THE Spanish Civil War has fascinated historians and the politically minded for nearly nine decades and most Scots with an interest in the subject will know that hundreds of Scottish people volunteered to fight in Spain while many thousands more took part in fundraising efforts on home soil.

While a small minority in Scotland backed Franco and his fascist Nationalists, the vast majority of Scots supported the Republicans. Now the latter’s stories are being detailed as never before in a new book by historian Dr Fraser Raeburn, who teaches modern European history at Sheffield University.

Entitled Scots and the Spanish Civil War: Solidarity, Activism and Humanitarianism, the book is published by Edinburgh University Press – Raeburn, 34, earned his PhD at Edinburgh. The new paperback is the first scholarly account of Scottish involvement in what was a globally important conflict.

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According to the publishers, the book “presents new primary evidence within a British context, including newly discovered MI5 records as well as Spanish archival material”, as well as exploring Scottish history “through both a British and global/transnational framework.”

The Scottish role in the Spanish Civil War has long fascinated Raeburn, the book being a decade-long project. Born in Australia to Scottish immigrant parents, Raeburn lived in Scotland for 10 years before moving to take up his present post at Sheffield. He has had other works on history published but this is his first book.

Speaking exclusively to The National, he said: “As a student I was fascinated by the Spanish Civil War and I was looking for a subject for my dissertation when I noticed that there was a hole in the library catalogue.

“They had works on foreign volunteers in the war from every country I could think of except for Scotland, so I started asking about it and found out there were a great many Scots involved.

“In the British context, Scotland was the most involved place, so I decided to look into the subject and it got me all the way through to my PhD.

“It’s been a labour of love and of immense curiosity, asking what was it that could drive people to really risk their lives – about one-quarter of the Scottish volunteers died.

What drove people to do that for a country they had never even visited before?”

Raeburn feels the hatred of fascism drove many thousands of people from across the world to join the Republican cause against Franco.

He said: “The one thing that united all the Scottish volunteers to fight or campaign for the Spanish Republic was opposition to fascism, but my book tries to go beyond that very real belief that fascism needed to be defeated and uncover new explanations as to why more than 500 Scots and so many other people from around the world went to Spain.”

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Raeburn had to argue with the National Archives to get the MI5 files properly released, and they are an important source of information about the volunteer fighters and the many more people in Scotland who campaigned and raised funds for the Spanish Republic.

Each city and large town had its own fundraising initiative, for example the Edinburgh Joint Committee for Spanish Relief.

It was one of those home-bound supporters in Edinburgh who most impressed Raeburn: “There were numerous remarkable individuals who went to Spain, but the one person I keep going back to was a lady called Janet Murray.

“Her husband Tommy went to Spain as did her brother-in-law and sister-in-law as a fighter and a nurse respectively. When her husband went off to Spain, she took over the local Spanish aid movement of which he had been secretary.

“We have her letters that she wrote to her husband in Spain and they chart her amazing journey. At first she was really quite overwhelmed by the prospect of having this responsibility but within a matter of months she comes to absolutely relish the task, competing with national politicians to see who could raise the most money to send to Spain.

“Under her leadership the Spanish aid movement doubled its income year on year, and she did an absolutely amazing job. But with her husband and relatives having gone to Spain and becoming prominent in local politics later, she is almost a footnote in the family history. So it was good to discover what an amazing job she did, such as organising a huge Spanish Fiesta in 1938, and shed light on that.”

Raeburn hopes his book will spark more interest in the Scottish role in the Spanish Civil War. He said: “There is a broad awareness of what Scots did and there are memorials up and down the country but what we have always lacked is much scholarly attention from historians in Scottish universities so I am hoping that, for instance, the Scots’ stories will be placed in a wider context.”

In an era when foreign fighters still go into battle against dictatorships, the lessons from the 1930s are there to be learned.

Scots and the Spanish Civil War: Solidarity, Activism and Humanitarianism, by Fraser Raeburn, published by Edinburgh University Press, priced £19.99