By Harry Flashman
Many people are aware of Orwell’s participation in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). His Homage to Catalonia is readable and somewhat interesting, but the big takeaway from that book was Stalinism ruined the dream of some sort of Socialist/Anarchist utopia. What it really doesn’t tell you is that the entire project was doomed from the start. Ideas of equality and an end to tradition are ultimately ruinous.
Peter Kemp fundamentally got it right from the start. He was a young conservative Christian man that heard about the atrocities from the Left, in Spain, and wanted to do something about it. Kemp’s real desire to go to Spain though, was ultimately about a thirst for adventure. Men today can learn quite a bit about not only British marshal tradition, but also how your natural instincts, when harnessed for good, can be very fruitful.
The title of the book comes from an A.E. Housman poem:
The thoughts of others
Were light and fleeting,
Of lover’s meeting
Or luck, or fame
Mine were of trouble
And mine were steady,
So I was ready
When trouble came.”
I can relate to these emotions and thoughts, and I’m sure a lot of malcontents or troubled folks can too. If Kemp had been a man of the Left he would have joined the Communists “Republicans” , but he chose a more difficult path. It wasn’t easy to go to Spain and volunteer. While England, France, and other countries had recruit stations out in the open for the Spanish Republicans, the Nationalist had no such treatment. Kemp had to get journalist credentials and act as if he was simply going as some kind of news correspondent. While Kemp had completed Officer Training School in college, he had no combat experience, nor did he speak or read Spanish. The amount of initiative and gumption it took on his part to actually travel to Spain is admirable, his follow through, and his actions there are what should be remembered.
Kemp gives the reader a basic description of the situation in Spain at the beginning of his memoir , but he doesn’t spend too much time getting into the ideological differences or the early 20th century history of the country. What you get is mostly practical descriptions of the opposing forces from a military perspective, and a good outline of the various Nationalist units throughout Spain.
Kemp joins a Carlist unit that is known as “Requetes”. Later on he does join the more elite Spanish Foreign Legion, but while most local peasants and fellow infantrymen welcome him, Kemp is usually not completely trusted by his commanding officers. Which you can kind of understand. It’s worth noting that Francisco Franc the supreme Commander of the Nationalist forces was not a Fascist and that according to Kemp most military officers were not political. Kemp did find the Request and Falange units to be on the whole fairly unorganized, bordering on lax, though very welcoming.
Most of the memoir is a narrative about actual battles he takes part in. Kemp’s dislike for the Carlist lack of discipline and technical training is what motivates him to try and join the Spanish Foreign Legion. He is viewed with suspicion and seen as a Protestant foreigner. However, through handwork, bravery, and repeated tactical engagements, he is able to earn the respect of his fellow legionnaires. In fact after being wounded several times when he request leave for home towards the end of the War, the Generalissimo himself grants him a personal audience. I don’t want to spoil the narrative or what happens to him, let’s just say it’s good.
This book is a good segue into the broader Spanish Civil War, and if you are interested in understanding the perspective of a soldier who bled for what he believed in please purchase the book and read it. Peter Kemp gives an honest description of the events he participated in. What more can you get from a memoir really?
Long live God most beloved let him be our Lord. Long live Spain and the Basque Land and the legitimate king. We love the Basque Land, we love its Traditional Laws, for this ideal fight always the Carlist forces. Long live God Immortal! Long live the Basque, who have the same king as Spain!– Marcha de Oriamendi “God, Fatherland, King”