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THE DEATH OF BOB SMILLIE, THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR, AND THE ECLIPSE OF THE INDEPENDENT LABOUR PARTY

  • TOM BUCHANAN (a1)
    • Published online: 01 June 1997
Abstract

Bob Smillie, a volunteer with the Independent Labour Party (I.L.P.) contingent in the Spanish Civil War, died while held prisoner by the Republican side in Valencia in June 1937. His death, officially due to appendicitis, has been consistently treated as suspicious, not least by his comrade-in-arms George Orwell in Homage to Catalonia. This article re-examines the circumstances surrounding Smillie's death, using the papers of the I.L.P. businessman David Murray who was in Spain attempting to secure his release. Murray accepted the ‘official version’ of Smillie's death by natural causes – and defended it doggedly within I.L.P. circles – despite those who advanced views to the contrary. The article examines Murray's evidence in reaching his conclusions, and concludes that the I.L.P.'s response to Smillie's death reveals much about its precarious position within British politics in the late 1930s.

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I am grateful to the Director of the University of Oxford's Department for Continuing Education for arranging a grant in order for me to research this article. I would also like to thank the National Library of Scotland for permission to quote from the David Murray papers, and Martin Conway, Julia Buchanan and anonymous readers for their comments on drafts of this article. Responsibility for all conclusions reached is, of course, entirely my own. Documentary references are to the David Murray papers (hence DMP), National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh, and unless otherwise specified are to Accs 7914, Box 1, file 1.
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The Historical Journal
  • ISSN: 0018-246X
  • EISSN: 1469-5103
  • URL: /core/journals/historical-journal
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