A transatlantic pilgrimage achieved its goal today when the relatives of men who fought fascism in the Spanish Civil War gathered around a newly refurbished bench honouring the volunteers on Hampstead Heath.
Mariah Wilson - the grand-daughter of International Brigade member Joe Gibbons - flew in from New York and was joined by her father David Wilson from Florida. They met up with Mariah's London-based cousin, Ted Sandling - a relative of another of the men honoured, Milt Cohen - to visit the bench and to pay tribute to the courage of their forbears.
The original bench with an inscription honouring the Gibbons brothers and their comrades was in such disrepair that it was set to be removed. Heath runner Martin Plaut was familiar with the bench and wanted to ensure that well-wishers had an opportunity to keep alive the memory of this band of International Brigaders. That led to a blog here all of six years ago - which eventually caught the attention of Mariah Wilson in the US.
Until then. Mariah was entirely unaware that her family members had a memorial bench on the Heath. For her, organising a replacement bench with a slightly modified inscription became a Pandemic mission. The bench was installed in June - the story is told here along with an account of the volunteers and what befell them in Spain and afterwards. And this morning, she and David flew in and made more-or-less straight away, along with Ted, to see the bench.
They were joined by Marlene Sidaway, president of the International Brigade Memorial Trust which seeks to keep alive the memory and spirit of those who volunteered to resist fascism in 1930s Spain.
Quite by chance, as the group approached the bench today a young man was sitting there enjoying the view. He had noticed the inscription and it bore a powerful echo of his own family's experience. Alex Baro, a freelance film maker, is from Barcelona, and lost family members in the brutal Battle of the Ebro in 1938 which sealed the fate of the Republican forces.
The bench is in a wonderful, tranquil spot - looking out on the ponds and beyond towards Highgate. It's a beautiful spot for the Brigaders to be remembered.
Mariah commented: "I'd like to think Joe and his brothers, as well as Milt Cohen and Pat Dooley were all smiling down at our gathering today :)"
For all those who paid homage on the Heath today, it was a special moment!
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