Peter Kemp of the Spanish Foreign Legion

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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 amazon.com]. 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 Historynet.com 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 amazon.com]

and

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

and

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

and

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

6 thoughts on “Peter Kemp of the Spanish Foreign Legion

  1. Kemp (at an advanced age) also shows up in Nicaragua in the book Hurricane in Nicaragua by Richard West. West already knew Kemp and runs into him by chance while they both were covering Nicaragua during the Reagan years.

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  2. Thank you for this very interesting post. I have just come across this website while doing some online research into Richard Sablotny who was in the Spansh Foreign Legion during the Rif War. I have read your book Franco’s International brigades recently (early last summer) and truly found it fascinating. Very good read indeed. It’s great news that Kemp’s Mine Were of Trouble may be printed again. Any update on this?

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    • Glad you liked ‘Franco’s International Brigades’. Your research into Sablotny sounds fascinating. There were a lot of odd foreign figures involved on both sides of the Rif War. I think pilot Charles Sweeney was involved. IIRC there’s even a very brief fictional mention of English would-be volunteers in Waugh’s ‘Brideshead Revisited’.

      The Kemp book seems to be on hold at the moment. Tracking down any potential heirs has slowed down the process. It may still come out though. I’ll keep everyone posted. You might have better luck getting hold of Kemp’s ‘Thorns of Memory’ which is just a condensed version of his three books including ‘Mine Were …’ He even changes his opinions about a few people between the books. Might be cheaper/easier to get than the full length memoir.

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

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    • 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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