Kiwi role in Spanish Civil War revealed in new book
The long-forgotten exploits of some of the extraordinary New Zealanders who took part in the Spanish Civil War are
revealed for the first time in the latest book from Canterbury University Press.
Kiwi Compañeros: New Zealand and the Spanish Civil War offers the first account of the role New Zealand and New
Zealanders played in the war, which began as a military revolt against the Republican government of Spain in 1936 and
ended with the government’s overthrow and the start of the 40-year dictatorship of General Francisco Franco in 1939.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the conflict.
Edited by writer and historian Mark Derby with a foreword by the Spanish Ambassador to New Zealand Marcos Gomez, Kiwi
Compañeros not only tells the personal stories of New Zealanders and post-war immigrants who took part in the action in
Spain but also provides accounts of those who worked for the Spanish cause in New Zealand by raising funds, lobbying
politicians and spreading propaganda.
Featuring contributions from some of New Zealand’s leading writers and historians, the book draws on personal letters,
recently released military documents and previously unpublished photographs.
Mr Derby, who has worked for Te Ara, the online encyclopaedia of New Zealand, the Waitangi Tribunal and as South Pacific
correspondent for Portuguese newspaper Jornal Expresso, said the aim of the book is to preserve the long-forgotten
stories of Kiwis who took part in what proved to be a brutal foreign war.
“It is a subject which has practically been overlooked and forgotten. There are no other books on New Zealand’s
involvement in this conflict and virtually no mention of New Zealand combatants in any other books on the civil war,” he
Mr Derby stressed Kiwi Compañeros was not a military history.
“It is a book about a country’s response to a political situation overseas.”
While New Zealand did not officially become involved in the Spanish conflict, a number of New Zealanders volunteered
their services as soldiers, doctors, and nurses, or covered the war as journalists. Some left New Zealand to take part
in the war while others already based overseas headed to Spain.
Among the stories told are those of a Cromwell surgeon who operated as close as possible to the battlefield; a
Christchurch-born academic who risked his life to work as an intelligence agent; a Wellington film-maker and show-jumper
who fought for General Francisco Franco’s fascists; and a Wellington pilot who landed his plane with a shattered
shoulder then headed to Hollywood to make movies with Errol Flynn.
“Generally speaking those who went to Spain were motivated by anti-fascist beliefs,” said Mr Derby.
“They saw the rise of fascism in Germany and Italy and believed it was a dangerous movement that would eventually lead
to war. They saw the overthrow of Spain’s legitimately-elected government as a victory for fascism and wanted to stop
The book is based on papers delivered during a 2006 seminar on the war organised by the Trade Union History Project (now
the Labour History Project) and supplemented by further research.
Kiwi Compañeros, published in association with the Labour History Project, will be launched in Auckland on 15 May at the
Auckland Central Library; in Wellington on 28 May at Unity Books, Willis St; and in Christchurch on 3 June at the Madras
Kiwi Compañeros: New Zealand and the Spanish Civil War, edited by Mark Derby, published by Canterbury University Press,
May 2009, RRP NZ$45.00, Paperback, 304pp, ISBN 978-1-877257-71-1.