An important new resource
Above: Anglo-American Lincoln Brigade volunteers
The Spanish Civil War (1936-39) was a brutal conflict in which more than 500,000 people lost their lives. It was in many respects a dress rehearsal for the far larger confrontation which was to envelop the world soon afterwards. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the military uprising which started the war. Despite the British government’s official policy of non-intervention, thousands of British and Irish volunteers travelled to Spain to join the International Brigades which were formed in defence of the elected government of the Spanish Second Republic. The brigades were involved in some of the war’s most critical engagements, including the Battle of Jarama in February 1937, but were eventually sent home in October of the following year. General Francisco Franco, with the support of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, eventually led the Nationalist forces to victory and remained leader of Spain until his death in 1975. Journalists and writers such as George Orwell brought news of the conflict to the outside world and, partly as a result of books like Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, the International Brigaders have lived on in the popular imagination. The surviving veterans have since been conferred with honorary Spanish citizenship.
What are the Spanish Civil War British volunteers lists?
The British Security Service, sometimes known as MI5, was interested in which British volunteers were fighting in Spain, particularly as many of them were also members of the Communist Party. KV5/112 contains an alphabetical list of more than 4,000 British and Irish International Brigaders compiled by the Security Service between January 1936 and December 1954. The file also contains a roll of honour (incomplete*) of those killed in action while fighting in Spain. A selection of index cards(KV5/117-131) relating to some of the more prominent volunteers has also been digitised.
*The file was closed in 1954 and was not updated to take new information into account. A more complete list of those killed is available through the International Brigade Memorial Trust website.
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The quick search box is near the top left of the page. To search by catalogue reference type the complete catalogue reference into the quick search box. Remember to leave a space between ‘KV’ and the numeric reference, for example, KV 5/125.
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The names in these records have not been individually indexed, and the lists of names are not in alphabetical order under each letter index, so you will need to scroll through the pdfs to locate the name you are interested in.
What could these records help me to discover?
Browsing the collection may help you to discover or confirm whether one of your ancestors fought with the International Brigades in Spain. The files will also be useful for researchers and academics seeking primary source material from the era and may act as a signpost to further records in our collection. KV5/112 contains basic information collected by the Security Service on men and women it believed to be travelling to Spain to fight with the International Brigades, including the date and place of departure, the brigade to which they were attached, and the date of their return to the UK. Other files in the KV5 series provide further details of their activities in support of the International Brigades.
What do the records look like?
The documents are scanned images of pages copied from records kept by the Security Service (KV). They include a complete list of names and dates of British International Brigade volunteers arranged alphabetically (KV5/112) as well as selected copies of index cards on individuals deemed to be of interest. These list names, dates and places of birth, addresses, occupations and dates of departure and arrival in Spain, as well as some information about their post-war activities.
A selection of index cards (KV5/117-131) relating to some of the more prominent volunteers has also been digitised. See the list below for what is available.
Valentine Ackland was an author whose work saw a resurgence of interest in the 1980s. It is understood that she volunteered for the Red Cross during the Spanish Civil War, although the Security Service note that her time in Spain was limited to ten days.
Eric Blair is better known as George Orwell, author and journalist. Orwell’s work includes 1984, Animal Farm and Homage to Catalonia, his personal account of his experiences during the Spanish Civil War.
Clive Branson was an English artist and poet best known for his paintings depicting life during the Blitz. Branson began by recruiting for the International Brigade before taking up the fight himself. He was captured in April 1938 and was held as a prisoner of war until he was repatriated that November. His wife Noreen shares an index card with him.
Dublin–born Patrick Vincent Cochrane, who died on 31 March 2011, volunteered to join the International Brigades as an ambulance driver. He was badly wounded at the Battle of Belchite in September 1937 and on his return from Spain he set himself up in London as a toolmaker and spectacle frame designer. He returned to Belchite in 2007 and was granted Spanish citizenship two years later.
Sidney Cole was a film and television producer. He was involved in making documentary films about the Spanish Civil War including Behind The Spanish Lines (1938) and Spanish ABC (1938).
Frederick Bayes Copeman, OBE, started his career in the Royal Navy but was laid off during the reductions in 1931. He joined the International Brigades and became the Commander of the British Battalion. He was wounded in December 1937 and returned to England the following April. During the Second World War he helped to co–ordinate air raid protection in London, for which he received the OBE.
John Cornford was a Cambridge–educated poet. He fought initially with the Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM) and saw action at Perdiguera and Aragon in 1936 before falling ill and returning to England. He quickly returned, having recruited several friends, to join the English Battalion of the International Brigades, and was badly wounded at the Battle of Madrid in November 1936. He was killed at the battle of Lopera on 27 December 1936, shortly after returning to the front.
Bob Doyle was an Irish member of the International Brigades. He was captured in 1938 at Calaceite, near the Aragon front, along with Irish Brigade leader Frank Ryan. After spending 11 months in a concentration camp he was among those exchanged for Italian prisoners of war. He died at the age of 92 on 22 January 2009.
Liverpudlian Jack Edwards died in 2011 at the age of 97. He was a veteran of the Battles of Jarama, Teruel and Ebro and later joined the RAF during the Second World War.
Les Gibson, who fought with the International Brigades and served as a stretcher bearer at the Battle of Ebro, died in 2009 at the age of 96.
The Cambridge–educated classicist Bernard Knox was wounded while fighting with the International Brigades. A respected author, Knox went on to take American citizenship and fought with the US Army in the Second World War. He died in July 2010 at the age of 95.
Journalist John Langdon–Davies covered the Spanish Civil War for the News Chronicle. He went on to write several books about the war and was founder of the international children’s charity, Plan.
Sam Lesser was one of the first group of British volunteers to travel to Spain and was one of the last surviving veterans of the Spanish Civil War when he died in 2010. He was wounded in action and when he was unable to return to the front, he began a career in journalism as a correspondent for the Daily Worker.
Wogan Philipps, the 2nd Baron Milford, was an ambulance driver for the Republican side during the war. He later became the only member of the Communist Party to sit in the House of Lords.
Frank Ryan, a prominent member of the IRA, led a group of Irish volunteers to fight with the International Brigades in Spain. He fought at the Battle of Jarama and was seriously wounded in March 1937. He was later captured and imprisoned by Nationalist forces before being released to the Germans in 1940.
KV5/113-116 The International Brigade Association and Friends of Republican Spain: list of persons who fought in Spain, 1936-1939, by nationality. 1934 Jan 01 – 1954 Dec 31.
KV5/117-131 The International Brigade Association and Friends of Republican Spain: list of persons who fought in Spain; card index of members and supporters of the International Brigade who came to MI5’s notice; Reconstituted from the microfilm of a card index. Each card generally gives name, date / place of birth, address and occupation as well as dates of departure to Spain and return 1934 Jan 01 – 1954 Dec 31
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