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
||All formed between April and August 1943||North Africa|
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
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.
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.]
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.
72 thoughts on “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.
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.
Estimado Bryan: estoy interesado en nombres de soldados almerienses.
Oooooooops. That should have “whose” Spanish fathers etc…….
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
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.
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.
One question please. Rafael Sanchez is born Granada?
My father was from the village of Otivar, Granada Province.
My father, Juan Olivares Abad, contacted you a few days ago. He asked you about your father birth place. If you are interested about Otivar and Granada during the Spanish Civil War, please contact him (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Thank you German. I will certainly contact your father even though I already have much information from that period. My father joined the Republican Army at 17 years of age and his two elder brothers fought in the militias. Later they joined the Maquis and were killed in 1951 and 1952. They are mentioned in several publications. Manuel Fajardo (Senciales) and Antonio Fajardo (Duarte). Un saludo Antonio.
My grand father (Manuel Fernandez) who served also in the N°1 spanish company was born in Esfiliana (Granada)
I am looking for a Spanish who was born in Alhama de Granada (Granade province). I do not know his name, only his family name (Sanchez) and his nickname, Tragabalas, which would be translated into something like “Swallowbullets”.
Hi German in all my years researching the Spaniards in the 50th Middle East Commandos I never came across any nicknames (apodos). These were normally given to the Maquis after the civil war to protect their families. My father’s two brothers were known as Senciales and Duarte for this reason. Are you sure that Sanchez was a soldier in the British Army and not a Maquis? Are you researching him for a particular reason? Please let me know and I will try and do some research. Saludos Antonio
Thanks for your reply.
The person we are enquiring for is Mr. Sanchez, who did not join the Maquis. However, he joined the British army. We guess he did so after his previous time in the Foreigner Workers Company (Compagnies du Travailleurs Etrangers or CTE), in the French army. The CTE were deployed in the Maginot Line, wherein most of their members were made prisoners by the German army, and, later on, sent to Mauthausen.
There were also Spanish Republican soldiers in Dunkerke and in the Narvik battle as well. The British army fought in those two places, so it is also likely that some Spanish Republican soldiers joined the British army during or after those battles. Such might be the story of Mr. Sanchez.
If you happen to know or come across any information regarding Mr. Sanchez (alias Tragabalas), please let us know.
I also have a letter written by Mr. Sanchez, with details about his company, which I can send to your e-mail if requested.
I will need a little more information from you regarding Mr Sanchez and I would certainly like to see a copy of his letter. In my father’s unit, 50th Middle East Commandos, there were two soldiers named Sanchez. One was Manuel Sanchez and the other Cleto Sanchez. Sanchez being a popular surname, there must have been many in the Spanish, French and British Armies so without a first name this may prove a difficult task. I have also seen a list of 151 Granadinos sent to Nazi Camps from France and there are three from Alhama de Granada but none have the surname Sanchez. Please provide any information you have and I will be only too pleased to help. Saludos Antonio
Hi again Antonio
Thanks for your reply.
Do you have any e-mail address to send Mr. Sanchez’s letter to you?
You can send it to email@example.com
I do speak Spanish but as your English is first class, I think it is better to continue our exchanges in English so that others on this site can follow as well.
I have managed to find some information on Mr Sanchez. In his letter, he writes that his address is 361 Coy (Company). 361 Coy was formed mostly of Spaniards serving in the French Army in North West Africa, mainly Morocco and Algeria. There were only two Sanchez in the Company. The first was M Sanchez who had served with the 50 Middle East Commandos and had escaped from Crete and the other was J S Sanchez, who I believe is “Tragabalas.” 361 Coy was based in Algeria unloading and vessels for the invasion of Sicily and later supporting the British Army in North Africa. As Mr Sanchez wrote this letter on 11/11/1945 from a camp in Shropshire, England it is safe to say that he was never in Mathaussen.
From: German Olivares
Sent: Fri, 12 Jul 2019 10:00
Subject: Document from Mr. Sanchez, alias “Tragabalas”
Please find attached a letter sent by Mr. Sanchez to the family of a Spanish soldier he knew and died in Mathausse.
There is also attached a transcription, both in Spanish. By the way, I forgot to ask: hablas espanhol?
Finally, I would also like to clarify that Mr. Sanchez didn’t die in Mathaussen. In fact we do not know whether he was in Mathaussen or not.
Was your father born in Granada province? If so, do you know which village, town or city?
Hello Eileen! I am looking for descendants of the Spanish who fought in the 13th Demi-Brigade in Narvik. They has been hard to track because so many fought under other names. This is for an article for a Norwegian newspaper. Can you help? Best regards, Tone
How interesting, I’m happy to help but like many who post here, I know very little. My brother engaged a researcher a few years ago, most of my knowledge was from that research. My father like many men was reluctant to talk about this time.
My name is Germán Olivares, from Terrassa, near Barcelona (Spain). My father, Juan Antonio Olivares-Abad) has conducted some research on the Spaniards that left their country after the civil war. He would like to ask you if your father was born in Granada province.
Thanks in advance
My father was from Peña Roya, Cordoba Province. Hope that helps. He died in 1987.
I should have said that he joined the 13 Demi brigade, served in Narvik and was fortunate to be evacuated at Dunkirk. Joined the Pioneer Corps and was in the No1 Spanish Company, he volunteered to have SOE training, he spoke fluent French. His SOE records are missing.
My Father Francisco Jordan Fernandez was also in the 13th Demi brigade recruited from internement camp into the foreign legion and faught in Narvik and ended up in Dunkirk. He lived in Chippenham Wiltshire for the rest of his life after the ww2. Please contact me and share any info/photos you may have. From Philip Fernandez
Dear Philip, All the photos I have are contained within this web-site. Apart from that, I’m afraid I have no further info. Regards, Brian Cole
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.
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.
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.
Rob, what your grandfather’s name?
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
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
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.
Brian has kindly shared his photos of the No 1 (Spanish) Company of the Pioneer Corps.
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
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.
These might interest you http://balagan.info/no-1-spanish-company-of-the-pioneer-corps-in-ww2
Hi Brian if you are keen to find out about your father’s time in the Army, then you should apply to get a copy of his military service record. This will give you a breakdown of all relevant dates and the units he was in and locations, from the first to the last day. You can obtain records via http://www.gov.uk
That’s very kind of you, Antonio. Thank you. That shouldn’t be too difficult because I still have the suitcase (with his army number painted on it) from when he returned from Africa.
Hola Francisco, estoy muy interesado en obtener datos y alguna fotografía de su padre y de cualquier almeriense enrolado en el ejército británico durante la segunda guerra mundial. De antemano muchas gracias
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.
Sorry, I forgot to say, is in the 2nd episode when they are inside the British lines.
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hi Paul sent you an email yesterday with some attachments regarding your grandfather. Hope you got them OK. Regards Antonio (Tony) Fajardo
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?
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?
My dad was in 50 Middle East commando and d batt layforce and must have known some of the Spanish lads .
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.
My Father was Montiano Barroso he was a sergeant in the the first long range unit the lay force commando joined from the French foreign legion in Syria with a large garrison of other Spaniards he had also been fighting in the civil war in Spain previously. He was caught in Crete I have pictures from the prison of war camp of his colleagues my sister has more.
He served in the regiment on his return to service when the camp was taken over and stayed in the regiment until 1946 47
Hi Pierre we met at a party 20 years ago. Our father’s were in the 50 Middle East Commandos together. You said then you and your sister had lots of photos. I’ve got quite a few myself and would be only to happy to put these on display. If you look on Special Forces Roll of Honour I put some there a few years ago.
Hope you are keeping well and safe. I was recently contacted by a British Army officer who is planning an in depth book on the Spaniards who joined the Commandos, particularly the 50th Middle East one. He has asked me for research material and photos and if I knew anyone else willing to provide copy photos and documents. Would you be willing to share these. If so, please contact me by email in the first instance to email@example.com
Hi to all, my grandfather served in the N°1 spanish company during WW2 and landed in Normandy.
He joined the british army after having been in the french foreign legion as many spanish guys who left Spain. He was in Narvik in Norway with the legion and the british army.
His name was Manuel Fernandez (I have the same name).
please follow the link below to see a picture
Hello Manuel! I am looking for descendants of the Spanish who fought in the 13th Demi-Brigade in Narvik. They has been hard to track because so many fought under other names. This is for an article for a Norwegian newspaper. Can you help? Best regards, Tone
Good evening! Séan Scullion here. I am carrying out research on Spaniards who fought in the British Army in WW2 and became “Churchill’s Spaniards”. Fortunately, I have been able to speak to some people on this forum (thanks Tony Frajardo and Bernard O’Connor) and have been in contact with Daniel Arasa in Spain. I am very interested in hearing more about those who served and was wondering if you would be willing to share your stories and information. I plan to put this all together and make this into a book.
Muchas gracias y hasta pronto, Séan
Hello Sean, I think you replied to my email regarding my father Rafael Cortes who served in the Pioneer Corps after being released by the British from a Vichy French prison camp in North Africa in 1943. I somehow have lost your email so is it possible you can reply to my email address as follows
firstname.lastname@example.org. My apologies for being a nuisance.
There is a book by Maj HR Rhodes-Woods “ A war history of the pioneer corps 1936-1946”. Sadly it is out of print but available on CD for a small charge from:
C/o 23 Pnr Regt RLC
St David’s Bks
01869 360694. E mail: email@example.com
It includes the communications between the Spanish soldiers on the Quay at Plymouth refusing to board the ship to return them to France and the French high command in London; General DeGaul’s command to “ Shoot 1in 3 to deter the others” is chilling.
The National archives contain a war diary Sept 1940-Dec 1941 and the nominal roll of men serving with No1 Spanish Company ( this item is in the Special Operation Executive series)
Anyone doing family research I recommend contacting the RPC association:
Lt Col John Sterling
Royal Pioneer Corps Association
C/o 1 Regiment, Royal logistics Corps
St David’s Barracks
you can read the memories of one of the Churchill’s Spaniards
Antonio Grande Number One Spanish Company ( Memorias de Antonio Grande Editorial Ecu Narrativa)
The statement about the Royal Navy having rules about foreigners might be true but I did know one man who was accepted he was a French National, a German speaker from Alsace Lorraine, called Schleifer who was registered as Riley in case he was ever captured.
I am looking for information on Czechoslovakian soldiers who were known as the ‘Spaniards’ because they fought in the Spanish Civil war. I also have an original photograph with the caption ‘Spaniards getting English kit’ – this was taken at As Sumeiriya in Palestine (no date but must have been early in the war before the Czecks moved into North Africa). I always assumed they were Czechs but there are other photos of the Czechs.
This is Dr. Luis Monferrer, writing from Barcelona (Spain)
I have come across this web site by mere chance.
I have been reading all your comments and notes on family data and the Pioneer Corps with utter interest, as I have been doing resear work on the issue of Spanish Republican exiles in Britain for many years.
The result was a 1991 volumen which I produced to meet the requeriments for my Ph. D. Thesis. This volume contains a global framework describing the activity of those Spanish exiles who arrived and settled in Britain (or left it), between 1936-1977; so something is said about the Spanish soldiers who fought in British military units, though in certain cases, not so much in detail as you know for your own family records.
I will copy here the bibliographical data just in case you are interested in this book:
(It is written in Spanish).
Luis Monferrer (2007): Odisea en Albión. Los republicanos españoles exiliados en Gran Bretaña (1936-1977). Madrid, Ediciones de la Torre, 542 pp.
At present, I am revising it because I am preparing a second edition.
You may find a quick vision of its Table of Contents at my web site:
Best wishes for you all,
Dr. Luis Monferrer
Hello Dr Monferrer.
My father Rafael Cortes served in the Pioneer Corp from 1942 till 1946, 1nd settled in the UK for the rest of his life. He was released by the British army from a French interment camp which held Republican soldiers, who were rounded up by the French goverment after the fall of the Spanish Republic. Many of the soldiers in the camp died of Typhus and TB because of the terrible conditions that they had to endure. My father managed to survive 3 years of hell, and lived to the age of 81.
Dear Rosalind Cortes (and other readers),
Thanks a lot for your comment, and for the information about your father.
I suggest these family data and personal information should be gathered and organised in some sort of books of memoirs, and issue them through little publishing houses or as electronic books. All the information you have should not be lost, but kept in records. These data are useful for future research work.
Dear Luis, if you send me an email address I can put you in touch with a gentleman who is currently preparing a book about the Spaniards who fought for Britain in WWII and another colleague who is helping him with research and also runs a Facebook page dedicated to the Spaniards. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
(Son of Joaquin Fajardo – 50 Middle East Commando)
I am sending you a private message.
Thanks a lot.