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Book review: Absorbing civil war story of truly incredible people

Unlikely Warriors

by Richard Baxell   

(Arum Press, £12.99)

THIS book’s subtitle — “the extraordinary story of the Britons who fought for Spain” — is certainly no exaggeration.  

Setting the scene, Richard Baxell begins by outlining the economic and political circumstances in Britain prior to the start of the war in Spain in 1936 which politicised so many volunteers. Whether it was the hunger marches, abject poverty, unemployment or fighting Mosley’s fascists on the streets of London, the road led to Spain.

Baxell takes us through the battles in Spain, from the early casualties in Boadilla del Monte, through the horror of Jarama — where the British battalion was almost wiped out even as it was being formed — to Brunette, Belchite, the final offensive at the Ebro and the last stand at Sierra de Lavall de la Torre. 

Little wonder that of the 2,600 men and women who went to Spain over 520 remain buried where they fell.

Baxell uses his pre-eminent knowledge of the British volunteers to skilfully insert their own words to tell large parts of the story, not only about the desperate fighting and their total belief in the justice of their cause but the awful food, the lice, ancient weaponry and the hatred of the British ruling classes who were happy to appease the fascists and ignore the threat they posed to peace in Europe.

The book is beautifully written and it’s a totally absorbing read about incredible people whose like we will probably never see again. 

There is also an extensive section of notes and a detailed bibliography for those who will, understandably, want to know more after reading this book. 

The unquestionable authority on the Spanish civil war in Britain is Paul Preston who describes it as “the definitive work on the British volunteers.” High praise, totally justified. 

Alan Lloyd

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