, presumably following the General Strike of 1926 and the long miners’ lock-out that ensued. No doubt long years of working within the unemployed workers’ movement followed but what is certain is that he served in the International Brigade in Spain and was captured by Franco's troops at Jarama on 13th February 1937.
This was the first major engagement of the British Battalion at the Battle of Jarama in February 1937. Terrible casualties were suffered at this battle, which of course also involved thousands of Spanish Republican forces. The British IB force lost about half of its 600 men at a location they called "Suicide Hill". Many, many thousands of Spanish and other IB forces died but George Watters was fortunate, in a way, of being captured as a POW.
The record in IB archives of George Watters’ capture matches a family memory that he came very close to being shot whilst imprisoned. What happened is that he had volunteered to be shot when a young lad was due to be taken out and executed and became hysterical with the news. But, in the event, it proved unnecessary for Watters to go in his place since word now got back that, if any further foreign Brigaders were shot, then captured German Nazi troops would be shot in retaliation. George Watters’ brother-in-law, William Dickson, was also killed in Spain.
George Watters was forcibly repatriated to Britain on being released. The Battle of Jarama took place overall from Feb 6th to 27th 1937 and ended in stalemate. But it prevented the Fascists of the Spanish foreign legion and Franco's Moroccan army from cutting the supply road from Madrid to the important city of Valencia, which remained open for the rest of the war. The well-known song celebrating the event has the following verse:
There's a place in Spain called Jarama
It's a place that we all know too well.
For 'tis there that we fought against the fascists
And saw a peaceful valley turn to hell.
For a full account of Jarama, see:
George Watters also went on to fight in the Second World War and died in 1980.
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