Gus Daubenspeck

1938.8.29 - Letter re Spain - wound - Ebro - Harry Sander

This short note – giving Elizabeth the Barcelona address of a friend who had been wounded at Ebro – must date from 1938. The battle of the Ebro (the longest, largest and bloodiest of the Spanish Civil War) took place between July and November of that year, ending in massive defeat for the Republicans.

I don’t know who Harry Sander, the writer of the letter, is – and if Elizabeth had met him in Spain, or in London (where she had lived and worked in the East End before going to Puigcerda in late 1937).

Gus Daubenspeck, the man shot in the back at the battle of the Ebro, seems to have been an International Brigader from the East End (Lamb Lane in Hackney), and is listed here as one of the Jewish volunteers who went to Spain as part of the British Battalion. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find any further information about Gustav Daubenspeck, and this makes me wonder if he died of his injuries while still in Spain, or went on to be killed in the Second World War, or even later changed his name. Nevertheless, it is a reminder that, like Frank, most of the British volunteers in Spain were working class men – including from the East End – and that many (roughly a quarter) were Jewish.

(In trying to find out more about Gus Daubenspeck, I came across this nice account of another Jewish East End volunteer, Jack Shaw:

UPDATE: After posting this on twitter, asking if anyone knew more about Gus Daubenspeck, the fount of Spanish Civil War knowledge that is Richard Baxell got in touch to say that he could send me information about Gus Daubenspeck. He also sent me this photo of Daubenspeck from the Russian State Archives in Moscow:


These files are one of the main sources of information about the International Brigades (and longtime readers might remember that Fraser Raeburn previously sent me Frank’s files from the same archive – which I still need to post the remainder of). This made me think that I could probably find out a bit more about Gus Daubenspeck from these files myself, and so  – using the very helpful guide from Richard Baxell’s website – I have just had a look through the information held there about Daupenspeck.

According to these files – including the very detailed questionnaires that International Brigaders were asked to complete (see below for originals) – Gustav Daubenspeck was born in 1893 (so, 44 in 1938 – older than I had expected for some reason), and was from Eastway in Hackney Wick. He notes that his father is deceased, but that his mother, Elizabeth (elsewhere listed as “Mrs Burnham”), sister, Amelia, and brother, Thomas are all socialists. He says that he was married, but there is no further information about his wife that I can see.

He was a taxi driver and was a member of the Transport and General Workers’ Union (are cabbies still unionised?), a Workers’ Club, and the Labour Party.   He was a veteran of the First World War; having volunteered in 1914 he served for 5 years in France and in Belgium (as a Bombardier).

In answer to some of the many questions establishing his political credentials, he notes that he read The Daily Worker and Inprecor regularly, and that he had read The Communist Manifesto, Marx’s Capital, the correspondence of Marx and Engels, and something called the “Small Leninist Library” (something may be lost in translation there). And, in answer to the question, “which political questions have most caught your attention, which you would like to study in the future”, he answers, “economics”.

He went to Spain in September 1937 (so around the same time that Elizabeth), and it looks like he was sent home wounded in October 1938 having served at the front for eight months. As Elizabeth’s correspondent relates, he was wounded in the battle of Ebro, during an attack at Gandesa.

The answers to two questions in particular are especially interesting (even with the possiblity that I may have misread the handwriting):

Q: “What have you especially learnt in the political or military fields since you have been in Spain, and what can you take back to the antifascist organisations in your country?”
A: “That we have much to do both politically and militarily before we can defy fascism as workers. The need for a united front of the masses at once, and also the glorious example of the Spanish People.”

Q: “What do you think of the International Brigades, their political and military organisation, and the part they have played in Spain?”
A: “Politically weak. Militarily bourgeoisie. A wonderful force that has stopped Fascism.”

Daubenspeck notes that he had left Britain illegally to come to Spain, and that it was not widely known in Britain that he had done so (“Is it known in your country that you left as a volunteer for Spain?” “No”). This – combined with the lack of other information about him, and the fact that he doesn’t mention his wife by name – makes me think that, in the face of British xenophobia and anti-Semitism, he had changed his name to something more “English”, and came to Spain under his original name. I have found a reference to a “Gustav Daubenspeck” changing his name to “Richard Dudley” in the mid-1920s (when Gus would have been in his early 30s), and I wonder if this is him… If so, I wonder what happened to Richard Dudley, and if he remained openly proud of his time in Spain.





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