By James R. Jump

The Clapton Press, 213 pages. £9.99. ISBN 976-1-913693-05-3

Reviewed by Jim Burns

A couple of recent books about the Spanish Civil War have focused on the broad involvement of the International Brigades in the conflict. Alexander Clifford’s Fighting for Spain: The International Brigades in the Civil War 1936-1939 (Pen & Sword Books, 2020) and Giles Tremlett’s The International Brigades: Fascism, Freedom and the Spanish Civil War (Bloomsbury, 2020) are both worth reading, with Tremlett’s 700 page history perhaps being the definitive English-language book on the subject. It’s worth noting that Richard Baxell’s Unlikely Warriors:The British in the Spanish Civil War and the Struggle Against Fascism (Aarum Press, 2012) provides a closer examination of a specific group of volunteers.  

Such books can, of course, include references to the experiences of individuals who fought in Spain, as well as outlining the broad strategy of the war, but they rarely go into great detail about the day-to-day activities of the average soldier. As anyone who has spent time in an army, whether in peacetime or a war setting, will tell you, much of military life is a question of routine. No matter the circumstances there are numerous jobs that need to be done to keep a unit functioning in an efficient manner. Soldiers have to be clothed, accommodated, fed, and paid. Mundane tasks but nonetheless essential. They are often not given too much attention by historians, and we may need to turn to memoirs such as the one under review to get an idea of what life was like a lot of the time when someone wasn’t directly under fire.

James R. Jump – known as Jimmy to his fellow-Brigaders – was 21 when he decided to go to Spain. He wasn’t an early-volunteer – it was late-1937 before he made his decision – but he had been active in local Labour politics in the South-East, where he worked as a journalist for the Worthing Herald. He had been taught Spanish while at school, and he was engaged to a Spanish woman, Cayetana, who had come to England with a party of Basque refugee children. The fact that he spoke Spanish was to play a part in what happened once he arrived in Spain. It’s useful to know, in this context, that casualty rates were high among Brigaders. As an example, of the just over 2,000 men in the British Battalion, around 500 were killed and many others wounded, sometimes more than once. By the end of 1937 half of the International Brigades “consisted of Spanish conscripts”.

There have been other accounts of what it was like to make the journey, via Paris, to Spain, with its subterfuge, assistance from French communists, and the long hike across the mountains between the two countries. Jump’s story is still relevant. He kept a diary of his activities and noted details of where he was and who he met. He didn’t travel alone and at one point in Paris, while waiting to be interviewed and medically examined, “My ears caught the sounds of German, Italian, French and American English, but there were other languages that I did not recognise”.

When he finally got to Spain and the International Brigade headquarters at Albacete, he was issued with items of equipment, including a Russian rifle dated 1901. This gives an indication of how the Republican Army in general suffered from a lack of up-to-date armaments, not to mention shortages of food, medical equipment, and proper uniforms. Photographs in the book show that the Brigaders dressed in a variety of jackets, when they had them, and trousers. Jump says at one point, “we had hardly any equipment. Most of us were bareheaded, dressed in shirts and trousers. Few had boots. Most of us wore sandals or rope-soled alpargatas. I doubt if there were four steel helmets in the whole company. We had no pouches, but carried our ammunition in our pockets or in bags tied to our belt”.

Because he spoke Spanish Jump was frequently assigned to act as an interpreter. As he points out, few of the British Brigaders spoke any Spanish beyond a few basic words and, when he ran classes to teach the language, hardly anyone came to them. His language and journalistic skills also came in useful when he was told to take on administrative duties, such as paymaster, postman, and clerical worker keeping records of new arrivals, deaths, departures due to wounds or sickness, and similar matters. This may seem like the routines I referred to earlier, and not as interesting as what was taking place at the front, but Jump has a light touch that makes it relevant by tying it in with reports of what was happening generally in Spain. His facility with the language gave him greater contact with the local people, and he went to the nearby theatres and bars. He was consequently probably more aware than most Brigaders of how the Spanish people were managing to survive the privations of the war. There are tiny character sketches of some of the Spaniards he got to know.

The war finally came close to Jump when he was posted to the International Brigades preparing for the last great offensive by the Republican Army, the crossing of the Ebro and the assault on Franco’s forces. He was in action during the attack on Gandesa and, while surviving unscathed, he saw several of his friends cut down by bombs and bullets.  He notes that there was little, if any, air support provided for the soldiers on the ground, and that Franco’s aircraft, often piloted by Germans and Italian, dominated the skies. Jump may have been lucky when it came to being killed or wounded during the fighting, but he fell victim to one of the other problems that beset soldiers and was diagnosed as suffering from yellow jaundice.

Sent back across the Ebro, he had spells in various hospitals before he was considered fit enough to return to duties. But by that time the decision had been taken by the Spanish Government to withdraw the International Brigades from Spain. If the Prime Minister, Negrin, hoped that this would persuade Franco to similarly dispose of the German and Italian forces supporting him, he was sadly mistaken. Russia had already virtually abandoned Republican Spain to its fate, and it would not be long before Franco easily swept to victory and began a policy of purges and reprisals.

Before that happened the Brigaders were brought together and prepared for their departure. Jump provides some vivid descriptions of slow-moving trains, long delays in decrepit stations, and arrival in a bombed-out Barcelona. The British contingent was finally shipped through France to Dieppe and eventually London. Different nationalities were not as lucky, and many Brigaders, unable to return to countries such as Germany and Italy, were interned in France.

Jump was honest enough to admit that he was frightened at the thought of being under fire. And, with this in mind, he had doubts when an announcement was made that two Scandinavians had been executed for desertion. They were automatically labelled as Trotskyists, the implication being that it was their political affiliations that influenced them to desert. Jump, though, “suspected that the condemned men were victims of their own fear. They had been terrified out of their lives and, unable to stand anymore, had deserted. I had been terrified, too, and knew what it felt like”.

It was due to this, and similar occurrences, that he “came to the conclusion that I would never make a real soldier…….and I was only intellectuality an anti-fascist”. He could never imagine himself shooting a Spanish conscript who had thrown away his uniform and gun and was attempting to flee. There are some other examples of the ways in which discipline was exercised in the Brigades, and not only in relation to battlefield circumstances. Anti-semitism, racism, drunkenness, sexual deviation, and catching venereal diseases, were all offences: “The atmosphere was, in fact, quite puritanical”.

Jump married his Spanish fiancée when he returned to England, served in the British Army during the Second World War, and later became a teacher. He additionally wrote several books about Spain, and his The Penguin Spanish Dictionary was published in 1990, the year he died.

The Fighter Fell in Love is an engaging book, largely due to Jump’s clear writing style, his humanity, and his sense of humour which allowed him to see the funny aspects of some strange situations. It was never published during his lifetime, and the current edition was assembled from two draft versions and diary entries by his son, Jim Jump. Placed throughout the book are several poems, some of them written in Spain, some later. I have a memory that a few were published in Tribune around the time I was writing for the paper in the 1960s and 1970s.

Paul Preston has contributed an informative Foreword, and there is a Preface by Jack Jones which was written for a planned 1987 edition of the book. Jones, one-time General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, had fought in Spain and been wounded. Jim Jump writes about his father and mother and there are useful notes which clarify many of the references to individuals and places in the text.