Nelson UCLan history graduate unearths identity of long-lost Salterforth man who fought in the International Brigades of the Spanish Civil War

A graduating student from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) has uncovered the identity of a Nelson man whose name could now be commemorated in a new Spanish Civil War memorial.

Lewis Ashworth (21) achieved a first-class degree from UCLan’s BA (Hons) History programme. Carrying out research for his final year dissertation the Nelson-based student uncovered the identity of David Hartley King, born in Salterforth in 1907, who fought with the International Brigades against Spanish fascists in the 1930s.

King worked as a weaver in the Nelson area between 1919 and 1924. He then joined the Royal Marines and served with them until 1931, gaining valuable military experience which stood him in good stead when he volunteered to fight Franco’s fascists and their Nazi allies in May 1937.

The former Nelson Weavers’ Association man was not previously considered a Lancashire volunteer until Lewis’s careful archival research revealed that King had travelled to Spain from Sutton in Surrey, where he was working as a mechanic.

UCLan student Lewis Ashworth who has uncovered the identity of a Spanish Civil War veteran

Commenting on the discovery Lewis said: “Researching my local area’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War has been fascinating. To uncover the long-forgotten name of someone who fought in the International Brigades and who also originated from my home town was a proud moment.

“Graduating with a first-class degree and having won the prize for best overall dissertation has really made all the hard work worth it. I’m now hoping to continue my academic studies at UCLan by studying history at a postgraduate research level.”

The discovery has been recognised by a local Spanish Civil War memorial committee in Burnley whose plans are advanced for a permanent memorial to the East Lancashire volunteers and will now need to consider the addition of the new name.

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The International Brigades were formed in response to calls for international assistance from the Spanish Republic after a coup led by General Francisco Franco tried to overthrow the democratically elected government and establish a fascist dictatorship akin to Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany.

Long revered as one of the last great heroic efforts of the twentieth century, the International Brigades saw thousands of idealistic young people concerned and angry about the seemingly relentless march of European fascism, travel to Spain determined to draw a line in the sand.

Their slogan ‘No Pasdaran’ (‘They Shall Not Pass’), rang out across the western world and beyond and rallied people to the cause whilst European governments stood by with non-interventionist policies labelled as appeasement. That decision, and the intervention of Hitler’s forces to aid Franco, ultimately ensured a fascist victory.

In 2020 a former group of UCLan students provided core research in a community history project for the Burnley Spanish Civil War memorial committee, which identified local International Brigade volunteers, told their back-story and the wider impact of the Spanish Civil War on the Burnley area including the Aid for Spain campaign and support from local people in supplying food and medicines for the embattled republic.

UCLan senior lecturer, Mairtin O’Cathain, has also been advising the committee on its plans for the memorial.