The Gallant Cause: Canadians in the Spanish Civil War

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danthony danthony's picture
The Gallant Cause: Canadians in the Spanish Civil War

The Gallant Cause: Canadians in the Spanish Civil War
By: Mark Zuehlke
Somewhere in the neighborhood of sixteen hundred Canadians went to fight in Spain in the
late 1930s.  That is nearly half the number of Americans who volunteered, despite the
Canadian population being only a tenth its size.  

Looking at the Spanish war for a specifically Canadian history, there is a danger in simply
detailing each and every battle in which Canadians fought.  This book doesn’t make that
mistake: Zuehlke is writing a Canadian history, but he describes the war’s significance for all
Western peoples.  He spends as much time discussing the American, British, and French
naval blockade of Republican Spain and the German, Italian and Portuguese support for Franco as
he does the Foreign Enlistment Act, which officially forbade all Canadians from joining the
Republican struggle.  In addition to describing all the most important battles in which
Canadians fought - like the twenty-day defence of Teruel, which only 200 out of 650 Mac-
Paps survived - Zuehlke also includes Mackenzie King’s tour of Nazi Berlin, and how upon
his return the Canadian government banned all travel to Spain.  Around the same time, King
wrote the following in his diary:
Looking back over the German visit I can honestly say that it was as enjoyable,
informative, and inspiring as any visit I have had anywhere.  The German people seem
much easier to understand and more like ourselves than either the French or the English. 
Fear of Germany in other lands is that of ideas.  That liberty and equality of the classes
may spread from Germany to their own lands.  One does not like regimentation, but it is
apparently the one way to make views prevail.  I have come away from Germany
tremendously relieved.  
No doubt the Western powers have since learned a lot from Germany under the Nazis, and it is important to remember that the modern propaganda (whether political or cultural)
we are all up against today is largely the result of the fascist worldview.

This book is actually a work of 'historical literary non-fiction,' and except for two or three passages of battlefield romance, it is well written and well organized. There is probably
detail enough to satisfy the military enthusiast, but it is also fast-paced and engrossing.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

The Canadian Communist Party, which probably recruited the vast majority of Mac-Paps (even if they weren't Reds), has written about Canadian involvement in supporting the Republican government of Spain. See especially anything about Dr. Norman Bethune, who has since passed into legend, who invented mobile blood transfusion techniques (what the US later called in Korea "M*A*S*H* or MOBILE ARMY SURGICAL HOSPITALs) and thereby saved countless lives on the first major battlefield against fascism.

Le T Le T's picture

Wasn't it the Mac-Paps would helped put down the general strike in Barcelona? The first shots that they fired in spain were at anarchists and workers, not fascists.


Also, there is a play about Bethune in Toronto right now, though it may have ended come to think of it.


Not to take away from the noble intentions of those who went to fight fascism, but I think it is the case with most war that people who sign up can never predict what they are getting into, and that once they are in it the only thing they can count on is that they are expected to obey orders.

There were plenty in that conflict who found that out the hard way.

THe fact that there were agents trying to turn that theatre of war into a puppet show makes it all the more tragic and divisive for those who went to fight to help others.


Le T wrote:

Wasn't it the Mac-Paps would helped put down the general strike in Barcelona? The first shots that they fired in spain were at anarchists and workers, not fascists.

Was that general strike launched against Franco and the fascists, or against the Spanish republican government that Franco was trying to overthrow?



George Victor

Quote: "Wasn't it the Mac-Paps would helped put down the general strike in Barcelona? The first shots that they fired in spain were at anarchists and workers, not fascists."


Franco would have enjoyed it, had anything even the least like it ever happened!Smile


From another thread...


Mark Zuehlke's The Gallant Cause - Canadians in the Spanish Civil War, 1936 - 1939

I like it as history, although it is diminished by a rather melodramatic and clichéd writing style as well as absolutely terrible editing. For example, I've come across such howlers as "duel role," "pouring over" and "OARdeal."

Zuehlke has written many valuable Canadian histories, but I wish he could find better publishers.



Shouda bin "duel roll", eh?


danthony danthony's picture

It doesn't seem fair to me to call them all communist 'agents.'  Most of them probably were communists, but there were also anti-Stalinists who ended up with the POUM (with George Orwell) and other battalions not run by the Communist Party.  But it's not as if all these men simply met in Halifax and took a boat together to Spain: they arrived at different times, fought in different battalions and played different roles in the war.  It took some time to convince the American officers that there could even be a Canadian battalion. 

Yes, I think the Mac-Paps were formed around the time of the Barcelona purges, but I don't think they played any role since they were almost always on the frontlines. 

And yes, the book does have somewhat poor editing, especially the electronic version I have...

Geoff OB

I believe we should lobby the government to recognize, on Remembrance Day, the courage and the sacrifice of the MacPaps.  They deserve all Canadians' respect for their service to the anti-fascist cause. 

If the government won't go for it, then we should wear some kind of insignia, regardless, even a different coloured poppy, to show our support.  (White is the colour of the peace poppy, so we would have to go with something else.)    

danthony danthony's picture

Good idea.  What do you have in mind?  An online petition?