My review of Last to Fall was published in the latest issue of the The Volunteer on line.
A Review of John L. Wainwright’s The Last to Fall, The Life and Letters of Ivor Hickman – an International Brigadier in Spain, Hatchet Green Publishing, 2012. (ISBN 978-0-9568372-1-9)
From the cover photograph, of the International Brigade volunteer’s weather-beaten face to the closing lines of The Last to Fall, The Life and Letters of Ivor Hickman – an International Brigadier in Spain, John L. Wainwright beautifully intertwines the personal correspondence of Hickman into the broader context of the British Battalion. The photograph which was taken during the height of the Ebro Campaign shows a soldier who appears to be in his thirties, with worry lines etched into his forehead and a tired squint. The image belies Ivor Hickman’s youth. Hickman, the Chief of Observers for the English Battalion was only in his early twenties when the photograph was taken.
Wainwright’s work takes the reader through the brief life of this almost forgotten Spanish Civil War volunteer. The letters Hickman wrote to his wife both during their courtship and his time in Spain are the focal point of this work. Hickman was a young man with a great deal to live for. He was only 23-years-old and married less than a year when he died in Spain. As his letters convey, he was committed to surviving the war, exercising every opportunity to obtain training aimed at increasing his chance of survival. Despite his training and optimism, Hickman understood the dangers of war and that one cannot ensure his own safety on the battlefield.
Hickman had an impressive education. He attended Peter Symond’s preparatory academy on scholarship after his father, an officer in the Great War, committed suicide. In light of contemporary psychology and the study of combat’s aftermath, it can likely be concluded that the elder Hickman suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). An outstanding student at Symond’s, Hickman earned a Bachelor of Arts from Christ’s College, Cambridge in 1936. While at university, he developed liberal political leanings and joined the Cambridge Communist Party. While at Oxford, Hickman also met his future wife, Juliet MacArthur a student at Newnham College.
Hickman’s letters are introspective and contain less of the propaganda element many other volunteers interjected into their memoires and correspondence. Despite self-censorship, and strike-outs by the censors, Hickman provides a very human portrait of his service in Spain. Wainwright provides context, adding short biographical sketches, either in the text or in footnotes, of volunteers Hickman mentions in his letters. This element is strengthened by Wainwright’s inclusion of photographs of the volunteers when available. Additionally he includes relevant primary sources and provides transcription. Wainwright’s extensive research is evident and his narrative is engaging. This book is a must read and is a worthy addition to Spanish Civil War libraries.