The ILP contingent in Spain

The ILP contingent in Spain

George Orwell's account of his experiences in Spain has ensured that the role of the British Independent Labour Party contingent is widely known, though they numbered only a fraction of the number who fought with the International Brigades.

Approximately twenty-five volunteers left for Spain in January 1937 and fought with the POUM militia on the Aragon front. The first half of 1937 saw little action on the Aragon front leading some ILP volunteers, including Orwell, to consider joining the International Brigades in Madrid. However, the involvement of the ILP contingent in the fighting in Barcelona in early May 1937, when they sided with the Anarchists and POUM against the government forces made this out of the question. Instead, they returned to the front at Huesca, until the banning and suppression of the POUM in June meant that those with links to the organisation were in danger of arrest.

Most of the British group returned to the UK, though one member, Bob Smillie, was arrested and later died in prison of appendicitis.


Christopher Hall, Not just Orwell': The Independent Labour Party volunteers and the Spanish Civil War, Barcelona: Warren and Pell, 2009

Tom Buchanan, ‘The Death of Bob Smillie, the Spanish Civil War, and the Eclipse of the Independent Labour Party’, Historical Journal, 40:2, 1997, pp.435-464.

George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, London: Secker and Warburg, 1938.

-- ‘Spilling the Spanish Beans’, New English Weekly, 29 July and 2 September 1937. (Click here for on-line version)

Peter Thwaites, ‘The ILP Contingent in the Spanish Civil War’, Imperial War Museum Review, 1987 pp.50-61

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