No Pasaran! The Jubilee Gardens Memorial

The British and other foreign fighters travelling to Ukraine to resist Putin’s invasion are an echo of 85 years ago, some 35,000 non-Spaniards (2,500 from Britain) joined the ‘International Brigades’ to go to Spain to fight for the Republican forces against Franco’s Nationalist rebels in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39).

Some 50 years later, in October 1985, a memorial to the British members of the International Brigade was unveiled in Jubilee Gardens on the South Bank by the then Labour Party leader Michael Foot.

Called ‘No Pasaran’ (“they shall not pass”, the call to arms in a speech at the start of the Battle of Madrid in 1936) it is a bronze by the sculptor Ian Walter. On one face of the plinth is an inscription honouring “The 2100 men and women who left … to fight side by side with the Spanish people” (526 of these were killed) and on another  “they went because their open eyes could see no other way”, and adaption of a line from Cecil Day Lewis’s poem ‘The Volunteer’. 

Walter has a surprising number of other sculptures around the capital. At the nearby Royal Festival Hall his 1984 head of Nelson Mandela is at the top of the stairs as one approaches the RFH from Waterloo station; he also did the full length statue of Mandela in Parliament Square, and in Red Lion Square Walter sculpted the now little-remembered Fenner Brockway.

The Republican side in Spain’s civil war was a cause adopted by Socialists, Communists, Anarchists and others in late 1930s Europe, the subject of editorials, newspaper columns, artworks, literature and poems (the greatest of which is Auden’s, entitled simply “Spain”). It became a rallying point for those on the left who wanted to physically fight back against the spread of facism.

As such, it is no surprise that the Labour Greater London Council of the 1980s should commission tis work to stand by County Hall (then the seat of the GLC). Subsequent redevelopments of Jubilee Gardens have seen it moved from its original spot, but it is still a striking work, possibly even more striking now that it is in juxtaposition to the nearby attractions around the London Eye and the children’s playground immediately adjacent.

On the first Saturday of July each year the International Brigade Memorial Trust holds an event by the memorial, with speeches and music to commemorate the volunteers.

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