‘You are Legend’: The Welsh Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War

Book review

By Graham Davies; by Trevor James, published 22nd November 2019

‘You are Legend’: The Welsh Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War, Graham Davies, Welsh Academic Press, 2018, 224p, £19-99. ISBN 978-1-86057-1305

‘You are legend’ is a phrase from the farewell speech by La Pasionaria in 1938 when the International Brigade withdrew from the Spanish Civil War. Amongst the British contingent there had been approximately two hundred Welsh volunteers. Graham Davies has recorded the details of their participation with meticulous care. His research makes an important contribution at various levels.

His careful examination of the Welsh experience is set in the wider context of the Spanish Civil War which is carefully explained for us. In discussing the Welsh participation, there is a very helpful exploration of the motives which brought this disparate group of Welsh people to fight in this overseas conflict. They ranged from Marxist theorists and activists, with links to the Comintern, through more traditional Communist Party members to Trotskyites, idealists and straightforward believers in democracy.

The sourcing of the research materials is itself worthy of comment, ranging from the Moscow Archives of the International Brigade to the Richard Burton Archives at Swansea University, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archive in the United States and the National Archives MI5 files. This emphasises the thoroughness of the research.

One final point of note in this very interesting book is that, despite national political objections to the British contingent’s involvement, when they finally arrived back at Victoria Station in December 1938, they were welcomed by Clement Atlee and the crowd included the young Edward Heath, a pro-Republic Oxford Conservative student. This reveals an interesting perspective on responses to overseas events, demonstrating that then, as now, internationalism exists beyond traditional party boundaries.