A Memoir of the Spanish Civil War: An Armenian-Canadian in the Lincoln Battalion

Description

119 pages
Contains Photos
$24.95
ISBN 1-894000-02-1
DDC 946.081'092

Year

2000

Contributor

Edited by Rick Rennie
Reviewed by John Walker

John Walker is a professor of Spanish at Queen’s University.

Review

For many historians, the Spanish Civil War was but a prelude to World
War II. With the growth of fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany in the
1930s, many saw the Spanish struggle as the last chance for democracy,
especially when both Germany and Italy intervened to support Franco’s
“crusade” against the republican government. Despite the reluctance
of Western governments (Britain, the United States, and Canada) to
participate, people from all over the world volunteered to fight for
democracy.

One of those volunteers was the Armenian-Canadian Pat Stephens. His
version of the events is recorded in this personal memoir, which was
dictated to his wife just before his death, in Toronto, in 1987. Born
Badrig dar Stepanian in Armenia in 1910, Stephens came to North America
in 1926. He settled first in Windsor and then moved to Toronto where he
was very much a product of the Great Depression, which helped to shape
his political beliefs. Although another manuscript, “An Armenian
Childhood,” describes his early life, this memoir begins with the
young communist in 1936 setting out for Spain to fight fascism. Most of
the some 1500 Canadians who fought in the Civil War were members of the
Mackenzie–Papineau Battalion; Stephens fought with the American
Lincoln Battalion, also part of the International Brigade.

This very personal memoir was written 50 years after the events, which
explains its minor inconsistencies and errors. The book certainly
captures the spirit of the front, the plight of the soldiers, and the
cynicism of the various governments. Stephens also describes his own
loves and adventures, and the various jobs he filled as machine-gunner,
supplies officer, and military/security investigator. Like Orwell and
other more famous participants, he discusses the various national and
political rivalries plaguing the International Brigade, which culminated
in the final defeat of Barcelona and Stephens’s forced return to
Canada in 1939. The growing disillusionment one senses at the end is
reflected in his withdrawal from political life, although he did take
part in World War II.

The text is divided into seven chapters and includes a six-page
introduction by the editor outlining Canada’s role in the Spanish
Civil War. Useful notes round out this valuable Canadian perspective on
a key event of 20th-century history.

Citation

Stephens, D.P. (Pat)., “A Memoir of the Spanish Civil War: An Armenian-Canadian in the Lincoln Battalion,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/8118.