This book is a collection of eight first person narrative accounts of the Spanish Civil War, told by International Brigade survivors. Accounts such as this, obviously inspired at least in part by the fading away of the last of the Great War veterans, are an important historical legacy. This is not a history of the war, although a useful introduction provides some context. The accounts have been tidied up to an extent – no-one struggles to form a coherent sentence or remember a name – but apart from that sensible editing the accounts stand largely untouched. There is no dramatizing of events, no sanitising – when one of the interviewees describes shooting a Spanish soldier there is no hint of any regret. International Brigade volunteers went to Spain largely on their own steam – there seems to have been very limited active recruiting – and the haphazard nature of the struggle is clear. These personal accounts provide clear testimony of the struggle against fascism in the 1930s – these men and women understood the threat of the rise of fascism in Germany, Italy and of course Spain, as well as the home grown varieties in the form of Mosley’s blackshirts, and the Irish equivalent, the Blueshirts (which I hadn’t read about before, so I learned something!). Not one of the interviewees expressed regret, nor any hesitation in saying they would do it all over again, despite the very heavy price paid.
I have only one minor reservation about this book which relates to its title – the Real Band of Brothers. This title suggests that other bands of brothers lacked some essential quality which this group had. If that’s the author’s position – that because this group were all volunteers who were ideologically committed to their cause, rather than conscripts or people who sign up for other reasons, they are more real than others – then it needed to be argued rather than suggested. Without wanting to over-react on this issue, other bands of brothers (such as Henry’s Agincourt comrades, pressed men, mercenaries and regular troops) had a comradeship that was the equivalent of the international Brigades. Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia shows that comradeship on the republican side of the civil war had to say the least its limits.