Ann Fotheringham, Nov 29, 2020
OUTSPOKEN, brave and revolutionary, Ethel MacDonald caused a bit of a stir when she arrived at Glasgow Queen Street in November 1937. Three hundred people had turned up to welcome her home. This was the woman, after all, whose radio broadcasts from Spain at the height of the civil war had reached audiences all over Europe. Born in Bellshill, she lived most of her life in Glasgow.
Ethel, described as a Scottish La Pasionaria (the nickname given to Republican fighter Dolores Ibárruri), left home at the age of 16 to join the Independent Labour Party. In 1925 she met Guy Aldred and in 1936, travelled to Barcelona to represent the support of the Scottish anarchist movement for the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War.
In January 1937, Ethel began transmitting English language reports on the war on Barcelona’s widely heard anarchist radio station. Glasgow Women’s Library, which includes Ethel’s story in its Clydeside Women Heritage Bike Ride, explains: “During the so-called May Riots of 1937, when hundreds died and anarchists were being assassinated in their own homes, Ethel risked her own life by helping anarchists who were wanted by the Communist secret police to escape Spain. Her bravery was picked up at home by the British press who nicknamed her the ‘Scots Scarlet Pimpernel’.”