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Forged in Spain

Forged in Spain by Richard Baxell

Published by Clapton Press on 23 November 2023, Forged in Spain is a collection of ten biographies recounting the lives of a number of extraordinary men and women who left their families and friends to risk their lives in the Spanish Civil War. The majority of those to feature were members of the International Brigades, the battalions of foreign volunteers raised by the Communist International (known as the Comintern) to fight for the Republic. However, also included are a number of individuals who served in other roles, such as journalists, political functionaries, relief workers and medics. While the biographies centre on the experiences gained during the war in Spain, they all include an account of the subjects’ early lives and backgrounds, to help explain their political development and their choice to become involved in the war. Likewise, the consequences of their participation in the civil war are explored in detail: how they faced up to the defeat of the Spanish Republic and consequent forty years of Franco dictatorship, their involvement (or not) in the Second World War and their attitudes towards the Soviet Union and the Cold War.

‘As the Spanish Civil War fades from living memory, Richard Baxell has rescued from obscurity some of the brave men and women who left the safety of their homes in Britain to risk all in the fight against fascism, using newly released archival material to bring their stories vividly to life.’

Billy Bragg.

‘These enthralling biographies give a picture of the passions of the age … Baxell’s research is meticulous … Forged in Spain is a serious and moving book that may inspire readers to fight the rise of a new fascism today.’

Michael Eaude, TLS.

‘Excellent research based on the latest files from a range of sources, well put together, with some sound judgements and reassessments.’

Stephen Dorril, author of MI6: Inside the Covert World of Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service.

‘Baxell does not avoid controversy and discusses rumours and humanity frailty. You do not get heroes in his book but what you do get is remarkable individuals, none of whom are perfect, described and researched in Baxell’s usual extensive manner.’

Chris Hall, author of In Spain with Orwell.

‘This is a book that should be of great interest to many readers … the involvement of the volunteers in Spain is usually passed over as a footnote in British history. It is to be hoped that Forged in Spain will help rectify this situation.’

Charlie Nurse, ¡No Pasarán!

‘Baxell’s compelling biographical sketches shine a light on a select group of those who survived and whose lives were shaped by their experience in Spain.’

Jim Jump, author of Looking Back at the Spanish Civil War

‘Ten fascinating biographies of extraordinary men and women … this book will obviously be of great interest to both specialists and general readers … thoroughly researched, absorbing to read.’

Brian Rubin, The Orwell Society

Contents:

The Forgotten Warrior: Malcolm Dunbar
The Niños’ Second Mother: Leah Manning
The Cambridge Rebel: Peter Kemp 
Their Man in Havana: Sam Lesser (aka Sam Russell)
A Family Goes to War: The Haldanes (Charlotte, JBS & Ronnie Burghes)
Out of Orwell’s Shadow: Stafford Cottman 
The Truculent Scotsman: Peter Kerrigan
The Red Musician: Alexander Foote  
The Painter of Words: Clive Branson
The Brilliant Surgeon: Alex Tudor Hart

Captain Malcolm Dunbar (far left of photo) and Professor JBS Haldane (centre) alongside officers of the 15th International Brigade in Spain. [Photo: Bishopsgate Institute, London]

Giles Tremlett’s The International Brigades: Fascism, Freedom and the Spanish Civil War.

On 12 November, 2020 I joined Giles for an online discussion and virtual launch of Giles Tremlett‘s new study of the International Brigades, hosted by the IBMT and Marx Memorial Library. You can listen to the discussion here.

My review of the book appears in the latest edition of The Spectator. I thought it an engaging read and a well-researched, comprehensive work of scholarship. Based on a mass of primary research, especially the RGASPI material in Moscow, he’s written a very even-handed, ‘warts and all’ account. And his conclusion is, I think a fair one:

‘There was nothing perfect about the brigaders and attempts to paint them as 20th century saints only serve to highlight their failings. These were (mostly) men at war. They killed and were killed. Some fought bravely, others did not. Some were noble and brave in their actions, others were cruel, cowardly or callous. Some fought for an ideal, others for adventure. And, for some, those ideals would take them on a journey of oppression that placed them closer, in their behaviour and blind defence of Stalinist communism, to the fascists whom they declared as their enemies than to the democratic Republic that they defended. All fought, however, against the most destructive and evil force unleashed by 20th century Europe’s violent politics and history. As Bernard Knox – by then a distinguished Classics professor at Yale – pointed out, there could be nothing ‘premature’ about anti-fascism.’

Giles Tremlett, The International Brigades: Fascism, Freedom and the Spanish Civil War. London: Bloomsbury, 2020, p. 528.

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