Solomon Frankel was born on 31 March 1914, one of nine children, to Polish-Jewish parents in Whitechapel. London. He left school at 14 and worked as a tailor in East End sweatshops.
By his early 20s, he had become politically committed and was a veteran of the Battle of Cable Street.
He was involved in providing support at a refugee camp outside Southampton in 1937, where he erected tents and dug latrines for some 4000 Basque children who had been evacuated following the blitzing of Guernica. One day, the news came that Bilbao had fallen to Franco’s Nationalist forces. The children rioted and broke camp, desperate to return to Spain and fight for the Republic. When Sol and his fellow-helpers spent all night rounding up the kids, they were dismayed to here themselves being denounced by the youngsters as ‘fascistas’.for attempting to control them.
In autumn 1937, Sol Frankel signed up with the International Brigades, although his family was bitterly opposed to this. “Being Jewish in the East End they were dead against politics – they thought it best to keep to themselves.”
Shortly after leaving their training camp in Albacete: “We were marching along when the order was given to dig in on the side of the road. Suddenly the order was countermanded. We ran into an ambush of fascist tanks. Blinking tank was so bloody near me, he couldn’t bring his machine guns down to bear on me. He fired right over my head into the side of the mountain. It was my 24th birthday.” A few months later, Sol took a bullet in his right arm at the Battle of the Ebro, the last major Republican offensive in the war, which raged from July to November 1938.
He participated in the National Union of Unemployed Workers demonstration at the Savoy Hotel in 1940.
In 1941, a Security Service file was opened on him mainly since his sister Jenny, also a member of the Communist Party, was by then working as a fitter for Handley Page, an aircraft manufacturer. Frankel was working as a shelter marshal, later as an air-raid warden, in Stepney.
Sol also contributed cartoons to the Stepney Worker, penned with his left hand, and ended up marrying the editor Peral Simonson in 1943.
In the long run, Sol was able to return to his trade as a tailor by switching to his left hand and learning to grip the cloth with his disabled right. His injury would rule him out of fighting in World War II, and he worked as a volunteer air-raid patrol warden – vital work in the Blitz of London.
Sol Frankel was a workplace branch secretary for several London clothing manufacturers after the war. He was also, for a long part of the post-war period, a prominent London Communist Party member. But he and his wife left the Communist Party in 1968, in a protest against the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia; Sol rejoined Labour.
Sol didn’t return to Spain until the death of Franco in 1975, returning once more in 2003 for the 65th anniversary commemorations for the Battle of the Ebro, when large numbers of International Brigades fighters were reunited. Sol Frankel died on 18th May 2007, aged 93.
Sources: MI5, National Archives