By Ronald Liversedge. New Star, 220 pp, softcover
When he shipped off to fight for the Spanish Republic in 1937, Vancouverite Ronald Liversedge wasn’t your average Canadian soldier. Although a twice-wounded veteran of World War I, he was also a union organizer, a seasoned labour protester, and an unrepentant lefty. What’s more, he was pushing 40.
Then again, the Spanish Civil War itself was anything but average, something that’s very much clear in Liversedge’s memoir, Mac-Pap.
Regarded as the dress rehearsal for the Second World War, the conflict was the first major showdown involving fascism, communism, and democracy. A cataclysmic prelude to a near decade of total war, the clash served as a proxy war between Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and the Soviet Union, and ushered in a new era of mechanized warfare.
Volunteering for the Russian-organized International Brigades, Liversedge was one of the almost 1,600 Canadians who made their way to Spain to oppose fascism, fighting long odds under the worst possible conditions, with minimal training and scant supplies. Liversedge’s odyssey seems nothing less than a proletarian crusade from the very start.
Written in the 1960s but unpublished until now, Mac-Pap gives us an insider’s view of a bitter and deeply political (although often overlooked) war. From the harrowing description of his transport ship being torpedoed off Barcelona to his time on the frontlines, the entire work pulses with both authenticity and urgency.
Steeped in a social and political context, Liversedge’s account makes us privy to the inner workings of the volunteer army in general, and the Canadian contingent in particular. From the raising of an all-Canadian company to the eventual formation of a full battalion—the Mackenzie-Papineau, or “Mac-Pap” of the title—Liversedge brings a particularly Canadian focus to the Spanish struggle.
In the end, it’s a work that transcends the traditional autobiography or combat memoir. Mac-Pap may be both those things, but it also speaks to the overwhelming stakes at hand, and the sombre burden shouldered by the international brigadiers.
“We all knew,” writes Liversedge with an obvious sense of duty, “that if the fascists won in Spain, the Second World War would be on.”