Born on October 21, in 1908, William Grant Hadley grew up in Portland, Oregon, with his mother, Ivy Mary (Seely) Hadley, his father, William Banner Hadley, and his two brothers, Claude Allen Hadley and Donald Russell Hadley. After living in Oregon most of his life, Hadley and his family moved to California, where he graduated from Pasadena High School in 1922. Hadley enlisted in the Navy and served for four years (1924-1928) before being discharged. During his service, in 1927, he married Ursula Mary True, though the marriage didn’t last long – he was noted as single just three years later. He also had a daughter, Betty, though it seems she stayed with her mother as Hadley continued traveling.
After his time in the Navy, Hadley worked as a salesman, eventually ending up in New York City, living in the East Village, near Union Square and Gramercy Park, at 215 Second Avenue. There, he continued to be an active member of the Writer’s Union, an aspiring but unsuccessful author. He lodged with other members of the union, often sharing meals with Ann Rivington, a columnist for The Daily Worker. It was through his friendship with Rivington that Hadley was introduced to communist ideas, eventually becoming an avid student of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin. Rivington made concrete the communist struggle; to her, it was linked to the Spanish Civil War, a war she had already seen friends go abroad to fight for. She and Hadley discussed the capitalist forces they saw shaping the dynamics of the war: on the one hand, the wealthy and powerful, Franco’s Army, fascist Italy, and fascist Germany, and on the other, the people’s army, the Republic. Meanwhile, Hadley had yet to find success publishing his work. He sold his car to stay in New York a bit longer, wanting to see his career come to fruition, or perhaps already drawn in by the idea of serving in Spain. After attending a speech about the war, Hadley felt certain he had found his calling. Rivington described a dramatic change in his demeanor; a renewed sense of purpose made his last few weeks in New York some of his happiest. Before he left, Hadley instructed Rivington to write a letter to his daughter, to be sent if he died in Spain. The letter, later published in the Daily Worker, clearly outlines the series of events that radically changed William Grant Hadley’s perspective on his own life, purpose, and politics, and drove him to enlist in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.
Hadley set sail to France aboard the Aquitania on April 28, 1937. He made it to Marseille safely, continuing his correspondence with Ann Rivington, his letters uplifting and hopeful. Hadley was one of around 250 International Brigade volunteers aboard the ship the City of Barcelona to get from France to Spain. Though the neighbors were ostensibly allies against fascism, the French government, under pressure from Western allies, refused to send most forms of aid that the Republic requested, and the land border between the two countries was sealed. Thus, the volunteers set off by sea, told to spend as much time below deck as possible. France was cracking down on illicit activity, including traveling between the two countries that violated the world’s neutrality agreement, even as Germans and Italians openly sent supplies to Franco’s forces. The City of Barcelona had spent one day at sea, all lights off, carefully trying to avoid Italian warships in the water as they sailed over parts of the sea that the Non-Interventionist Committee deemed Italian waters. The volunteers began to connect, socializing in common languages, and singing. It was eerie to be on a ship so dark, but their excitement for the cause brought them together.
On May 30th, the Italian submarine General Sanjuro spotted the ship about 60 kilometers away from Barcelona. They wanted revenge for a German ship that was hit a few weeks earlier. Two torpedoes were aimed at the ship, one missing, the other making contact, hitting the engine room of the boat. Many International Brigade members and crew members were below deck, near the engine room. After the torpedo made contact, nearly all of those people lost their lives. Hadley was one of them, with no chance to escape due to sheer misfortune. Many of those above deck or away from the engine room were able to board lifeboats. Jack Freeman, a survivor of the event, remembers seeing one man who couldn’t swim remaining on the bow of the ship as it went down. He recalls hearing the singing of International Brigade members, including, perhaps, Hadley, who, in their final moments, as they sank with the ship, sang the Internationale. Blood colored the water around them. People gathered around lifeboats, cutting away at the ropes that tied them to the boat as quickly as they could. People began to jump, trying to swim away before they were unable to get away from the boat’s pull. Many returned to save their comrades. Survivors made a slow swim to shore, where they were greeted by volunteers with supplies. Those who were gone were just that, simply gone. Many countries forbade people from fighting in Spain, including the US, leaving many of the volunteers who drowned unknown and unnamed.
The wreck remains just thirty meters below sea level, a sight often visited by divers. The Italian torpedo attack on the City of Barcelona killed around 65 international brigade members; William Grant Hadley is one of twenty five known names. Taking into account regular passengers and crew members, the estimated death toll of the sinking of the City of Barcelona is upwards of 200. Hadley was killed at age 28, before he got a chance to reach Spain, and before he was able to fight for a cause he so evidently felt connected to.
1&1 Editor Web. n.d. “C. DE BARCELONA - Trasmeships.” https://web.archive.org/web/20160324181058/trasmeships.es/104.html.
Garangoa, Sonia and Warren, Allen. “Ciudad De Barcelona”. 30th May 1937. https://ciudaddebarcelona1937.wordpress.com/.
“Hadley, William Grant | The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives.” 2022. The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives. August 28, 2022. https://alba-valb.org/volunteers/william-grant-hadley/.
“MV Ciudad de Barcelona.” n.d. In . Accessed May 1, 2023. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MV_Ciudad_de_Barcelona.
Rivington, Ann. “Tell Her What I Died For”. July 9, 1940. The Daily Worker, p. 7. May 18, 2023. https://www.proquest.com/hnpcommunistcollection/docview/1922330986/217D7F93D2BB461CPQ/1?accountid=35635.