'I don't know how I wasn't killed'

The banner man: Bob Doyle

Paul Howlett, Friday November 10, 2000, Guardian

I never got a scratch on me," says Bob Doyle of his civil war fighting. It wasn't for want of trying. At Belchite, the fascists were using "those dumdum bullets that explode - sure I was frightened. We were defending a church, but really we were defending ourselves. The walls of the church were two feet thick."

Doyle had a Russian machine gun, but it packed up. "I threw it down and picked up a rifle. I stood up and started firing till it got too hot. I don't know how I wasn't killed, because the bullets were flying everywhere . . ."

He was only 21, but was well used to the struggle. In Dublin, where he grew up one of five children ("the only political one"), he had joined the IRA at the age of 14, and fought in the streets against the blueshirt fascists and the police.

The civil war was a natural progression for him. He tried stowing away on a ship bound for Valencia, but was caught and ended up taking the traditional route, over the Pyre nees, dodging fascist patrols, arriving to hot coffee at dawn.

He trained briefly at Tarazona de la Mancha before jumping on a truck to the front to gain "practical experience" at Belchite. Then it was on to Teruel, already overrun by the fascists, and Hijar, where "squads of fascist bombers were pouring over our heads". But on March 30 1938 (he remembers the date well) Doyle was captured and spent the next year in a concentration camp near Burgos. He was repatriated in February 1939, and just found time to meet and marry a Spanish girl, Lola, before enlisting in the navy. He was stationed in the straits of Gibraltar and the western Atlantic.

Doyle still returns to Spain each year. He was there in 1989, at the funeral of the legendary Dolores Ibarruri, La Pasionaria, icon of the republic. He carried a banner specially made by his Lola at their home in Neasden, north London. It bore the legend "International Brigades", inscribed over the Spanish tricolour.

There is a collection of Bob's speeches and articles about him, available here.