Gideon Lewis-Kraus writes:
These men went to help Spain because their leaders wouldn’t. In August 1936, 28 countries signed a non-intervention pact overseen by the British government. Germany and Italy ignored it with impunity. By the end of the month, it was clear that, as Soviet intelligence in Spain reported with alarm to the Politburo, amateur militias – ‘some of whom were accustomed to heading off home at the end of the day’ – were unlikely to be able to fend off the trained Nationalist troops, particularly Franco’s Army of Africa, without assistance. The Comintern was the only international organisation with the reach to recruit and organise a people’s army, but most of the volunteers who passed through Paris – the assembly point – thought of themselves as anti-Fascists, not Communists. The non-intervention pact made service in a foreign army illegal, so British recruiters had to work in secret; some families learned that a relative had volunteered only when they got a postcard. British volunteers often left Victoria Station with a weekend return to Paris – a ticket that didn’t require a passport. Once in Paris, they found that taxi drivers didn’t need directions to the supposedly secret rendezvous. Many of them visited brothels and drank prodigiously before they were sent down to Perpignan, before hiking across the Pyrenees. They arrived at the ridge that marked the Spanish border at sunrise: they sang the ‘Internationale’ and were overcome with emotion.
(LRB 21 February 2013)
Old Street Publishing | Hardback
400 pp. |ISBN: