Volunteer profiles in IBMT Historical Consultant's new book

Post date: 06/03/2024

The latest book by the IBMT’s Historical Consultant, Richard Baxell, is a collection of 10 mini-biographies of individuals – and one family – whose lives were shaped by their experiences in Spain during the country’s civil war from 1936-9.

Several thousand men and women from Britain chose to leave the safety of their homes to take part in the war, which was triggered by a fascist-backed military uprising against the elected government of the Spanish Republic. 

Most of them were volunteers for the legendary International Brigades, and this is reflected in Baxell’s ‘Forged in Spain’, where the lives of six International Brigaders are described.

They are Malcolm Dunbar, Sam Lesser, Peter Kerrigan, Alexander Foote, Clive Branson and Alex Tudor Hart.

Ronnie Burghes, another volunteer, was the son of Charlotte Haldane, a prominent administrator for the International Brigades and wife of eminent scientist JBS Haldane. They are profiled by Baxell as a family.

There are also chapters on Leah Manning, who was instrumental in bringing 4,000 refugee Basque children to Britain, Peter Kemp, one of the few Britons who fought on General Franco’s side, and Stafford Cottman, who served in the militia of the revolutionary POUM party.

Drawing substantially on new material, Baxell explains why they went to Spain, what happened to them there and the lasting, often dramatic impact the war had on their lives. While they survived the war, all were forever changed and, in their different ways, forged in Spain.

Baxell is the author of several books on the British volunteers in Spain, including ‘Unlikely Warriors: The Extraordinary Story of the Britons who fought in the Spanish Civl War’. He was also a founding member and Trustee of the IBMT and its Chair from 2015 to 2018.

His new book is receiving many plaudits:

‘The great strength of the book lies in Baxell’s project of showing how these individuals’ life stories were given a defining “barricade moment” of political clarity during the war.’ – Helen Mercer in the Morning Star

’These enthralling biographies give a picture of the passions of the age … Baxell’s research is meticulous… Forged in Spain is a serious and moving book that may inspire readers to fight the rise of a new fascism today.’ – Billy Bragg

‘Excellent research based on the latest files from a range of sources, well put together, with some sound judgements and reassessments.’ – Michael Eaude in the TLS

‘Baxell does not avoid controversy and discusses rumours and humanity frailty. You do not get heroes in his book but what you do get is remarkable individuals, none of whom are perfect, described and researched in Baxell’s usual extensive manner.’ – Stephen Dorris, author of ‘MI6: Inside the Covert World of er Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service

‘This is a book that should be of great interest to many readers… the involvement of the volunteers in Spain is usually passed over as a footnote in British history. It is to be hoped that ‘Forged in Spain’ will help rectify this situation.’ – Christopher Hall, author of ‘In Spain with Orwell’

‘Forged in Spain’ is published by The Clapton Press.

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