Battle of Jarama, February 1937.

The 75th Anniversary Commemoration of the battle of Jarama. 18th February 2012.

The event at CAUM on Friday evening was very well attended and preceded by a half hour talk by David Margolis who talked about the literary works of Christopher Caudwell, who died alongside Clem Beckett, a motorcycle rider who rode “The Wall of Death”.  Sadly, I was very tired after an intense two days driving across Spain with Alex and could not really take it all in. I am sure, though, that others did appreciate him coming to speak. It just went completely above my head! However, here is some information about Clem who fought and died alongside Christopher Caudwell. The following information on Clem Beckett is taken from the excellent Spartacus website,

Clem Beckett

Clem Beckett was born in Oldham in 1906. After leaving school he became a blacksmith. He also became a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. According to Graham Stevenson: “His trade was of a blacksmith but, faced with victimisation and depression after the late 1920s, he started riding the Dome of Death at fairgrounds. So, stunning and confident was his mastery of this feat that, in no short time he had became famous as Dare Devil Beckett, the man who rode the Wall of Death and who broke world records.” Beckett became a speedway rider for White City, a team based in London. According to David Hallam: “When speedway was first introduced to this country many greyhound stadium owners jumped on the bandwagon. Young kids were persuaded to race irrespective of their experience and many were killed or seriously injured. Clem Beckett… played a major part in setting up a trades union for riders that stopped this lethal exploitation.” George Sinfield later commented: “Beneath his leather jacket beat a heart of gold. It was a heart that throbbed in rhythm with the struggle of the working people.” Jon Tait recently wrote on The Morning  Star website: “Clem Beckett loved the dirty growl of his bike’s engine, the smell of diesel and hot metal filling his nostrils. An enduring image for those lucky enough to see him ride was of the legendary speedway star zipping around the final corner before crossing the finish line, muck spraying up from his back tyre before he lifted his goggles, his face flecked with mud as he celebrated another win. Beckett loved the thrill of the speedway track, the rush of adrenaline as the back end of his ride slipped out, gunning the throttle and feeling the cool blast of wind in his face… The racetrack owners must have regarded Beckett as a bit of a rebel – he unionised the sport when he formed the Dirt-track Riders Association.” On 30th March 1929, Beckett joined forces with Spencer Stratton and Jimmy Hindle to establish the Sheffield Tigers. As Graham Stevenson points out: “Operating as Provincial Dirt-Tracks Ltd, the group had sunk their savings into buying land at Owlerton Meadows. Since the sport was then sweeping the country, it was perhaps not such a risky venture in retrospect but many thought not at the time. It was so new that it was only the fifth such venture in the country. Beckett now shone as the star of the new Owlerton Stadium, winning the golden helmet in front of 15,000 spectators, whereas even with a renaissance in the sport only a few thousand would now turn out.”

Clem Beckett with the Sheffield Tigers

 In 1932 Clem Beckett was active in the campaign to gain access to open spaces in what is now the PeakDistrictNational Park. In 1932 he took part in what became known as the Kinder Trespass. Joseph Norman was one of those activists who worked alongside Beckett: “My first real experience of political activity was the mass trespass on Kinder Scout in Derbyshire which eventually led to the designation of the area as a National Park. Dozens of those that fought the police and landowners on that mass trespass were… men like Clem Beckett and George Brown.” According to Martin Rogers, the author of The Illustrated History of Speedway, Beckett, a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, took a tour party to the Soviet Union in 1932. Despite the best efforts of Beckett, “there was no real speedway development there” until after the Second World War. On the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, the Communist Party of Great Britain helped establish the International Brigades. Clem Beckett was one of several members of the Manchester branch of the CPGB who volunteered to go to Spain to defend the Popular Front government. Maurice Levine later recalled: “One of the prime factors in me making an application to go to Spain was that Eddie Swindell, a glass worker friend of mine, was very friendly with Arnold Jeans who had already gone to Spain with Clem Beckett.” After failing to take Madrid by frontal assault General Francisco Franco gave orders for the road that linked the city to the rest of Republican Spain to be cut. A Nationalist force of 40,000 men, including men from the Army of Africa, crossed the Jarama River on 11th February, 1937. General José Miaja sent three International Brigades including the Dimitrov Battalion and the British Battalion to the Jarama Valley to block the advance. Jason Gurney pointed out in his book, Crusade in Spain, (1974), “I got back to Wintringham’s HQ and relayed the Brigadier’s orders. Runners were sent out to 1, 3 and 4 Companies to order the advance. I went up to No. 2 Company’s trench to observe their movement and report back. William Briskey’s No. 3 Company on the Casa Blanca hill was the first to move down the hill from its summit, followed shortly after by No. 1 Company under Kit Conway.” Clem Beckett wrote to his wife from the front-line at Jarama: “I’m sure you’ll realise that I should never have been satisfied had I not assisted. Only my hatred of Fascism brought me here.” William Rust, the author of Britons in Spain (1939): “Even the bravest would have shuddered as they took up position in the morning,  had they known what the day had in store for them.” Clem Beckett and his friend Christopher Caudwell, took control of a Charcot (sic. Chauchat) light machine-gun. On 12th February, 1937, at what became known as Suicide Hill, the Republicans suffered heavy casualties. Hugh Thomas, the author of The Spanish Civil War (1961) has commented: “A mere two hundred and twenty-five out of the original six hundred members of the British Battalion were left at the end of the day.” Beckett’s friend, George Sinfield, later pointed out: “Clem and Chris were posted at a vital point. They faced innumerable odds: artillery, planes, and howling Moors throwing hand-grenades. Their section was ordered to retire. Clem and Chris kept their machine-gun trained on the advancing fascists, as a cover to the retreat. The advance was halted, but Clem and Chris… lost their lives.” Following on from the above article his widow left the following memory of Clem: His widow, Leda, wrote: ‘He was so fine, and seemed so – alive. It did not seem possible that when, five months ago, he said, “So long, kid, don’t worry”, that those would be the last words he would say to me’.

Jarama 75th Anniversary March, Saturday, 18th February. About 300 people turned up to take part in the Annual March. Starting from the Kit Conway memorial close to the British Battalion machine gun positions, we walked towards where Charley Donnolly was killed in the Lincoln attack on 23rd February and finally to the IB memorial. I wandered far at the back with Nils Wintringham, grandson of British battalion commander, Tom Wintringham, and his wife who both enjoyed talking with Ernesto Vinas, organiser of the group Brunete en la Memoria, discussing various SCW matters. Lunch followed the unveiling of Goyo y Sancho Salcedo’s new monument at the Jarama museum beside Restaurant Meson El Cid in Morata de the unveiling,  Nils Wintringham read his grandfather’s poem, “Monument”, with Antonio Diez giving a fiery and passionate Spanish version. Before the evening ended we took Nils Wintringham and Hugh Purcell to the British battalion cookhouse and the destroyed 1938 memorial to the International Brigades. After that, we made our own ways back toMadrid, where Almudena Cros and I showed Alex some of the sites associated with Hemingway and ending up in Bar Chicote having a gin and angostura whilst reading “The Butterfly and the Tank”. But what gin did Hemingway prefer to drink?

Charlotte Crow from History Today wrote the article below on the March:


The Fourth Annual Jarama March, 26th February 2011.

The main reason to visit Madrid was to take part in the Annual March on the Battlefield of Jarama. This year the March covered the XI German International Brigade for the first time. I add some photos to give you an idea of this increasingly popular event. It was calculated that around 300 people attended the March this year.

Here are links to photos and descriptions of the March in Spanish:


The recent discovery of three mass graves of British and American Brigaders who were killed at Jarama was discussed by a group of enthusiasts at the event in Meson El Cid after the Memorial March. I have now  discovered the locations of the British dead and also the American dead from the first attack on February 23rd 1937. However, the American dead from the second attack on February 27th 1937 will come later. Here is a short account concerning the British battalion mass grave that has been recently identified.

Mass grave of the 127 American dead from the February 27th attack.

Below are pages from the newspaper La Gaceta:

The second page below shows an aerial photograph with the Kit Conway memorial just visible to the west on the left of the map. One hundred metres to the east, beyond the sunken road, appears one of the mass grave as seen in the close up photo. This most likely contains at least twenty English dead mentioned in one of the newspaper links below and maybe more from the attacks of 12th and 13th February?

The twenty dead from the first American attack at Jarama are very likely buried above the clenched fist memorial that was unveiled on June 30th 1938 by the 18 Brigada Mixta. The area above where this memorial once stood has the appearance of a cemetery with two sets of steps either side of where the memorial once stood rising up to a flat piece of ground which seems appropriate for a cemetery of some sort. The site is close enough to where the Americans attacked on February 23rd 1937 and where a first aid post that was sheltered may have been set up to treat the wounded. The inscription of the original memorial reads:


Fragment of the 1938 memorial

Here are some links to two newspaper articles on the discovery (in Spanish)

The Kit Conway memorial at the British battalion machine gun positions at Jarama

Site of the “tumba de los brigadistas” behind the Kit Conway memorial and beside the sunken road.

Sunset over the British “Suicide Hill” from the site of the mass grave


4 thoughts on “Battle of Jarama, February 1937.

  1. I’m so glad that Clem Becket has been recognised. My father knew him slightly and Clem s story has always been a fascination of mine. Looking forward to the new play in Autumn 2016. They were good men and should never be forgotten.

  2. Clem was my mums cousin, my brother was called after him Clement Henry Anderson. Our dad was a rider & was know as Mad Andy

  3. There was another Beckett who died at Jarama–a Canadian, 22-yr-old Thomas Edison Beckett, my uncle (my father’s oldest brother). Tom died in the early stages of the action, on Feb. 17, 1937, when a truck he was riding in with several other IBs took a wrong turn, straight into enemy territory. None of the men were ever seen again–their bodies never found, their families forever without closure.

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