The Spanish Civil War was a vortex which sucked in foreign volunteers from Europe and beyond, and gave them a chance to fight their own battles on someone else’s soil.
In 1936 General Francisco Franco and his fellow Army officers attempted to overthrow Spain’s left-wing Popular Front government. The Nationalist insurgents believed the country was speeding towards anarchy, atheism, and communism. The government and its supporters saw the rising as a fascist assault on democracy. Foreigners from all sides flocked to join the fighting.
Italian Fascists and exiled Italians Communists came face to face in the grounds of a country house during the battle of Guadalajara. Frenchmen from either side of the political divide battled to the death around Madrid. Right-wing Cambridge man Peter Kemp fought against communist fellow countrymen in the 1938 offensive that divided the Republic and took Franco’s forces to the Mediterranean. After the war he asked a surviving opponent what would have happened if he’d been captured.
‘We’d have shot you,’ came the reply. ‘Sorry‘.
Kemp assured him he would have done the same if the positions had been reversed.