In the Cementerio General de Valencia lies a memorial designed by Scottish sculptor Frank Casey in dedication to a Glaswegian named Bob Smillie. It was placed there some 82 years after his death in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. Smillie was a trained chemist who studied at the University of Glasgow. From a socialist family, Bob Smillie left Scotland to fight Franco’s forces as they moved through Spain… in the Galician’s attempt to take absolute control of the country.

It’s hard to imagine giving up a comfortable life to put your life on the line. Perhaps somewhat easier to understand at the young age of 20 when there is less behind you to leave behind, but perhaps all the more so for what is put on the line by sacrificing one’s future.

Bob Smillie joined the civil war as an international volunteer through the Independent Labour Party and joined the POUM Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification (Partit Obrer d’Unificació Marxista).The International Brigade, of which there were about 100 members from ILP, made up what George Orwell described in his book ‘Homage to Catalonia’ as “in some sense fighting for all of us – a thin line of suffering and often ill-armed human beings standing between barbarism and at least comparative decency.”

During his time fighting on the front Smillie was described as voraciously singing his Scottish songs. Bob Edwards who fought with him said “His crooning of Scottish melodies could be heard accompanying difficult and monotonous hours in the trenches, as well as the political proclamations that shouted at the enemy lines. Perhaps it is coincidence, but during that period there were many fascists who defected from the ranks of Franco.”

After much Republican in fighting, Bob Smillie died in 1937 after being taken prisoner following the vilification of POUM members by the Republic due to their anti-Stalinist stance, with many of them imprisoned and in some cases executed.

Smillie was arrested in Figueres on his way back to the United Kingdom in order to preach about the importance of fighting in the war. Luck was not on his side; however, as it was a very bad time to have been associated with the POUM as it was now that many of the Republic’s factions were turning on “their own” to establish control.

During this time, in April 1937, Smillie was arrested alongside many others and sent to the Modelo Prison in Valencia. Smillie’s death is shrouded in mystery, as it is not quite clear what caused his death. He was denied any visitation rights and his body was hastily buried. The official reason given was peritonitis, inflammation of the lining of the abdomen, which can cause death after a few days if left untreated.

There was speculation at the time of what caused his death, some believed that he died as part of a Stalinist purge or just a case of a convenient wilful neglect of somebody who just so happened to be on the ‘wrong side’. Either way, for someone to give up a promising career to fight the wave of fascism spreading throughout Europe to be imprisoned and die at the hand of the side he was fighting for, can only be described as a tragedy.

In 2019 a memorial was unveiled in a private ceremony attended by Smillie’s relatives alongside the sculptor Casey as well as Orwell’s son, Richard Blair. If you would like to visit the memorial of Bob Smillie, you can find it at Cementerio General de Valencia, Calle Santo Domingo de Guzman, 27 located in Section 5.


Report by Sebastian Garraway

Article copyright ‘24/7 Valencia’

‘Bob Smillie’ photo copyright Sebastian Garraway / ’24/7 Valencia’


Related Post

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

24/7 Valencia


24/7 Valencia is the definitive English Speaking guide to Valencia. Extensive Listings, up-to-date and informed articles on restaurants, chill out, clubland, football, culture, arts, books, woman and much more.
Languages »

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This