Why to Spain

Why to Spain?

Sam Wild - leader of the British Battalion
Sam Wild, leader of the British Battalion during 1938

For the supporters of the Spanish Republic the war was seen within the wider context of the struggle of democracy against international fascism, which had been taking place across Europe from Germany to London’s east end. The views expressed by Sam Wild, leader of the British Battalion during the latter part of 1938, and of Jack Jones, political commissar in Spain, trade-unionist (and later the President of the IBMT) are typical of many of the volunteers:

    Sam Wild: 'Well, to me it was elementary. Here was fascism spreading all over the world, the rape of Abyssinia, the rise of fascism in Germany and the persecution of the Jews there, and the rise of the Blackshirts in Britain with their anti-Semitism, and especially their anti-Irishism. I felt that somebody had to do something to try and stop it.'  (Interview with Sam Wild, in Corkhill & Rawnsley, pp.18-19)

    Jack Jones: 'The awful realisation that black fascism was on the march right across Europe created a strong desire to act. The march had started with Mussolini and had gained terrible momentum with Hitler and was being carried forward by Franco. For most young people there was a feeling of frustration, but some determined to do anything that seemed possible, even if it meant death, to try to stop the spread of fascism…This was Fascist progression. It was real and it had to be stopped.' (Introduction with Jack Jones in Judith Cook, p.vii-ix)

The decision of the western democracies not to intervene spurred many to take the matter in their own hands, particularly when, first, the extent of military assistance to the rebels became apparent and, second, the determination of the governments to turn a blind eye.

    Louis Hearst: 'When England took the reins of ‘Non-intervention’ I could hold back no longer. I put everything else aside, and decided that I could not identify myself even passively with this political farce; I decided to go to Spain to defend democracy with deeds.' (Louis Hearst manuscript, MML)

The volunteers all shared a hatred of fascism, combined with the willingness and determination to do something about it. The war in Spain brought together those who had been active in political causes, whether it was the right to ramble in the Peak District, the hunger marches, protests against the means test, or confronting Mosley's Blackshirts. For opponents of fascism, and its advocation of intolerance and injustice, the Spanish war was a defining moment.

Sam Wild, leader of the British Battalion during 1938


Judith Cook,  Apprentices of Freedom, London: Quartet Press, 1979.

D. Corkhill and S. Rawnsley, eds, The Road to Spain: Anti Fascists at War 1936-1939, Fife: Borderline, 1981.

Ian MacDougall, ed., Voices from the Spanish Civil War: Personal Recollections of Scottish Volunteers in Republican Spain, 1936-1939, Edinburgh: Polygon, 1986.

Hugh Sloan, ‘Why I Volunteered’, Scottish Trade Union Review, 51, July-September 1991 pp.30-31.

IBMT logo

Support our work

You can support the IBMT by joining us or affiliating your union branch – see details and membership forms here:
menuchevron-up linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram