In 1996 the Spanish Cortez offered citizenship to any of the surviving volunteers who in the 1930s had travelled to Spain, from more than 50 countries, to fight against fascism. It was a touching and concrete tribute to the sacrifices made by these idealists from around the globe – including, as a new book, Kiwi Compañeros reveals, New Zealand.
The book’s not due to be officially launched till later this month but in a sign of just how much value the Spanish Government still places on paying tribute to the solidarity shown by those volunteers the Spanish Ambassador to New Zealand, Marcos Gómez, hosted a pre-launch function at his residence in Karori last Friday.
As the book’s editor, Mark Derby, pointed out New Zealand has been less appreciative of their efforts. Seven decades after they risked their lives to prevent the spread of fascism there’s still no memorial to them.
And their stories have until now remained virtually unknown to the New Zealand public.
If the following descriptions, from the book’s back cover, of some of those stories is anything to go it’s going to be a pleasure familiarising ourselves with them.
• A fighter pilot from Wellington who landed his plane with a shattered shoulder, then left for Hollywood to make movies with the action hero Errol Flynn.
• A tough young wharfie from Napier who buried 80 of his fellow fighters in a single grave, and later became a union leader and thorn in the side of PM Robert Muldoon.
• A no-nonsense nurse from Akaroa who worked in operating theatres where anaesthetic was a luxury, and married one of her patients at the height of the war
• A Cromwell surgeon who operated as close as possible to the firing line, and was describes as ‘the most important volunteer to come from the British Commonwealth
• An elegant young Englishwoman who fought with anarchist militia units and, under the guidance of Frank Sargeson, turned that experience into a writing career.
Kiwi Compañeros: New Zealand and the Spanish Civil War, published by Canterbury University Press, will have launches in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch over the coming weeks:
Auckland – 5.30pm Friday 15 May, Auckland Central Library, 44 Lorne St, Auckland city. Guest speaker – Phil Twyford MP
Wellington – 6pm Thursday 28 May, Unity Books, 57 Willis St, Wellington city. Guest speaker – Marcos Goméz, Ambassador of Spain to NZ
Christchurch – 6pm, Wednesday 3 June, Madras Cafe, 165 Madras St, Christchurch city