THEY were the brave Scots who volunteered to fight fascism and General Francisco Franco in Spain's bloody civil war.

It was the conflict that split families, towns and cities, as Franco and the forces of the Second Republic fought a brutal three year campaign in the 1930s.

It struck a chord in Scotland, a hotbed of political radicalism at the time, with widespread sympathies for the Republican side.

It led to 549 Scots signing up with the International Brigades of more then 30,000 volunteers who travelled from around the globe to fight fascism.

Now interviews with Scots who fought in that conflict are being heard for the first time as part of a thought-provoking exhibition to celebrate 100 years since the study of Spanish – now Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies – was introduced at the University of Edinburgh.

Featuring treasures from the University’s archives – including a rare artwork by Picasso, musical instruments and personal memorabilia – the exhibition explores connections between Scotland and the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking worlds.

Never-before-heard recorded interviews with former students, John Dunlop and George Drever, which took place in the mid-1980s – more than 45 years after the Spanish Civil War ended, are among the gripping features of the event.

Both men share heart-warming and tragic stories from the war, and explain why they joined the fight.

Leith-born George Drever, the son of a shipyard labourer joined up early in 1937, and was taken prisoner at Belcite, spent 16 months in a POW camp and was pronounced dead by the Republican government.

The Herald:

Members of the International Brigade at the unveiling of 'La Pasionaria' in Glasgow in September 1981. George Drever is second from left in front row

His obituary, as a well known Leith communist, appeared in local newspapers and a memorial meeting was held to celebrate his life.

But after the fall of Franco in 1939, Mr Drever turned up very much alive and was repatriated. Months before he died in 1996 he was awarded, along with all surviving brigaders, honorary Spanish citizenship.

He said: I remember, I think it must've been December of '37, at one of the [Communist] party meetings. Fred Douglas, who was the organizer then said, 'we got a letter and it said that things are very difficult in Spain and we want our best comrades to go'. So I was single, I wasn't married at that time, so I went along.

"I said, 'righto, Fred'. I said, 'put my name down'. He said, 'why do you want to go?' I said, 'you've just told us that they want the best comrades. I consider myself one of the comrades'. And I'm sure, of course, the people that know me now would do the same.

"So in a few days I had got my railway ticket, they gave you a railway ticket. I hadn't told my mother and father what I was doing and I told the girl who liked me the night before I went."

He said he had no regrets about joining up.

"None at all," he said. "The way I thought then about the world, people in the world, I still think that way, and still act and behave in such a way that I could forward the struggle of the people. Mainly, of course, the working class people."

The conflict began when Franco led a military rebellion against the Republican government in the summer of 1936. His forces were supported by an alliance of generals, monarchists and conservatives as well as much of the Catholic church.

The aspiring Fascist regime also enjoyed the military assistance of Hitler and Mussolini. The Republican government, a coalition of socialists and communists, in turn received arms from Stalin’s Soviet Union.

But it could also call on the remarkable support of more than 30,000 International Brigades volunteers who came from as far afield as Cuba, America, Canada, the UK and Ireland.

Mr Dunlop, until his death 13 years ago at the age of 90, was one of only three surviving Scots who fought Franco. He was a chartered accountant student in Glasgow when the war in Spain broke out.

"I had begun to take an interest in politics and had in fact gone so far as to join the Communist party because it seemed to me at that time it was the party to join. And of course, reading The Daily Worker and reading the other press of the day, I was very well aware of what was happening in Spain," he explains.

"It seemed to me that in Spain, great injustice was being perpetrated on the people of Spain by the organizations that had revolted against the legal government of the day. I was also disgusted [by] the fact the other democratic governments in Europe were not doing anything at all to help the legal government in Spain against an attack which obviously was being supported by both the fascist government of Italy and the Nazi government in Germany.

"I felt very strongly that if they were allowed to continue their attack on the people of Spain that it wouldn't be so very long before the rest of Europe were going to be engulfed in a war. The war would be definitely provoked and commenced by the German and Italian governments, as indeed it proved to be the case.

The recordings are accompanied by striking images of the men taken by photographer Sean Hudson, which are on loan from National Galleries Scotland.

Pablo Picasso’s pastel and water colour Going to the Fair is on display as part of the eclectic showcase. Created when he was 19-years-old, it is the only work on paper by Picasso held in Scottish public collections.

Galician bagpipes – a traditional Spanish and Portuguese instrument – are also on display, highlighting the musical links between Scotland and the Iberian nations.

Elsewhere, the exhibition explores university staff and students’ reaction to the 1973 military coup in Chile led by General Pinochet. The showcase features human rights protest letters from staff and materials to promote events to raise money for the anti-Pinochet cause.

Further highlights include personal mementos from a student’s year in Spain during the 1940s, an 18th century phrasebook and a watercolour depiction of a bullfight.

Film screenings, drama workshops and a talk on the Spanish Civil War will take place across the city to celebrate the anniversary, including a Spanish Sounds edition of St Cecilia’s Hall’s concert series on May 4.

Co-curator, Dr Fiona J Mackintosh, said “As well as celebrating our centenary, we wanted to explore Scotland’s connections with the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking worlds. We are delighted to have been able to do this through the University's wealth of collections in this area.”

Scottish Encounters with Spanish and Portuguese runs from 10-5pm, Monday-Saturday until 29 June 2019, at the University of Edinburgh Main Library, George Square.