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Charity number 1094928

1936 Madrid

Amongst the first British volunteers to arrive in Spain were the sculptor and artist Felicia Browne, who was painting in Barcelona when the rising began, and the Marxist intellectual John Cornford, who arrived in Spain on 8 August 1936.

Other volunteers from Britain had volunteered to become involved almost immediately following the military rising, such as Nat Cohen and Sam Masters, two clothing workers from London on a cycling holiday in Spain. With three other British volunteers, Richard Kisch, Tony Willis and Paul Boyle, they participated in an abortive raid on Mallorca, in which Kisch was badly injured. On their return to Barcelona, the group became the Tom Mann Centuria, under the command of Nat Cohen.

During November 1936, the British group in the Thaelmann Battalion was involved in a number of small skirmishes to the south of Madrid, as the rebels continued their advance on the Spanish capital.

The Commune de Paris Battalion, part of the 11th International Brigade, included several British volunteers. Several of them, such as H. Fred Jones and Jock Cunningham, had previous military experience, though many did not. One of the other British volunteers, Sam Russell (aka Lesser) described them as, ‘just a collection of odds and sods’.

By the end of 1936, volunteers were arriving from Britain in such numbers that they the creation of a British battalion, rather than attaching small groups to a German or French unit, was becoming a realistic possibility. The first step towards the establishment of a British Battalion came in December 1936 with the creation of an English speaking company, as part of the 14th International Brigade. The 145 strong British contingent comprised the No.1 Company of the French 14 (La Marseillaise) Battalion.