Canadians in Spanish Civil War 1936-38


#1

Many Canadians (1,000 plus Canadians) went to fight against the fascist in the Spanish Civil War in 1936-1939.

From sources it seems that about half of the Canadians did not return from this war.

And survivors were not treated well once they returned to Canada.

Below has some of amount information I collected regarding Canadians in Spanish Civil War and the sources for this info is footnoted at the bottom.

Resources had, in some cases, had different data on Canadians in this war.
As of reasons for why information is not same from all resources, for example the number of volunteers who joined in this Civil War, would be the below reasons:
Please keep in mind that Canada did not declare war or pick sides in this war.
Also, it was illegal to join that Civil War per Canadian government of that day. 9
The information is not from official Canadian government records per say and those who volunteer to fight may not have been unwilling to talk about it, fearing they would be charged or other ramifications. This would also show why some sources say 1,200 Canadians volunteer in Spanish Civil War or 1,500 people, or even others say 1,700 Canadians went over to this war. Not to mention the different views of Canadians regarding the Civil War, as some may have been concerned they would be labelled incorrectly.

Amount of Canadians who went and even died in this war :

1,200 Canadians went to fight in the Spanish Civil War, hundreds were killed in that fighting.1

1,500 Canadians were to fight in the Civil War, 700 were killed in Spain.5

Almost 1,700 Canadian volunteer to help Republicans in Spanish Civil War, even though against their (Canadian) governments will. Around 700 Canadians die or “… went missing …” in this war.6

Name of the Canadian Battalion in the International Brigade:

The Canadians in Spanish Civil War called them themselves Mac-Paps (Battalion) after the two leaders of the 1837 rebellion in Canada, which occurred in two parts of Canada at the roughly the same time. 4
This rebellion happened in Upper Canada (in the mostly English speaking area, lead by Mackenzie) and Lower Canada (in the majority French speaking area, lead by Papineau). Upper Canada is present day province of Ontario and Lower Canada is present day province of Quebec.
Just for those who might not recall this rebellion, here is very general description: “By spring of 1837, inhabitants of Upper Canada and Lower Canada had become dangerously polarized over the issue of responsible government versus the existing oligarchic system. In Lower Canada, unrest was heightened by ethnic divisions between French Canadians and Anglo Canadians.”12

Canadian opinions of the Spanish Civil War:

Not all Canadians that when to fight were communists.1

“Many were Communist sympathizer …”5

Some were “… Communist sympathizer and CCFers …” and after the war the ones made it out had tough road home.6
The CCFers above refers to the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation party or C.C.F. for short, which later become present day the New Democratic Party in Canada or N.D.P. for short.

The Canadians that went to fight were from almost all ethnic groups, but one of the absent groups were French Canadians who had no interest in helping that republic, however, many had feelings for Franco.1

Many of French in province of Quebec, Canada, and most in English in Canada were for Franco, as he had saved the church or stopped the communists. Others in Canada did not see it from the communist side, but some Canadians saw it as attack on democracy and test to stop fascism.2

As these sources seem to have some different views by Canadians of this Civil War, maybe as the issue(s) might not have been so cut and dry for all Canadians.

Canadian Survivors Of The War Return Home:

Canadian journalists Matthew Halton, received a call about the returning Mac-Paps who were stuck in La Havre, France, about 300 survivors and they received from French government a warning for the Canadians. This warning was the French give these Canadians fours days to leave France or they would be put back into “… refugee detention camp at Perpignan. The Canadian Pacific Railway (which also had passenger ships to) would transport the Canadians to Canada, but the price for this was $10,000 (around $165,000 in today’s money). The journalist M. Hatton was asked by a representative of the Mac-Paps to raise the required money. M. Halton phone the two rich Canadians, one refused and the other give $5,000. M. Halton was able to raise the rest in time to get Canadians out of France. The refugee detention camp was described as “… ghastly camps at Perpignan.”8
The two rich Canadians that the journalist above mentions, were former Canadian Prime Minister (P.M. from 1930-1935) R. B. Bennett, he was the one who refused to help.
And other rich Canadian who gave the $5,000 was Garfield Weston, who ran George Weston Limited company and subsidiaries, and Associated British Foods, etc. and was British Member of Parliament in House Of Commons in World War II.

Canadians who went to this war were not treat nice once back in Canada. And were spied on by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and were blacklisted and labelled as subversive.10

Canadian Doctor who helped in the Spanish Civil War:

Dr. Norman Bethune helped the Republicans in 1936-1937 in Spanish Civil War and saved hundreds with his Canadian Blood Transfusion Service which was innovative.7
And later would go to help treat the wounded in Mao’s Chinese Army in 1938 and he die there in 1939.2

Two side notes to the above:

“Matt was given useful contacts by the C.C.F’s Graham Spry, who was organizing the Canadian Committee to Aid Spanish Democracy. Doctor Norman Bethune phoned to brief him on his plans to take a Canadian mobile transfusion unit to Spain to help wounded Republican soldiers.”3
The name Matt above is Matthew Halton, Canadian journalist from 1930s to 1990s.

Also, regarding aid to people in the Spanish Civil War, Royal B.C. Museum mentions some of the aid in a YouTube video.11
See footnote 11 for link to video if you interested.

Also, this info below kind of shows that the Republicans side internal problems which one may find of interest:

Communist increasingly summer of 1937 gained power in the Republican government and were trying to “… purge anti-Moscow elements from the Popular Front.” W. Krehm (a radical from Toronto, Canada) was in Trotskyite party know as POUM and was arranged by U.S.S.R. agents for him and others to be imprison in Jun. of 1937. W. Krehm, told a Canadian journalist, NKVD/OGPU had “… infiltrated the non-Communist left and were gradually taking control of it.” This Journalist that Krehm told this to, with others help, had got Krehm released back to Canada from the Spanish jail.5

Footnotes:

  1. Page 196-197 of “Canada And The Age Of Conflict, Vol. 2: 1921-1948. By Col. C. P. Stacey. Published 1981.

  2. Page 5 of “A Nation Forged In Fire: Canadians And The Second World War 1939-1945.” By J. L. Granatstein and Desmond Morton. Published in 1989

  3. Page 114 of “Dispatches From The Front: Matthew Halton, Canada’s Voice At War.” By David Halton. Published 2014.

  4. Page 117 of “Dispatches From The Front: Matthew Halton, Canada’s Voice At War.” By David Halton. Published 2014.
    Also, this CBC Archives video and description regarding Canadians from the Spanish Civil War trying to get recognition from the Canadian Government for fighting fascism, see link:
    http://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/canadian-veterans-of-the-spanish-civil-war-seek-recognition
    And from CBC Archives this news story re Canadian in the Spanish Civil War getting a monument in Ottawa to them, and also Mac-Pap name of the Canadian battalion, see link:
    http://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/canadian-vets-of-the-spanish-civil-war-get-ottawa-monument
    And Royal B.C. Museum, also, mention the name of the Canadian battalion, see link:
    https://youtu.be/B4V4iDaQz9g

  5. Page 117 of “Dispatches From The Front: Matthew Halton, Canada’s Voice At War.” By David Halton. Published 2014.

  6. Page 66 of “Canada In The World Wars.” By Tim Cook, Jeff Noakes, and Nic Clarke. (In association with Canadian War Museum). Published in 2016.
    And Canadian in Spanish Civil War web article from TVO web site, which also, states the of Canadian in Spanish Civil War as 1,700 Canadians and other things:
    https://tvo.org/blog/current-affairs/inside-agenda/canadians-in-the-spanish-civil-war
    And from CBC Archives this news story re Canadians in the Spanish Civil War getting a monument in Ottawa to them, and mentions the same number of Canadians , see link:
    http://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/canadian-vets-of-the-spanish-civil-war-get-ottawa-monument
    And Royal B.C. Museum, also, mentions 1,700 Canadians went to fight in Spanish Civil War, see link:
    https://youtu.be/B4V4iDaQz9g

  7. Page 69 (see caption of the photo) of “Canada In The World Wars.” By Tim Cook, Jeff Noakes, and Nic Clarke (In association with Canadian War Museum). Published in 2016.

  8. Page 117-118 of “Dispatches From The Front: Matthew Halton, Canada’s Voice At War.” By David Halton. Published 2014.

  9. Page 119 of “Dispatches From The Front: Matthew Halton, Canada’s Voice At War.” By David Halton. Published 2014.
    And Royal B.C. Museum, also, mention their was illegal to go to the Spanish Civil War, see link:
    https://youtu.be/B4V4iDaQz9g

  10. Page 119 of “Dispatches From The Front: Matthew Halton, Canada’s Voice At War.” By David Halton. Published 2014.

  11. Royal B.C. Museum, also, mention Canadians sending aid to people in Spanish Civil War, see link:
    https://youtu.be/B4V4iDaQz9g

  12. Page 82 of “Canadian Military Atlas: Four Centuries Of Conflict From New France To Kosovo.” By (Text) Mark Zuehlke and (Maps by) C. Stuart Daniel. Published in 2001.


#2

Nice research! Great job!


#3

Lovely read! Great work.