Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Hugh Thomas (21st October 1931 – 6th May 2017)

Hugh Swynnerton Thomas, Baron Thomas of Swynnerton, died a few days ago. He was a leading British historian of the history of Cuba and the empire of Charles V, and the writer of what to me (and many others) was the best history of the Spanish Civil War.

His book – THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR – was first published in 1961, and soon became accepted as the English language history of the war.


I read it when I first went to Spain in 1966 ... not knowing at the time that I risked imprisonment by taking it into Spain, where Franco had banned it because it was 'illegal propaganda' that helped in 'spreading communism'. (These were the charges faced by one Octavio Jordá, who was found with a suitcase full of Spanish language editions of the book when he was crossing the border between France and Spain.)

I subsequently read each of the new editions when they were published, and it was his books that first inspired me to do my own researches into the causes and course of the war. The end result was LA ULTIMA CRUZADA: A WARGAMERS GUIDE TO THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR, which was first published in the 1980s and republished in a heavily revised version in 1993.


I was interested to discover recently that at the time the Hugh Thomas wrote his book, he spoke and read no Spanish, and had translated sources for himself using a dictionary ... just as I had done when I began work on my book.

10 comments:

  1. When I began wargaming the SCW in 1997 there were three works that were head and shoulders above anything else available then.
    Jose Beuno on the uniforms,Hugh Thomas for understanding the war and learning the people involved and your own book of lists for everything else. Your book was probably the least politically biased but it was Hugh Thomas that changed the raising of a quaint wargames army into a deep and life long interest for the period.

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    1. Johnpreece,

      I am humbled by your inclusion of my book in your list of three that helped you become interested in the Spanish Civil War. I really must produce a revised edition one day.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  2. Bob,

    I've got a well thumbed Penguin paperback of the 1965 revised edition bought for 15 shillings nearly 50 years ago. Amazon indicates that there is a 4th edition (3rd revision?) published in 2013. Do you think that the revisions justify my getting the latest version? My suspicion is that a lot of new information has become available since 1965 - particularly since the restoration of democracy in Spain.

    Of course, the prices are now a bit higher than the £0.75 I originally paid (and I'm not willing to buy used for fear that I'll receive an earlier edition). However, the Kindle version is not expensive for a history book from a big 5 publisher.

    I hadn't realised that it had been banned in Franco's Spain. It seemed to me that though the Nationalists would have disliked a lot of what was said about them Thomas was equally hard on the crimes committed in the name of the republic,

    Mike

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    1. Mike Hall (Mike),

      To be honest, I didn't realise that a 4th edition had been published in 2013 until I wrote this blog entry. Needless to say, I now have it on order!

      Franco was afraid of even the slightest criticism, and seemed to treat it as an affront to his concept of a traditional Catholic hierarchical Spain.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  3. Research in a foreign language just using a dictionary?! That is immensely laborious. I speak and read Spanish (fairly badly) and it taxes my stamina cross referencing sources.

    Spain in 66 must have been interesting. Any insights on life under Franco? I think you're safe to comment - I presume the statute of limitations has run out on your criminal activity there!

    Cheers

    Andrew

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    1. Rumblestrip (Andrew),

      I assume that Hugh Thomas learned Latin at school before going to university, and that should have helped. (I did Latin for four years, and it certainly helped me!)

      1966 was a long time ago, but the things that stick in my mind were the nightly army patrols along the beach (we were in Catalonia, and the patrols were there to stop smuggling) and the TV programmes. Other than what seemed like nightly traditional folk dance and music shows and a news programme entitled 'Esta Notce', everything else was badly dubbed American shows. I watched 'El Ponderosa' and 'El Fugitivo' (in other words, 'Bonanza' and 'The Fugitive'), and found it difficult not to laugh every time Dan Blocker appeared onscreen as they had dubbed him with a high squeaky voice!

      All the best,

      Bob

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  4. Hugh, after the establishment of democracy, has been recognized in Spain as the definitive Hispanist in his vision of civil war.
    Loved by us and honored by his love for Spain. He share in the heart of the "free spanish" the same place as Brenan, Kamen, Gibson and many others... RIP

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    1. Eladiator,

      He deserved the accolades he received in Spain once democracy had been restored, and his work remains an inspiration to anyone who studies the history of Spain.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  5. Thanks for the SCW reference
    A period I have yet visited

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    1. Geordie an Exiled FoG,

      It has much to commend it as it has elements of both World Wars in the tactics and weaponry both sides used, combined with a ferocity that is almost medieval. The uniforms can be quite colourful - especially at the beginning of the war - and the actions tend to be relatively small. All of these factors mean that it can be a very attractive period for a wargamer to indulge in.

      All the best,

      Bob

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