Share This Page

Client Testimonials

"During his six years working for St Helens Council Education Department, Paul was, among other things, our in-house "languages expert", doing the translating, interpreting and liaison with our twin towns in Chalon-Sur-Saône, France, Stuttgart, Germany and El Prat de Llobregat, Spain. His participation has enabled us to maintain strong links with all three towns, particularly in the field of education, where he set up and managed a very successful work experience programme for sixth formers"
Brian Mainwaring, Director of Education, St Helens Council, August 1995

Book Review PDF

Not just Orwell published

By Paul Whitelock

alt June 11 - 17, 2009

altA new book by Christopher Hall explains the role of Independent Labour Party (ILP) volunteers who fought in the Spanish Civil War.

AS THE TITLE implies Not just Orwell is mainly about other volunteers who fought alongside the famous writer in the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War. Many books have been written about the Spanish revolution led by General Franco and his Fascist troops, but very few have mentioned the role of the ILP contingent in any depth. The most famous, and, in the opinion of some, the most controversial account, is George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, which tells about his time fighting with the POUM (anti-Stalinist militia).
Hall’s aim was not to write about the Spanish social revolution or to explore the political intrigues of the time, but to discover who the members of the ILP contingent were, why they went to Spain, what happened to them there, and what became of them on their return home. His extensive research led to the discovery of about 40 names, but the available details of their lives differed greatly. For example, Bob Edwards, the leader of the ILP contingent, has a whole archive in Manchester, whereas for some of his fellow volunteers only the odd line or picture remains in existence.

ILP role
The role of the ILP in the Spanish Civil War has been criticised by many academics and by the majority of the Labour movement at the time. In fact, for a small political party, the ILP was hugely involved in the Spanish Civil War and supported the Spanish Republican Government even after the POUM was suppressed.
The ILP continually raised money for the POUM and the Spanish people. It paid for a fully equipped ambulance to go to Spain and one of the ambulance drivers, with experience from World War I, stayed in Spain to help train and command an artillery unit.
When the Basque country was being overrun by the Fascists, the ILP looked after and fed some refugee children from Anarchist families at a house in the village of Street near Bristol. Over 100 ILP members served in the republican forces in military and non-military units, with many serving in the International Brigades too.
Leading ILP figures visited Spain three times to try and free POUM prisoners, with varying degrees of success. The most infamous case relating to the ILP was the death of their leading young activist and leader of the ‘ILP Guild of Youth’, Bob Smillie. He died in prison after being arrested at the border for not having the proper discharge papers. In prison he died from a combination of neglect and appendicitis. To their credit the ILP made no attempt to make political capital out of this and continued to support the Spanish Republic till the end of the Civil War.
A mass of biographies and autobiographies of British and Irish volunteers in the International Brigades has been published, and many hundreds of books have been written about the International Brigades and the British involvement in them. Some of the ILP volunteers, including Bob Edwards, Stafford Cottman, Frank Frankford and Urias Jones, have been interviewed for the Imperial War Museum and South Wales Miners’ Library.
Before this book, however, the only written account of the ILP contingent in Spain was a 1987 article by Peter Thwaites in the Imperial War Museum Review. No easily accessible book on the ILP contingent has existed until now.
One of the main criticisms of the ILP contingent has been that it served for only six months on a quiet front in Spain, achieved little and then went home. Looking at the involvement of the International Brigades in every major battle of the Civil War, and their huge losses, this criticism at first seems justified.
But as Hall indicates in his book, as his research progressed, and more information about individual members of the ILP contingent came to light, this view of the ILP volunteers proved to be much less than the whole picture.
Fifteen members of the ILP contingent were involved in a small action at Ermita Salas and several volunteers were wounded. ILP members did indeed serve on a quiet front and became embroiled in a ‘civil war within a civil war’ while on leave in Barcelona. Many of the volunteers did return home after just over six months but since the POUM had been declared illegal, they risked imprisonment if they remained in Spain.
Several ILP volunteers served in other Republican units, even in some cases in the International Brigades. Around a third of ILP volunteers were wounded or hospitalised and two died, a statistic that shows the ILP volunteers’ commitment to the anti-Fascist cause in Spain.
And several ILP volunteers served for long periods: Reg Hiddlestone from January 1937 to January 1939 (much longer than most International Brigade volunteers); and Robert Williams, who joined up alongside Orwell in December 1936 and served with Republican forces until November 1938. He was wounded three times.
John Donovan served in the International Brigades alongside Winston Churchill’s nephew, Esmond Romilly, before deserting to join the ILP contingent. In the attack on Ermita Salas he was cited for bravery by his commanding officer. He later left the ILP contingent to serve in an Anarchist unit before returning to Britain.
Arthur Chambers, a World War I veteran, was an NCO in the ILP contingent. In May 1937 he also left the ILP contingent to join an Anarchist unit, and was killed on the Aragon front in August 1937.

Until now the role of the ILP contingent in the Spanish Civil War has been overshadowed by the fame of George Orwell, and any examination of the ILP volunteers has centred on him.  Not just Orwell includes a brief biography of the writer, as his book Homage to Catalonia is still a major source for any discussion of the ILP contingent. Orwell’s account also provides invaluable descriptions of the way the Spanish militias were organised, trained and armed.
But, as its title clearly states, this book is not solely about Orwell, but about the volunteers who served with him. One volunteer, Stafford Cottman, became a friend and advisor to the film director Ken Loach when he was making his 1995 film Land and Freedom, which was loosely based on Cottman’s experiences.
According to his wife, Stella, Cottman attended a film premiere in Bath for Land and Freedom,’and afterwards was quoted as saying: “George Orwell always said: ‘The truth about what happened to the Republican cause in Spain will never be told.’ But now it has been.”
This important new book should have a similar impact and should change people’s perception of the role of the ILP in the Spanish Civil War.  It is a major contribution to the body of work on the conflict, which is published to coincide with the ending of hostilities 70 years ago this year.

Not Just Orwell was published on 30 May 2009 by Warren and Pell Publishing Ltd, Barcelona, at £14.99 plus £2.50 p & p.  Check with the publisher for Spanish prices. Website:            eMail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it