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Los Canadienses: Canadians in the Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 Part 6/6Add to Queue

Course :  Los Canadienses: Canadians in the Spanish Civil War 1936-1939

  • Posted by : Number7smokesForEver

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  • Date posted : Jan 01, 1970

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A documentary chronicling the formation and history of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion - one of the finest units of the legendary XV International Brigade that fought for Republican Spain during the Spanish Civil War. The Battalion's namesake was inspired by the leaders of the failed 1837 Upper and Lower Canada Rebellions - William Lyon Mackenzie and Louis-Joseph Papineau who sought to overthrow British rule and establish an independent Canadian Republic. At first most Canadian volunteers fought with the Lincoln Battalion. As the name suggests - this formation was primarily comprised of Americans but most Canadians initially fought with this unit along with a group of Irishmen informally called the "Connolly Column" comprised mainly of Irish Republican Army volunteers. No fewer than nine Irish-Canadians had also been IRA members before immigrating or fleeing to Canada. While with the Americans significant numbers of Canadians fought at the fierce Battle of Jarama where at least nine were killed. Despite the Canadian government's neutrality and the new Foreign Enlistment Act which made it a criminal offence to enlist in a foreign army, by spring 1937 so many had done so that the formation of a Canadian battalion was authorized and in May 1937 the 60th Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion of the XV International Brigade was born. Though the majority, the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion was never entirely Canadian. Not all Canadians served with the Mac-Paps either. Even after the formation of the Canadian Battalion the Lincoln Battalion contained so many Canadians that it is said that they formed their own company. Others fought in other International Brigades, with Spanish units or in militias such as Bill Williamson who was the first Canadian in Spain to fight. William Krehm belonged to the anarchist POUM militia and narrowly escaped execution after the group was labelled Trotskyist. William Kardash was one of the few non-Soviet Republican tankers. Many fought with the Republican guerrilla units that would form the nucleus of post civil war Spanish anti-fascist resistance. Still, many platoons within the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion bore distinct Canadian identities. Language barriers meant that sections and platoons were often organized along ethnic lines. A platoon in the 2nd Company was comprised entirely of Ukrainian-Canadians. The Battalion's Machine Gun Company was largely Finnish-Canadian led by Niilo Makela. The Battalion fought in five major battles including Fuentes de Ebro in October 1937, Teruel in the winter of 1937/38, The "Retreats" in the Spring of 1938 and the crossing of the Ebro in the summer of 1938. The Mac-Paps were the first XV Brigade soldiers to cross the Ebro river and despite being poorly equipped penetrated farther into Fascist lines than any other battalion, liberating several towns in the process. In September 1938 the International Brigades were withdrawn and disbanded. Spanish prime minister Juan Negrín naively hoped that Franco would respond by withdrawing the German Condor Legion and the Italian Blackshirts. He didn't. The Mac-Pap veterans had a long and arduous journey home. Without funds the Communist Party and CCF had to raise enough money to pay the fare. Paradoxically one denotation came from none other than former Conservative Prime Minister R.B. Bennett. Many of the younger surviving Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion veterans immediately attempted to reenlist in the Canadian armed forces after the declaration of war against Germany on September 10, 1939. Many were turned away because of their past Communist sympathies. The fact that so many attempted to enlist at all suggests a lack of Communist ardour, indeed the former Mac-Pap commander Edward Cecil-Smith wrote to a prominent newspaper in December 1939 urging enlistment in defiance of the Communist Party which due to the Nazi-Soviet Pact opposed Canada's involvement until June 1941. Arne Knudsen said nothing of his Spanish experience but his obvious combat experience later gave him away while fighting in Europe. Hugh Garner and Paddy McElligott both served with the Royal Canadian Navy. A small number of Yugoslav-Canadian veterans were recruited by the British S.O.E. and dropped into the Balkans to liaise with Tito's partisans. Persecution of non-Communist anti-Fascists in Spain together with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact left most Canadian veterans disillusioned with Communism. Despite this, and their service during the Second World War, many would continue to be subjected to RCMP surveillance for at least five decades. This documentary was produced three years before Franco died and democracy in Spain was restored - it is a little known part of Canadian military history told by those who lived it and almost to a man are now gone. They fought for their ideals in an alien environment and faced a brutal enemy that was backed by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. They deserve to be remembered with the utmost respect and admiration.

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