The veterans we forget

You who will emerge from under the flood

In which we have gone under


When you speak of our failings

The dark time too

Which you have escaped

– Bertolt Brecht, To Those Born Later

This morning, at cenotaphs and memorials across the country, Canadians will honour and remember those who fought and died in two world wars, in Korea, Afghanistan, and in several peacekeeping operations. This is as it should be. I’ll be there, too.

But there are those who few will remember today, though more should. On August 24, 1944, the first Allied tanks to enter Paris belonged to General LeClerc’s Free French. The names painted on the vehicles, however, were Spanish: Guadalajara, Ebro, Teruel.

Their crews were also Spaniards. They were among the thousands of Spanish Republicans who joined the French Resistance or the Free French after their own country fell to fascism following three years of civil war that began when General Francisco Franco launched a coup d’etat with the assistance of Hitler and Mussolini and ended only months before Hitler invaded Poland.

Those Spaniards are rarely acknowledged. That the Western Democracies, Canada included, refused to come to the assistance of the Spanish Republic, instead sacrificing it in a vain attempt to appease European fascism is an uncomfortable thing to remember.

Also forgotten are the 40,000 volunteers from around the world who defied their governments and volunteered to defend Spain from fascism by joining the International Brigades. These included some 1,700 Canadian, of whom 400 died. None has a marked grave.

One of the best books about the war is Javier Cercas’s Soldiers of Salamis, which, like the best fiction, captures a larger truth. Those interested in the story of the Canadians in the conflict could do worse than to read my Renegades: Canadians in the Spanish Civil War.

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