Spaniards in British Service During WW2

Some Spaniards were in British service during WW2.

I am not aware of any British units comprised completely of Spaniards. But many Spanish individuals fought as part of British formations. All these British units had Spaniards in the ranks:

  • 50 Middle East Commando; 1941
  • D battalion of Layforce; Crete 1942
  • 1 Special Service Regiment
  • 2nd Special Air Service (SAS)
  • Long Range Desert Group

Antonio Fajardo sent in a table from Arasa’s book Los Espanoles de Churchill.

Unit(s) Date Formation/Joining Where Formed/Joined
185th Spanish Labour Company (Royal Engineers) December 1939 France
87th to 120th Spanish Labour Companies 1940 France
No 1 Spanish Company (Pioneer Corps) 1940 France/UK
50th Middle East Commandos (Queens Royal Regiment) August 1940 Egypt
1st Special Regiment 1941 Egypt
Queens Royal Regiment (Surrey) 1942 North Africa
Pioneer Corps

  • 338th Company
  • 361st Company
  • 362nd Company
  • 363rd Company
  • 364th Company
All formed between April and August 1943 North Africa
SAS August 1942 Egypt

2nd Special Air Service (SAS)

Philip Williams emailed to say …

Just to let you know that a small contingent of Spaniards served in the 2nd Special Air Service during World War II. One even won the military medal for gallantry. My grand father was one of them. the names I know of are as follows:

Francisco Geronimo (pte Frank Williams)
Rafael Ramos MM (pte no name change)
Justo Balerdi ( pte Robert Bruce KIA Operation Tombola 1945)

Just thought you might be interested

Help Wanted

Please get in contact if you have more information. I’m sure I haven’t found all the units and I always appreciate more details about the ones already on the list.

Thanks

Philip Williams and Antonio Fajardo sent information about Spaniards fighting with the British.

And I am indeed. Philip (citing Messenger, Young & Rose, 1988) explained that most of these men started in 50 Middle East Commando in 1940. 62 members of this unit were amalgamated into D battalion of Layforce on Crete. Most of D battalion were captured when the Germans landed but some escaped or went on the run. Of those who escaped some went to 1 Special Service Regiment and from there onto 2nd SAS. Philip’s grandfather was one who got off Crete in 1942, went to 1 Special Service Regiment, and then to the SAS.

Philip recommends two books:

  • Messenger, C., Young, G., and Rose, S. (1988). The Middle East Commandos. Towbridge, Wiltshire: William Kimber
  • Landsborough, G. (1956). Tobruk Commando. Cassell. ISBN: 1853670251.

Long Range Desert Group

Individual Spaniards may have served in the Long Range Desert Group but I need a reference for this. If they did I suspect they were ex-Republicans from the Spanish Civil War, drafted by the French, but who escaped the 1940 debacle.

50th Middle East Commando

Antonio Fajardo commented on this:

Just came across your page whilst looking for some updates on the 50th Middle East Commandos. My late father was one of the 62-65 Spaniards mentioned by Phillip Williams. They had all fought in the Republican Army during the Spanish Civil War and had been recruited by the French Army in refugee camps located in the South of France during 1939. They were either ex-Legion or, like my father, ex-11eme Bataillon de Marche stationed in French mandated Syria and Lebanon.

There is a very good Spanish book called “Los Espanoles de Churchill” by Daniel Arasa, which covers most units in the British Army where Spaniards served. If you are interested I can detail these for you. [I’ve included the table above ST.]

Merchant Navy

There were also a large contingent of Basque sailors in the British Merchant Navy and a few Spaniards in the RAF. The Royal Navy had strict rules regarding foreign personnel.

Books to look up

Arasa, D. (??). Los Espanoles de Churchill.

Messenger, C., Young, G., and Rose, S. (1988). The Middle East Commandos. Towbridge, Wiltshire: William Kimber

Landsborough, G. (1956). Tobruk Commando. Cassell. ISBN: 1853670251.

34 comments to Spaniards in British Service During WW2

  • My father was a British officer serving in No. 1 Spanish Company with the Pioneer Corps during WW2. In the past, I have corresponded with one or two people who’s Spanish fathers also served in the company and have quite a few group photos if anyone is interested.

    • rosalind cortes

      Hello My father served in the pioneer corps , he joined the British army sometime in 1943 after being release from a French interment camp in North Africa. He was Spanish and fought for the Republic, he was placed in a internment camp in France, before being transported to French North Africa as it was then known.

  • Oooooooops. That should have “whose” Spanish fathers etc…….

    • Andre Marco

      Hi Brian, I am very interested in any information that you may have on No 1 Spanish Company Pioneer Corps during WW2. My father, Silverio Marco, a Spaniard, also served in this Corps

      • rosalind cortes

        Hello My father Rafael Para Cortes was a soldier in the Pioneer Corp. He was released by the British Army from a French interment camp for Republican soldiers in early 1943. He served with the Corp in North Africa, France, Belgium and Germany. He was discharged at the end of 1946, and lived in England for the rest of his life.

  • Eileen Grenham

    )Hi Brian,
    My dad was in the no1 Spanish company of the pioneer corps, Rafael Sanchez.
    He was recruited in southern France in the internment camp into the 13th Demi brigade of the Foreign legion , after Narvik somehow ended up at Dunkirk. My brother managed to do some research a couple of years ago and threw up some interesting history, if you are able to share any photos that would be greatly appreciated.
    Eileen

  • Eileen Grenham

    I just followed the link to your web page, the group photo is very familiar to me, we have a copy. My dad was is on the top row 7th from the left, he is wearing the British army cap not a beret.

    • Hello Eileen,

      How interesting.

      I believe you are the first who has identified anyone from that particular photo; and I do have some more photos (if I can find them – we’ve just moved house). I’ll send them to you if you can let me have your e-mail address.

      Regards,
      Brian Cole.

  • rob Garcia

    My grandfather was in the Pioneer Corps. He was interned in Oran after escaping from Franco during the Spanish Civil War, and joined the Corps as an engineer. I have his Africa Star medal. If anyone has any more information about the Corps I would be interested to hear.

    • Steven Thomas

      Rob, what your grandfather’s name?

    • Ricardo Obis

      Hello Rob
      What was your grandfathers name? i know this is a long shot, as Garcia is a very common Spanish name. My father served with a Sanchez Garcia

      • Tony Millard

        Good Day Ricardo Thank you for your reply, it all helps .The only information I have is they also had a camp few miles out side of Chippenham, and they were not happy with the British Army Uniform and made adjustment to the with of the legs. Tony Millard

  • Ian Sainz-Gonzalez

    My Father Miguel,also joined the French Foreign Legion and then the British Army, Pioneer Corps, in Libya. I don’t know what unit. He came to the Uk and helped clearing the defences from the beaches around GT. Yarmouth. That’s where he me my Mum. Most of his photos have been lost. He didn’t speak much of his experience’s.
    Ian

  • Steven Thomas

    Brian has kindly shared his photos of the No 1 (Spanish) Company of the Pioneer Corps.

  • Ricardo Obis

    My Fathers name was Antonio Obis Campo
    He served in the coy 363 Pioneer Corps in Algeria. At first he was sent to Algeria with the French foreign legion. But when the Viche government fell to the Germans,he was then put in a consentration camp.In 1942 my father was liberated by the British Army and served in the Coy363 Pioneer corps.Later on he came to England with the British Army and was being trained as a Commando in Wexham and Adershot.He was demobbed from the British Army in 1947. My father was a Spanish Republican exile

  • Francisco Haro

    MyFather Corporal Rodrigo Haro, from Turre, Almeria, was in No.1. Spanish Coy. Like many, did the Legion, Narvic etc. Got some photos I can share. Worked a mobile sawmill. Met my Mother at a forces dance in Wotton Under Edge while stationed in Charfield. Visited both there and Chard, where he was demobbed from. His friend was Salvador Garcia and a guy called Romero. Settled in Kilwinning, Ayrshire,where my Mum came from. He passed away in Oct. 1971. Would love to communicate with anyone on No.1. Spanish Coy.

  • Rock

    The Catalan teleision did a mini-serie where some of the main characters are kept in Algeres Camp and enroled into the French Foreign Legion, they send them to Syria. When the government of Petain joined forces with the Nazis they passed to British lines to fight the nazis with them.

    I don’t know it you can see it outside Spain, but i give you the URL of the movie (it is not piracy, the link is from the official website of the TVC). And sorry it’s in catalan (with subtitles in that language) and some things of the audio in french, spanish and english.

    http://www.ccma.cat/tv3/alacarta/tornarem/tornarem-capitol-1/video/4049330/

  • Rock

    Sorry, I forgot to say, is in the 2nd episode when they are inside the British lines.

  • Paul Gifford

    Hi. Very interesting to See all these comments. My grandad fled Spain with two friends and enrolled with the British forces via the south of France. Exact details are sketchy but we know the areas that he served. They tie in with other information here – was in Crete when the German paras landed. Spent a lot of time in Egypt. All of his training notes were in French, but not sure he was part of the French foreign legion. Just wondered if anyone might shine some light on the unit details etc. His name was jose redondo. Thanks for your time

    • Antonio Fajardo

      Hi Paul – I hadn’t been on this site for a number of years so I was pleased to see that there are still many people interested in the subject of the Spanish Republican soldiers and their astonishing military achievements. To be brief, your grandfather, like my father, was recruited by the French Army and then sent to Syria. After the German occupation of France, around 65 Spaniards aboard three lorries made their way to Palestine and then Egypt to join the British Army. They formed part of 50th Middle East Commandos. Around half, including my father, were taken POW in Crete. According to Daniel Arasa’s book, your grandfather was recruited to D Squadron of 1st Regiment SAS along with other ex 50th ME Commandos in late 1941. Around mid-1943, eight, including Redondo J, are listed as having been incorporated in to 361 Company Pioneer Corps.

      Kind regards

      Antonio Fajardo

      • Paul Gifford

        Hi Antonio. Thank you very much for your reply and particularly for the info that you provided. It has filled in some blanks for us. For instance my grandad always talked of Syria and Palestine , but we didnt know why or how he had been there? Now we know and it makes perfect sense.
        Fortunately he managed to escape from Crete with his two buddies and returned to Egypt we think. He seemed to spend a lot of time in Alexandria. Pretty much after that we are not sure.
        The book would be very interesting (my wife is mexican so we could cope with the spanish) but just cant seem to locate it anwyhere. Seems to be unavailable. Are there any other websites that I would possibly get some info?
        Thanks again
        paul

        • Antonio Fajardo

          Hi Paul – I started my research around 25 years before all the information was available on the internet and had to write to many organizations before discovering books, pamphlets and documents that were relevant. I bought a book called the Middle East Commandos by Charles Messenger, telephoned him and he recommended I speak to Daniel Arasa in Barcelona. I wrote to his publishers and a few weeks later he rang me back and then very kindly sent me a signed copy of his book. You might have to try Spanish booksellers direct. If you would like, I can photocopy the relevant pages that mention your granddad and email them to you. Regards Antonio

          • Hello Antonio, Elsewhere in Stephen’s excellent web-page there are photographs of the Spanish Company which I found after my father passed away. Most of them were taken in nothern Europe; however, I recall him speaking of being in Nigeria at the time hostilities ceased; and, since I haven’t heard of that part of Africa being mentioned insofar as WW2 is concerned very often, I would be interested to know if your research would be able to tell me what exactly was the purpose of him (and his colleagues) being there.

          • Antonio Fajardo

            Hi Brian, regarding your father being in Nigeria I am afraid that is a complete mystery. My research was limited to the Spaniards in the 50th Middle East Commandos and their capture or escape in/from Crete and their arrival in Britain in 1945. Do you have your father’s record of service book? That would tell you were he served throughout the war. My only thoughts on Nigeria was that it was a UK colony and he may have been there on policing duties.

          • Antonio, Thanks for getting back to me. Unfortunately, apart from the photographs which Stephen has posted on this thread, I have no details of my father’s service.

          • Paul Gifford

            Hi Antonio

            Thanks again for your reply. Good idea regarding the publisher – my wife will contact them and see how we get on. In the meantime it would be greatly appreciated if you could email me any copies of pages that include my grandad. my email is armenta-decor@hotmail.com.
            Thanks again

        • Antonio Fajardo

          Hi Paul sent you an email yesterday with some attachments regarding your grandfather. Hope you got them OK. Regards Antonio (Tony) Fajardo

  • Tony Millard

    I am doing research on camps around Chippenham Wilts and was told of a Spanish no combat Unit station along the Bath Road Chippenham, as far as I can tell the source of this info is good. An ex ww2 Wilts Police. Any More info out there?

  • Malcolm Hardy

    I live in the Alicante province of Spain. The local Spanish ‘Commission for the Recovery of Historic Memory’ are holding an event next month around May 8th in Alicante city, to celebrate the role played by Republican exiles who fought with the Allies against the Nazis or Italians. I have passed all the comments above to the Commission for their enlightenment. Does anyone know of any expat Brit contacts in the Cost Blanca area, eg in one of the British Legion branches with some knowledge of the subject, who might be willing to attend the event?

  • Keith Stevens

    My dad was in 50 Middle East commando and d batt layforce and must have known some of the Spanish lads .

  • Gerry McArdle

    Hi chaps – stumbled across this page purely by accident while researching Private Justo Balerdi Aka Robert Bruce. In relation to Rafael Ramos MM (Pte no name change) he actually changed his name to Francis Drake.

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