In the series Postcards from Spain we look at the stories surrounding the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39, and particularly the International Brigade who fought against the fascists.
In this post we ask why travel thousands of miles to a foreign country to fight a war ? A new book by Author, researcher and historian Richard Baxell looks for the answer. The book provides a detailed account of the British volunteers who travelled to Spain as part of the International Brigade.
Baxhill also includes fascinating stories from the volunteers and Spanish villagers. Over a 2 hour drive from the capital Madrid, is Madrigueras, where the church priest ‘Had been a Franco supporter, he got up to the bell tower with a machine gun and fired on anyone who went to the fountain for water. The priest was killed and hung on a hook in the butcher’s front window’.
Volunteer stories are just as graphic ‘The first ten minutes of the attack were worst. I was just plain scared – I’m not ashamed to admit it. The zip, zip, zip got louder then suddenly the air was thick with machine gun bullets’.
Where did the idea of an international force to fight against fascism originate ? Baxell confirms that ‘The role of the national Communist parties provided the network for recruiting large numbers of anti-fascists to fight for the Spanish Republic. The idea of raising an International Brigade of volunteers was first mooted at a meeting in Moscow in August 1936 after Soviet military intelligence had reported the dire position in Spain.
Communist International provided the crucial mechanism that made it possible to recruit thousands of men and women from around the world and transport them into Spain’.
Baxhill adds that the decision to fight was not an easy one as expressed by volunteer, Fred Thomas… ‘Nobody cajoled, coerced, or bullied me, certainly not the Communist Party, even though they provided the means’.
Russian involvement was cemented by Stalin on ‘6 September he gave preliminary instructions to sell 50 bombers to Spain, supported by 20 pilots who would train the Spanish pilots’.
Fascism was sweeping across Europe and now attempts were made by Sir Oswald Mosely to bring a similar situation in Britain, leaving no doubt from this volunteer from Aberdeen
‘It is my duty to go and help the people of Spain. And the fight, whether it be here in Aberdeen against the British Union of Fascists or against Mussolini and Hitler, was exactly the same fight to me’.
Baxell adds ‘The final decision to create the International Brigades was taken by the Comintern Secretariat on 16 September 1936. Many of the volunteers saw themselves as anti-fascists, not Comintern warriors’.
But who would lead these unlikely warriors of the International Brigades ? Baxell makes note of a ‘Manfred Lazar Stern, a former captain in the Austrian army who had fought with the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution. Under the assumed combat name General Emilio Kleber, he arrived in Spain to become the first military commander’.
In over 500 pages Baxell draws out some fascinating and inspiring stories in a book about the Britons who took up arms against General Franco and the fascist leaders.
Unlikely Warriors is out now on Aurum Press.
Gary Alikivi June 2020.