The British Battalion of the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939
This thesis is an examination of the role, experiences and contribution of the volunteers who fought in the British Battalion of the 15 International Brigade, in Spain's civil war of 1936-1939. The study analyses the composition of the British contingent, particularly their social, economic and political background, but also other aspects, such as their age and geographical origin. It examines the motivations of the volunteers, using the wealth of memoir and interview material, to explain why almost two and a half thousand men and women left Britain to fight 'in a far away country.' The volunteers' experiences within Spain are traced, from the 'first few' who fought with the multifarious militia units in the defence of Madrid in the autumn and winter of 1936, to the creation and development of the International Brigades, into which these volunteers and the later arrivals were integrated in early 1937. The role of the volunteers in the battles around Madrid of 1936-1937, and the battles of Aragon in 1937-38, is examined in particular detail. The narrative strand of the thesis concludes with an examination of the brutal experiences of the British captured and imprisoned by the Rebels during the war. Finally, the thesis discusses some of the more contentious issues surrounding the role of the volunteers in the British Battalion in Spain. The organisation of the brigades and the role of the Comintern, and the maintenance of discipline, desertions, and the execution of volunteers are all examined closely. The study concludes that discipline was indeed tough in the International Brigades, particularly as all the members of the battalion were, after all, volunteers. However, it is argued that, in the main, this discipline was driven by military, rather than political necessity, and recent studies have over-played the extent of 'Stalinist' control within the battalion.