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Jules Paivio, right, is the last surviving veteran of the Mackenzie-Papineau Batallion. This photo shows him with two other briadistas, Briton Frank Graham and American Harold Smith, during the Spanish Civil War.
Jules Paivio, right, is the last surviving veteran of the Mackenzie-Papineau Batallion. This photo shows him with two other briadistas, Briton Frank Graham and American Harold Smith, during the Spanish Civil War.

The Spanish civil war: a primer Add to ...

Spanish Civil War: Deep divisions in Spanish society between the army, church and monarchists, and the democratically elected reformist Republican government supported by democrats, anarchists, socialists and communists led to a military coup in 1936. Russia and Mexico supported the Republicans; Italy, Germany and Portugal supported the Nationalists. The bloody conflict that ensued ended with the Nationalists’ victory in 1939 and the collapse of the government: General Francisco Franco took power in a military dictatorship that lasted until his death in 1975, after which King Juan Carlos established a constitutional monarchy.

International Brigades: In the absence of armed support for Spain from the Western powers, the Communist International headquartered in Paris organized a volunteer army, with Soviet approval. About 60,000 men and women from more than 50 countries, including France, Italy, Germany, Britain, Canada and the United States, volunteered for combat and non-combat roles. They were soldiers, nurses, doctors (includijng Norman Bethune) and journalists (such as George Orwell). At any given point in the war, it was estimated that 20,000 volunteers were fighting. The brigades were discharged by the Spanish government in 1938, shortly before it fell. In recent years, Spain has awarded honorary citizenship to the remaining brigadistas.

The Mackenzie-Papineau Batallion: In 1937, Canadian volunteers, who first fought in the two American battalions, formed their own unit and fought in Spain until 1938. They took their name from William Lyon Mackenzie and Louis-Joseph Papineau, two heroes of the 1837 Rebellion. Library and Archives Canada records the names of 1,546 Canadians who fought in Spain, and estimates that about 400 of them were killed, although some researchers put the death toll higher. Because of the brigades’ association with communism, the veterans had difficulty getting recognition at home, even as thousands more Canadians were soon fighting fascism in Europe during the Second World War. A monument to their memory was finally erected in Ottawa in 2001.

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