As the future seemed uncertain, I decided to spend the evening in O'Mara's, an Irish hostelry on 2nd Avenue and 23rd Street. There, by an odd coincidence, I fell into conversation with two young Irishmen who said they were returning to Ireland to join General O'Duffy's Blue Shirts.
'And who the hell might General O'Duffy's Blue Shirts be?' I asked them. 'I'm told it's some sort of independent brigade the General's taking across to Spain,' one of them replied.
'And on what side would the Blue Shirts be fighting?' 'Well, aren't they Catholics, you ignoramus? And wouldn't they be supporting the Nationalists and Franco?'
'Bejasus!' I exclaimed. 'Then I'm on the wrong side again! That'll be another excommunication looming up for me. In any case, it will be like old times, with the Irish trying to destroy each other. And what about the British army? Whose side are they on?'
'I wouldn't be knowing that. I've heard that a British battalion and a Canadian battalion are operating out there as a brigade under a fellow called Tom Wintringham. Pat and I are hoping they've joined the Republicans. We'd dearly love to have another crack at the English.'
The more I questioned those lads, the more obvious it became that they knew as little about this Spanish affair as I did. I began to regret the hours I had spent poring over the sporting pages of the daily press instead of studying reports of what was happening in the world. The most I could gather was that the Russians, the Germans and the Italians were all mixing it in Spain, but the real ins and outs of the struggle had me mystified.
Anyway, next day I proceeded to the Social Club and mustered my contingent. To my amazement there were no absentees. I marched them to the waiting buses and away we went to Hoboken to board the ship... At the start of the voyage I selected four of the toughest specimens in my outfit and made them section commanders with nine men each to look after. I gave them considerable coaching in man management and in what the whole bunch needed most - personal and collective hygiene. None of the forty had ever undergone military training, so throughout the trip I lectured them on patrolling, scouting, the section in attack and in defence, the approach march, advance to contact and so on. They all seemed interested with the exception of a scholarly type called Rudi Rudovsky... Although a tolerable fart would have blown him into the sea, he caused me more trouble than the rest of the mob put together and was ready to argue on the drop of a hat. His sole topic of conversation was the inevitability of world Communism. No matter what subject was under discussion, Rudi would immediately switch it on to the Party rails. If I asked my trainees how many stoppages there were on a Lewis gun, Rudi would reel off a dozen reasons why the Communist worker never came out on strike. If I was dealing with First Aid, Rudi would prove conclusively that Russia had the finest hospital service in the world. Anything the West could do, the East could do better was the basis of all Rudi's impassioned utterances.
We docked at Cartagena, where Rudi charged me with being a subversive element. He complained that I had confined my lectures to military matters, that I had obstructed his political propaganda and that on one occasion I had threatened to beat his brains out with 'Das Kapital'. The Party boss to whom he complained simply laughed in Rudi's face and slung him out of his office. I never saw him again, although I was informed later that he found himself a cushy job in a leave camp down at the base, preaching the Cause and dodging the column.
I was sent to a vast training area up in the Sierra de Guadarrama, north of Madrid, where I remained for four months. Then, as platoon leader in Number One Company, the Lincoln Washington Battalion, I went into action.
We were operating against the Italians on the front southeast of Madrid. Although we were out-numbered three to one, our sector was surprisingly calm. The Italians had evidently used up all their courage and energy fighting the unarmed Abyssinians. Matched against a small but determined body of professional soldiers, they preferred to remain under cover...
We had no idea what the overall situation was. Any information about the general course of the war was carefully withheld from us by the Party leaders. Gradually it dawned on these political panjandrums that what they needed in Spain was less tub-thumping and more military know-how, so at last they decided to ship me back to the States with a view to recruiting some young men with initiative and leadership qualities.
... Eventually I reported to the Party H.Q. in New York and received my instructions. I had to hang around the Army Base in Brooklyn, keep my weather-eye open for soldiers awaiting demobilisation, take them for a drink, paint an attractive picture of the pay and conditions in Spain and try to persuade them to join the Lincoln Washington Battalion. I was given a wad of notes to cover my expenses on the recruiting expedition and also approximately a dozen addresses of doctors who would be prepared to carry out medical examinations without asking awkward questions.
I put the money to good use by treating myself to regular drinking bouts in the bars of Brooklyn. My conscience would not allow me to conduct a serious recruiting campaign. In case I was being watched by my sponsors, I frequently chatted with young soldiers in bars and restaurants, but I made no real attempts to lure them to Spain. For six months I played the role of the reluctant recruiter in and around Brooklyn, always promising results but never achieving them. It was not altogether surprising that the organisation began to view me with suspicion. Finally, I was ordered to return to Spain...