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Doesn't let the facts get in the way of a good story
on 9 March 2012
Hughes provides a flowing narrative and a fun read, however he starts using fictional techniques early on. The first chapter begins with 'Colonel Gal was in a foul mood' (p36) and on p37 we learn that 'Wintringham smiled to himself: so far everything was going to plan'. He states things as fact which are matters of disagreement in the eye witness material. Hughes tells us that Legionnaires, singing the Internationale captured the Machine Gun Company and they then handed them over to a Moorish unit. Whilst this is one possible explanation for what happened to Fry's company, it ignores alternative accounts put forward by people who were there on the day. For a synopsis of that dispute I recommend Richard Baxell's book, which devotes two pages to it.
Hughes claims British volunteer Peter Kemp was executed for desertion,(p200)'two men [Patrick Glacken and Peter Kemp] were caught on their way to enemy lines'. He says this is a quote from p82 of 'British Volunteers for Liberty' by Bill Alexander. But that source actually reads 'two men were caught on their way to enemy lines' - so Hughes embellished the quote. We have to look elsewhere for the identity of the executed man; the Roll of Honour in 'British Volunteers for Liberty' mentions P Glacken and A Kemp. In Richard Baxell's 'British Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War' p145: 'Bob Cooney.... states that one of the deserters, Allan Kemp, a baker from Glasgow, was executed'. Incidentally there was a Peter Kemp in Spain, he fought for the Nationalists and wrote his own accounts of his experiences; Hughes mixes up the two Kemps.
Hughes also confidently identifies the specific mark of tanks the Nationalists used in their assault on British positions, however in doing so he goes some way beyond the actual evidence.
There is an enormous wealth of source material for British involvement at the Jarama much of which is not in the public domain. The interesting thing about the many eyewitness accounts is that they often disagree with each other. Hughes had access to all of this material and yet strings together a convenient, factually inaccurate story which makes stuff up and ignores the significantly conflicting voices of those who lived through the battle. So anyone expecting a comprehensive forensic treatment of the British at Jarama, will not find it in this book.
I felt that Hughes squandered his privileged access to source material. However for someone coming fresh to the topic, this deeply flawed account might stimulate curiosity and enthusiasm for the subject. Jason Gurney's Crusade in Spain and Tom Wintringham's English Captain provide first hand overviews of the battle which are indispensable for anyone seeking further, or alternative, reading.