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To tilt at windmills

a memoir of the Spanish Civil War

Fred A. Thomas

Publication Year: 1996

To Tilt at Windmills is the memoir of Briton Fred Thomas who served with the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War (July 1936-March 1939).
     Inspired by a memorable return to Iberian battlefields forty years later, and based on diaries kept during the many months Thomas spent as a gunner with the British Anti-Tank Battery, the narrative moves eloquently along a journey into the war zone, through the several campaigns in which he fought and where he was twice wounded, and finally to the withdrawal of the Brigades from the conflict. What distinguishes Thomas' account is the remarkable detail provided by the diaries and the measured tone of his reminiscence, There is, as well, the poignant inquiry of the veteran into the shape and meaning of experience as a young soldier. The historian Paul Preston has cited the "warmth, directness and deep humanity" of To Tilt at Windmills, "an important contribution to the collective memory of the war.

Published by: Michigan State University Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xiii

When Spain's Second Republic was challenged by a military uprising on 18 July 1936, the Civil War which ensued developed into the most savage battle of a European class war which had smouldered sporadically since the Russian revolution of 1917. Immediately after the First World War, revolutionary outbreaks were brutally suppressed in Germany ...


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pp. xv

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Chapter One: May-June, 1937. From Hackney to the Jarama Front

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pp. 133-52

A plane touched down at Madrid Airport in the evening of 30th April 1981. Forty-two of the hundred or so passengers shared a common excitement. Some old, all at least elderly, we might have been on a Saga package tour somewhat off course for one of Spain's warmer resorts. We were in fact all veterans of the International Brigade, a fast diminishing band who went from many countries to fight on the side ...

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Chapter Two: July-November, 1937. The Battle of Brunete

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pp. 50-69

Saturday, 3rd July. Much to everybody's surprise the trucks arrived promptly at 4.30 this morning. Loaded up and left at once. Going straight in the direction of Madrid. 12 noon. just my luck! Again dodged Madrid, rode all round the place through the outer suburbs. I should have liked to see it. Maybe there's We are now pretty obviously bound for the Guadalajara ...

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Chapter Three: December 1937-January, 1938. The Battle of Teruel

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pp. 53-81

But at last I was back with the Battery. Once again they were in billets in Mondejar, though the month before had seen them in action with the British Battalion.24. Many changes in the Battery since I left them. Chiefly for the better. Dunbar, of course, was wounded a day or two after me and since then Hugh Slater has been in command. At the moment though, he and Alan ...

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Chapter Four: February-May, 1938. From Teruel to the Ebro

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pp. 83-105

Whatever revolutionary ardor was left in me evaporated rapidly during that ride in the ambulance. For several hours, mostly in the dark, as we bumped along the rough roads and rougher tracks, I tried to keep on my right side of the narrow bunk. But my curses were many and varied as, too frequently, I was thrown around, falling on my back so that I ...

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Chapter Five: June-August, 1938. The Battle of the Ebro I

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pp. 107-140

Rejoining the Brigade was like waking from a nightmare to find all is well. I felt, thought, and acted like another being from the angry, frustrated chap I was at Badelona. Watching and listening to my comrades of this new set up, I was satisfied. We were a well-matched group, too. Chris Smith and I knew each other well; George Baker, I have written ...

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Chapter Six: September 1938. The Battle of the Ebro II

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pp. 141-160

So the First British Anti-tank Battery ceased to exist. Not since the retreats of April had it been a Battery; for even longer it was of Spanish/British composition. We eight, trundling our little gun around, well aware of its limitations and inadequacies, subject to the quips and cracks of our fellows as well as to the varying attitudes of Commanders ...

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Chapter Seven: October-December, 1938. Repatriation

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pp. 161-170

From the day Prime Minister Negrin announced the withdrawal of all International Brigade volunteers, our continued presence in Spain became another burden on the desperately struggling Republic. There were several thousand of us: we had to be fed, precious fuel and transport used to serve our needs. But in the more than two frustrating months before we ...


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pp. 171-177


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pp. 179-181

E-ISBN-13: 9780870139598
Print-ISBN-13: 9780870134210

Page Count: 175
Publication Year: 1996