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. 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 survivor 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.
Scattered farm houses with roofs the colour of dark chocolate cling to sloping daffodil meadows at the foot of the Jura mountains. Cows amble through pastures with clanking brass bells around their necks.
Pure picture postcard to outsiders, this tranquil part of Switzerland is home to a town German-speakers know as Biel. Francophones prefer to call it Bienne.
Georges Arthur Surdez was born here in 1900 to a French-speaking middle class family with its fair share of demons.
Surdez shared the family home with an elder brother and three elder sisters. An adult brother and sister were making new lives for themselves in America. They had been gone so long that the smart toys they sent Surdez at Christmas stirred no memories.
His father Eugene was a watchmaker, and mother Marie happy to devote her life to her children. Like many outwardly respectable families, a maggot wriggled inside the apple.
Hi friends. This is a round up of stuff about my books and assorted matters i.e. a combination shill/boast. Let’s go.
An article I wrote for the Amberley website about Ethiopia and the Italian invasion is live. Check it out here. It’s a useful overview of the war and mercenary involvement. Also has a very nice photograph of Haile Selassie with book and Great Dane.
The BBC History website commissioned an article on my book, emphasising the role played by foreigners, both as soldiers and journalists. Article is done, checked, and lined up for publication. Should be live this month or the next. Keep an eye out or check back here – I’ll update when it appears.
Johnny Thunders used to say everyone in New York City claimed they wrote Chinese Rocks at one time or another. Then he took credit for writing it.
Dee Dee Ramone said the punk ode to heroin was all his own work. Richard Hell told people he was responsible for half of it. At different times Jerry Nolan, Sid Vicious, and all four members of The Ramones appeared in the songwriting credits.
Chinese Rock was the street term for heroin out of Vietnam, strong stuff that saturated New York during the punk era. The song named after it captures the sordid reality of scoring dope in the late 70s: the trip to Alphabet City, the dark hallways, money in one hand and a 007 knife in the other, a paper packet of heroin, scrambling home to lock the door and get out the works.
They’re still arguing over who wrote it.
The ebook version of Lost Lions of Judah: Haile Selassie’s Mongrel Foreign Legion is now available. If you prefer pixels to ink then hit Amazon and download.
So far it’s available from Amazon.co.uk but the US edition will be out in October 2017. Here’s a taste of the introduction to give you the flavour of the book:
When the first bomb exploded, Vienna’s finest trauma surgeon was elbow deep inside a patient’s guts somewhere in northern Ethiopia. Dr Valentin Schuppler kept his scalpel steady as shock waves blew in half the hospital windows. The Red Cross on the roof was being used as a target by Italian airplanes.
Dessie hospital was an unhygienic pile of bricks in a backwater town whose best feature was its juniper trees. Any patient mobile enough had gone running for the hills when the first Fascist planes appeared. Schuppler stayed in the operating theatre and worked on a patient who was going nowhere without a mile of stitches and a dose of morphine.
In the summer of 2017 a young Serbian man died in Syria. He was the first Serb to die fighting Islamic State. The international news didn’t notice. His fellow supporters of football team Vojvodina Novi Sad put up a tribute on Facebook.
Dimitrije Sasa Karan (Димитрије Саша Каран) was 24-years-old when he stepped on a landmine. He had a wife and a young son.
His path to the battlefield started in the terraces of Novi Sad. Born in the Bosnian town of Foča, Karan moved to Serbia as a child to avoid the civil war that wrecked Yugoslavia in the 1990s. He got involved in the Novi Sad football scene as a teenager.
The team had a fanatical fan group called the Firma (Фирма). Chanting, flares billowing smoke, drinking, expensive casual clothes, nationalism, the occasional fight. A Serb version of Italian ultras and British hooligans.
Karan loved the life. He became a Firma leader.
I’ve been writing books, articles, and blog posts for a while now. My subjects are mercenaries and extremists, smugglers and peacekeepers, lost causes and short-lived countries, and the kind of writers who hammer out words on a busted typewriter with a 9mm in their belt and a bottle of vodka in the ice box.
My new book is out now. Lost Lions of Judah is the strange, untold story of the Nazis and adventurers who fought for Ethiopia against Mussolini’s invaders.
And it’s all true.
That’s one of the revelations in non-fiction history. Everything you can read about in real world fiction has already happened to someone somewhere. And it was weirder and wilder than you can imagine.
There are plenty of non-fiction writers out there with the talent to take all their research and interviews and summon up a living, breathing, technicolor world. Here’s six non-fiction books that do the job very well.