Why did Britain turn away recruits at the start of WW2 if they had fought in the Spanish Civil war..

So I came across this snipped in a Guardianarticle today about a Spanish Civil War and WW2 veteran:

So I guess this is because most Spanish Civil War volunteers fought ostensibly* on the same side of the soviets, who were aligned with Hitler at the time. But seems a rather extreme, given the shortage of experienced troops (under 40 at least).

Anyone have any more details on this?

    • when not being purged and executed by the soviet aligned Stalinist elements

In the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, a contingent of Irish soldiers in the French army fought on the side of the Jacobites. After that, Britain forbade its subjects to serve in foreign armies.

Was it having fought on either side, or was it just the Nationalist side? They were the ones supported by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, and the UK had supported the Republican side, along with the Soviets.

I could see the UK government refusing to let people who fought on the Nationalist side enlist out of security fears.

I don’t think many (or any?) Britons fought for the Nationalists, there was a conservative pro-Nationalist segment of the British upper classes (famously Kim Philby was ordered to pretend to be part of it by his Soviet handlers, possibly so he could get himself in a position to assassinate Franco, though the assassination attempt never happened) , but they never got in harms way at the front.

The guy mentioned in the OP, was a left-wing opponent of facism, so joined the Republican side (along with many others, including famously, George Orwell). The complication is that in 1939 when he joined the British army, the soviets and nazis were on the same side (and were in the process of carving up Poland together).

That might be it. But, now you’ve jogged my memory, I thought this law was caused by the later recruitment of Napoleonic veterans to fight for Bolivar’s revolution in South America.


Though I think that was specific to Ireland. And banned recruiting in Ireland by foreign armies, not serving overseas.

I can’t find a cite but I think it was later banned after the recruitment of the British Legions to fight for Bolivar in the 1820s Many of whom met an unpleasant fate (though others went on to be a crucial part of the independence forces)

The UK was one of the leaders of the Non-Intervention movement. The Baldwin and Chamberlain governments were officially neutral, and often accused by their critics of trying to appease Hitler and Mussolini.

The International Brigades were organized by the Communist International. Not surprising that the establishment governments would be suspicious of I.B. veterans.

The International Brigades were not serving overseas. They were in a foreign army.

Short answer: divided or doubtful loyalties, in principle by the simple fact of having fought abroad for an international political movement, and in the circumstances of September 1939 to June 1941 having fought under the command of an ally of Hitler.

See also the case of a very public anti-Stalin Communist:https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Wintringham

I had the privilege of talking to a fellow who was in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and still spry in the mid-90’s.

George Orwell learned to hate dictatorship disguised as People’s Republics while serving in the Spanish Civil War. Read “Farewell to Catalonia”. He joined a faction of the left that was not the one allied with Stalin, and in the midst of losing to the nationalists, Stalin’s goons working with the Communists decided it was a good time to purge the anarchists. He barely escaped with his life, by pretending to be a British tourist to escape Spain. Many of his comrades were killed. No love for the Soviets after that - but he was still a leftist. he had the privilege of saying “I told you so” about both fascism and communism.

But keep in mind - the Republicans were in the end mostly supported by Stalin, since the western democracies, the other future Allies, decided to stay neutral. Thus, anyone who fought was considered a Soviet sympathizer. I was only a little over 20 years ago that the Bolsheviks overthrew one of the great monarchies of Europe and killed the royal family, they actively confiscated the assets of the rich and then the middle class. Some factions of western governments felt the Soviets were a greater threat than the Nazis until the war started. And even then, Stalin had a peace agreement with Hitler. So between the risk that the returnees were more loyal to Stalin, and that the Commies were the bigger menace to western social order, those were not the best people to be adding to the army. Plus, after the war many areas of the west experienced massive strikes and civil unrest (which helped topple the Kaiser too), the initial trigger of the Russian revolution was mutiny in the ranks - the last thing that any western army wanted was earnest leftists among the armed forces spreading the same propaganda.

Recall the famous line about “yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre” was part of a SCOTUS judgement to justify deporting leftists who spoke out against US government involvement in WWI and the crime of sedition (?) was specifically pamphlets urging military draftees to evade service. Every western country had their Red Scare issues, and the Spanish civil war where to the right it looked like Stalin trying to extend his tentacles to Spain didn’t help dampen the hysteria. The last thing the military needed was those seditious fanatics in its ranks.

National, please.
Yes, I know some Anglo historians like to refer to the Nationals as Nationalist. But the people we call Nationalists were part of the other side; they were allied with the Anarchists, Socialists and Communists. Seeing the Nationals called Nationalists is like seeing someone refer to Charlemagne as a Republican.

Basque and Catalan nationalists were with the Republicans, if only because the other side were Spanish nationalists who automatically lumped them in with the “Reds” anyway, even if many of them were the kind of bourgeois conservatives who thought much the same as their Castilian Francoist counterparts on social, economic and religious issues.

To clarify: The Nationalist forces received support from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, while the Republican side received support from the Soviet Union. So no matter which side you picked, you were getting assistance from the ‘bad guys.’ Also, I have no idea whether this is actually the reason but: One cannot over-emphasize that Anarchists and Communists were often terrorists and violent, anti-statist revolutionaries. The early phases of the Spanish Civil War saw the entire country go temporarily insane as each ideological faction lashed out at their perceived enemies. People were literally murdering each other in the streets over what class or faction they may or may not have belonged to.

Imagine someone went to Syria, joined ISIS, and suddenly wanted to enlist in the British army. Umm… No. Rightly or wrongly, that’s how the British would have looked at someone who fought in Spain.

The Spanish Republican military units had “commissars” whose job it was to politically indoctrinate the soldiers with Communism. The British did not want men from that kind of environment joining their ranks - and presumably since they were battle-tested veterans of a brutal war, they would have been in a position of being looked up to by the newer and more impressionable British soldiers, increasing the chances of the other recruits being influenced by them politically. It was just a very risky move and the British military did not want to take the chance.

The International Brigades were serving in the British Isles?

Off topic, but I think still of interest.

Edward A. Carter, an African-American winner of the Medal of Honour in WWII, was not allowed to re-enlist to fight in Korea as a result of his service with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade during the Spanish Civil War.

For those of you with Netflix, his story is depicted in an episode of its Medal of Honor series.

Are you serious?

OK, from the top:

A Briton in an International Brigade was a British national serving in the Spanish Army. Which was against British law. Which later impaired his ability to join the British Army.

Right, that makes sense. What I don’t understand is the sentence

unless you meant they were serving in the Spanish army on British soil. Which seems ridiculous and hence my question.

Oddly, in the end, altho Franco was certainly no nice guy, having him win was the best thing to happen to Spain. He is vilified today, of course but he: Kept Spain out of WW2, turned the reins of government over in a peaceful and Democratic manner, and kept Spain together as one nation. If the other side had won, Spain would have fractured, and “gone Commie”. It likely would have entered WW2, or have been invaded by Germany. Five decades of being communist would have destroyed the economy. Yes, Franco was a dictator, but all Communist nations then were run by dictators. There was really no chance of the civil war ending in a unified Democratic Spain. :frowning: