Sunday, March 24, 2013

'Renegades' - Canadians serving in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War

Between 1936 and 1939, over 1,500 Canadians defied their government and volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War. As it was in the midst of the Great Depression many of these men left behind punishing lives in relief camps, mines, and urban flophouses in order to confront fascism in a country few of them knew much about. 

Members of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion with their banner. Libraries and Archives Canada

These Canadians ultimately fought as the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion (The 'Mac-Paps'), serving within the 15th Brigade of the International Brigades. They were heavily engaged in several campaigns across Spain and paid a heavy price, not only in fighting Franco's fascists, but also internally, suffering from the unwanted attentions of fanatical political commissars that plagued the Republican forces during the later part of the war.

Canadians showing a bit of bravado for the camera.
These 28mm models are from Empress Miniatures. 

I've kept the colours of the Brigadiers clothing fairly varied as they were often indifferently uniformed and equipped. The officer with the rifle and the political commissar are dressed in a brown-khaki which I understand was a common colour for Republican uniforms.

For the Lewis Gun LMG team I cut some thin plastic rod to replicate spent shell casings, in an attempt to give the impression that the team are in the midst of laying down fire.

Again, like the others I have featured on the blog, these are fabulous sculpts to work with (I believe Paul Hicks work). 

Lanky, nicely posed and well defined, I found the castings to be clean, crisp and a breeze to prep for painting.

Of the 1,546 Canadians that served in Spain well over half were made casualties, with 721 of these listed as being killed - most without any known grave or record of how they perished.

The survivors returned home to a nation whose people pointedly ignored them, and whose law enforcement agencies earmarked them as troublemakers. They were often vilified as communist agitators, 'premature anti-fascists' and dangerous renegades. At the onset of the Second World War a few of these men managed to enlist to continue the struggle, but many were denied the right to serve, with some being harassed for years afterwards because of their political affiliations and stigmatized by their decision to fight in Spain.

A very good recent history of the Canadian involvement in the Spanish Civil War.

To this day the Canadians who died in the Spanish Civil War are not included in the Books of Remembrance that are housed in the Canadian Peace Tower in Ottawa and their sacrifice is not officially observed at our national war memorials or commemorated within our official Remembrance Day services. Those who survived the war are not even entitled to veterans' benefits. 

To me this is a shameful, self-inflicted stain to our country's honour. In light of this, as my own small personal observance, I proudly wear my Mackenzie Papineau pin next to my poppy on November 11th and make sure to raise a glass to those Canadians who chose to help the people of Spain to defend their government against the repression of fascism.

So, to those who not only fought the good fight in Spain but also to those who continue to struggle for our fundamental rights and freedoms, both from without and within, I can only say: ¡No Pasarán!