Biographies/Maurice Conway

Tags: Lincoln Brigade Marine Queen Mary Medicine Irish American XV Brigade POW Brigade of Service Sanitaire Battle of Gandesa Irish

Researcher: Lindsay Phung, Stuyvesant '23

Maurice Conway was born on April 21, 1908 in Olympia, Washington. This was the time when the historic White Building was built, one of the oldest existing buildings in Olympia, that represented the booming economy of early 20th century Olympia. He and his family were part of the hundreds of thousands of Irish immigrants that were impoverished. However, the 1900s was also a time of economic improvement as it was more commonplace for immigrants to reach higher rankings in the workplace. He was born into a family of five, being the middle child. His father was Michael Conway who died at age 46 (1869-1915), and his mother was Catherine Machin who has an unknown death date (1877-?). His older brother was Thomas Joseph Conway who also had an unknown death date (1906-?), and his younger sister was Mary Conway Philumalee who died at age 70 (1910-1980). Having died at age 38, Maurice did not outlive either his father or sister.

Having been religious, he attended the California Theological School in the 1930s where he studied medicine. He lived in San Francisco, California during the time. However, he decided to have a shift in his studies and moved to 58 South Oxford, Brooklyn, New York on July 23, 1937 to take on the occupation of a Marine Carpenter. The job entailed constructing and repairing the structure of ships. Throughout his years, there was no mention of a serious romantic relationship.

Upon hearing about the civil war occurring in Spain, Maurice Conway was compelled to join the fight. His religious beliefs played a role in the motivation of fighting for human rights and battling against atrocity and devastation of fascism. He joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, a group of around 3,000 volunteers from the United States that were sent to aid the Republican forces against the Nationalist forces. He left New York on July 28, 1937 and sailed aboard the Queen Mary. Upon arriving in Spain on August 8, 1937, he and his comrades had to feign being students or researchers in order to avoid confiscation of citizenship and other such dire consequences. This was because President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared neutrality in the Spanish Civil War due to a desire to focus on domestic issues as the United States was still recovering from the Great Depression. Measures were taken, including restricting citizens from participating in any Nationalist or Republican efforts.

In Spain, Maurice Conway served with the XV Brigade, Lincoln Battalion, a battalion composed of individuals from the United States, Canada, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. The battalion’s role was home defense. There were no racial discriminatory acts at play as there was an integration of White and Black people. The battalion consisted of soldiers, technicians, medical personnel, and aviators. Initially, the battalion consisted of two infantry and one machine gun. After a training period of two months (really, telling individuals who have never laid their hands before on guns to shoot), the soldiers were sent to battle. These soldiers were thought of as shock troops, thus suffering heavy losses. As part of the Lincoln Battalion, Maurice Conway was involved in the Battle of Jarama (the unit lost ⅔ of its strength and their commander), the Villanueva de la Cañada (the second day of the Battle of Brunete Offensive), and the “Mosquito Ridge” (commander Oliver Law killed in action). After such heavy casualties experienced in the battles, the Lincoln and Washington Battalions were forced to merge - the unit was then officially labeled the Lincoln-Washington Brigade. Proceeding battles include the Aragon Offensive, Battle of Quinto, Battle of Belchite, Battle of the Ebro, and Battle of Teruel. It is noted that the Lincoln-Washington Brigade lost 22.5% of its strength by the end of the war.

Maurice Conway was then transferred to the Brigade of Service Sanitaire, where he utilized the medical skills he obtained from the California Theological School. His role included upholding the health of the soldiers through sanitation checks. During this time, however, he was captured at the Siege of Gandesa sometime between July and November 1938. He obtained the status of prisoner of war, POW, as he was captured by the Nationalist forces. One can only imagine the torture he would have experienced during his capture. He was ultimately exchanged on October 8, 1938 and returned to the United States ten days on October 18, 1938 afterwards, again on the Queen Mary.

When WWII began on September 1, 1939, Maurice Conway decided to participate again, joining the Allied forces as a Merchant Marine. He utilized the skills he gained as a Marine Carpenter. He was responsible for supplying the raw materials, arms, ammunition, fuel, and food to the Allies (France, Great Britain, United States, Soviet Union). He lived past the end of WWII, having contributed to the success of the Allies. Maurice Conway died a year later on February 18, 1946. It is debated to be either suicide (perhaps due to his experience as a POW) or murder as his body was found in the East River.


An Overview of Irish Immigration to America from 1846 to the 1900s,,union%20movement%2C%20the%20police%20and%20the%20fire%20service

“British Merchant Seamen of World War II.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 14 Mar. 2023,,of%20the%20Commonwealth%20to%20sustain%20its%20war%20effort

Crooks, Jennifer. “Out of the Ashes: Olympia's Historic White Building.” ThurstonTalk, 28 July 2019,

Ink, Social. “Conway, Maurice.” The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, 7 July 2022,

“Maurice Conway - Irish American.”,

“Queen Mary.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 7 Apr. 2023,

“Siege of Gandesa (1938).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 22 Nov. 2022,,were%20able%20to%20successfully%20cross%20the%20Ebro%20River

“Why so Many Foreigns Volunteered to Fight in the Spanish Civil War.”, A&E Television Networks,

“World War II.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1 May 2023,

“XV International Brigade.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 18 Feb. 2023,