British-born volunteers of the week

Post date: 11/08/2019

Recent posts on Twitter by fellow International Brigade memorial organisations in the US and Canada have underlined the fact that not every International Brigade volunteer from Britain and Ireland is listed in our database of nearly 2,400 Brigaders (see


This is because several volunteers who served in the American and Canadian battalions in Spain had been born on this side of the Atlantic before emigrating to the New World.


Thanks go to our New York-based friends in ALBA (Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives) for shining a light on the life of a little-known (to us!) British-born International Brigade volunteer. Their volunteer of the week last week was Donald Pacey, born on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent, in 1910. His remarkable life included a stint as a rodeo rider.


Meanwhile, apparently by coincidence in the same week, researchers behind the Canada and the Spanish Civil War website named their volunteer of the week to be Harry Rushton, born in Manchester in 1892 (see


This text below is a brief biography of Donald Pacey and is taken from the series of tweets posted by ALBA’s @LincolnBrigade on 7 August…


The volunteer of the week is Donald William Robbins Pacey!  Pacey was born in Sheerness, England, on November 10th, 1905. His father was an officer in the Royal Navy, and his mother was originally from Glasgow, Scotland.


Pacey finished secondary school in England and intended to join the Royal Navy, but was rejected due to being nearsighted. Shortly thereafter, he went to live with a cousin in Ontario, Canada.


Canadian life made him restless, and Pacey moved from Ontario to Montana and Wyoming, working as a ranch hand and, briefly, as a rodeo rider. In Wyoming, he met and married a school teacher.  The couple moved to Kansas City, and then Dayton, Ohio.



Pacey was a card-carrying Wobbly (member of the IWW) and he supported the presidential candidacy of Norman Thomas. In the early 1930s, his marriage began to fall apart and he relocated to New York City. In New York, he decided to go to Spain.


In August of 1937, Pacey sailed to Spain aboard the Washington. He was wounded in battle in February of 1938 and spent much of his time in Spain hospitalised due to injuries and with typhoid. After his discharge, he returned to England to recover.


Eventually, Pacey made his way back to the New York. There, he met Marjorie Elsbree, a teacher at a settlement house. They married and moved upstate where they had a sheep farm, and Pacey worked managing other farms in the area.


The family moved to Virginia. There, he was preoccupied with farmworkers’ rights, welfare, and civil rights. Pacey aspired to advocate for those he employed, and workers generally.


With Marjorie, Pacey had three children: High, Jane, and Mary. Late into his life, he had an abiding interest in politics and social justice causes and noted that he felt privileged to have fought for the Spanish Republic against fascism.


Pacey passed away suddenly in March of 1978 while visiting his daughter in San Francisco, California.


The photos show him seated on the right, wearing glasses, and in 1924 during his rodeo days.


Posted on 11 August 2019.

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