Danny Gibbons, born in 1901, was a political commissar for the British Battalion in Spain. One of four brothers, all of whom hailed from Renton in Dunbartonshire, which returned two Communist councillors on a yearly basis for many decades. Danny spent two years in the navy and was also five years in the IRA, experience which would be sorely needed in Spain from 1936.
Brother Tommy, born in 1902, was killed in the battle for Brunete in July 1937. Another brother, Patrick Joseph – or `Joe’ – who volunteered as part of the American battalion in Spain – was on a Barcelona-based ship torpedoed by an Italian submarine. Two hundred other anti-fascists were lost at sea, but Joe bravely kept two comrades who could not swim afloat for hours until their rescue. He went on to fight the fascists in numerous battles during the Civil War, being wounded in the arm by one of their tanks.
A fourth brother, John Gibbons (see separate entry), was also keen to fight but was refused permission to join the International Brigade. He was assigned to different tasks by the Party, some associated with Comintern underground activity, and eventually became the Daily Worker correspondent in Moscow during World War II, and in Rumania in the post-war years.
When Danny joined the Communist Party in 1933, he was living in Platt Street, St Pancras. Later, he moved to Somers Town, also in London. By the time he joined the International Brigade he had a child and was married to his sweetheart Kathleen. Normally, he would not have been selected by the Party, as single men were preferred.
Danny was wounded in the Battle of Jamara on the evening of February 12th in 1937. Kathleen had sent him a pack of Woodbines and as the battalion took up a dangerous position on a slope they called "Conical Hill", he shared them out among his comrades. "I received them as we were going into action," he later wrote in the Daily Worker. "What a treat. I wish you could have seen me crawling about on the top of that hill handing them round to the boys."
The fascists poured forward, catching Danny and his unit in a valley. Near Danny, Maurice Davidovich, a Stepney volunteer, was killed. Fred Copeman described his death: "Just as he opened his mouth to say something a burst of gunfire ripped open his stomach. His guts fell out, but he just picked them up in his hands and stuffed them all back again with blood pouring down his legs…".
Commander Andre Diamant realised a retreat was necessary and asked for volunteers to stay behind and provide cover. 30 men stepped forward – one of them being Danny Gibbons. As his comrades withdrew Danny hid among olive groves – and got the shock of his life when Moroccan troops appeared 20 yards from his position. "It was impossible to miss them," he would recount later. "We just had to stand up and fire." After staying the advance, Danny was hit – a bullet lodged in his right shoulder and for a moment he thought he had been mortally wounded but his friend Tony Yates dragged him to safety.
Having been allowed to return home, Danny made his way back to Spain again after hearing of the death of his brother Tommy. He was captured by Franco's troops at the battle of Calaciete in March 1938. Even under lock and key he kept the fight up for what he believed in. He refused to give the fascist salute to his captors and rallied his fellow prisoners. Kept in filthy conditions in a concentration camp, he and a handful of others secretly combined to keep up the morale of their fellow prisoners. Danny and others were eventually exchanged, in February 1939, for Italian and German prisoners.
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