Spanish Civil War: British volunteers lists available for the first time

June 29, 2011 at 1:08 am (anti-fascism, democracy, history, internationalism, Jim D, socialism, spain, thuggery, workers)

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.

Searching the records

You may wish to browse details of the whole collection.

Using quick search

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.

Searching within a download

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.

Index cards

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 KV5/117

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 (aka George Orwell) KV5/118

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 KV5/118

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.

Paddy Cochrane KV5/119

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 KV5/119

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).

Fred Copeman KV5/119

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 KV5/119

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.

Robert ‘Bob’ Doyle KV5/120

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.

John ‘Jack’ Edwards KV5/121

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 KV5/123

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.

Bernard Knox KV5/125

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.

John Langdon–Davies KV5/126

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.

Mannassah ‘Sam’ Lesser KV5/126

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 KV5/129

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 KV5/130

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.

Further research

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

Access the full archive here


  1. Jim Denham said,

    Note the name of Frank Ryan. He became a Nazi collaborator:
    A great tragedy, and a lesson in where “my enemy’s enemy” politics leads you.

  2. holy joe said,

    Actually, the link you give is explicitly devoted to refuting the idea that Ryan could be characterised as a collaborator, and points out that he explicitly rejected the “my enemy’s enemy” line in relation to Britain and Ireland.

  3. Jim Denham said,

    Holy One: I provided the link for the information of readers, not because I accept the author’s analysis. As far as I can see the case for Ryan having been a Nazi collaborator in WW2 is beyond serious dispute.

  4. SP said,

    In our Town Hall

    Bit uneasy about Robo Cop Mallen being involved though not sure which side he’d have been on.

  5. raincoatoptimism said,

    A fantastic resource, very handy

  6. holy joe said,

    “I provided the link for the information of readers, not because I accept the author’s analysis. As far as I can see the case for Ryan having been a Nazi collaborator in WW2 is beyond serious dispute.”
    I must say I admire your penchant for constantly linking to stories that flatly contradict what you have just asserted to be the case (such as those links that show Seumas Milne revelling in Taliban atrocities, or Jeremy Corbyn extolling the virtues of Ghaddafi). It indicates a ludic sense of postmodern irony that is not always apparent from your immediate self-presentation. But given that you think Ryan’s role as a collaborator is beyond serious dispute, do you think you could provide a link that would support his contention, rather than one that seriously disputes it?

  7. Jim Denham said,

    Holy One, try this for a ludic sense of postmodern irony :

    Click to access Frank%20Ryan%20Irish%20Catholic%20review%20Feb%202011.pdf

    But, in any case the following from the article I previously linked to and that you allude to rather undermines your case (though, I suspect we have a disagreement about what “collaboration” actually means):

    “By the end of 1940 Ryan’s health had recovered to the extent that he became functional again. If Veesenmayer had any hopes of sending Ryan as a liaison to Ireland in the winter of 1940 before the plans for an invasion of Britain had been completely shelved, the character of the role that Ryan might have played was quite different from that of Russell. It is strange how McGarry omits the evidence that shows this clearly to have been the case – the post-war British interrogation of Kurt Haller. For Ryan had indeed decided to become an agent – not, however, on behalf of Germany, but on behalf of Ireland itself. Whereas Russell had asked for German support for an IRA invasion of Northern Ireland (and damn the consequences for de Valera and Southern Ireland), the version of ‘Operation Dove’ that envisaged a role for Ryan was totally different. McGarry himself writes that in the event of a German invasion of Britain the status of Northern Ireland would have been up for grabs. It would have made perfect sense for de Valera to assert his claim to the North with the assistance of German arms rather than accept either a continuing British rule that threatened to invade the South itself, or an extension of German occupation from Britain to Northern Ireland. However, the Haller interrogation reveals that Ryan had completely subverted Russell’s own strategy with the stipulation that there could be no question of any such German assistance being given without the expressed approval of de Valera himself and that the IRA should in the meantime desist from sabotage operations and confine its activities to agitation and propaganda.”

  8. Matt said,

    The actor James Robertson Justice (Sir Lancelot Spratt in the 50’s Doctor films with Dirk Bogarde) fought on the Republican side in Spain.

    He later acted as a Labour election agent in Scotland, driving around the constituency in a Rolls he’d bought with the proceeds of films he’d done. The Tory candidate challenged him, asking why a socialist was driving a Rolls to which he replied that he was going to use it as an armoured car in the revolution.

    • Greg said,

      I have never heard the James Roberston Justice story, regarding his service in Spain.

      The newly-released MI5 files list a Captain James Justice having returned from Spain in July 1938. Could this be him?

  9. Matt said,

    Actually he was a Labour candidate, in the 1950 election:

  10. Matt said,

    On Frank Ryan, I think it’s pretty clear that his politics remained consistently Stalinist Republican from the late 20’s when he was IRA delegate to the Comintern’s League Against Imperialism, through the Republican Congress and Connolly Column in the 30’s to his death in Dresden in 1944.

    That he thought that a united Ireland could be achieved with German arms or alongside German troops was both fantastical and potentially disastrous for Irish Jews and Protestants – in the end, the plan came to nothing due to the death of IRA Chief Seán Russell on a U-Boat heading for Ireland, Ryan himself being incapacitated by ill health in Berlin, German Military Intelligence’s growing awareness of the limited military capacity of the IRA and the stationing of US armed forces in Northern Ireland from 1942 – but it doesn’t mean he was a Nazi sympathiser or collaborator, any more than the Irish Republicans who shipped in German guns in 1914 (or Lenin on his sealed train from Switzerland to Petrograd in 1917) were German agents. To say that the IRA being prepared to accept military assistance from Germany made them Nazis is a bit like calling the Libyan rebels now NATO stooges.

  11. holy joe said,

    “(though, I suspect we have a disagreement about what “collaboration” actually means):”
    Well it may be in part a terminological difference but it is at least worth entering the fact that Ryan made his decisions in a context of years of fascist captivity, personal distress and illness, and didn’t do so on the basis of ideological affinity with the Nazis. So to use the same term to characterise both Ryan and Francis Stuart, who did willingly work for the Nazis under no personal threat on the basis of ideological sympathies, seems instinctively wrong. I once met Stuart, incidentally, when he was in his 80s, and he was still a pretty scarey figure.

  12. Arieh Lebowitz said,

    “Revealed: the Jews who fought against Franco,” by Marcus Dysch, The Jewish Chronicle, June 30, 2011

  13. Arieh Lebowitz said,

    Also see “Against Fascism – Jews who served in The International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War,” by Martin Sugarman, BA (Hons.), Cert. Ed. (Archivist of AJEX Jewish Military Museum)

    Click to access spanjews.pdf

  14. Jenny said,

    Hello I wondered if anyone can help me. Thomas reginald buckingham fought in the spanish civil war. I wondered if anyone can provide me with any info about him such as was he a volunteer,what was his unit and his dog tag number and any info available.
    I would be very grateful if anyone can help me.
    My contact is

  15. Lorena said,


    We are working on the musical ‘Goodbye Barcelona’ and we need your help!

    This project is a musical about the International Brigades, when they went to Spain to fight during the Spanish Civil War. It is a tribute to all those men and women who left their countries, their homes to fight for freedom, for the freedom of the Spanish People.

    The musical has been already produced in London, at the Arcola Theatre, and it was a big success. Now, we are trying to do a new production in Catalonia, with a new team, actors, language… And we are going to do the premier, probably, the 27th of September 2013.

    But, as the economic situation in Spain is terrible, and the topic of the musical is still hidden, we have started a crowfunding campaign through the platform Verkami. And, sincerely, it would be great if you can spread and collaborate with us.

    The link to the crowfunding campaign is this:

    And to the website:

    If you need more information, let me know. But I am sure you will love the songs.

    Yours sincerely,
    Lorena Cervera

  16. Christopher Jackson said,

    My granddad worked at Johnstons wireworms in Manchester. He used to speak of a workmates, or former friend who went out to fight in Spain. I am sorry I have no more details than this, I was only a kid at the time he told me the details.

  17. Borja Franco said,

    Hola. Me pongo en contacto con ustedes ya que he descubierto un cementerio en Huesca del Poum, en casetas de Quicena. Las autoridades no me ayudan y lo único que intento es que si hay familiares los encuentren y que se dignifique el cementerio.

  18. In Afrin, the UK Has Blood on Its Hands | Left Insider News said,

    […] groups such as the Kurdistan Solidarity Campaign to the role of international brigades during the Spanish Civil War. So far, two British citizens have been charged with “terror” offences on return to the […]

  19. In Afrin, the UK Has Blood on Its Hands - Leikmenn án landamæra said,

    […] such as the Kurdistan Solidarity Campaign to the role of international brigades during the Spanish Civil War. So far, two British citizens have been charged with “terror” offences on return […]

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