Most of the Australians who volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War fought in the International Brigades. The International Brigades were military units set up to organise the volunteer troops who trekked across the Pyrenees to fight for Republican Spain. The Brigades existed for two years, from 1936 until 1938, when all international volunteers were withdrawn by the Spanish Republic from its forces. It is estimated that during the entire war, between 32,000 and 35,000 members served in the International Brigades, including 15,000 who died in combat; however, there were never more than 20,000 Brigade members present on the front line at one time. Most units were divided by the country, or by the language spoken by the soldiers, with the Abraham Lincoln and George Washington battalions featuring predominantly Americans, the British Battalion, the Garibaldi Battalion (Italian), Thalmann Battalion (German), Henri Barbusse Battalion (French), Mackenzie–Papineau Battalion (Canadian). Australians usually were placed in one of the English-speaking battalions, unless they spoke a language other than English. The International Brigades were involved in the battles for Madrid, Jarama, Guadalajara, Brunete, Belchite, Teruel, the Ebro, and the Aragon fronts. Soon after the offensive of “Suicide Hill” in the Battle of Jarama, the British and Lincoln Battalions were merged, after taking losses of 37% and 25%, respectively. We have the names of at least 16 Australian soldiers are known to have died in the Spanish Civil War.
One Australian fought for Franco. Nugent Bull, a devout Catholic, said he enlisted to “defend the Catholic Church against Communism.” He stayed in Spain as a chauffeur after the war. As World War II approached, he left Spain for London, and later joined the RAF. He wrote letters home of “cracker bombing raids” on German arms factories, seemingly unperturbed that the same factories had been churning out arms for Franco just a few years past. On 8 September 1940, Nugent Bull’s bomber went down and he was declared missing in action, presumed dead.
As many could not state their intention before leaving Australia for fear of not receiving their passports, there may have been more volunteers whose names have been lost to us. The Workers’ Weekly reported 4 unnamed Australians killed with a French volunteer unit early in 1938, as well as 10 Australian volunteers who drowned in the sinking of the City of Barcelona. Below is a list of all Australians known to have volunteered for service in Republican Spain.
*Barry, Jack "Bluey"
Cleaver, W. L.
* Died while serving in the war