David Lomon's real name was David Solomon. He lost the two first letters of his surname in Spain when, on the day of his 18th birthday, he left the United Kingdom to fight for the Republican cause against Franco. "I was advised to change my name to something less Jewish in case I was taken prisoner," he wrote in his memoirs.
It was a sage move. After the battle of the Ebro, Lomon was captured by Italian troops and held in a POW camp in Palencia. "The Gestapo would come every few weeks looking for German citizens and, in particular, Jews. Changing my name saved my life." Lomon was freed in a prisoner exchange and went on to fight throughout the Spanish Civil War. He was the last surviving British member of the International Brigades, which drew 35,000 volunteers from 55 countries, including George Orwell and German Chancellor Willy Brandt. Lomon died last week aged 94.
Lomon left his home without telling his mother where he was going. "I have many regrets for what I put her through although later she said she was proud of me and I became her favorite. And we were eight siblings!" Lomon recalled at the 75th anniversary of the creation of the International Brigades in Madrid last year.
The Gestapo would come every few weeks looking for Jews. Changing my name saved my life"
He arrived in Spain convinced the Republic would triumph. "We were the good guys." But he swiftly saw the parlous state of the Republic's forces. "We had weapons from before the [first world] war, and the old Russian machine guns. The food wasn't much better: donkey meat, sardines and beans were our staple diet. But we were so determined to overcome all the difficulties that we accepted what we were given and the training we were put through. After all, we didn't come to Spain to eat. We came to fight." He was impressed with the Spaniards. "I was fascinated by to see such poor people, but so proud."
Lomon fought on the Teruel front and during the Nationalist offensive in Aragon. He was taught to fire the Maxim heavy machine gun. "It didn't like the heat or the cold."
A mortar nearly killed him in March 1938. When he came round he was a prisoner of the Italian Blue Arrows division. He was taken to the old monastery at San Pedro de Cardeña. There, imprisoned in the basement, many of his comrades died through lack of medical attention and food.
"It was terrible. When they put you in a place like that it is as though you have been removed from the world."
Lomon displayed his Spanish passport -- given to the surviving members of the International Brigades through the Historical Memory Law -- with pride when he was invited to Madrid by the Association of Friends of the International Brigades a month ago to mark the 76th anniversary of the defense of the capital. Almudena Cros, the association president, remarked how he walked "with admirable energy," through the streets he had marched along with the XI brigade. Losing the Civil War was "a big blow" to Lomon but he says that it served as an inspiration to him: when he returned to the UK, he joined up to fight in World War II against the Nazis. "We won that one."