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The International Brigade

International Brigade

The Spanish Civil War became a proxy war for other European powers and a political symbol across the world - of the fight against fascism, against communism or against dictatorship, depending on the observer's view. The Nationalist side used professional military units from Italy and Germany, as well as a small number of volunteers, whilst the Republicans formed a sizeable military force made up of international volunteers, partly supported by training and equipment from the Soviet Union.

'International Brigade' is sometimes used as a generic term to refer to all foreign fighters who volunteered for the Republican side, but has a more specific meaning. The International Brigades were formed through the Communist International (also known as the Comintern) in the early months of the war and the Communist Party controlled recruitment and management of the Brigades. Membership was open to supporters of all political parties but some Republican volunteers chose to instead fight with militias associated with other political organisations such as the Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM), which was linked with the Independent Labour Party in Britain, and the anarchist CNT-FAI.

Foreign fighters in the International Brigades played a significant role in the defence of Madrid in 1936, and fought in the battles of Jarama and Guadalajara in 1937, and the battles of Teruel and Ebro in 1938.

The International Brigades were disbanded by the Spanish Prime Minister Juan Negrín in October 1938, in the hope that if he voluntarily removed foreign fighters on the Republican side, Italian and German troops fighting on the Nationalist side would then be forced to withdraw through international pressure. The Axis powers' intervention in the Spanish Civil War continued until the conclusion of the conflict in 1939.

The International Brigade in Spain

Spanish workers' struggle, 1936

Appeal for financial support for members of the International Brigade issued by Harry Pollitt, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain, on behalf of the International Brigade Fund.

To-morrow, Spanish bulletin, December 1936

The newspaper includes an article on the International Brigade ('Soldiers for democracy') by Frank Pitcairn, an alias of the writer Claud Cockburn. The publication was linked to the Communist Party.

Short memorandum of interview with W.H. Whyard, former member of the International Brigade, 18 March 1937

The interview records Whyard's appeal for funds from the Trades Union Congress to allow him to travel back to his family at Wavertree, Liverpool. The memorandum includes brief information about his travel to Spain after a decision "taken on impulse" and his injury in combat.

Spanish News, vol.1, no.12, 9 April 1937

The newspaper ("The organ of the Friends of the Spanish Republic") includes a front page photograph of the "lads of the International Brigade".

What is the truth about Spain?, undated

Pro-Franco leaflet, produced by Spanish Press Services, which suggests that the Republican army is controlled by foreigners.

Report of the Central Committee to the 14th National Congress of the Communist Party of Great Britain, 1937

The report includes information about the British Battalion (which "the Party took the initiative in organising").

Spain 1938: report of trade union and Labour Party members' delegation to Spain, February 1938

The report was published by the International Brigade Wounded and Dependants' Aid Committee and includes a section on the delegation's visit to the headquarters of the International Brigade.

Special Spain issue of International Press Correspondence, the magazine of the Communist International, May 1938

The magazine includes an article on the International Brigades by André Marty, Political Commissar of the International Brigades, along with other reports on military organisation in Spain.

Appeal leaflet issued by the International Brigade Wounded and Dependants' Aid Committee, May 1938

It includes photographs of members of the British Battalion in Spain and references to battles in which they have fought.

Letter from Labour Party councillors fighting in Spain, 9 July 1938

Copy of a letter sent to the Labour Party by Jack Jones (Liverpool), T. Murray (Edinburgh), C. Broadbent (Dewsbury) and L. Clive (Kensington). They express support for the Spanish Republican cause, and protest against proposals for mediation in the conflict.

Spain fights for victory, August 1938

Illustrated Communist Party pamphlet on the Spanish Civil War, including a section on the International Brigade.

Short report on the "plight of three members of the International Brigade in Puig", August 1938, with related correspondence

W.J Thomas of Aberavon, Griffith Jones of Pengarnddu, Dowlais, and James Kempton of Cockenzie, East Lothian, had been imprisoned by the Republican side, despite (according to the reporter) having committed no crime and suffering from serious illnesses. The accompanying correspondence attacks the role of the Communist Party.

Report of the 15th congress of the Communist Party of Great Britain, September 1938

The report includes an International Brigade roll of honour, listing members known to have been killed.

British Battalion XV International Brigade, January 1939

Illustrated pamphlet published by the International Brigade Wounded and Dependants' Aid Committee, commemorating the actions of the British Battalion. It includes a roll of honour, listing members known to have been killed. A programme for the National Memorial Meeting on 8 January 1939 is enclosed.

Support for veterans and their families:

One year's fight for democracy in Spain, July 1937

Circular issued by the International Brigade Wounded and Dependants' Aid Committee to promote a Trafalgar Square demonstration in support of the Spanish government, sent with a charity envelope to collect money for wounded members of the International Brigade.

The aims of the International Brigade Wounded and Dependants' Aid Committee, 22 November 1937

Letter sent by Charlotte Haldane, Secretary of the International Brigade Wounded and Dependants' Aid Committee, to the Trades Union Congress, setting out the aims of the Committee.

Report of deputation from the International Brigade Dependants and Wounded Aid Committee to the National Council of Labour, 31 March 1938

Members of the deputation included trade unionists, representatives of the Communist Party, and relations of men killed in Spain. They appealed for the Trades Union Congress to apply further pressure on the British government to abandon the policy of non-intervention.

Receipts and payments account for the International Brigade British Battalion National Memorial Fund for 7 June 1937 to 30 November 1938

It includes general information about the Fund's finances and an appeal for support.

Correspondence between A.E. Boswell, Walter Citrine, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, and others, September - October 1938

A.E. Boswell was the father of Bruce Boswell, a trade unionist and member of the International Brigade killed in Spain at the Battle of the Ebro, aged 20. Boswell contacted the TUC after being told that the International Brigade Wounded and Dependants' Aid Committee would be unable to help the family. Transcriptions of the letters are provided, should you find the handwriting difficult to read.

To all men and women of good will, [1938?]

Appeal leaflet issued by the International Brigade Wounded and Dependants' Aid Committee. It includes photographs of six British fighters killed in Spain.

List of International Brigade members who had belonged to a trade union, [January 1939]

Names of over 250 members of the International Brigade who were known to have belonged to a trade union (arranged by union). Addresses and occupations are also given for many of the men. The last five pages list some of the British trade unionists who were killed in Spain. The list was sent by the International Brigade National Memorial Fund to the Trades Union Congress in 1939. A shorter list from 1938 and a list of returned wounded, 1938, are also available online.

Internment in France:

Spanish refugees in France: census list, July 1939

Statistical information (in English and French) produced by the International Emergency Conference for Spanish Refugees.

6,000 Volunteers of the International Brigade from Fascist Lands Need Your Help, 1939

Illustrated Anti-Fascist Relief Committee leaflet, issued in protest at the conditions in which former members of the International Brigades were kept in camps in France.

Barbed wire in France: they fought for freedom; their reward - concentration camps, 1940

Pamphlet published by the International Brigade Association.

International Brigaders in France: 2,200 in the Concentration Camps need your help, 1941

International Brigade Association leaflet, issued in protest at the conditions in the French camps.

Get them away: the story of the French concentration camps, 1941

Pamphlet published by the International Brigade Wounded and Dependants' Aid Committee.

These Prisoners of War Need Your Help: Report from the Camps of Vichy!, 1942

Illustrated International Brigade Association leaflet, issued in protest at the conditions in which former International Brigaders were kept in Vichy France.

Give Your Help to a Hostage Army, 1942

Copy of circular distributed by Juventud Espanola en Gran Bretana, appealing for funds to provide food parcels and tobacco to veterans in camps in France and North Africa.

The Volunteer for Liberty, vol.3, no.7, 1942

Illustrated magazine of the International Brigade Association, including an article on prisoners in France and information on events for veterans.

International Brigade Association circular, April 1945

Appeal for help for veterans and Spanish refugees in France as the country started to rebuild from German occupation.

International Brigade Association circular, 25 April 1945

Appeal on behalf of the imprisoned Greek veteran Nicos Karayiannis, who had been held in a camp in Sudan.