Peter Kemp of the Spanish Foreign Legion


Take a look in the bibliography of any work about the Spanish Civil War and you’ll find a book by Peter Kemp. Mine Were of Trouble is one of the very few accounts of the war told by a foreign volunteer who fought for the Nationalists. There are whole library shelves full of autobiographies by the International Brigades but Kemp’s book has been out of print since the 1950s and goes for stupidly high prices these days.

Now it looks there’s a chance Mine Were of Trouble may come back into print. Adam Nettina is currently shepherding a new edition through an American publisher. Hopefully we’ll be seeing them on book shelves soon. More news when it gets here.

An English Adventurer

Kemp is a major presence in my book about the Spanish Civil War: Franco’s International Brigades: Adventurers, Fascists, and Christian Crusaders in the Spanish Civil War [or]. He was blond, well-spoken, and right-wing. The Cambridge graduate was half-heartedly studying for the Bar when the Spanish Civil War began in 1936. Kemp was not academic, an early school report from Wellington noting acidly that he ‘gives no trouble and takes none’. At Trinity College his main achievement was emerging unhurt from a car crash that took down a telegraph pole and cut all communications between Cambridge and London.

The prospect of adventure in a foreign land appealed more than a career in law but volunteering for Spain was not the act of a bored dilettante. Those who knew him remember he was absolutely serious about what he believed in.

‘I was not a Roman Catholic,’ Kemp said, ‘but it seemed to me that Christian values, law and order, and the security of my own country alike would be threatened by a Republican victory’.

Fighting for Franco

By New Year’s Eve 1936 Kemp was crawling through the ruins of Madrid with a rifle in his hand and a Carlist beret on his head. Later he left the Royalist ranks to join the Spanish Foreign Legion. He saw hard fighting all the way to the end of the civil war and survived sieges, air raids, hand to hand combat, and a mortar shell that knocked most of his teeth out. When the Civil War finished, Kemp barely had time to relax before he was fighting against the Nazis as part of the British special forces.

Adam Nettina has also written an article about him for that looks at Kemp’s WWII service in detail. It’s an interesting read.

For more adventurers and foreign volunteers take a look at my other books:

Soldiers of a Different God: How the Counter-Jihad Created Mayhem, Murder, and the Trump Presidency [or]


Lost Lions of Judah: Haile Selassie’s Mongrel Foreign Legion [or]


Katanga 1960-63: Mercenaries, Spies and the African Nation that Waged War on the World  [or]


Franco’s International Brigades: Adventurers, Fascists, and Christian Crusaders in the Spanish Civil War [or]

2 thoughts on “Peter Kemp of the Spanish Foreign Legion

  1. Interesting figure. The Spectator magazine in the ’80s published a 2-part account of his experiences fighting in Spain. Very inspiring.


    • Glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for commenting. Kemp lived a fascinating life. He really deserves a biography of his own. His own writing is vivid but hard to get hold of these days – the best book is ‘Thorns of Memory’ which collects and fillets three previous books about Spain, WWII, and post-adventures. And of course, I write about his Spanish adventures in my own ‘Franco’s International Brigades’.

      Also you might want to check out my posts about Dominique Borella, a similar post-war figure from France.


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