George Nathan

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Emblem of the International Brigades.svg
For articles about the American drama critic, see: George Jean Nathan

George Montague Nathan (1895-1937) was a British volunteer in the International Brigades in Spain. He initially commanded the British Company of the otherwise French Marseillaise Battalion [1] but was appointed battalion commander in early 1937 following the execution of his predecessor (Major Gaston Delasalle) for espionage.[2]

He later became Chief of Staff of the XV International Brigade and was killed on 16 July 1937[3] at the Battle of Brunete. Even though he had been turned down for Communist Party membership — either because of his "sexual orientation"[4] or because of his unwillingness to "pretend great political enthusiasm"[5] - Comintern observers admired him for his "cool arrogance under fire".[4]

During the First World War, he fought in the British Army on the Western Front.[6] He rose from private to company sergeant major and "after three years and 334 days in the service, he was commissioned in the field on 9 April 1917"[7] to become "the only Jewish officer in the Brigade of Guards".[8] This is what he claimed but Nathan was, as his medal index card shows, commissioned into the Warwickshire Regiment and was never a CSM. Little is known about his activities between 1918 and 1936, (he rejoined the army twice and was discharged the second time with ignomony) though there have been suggestions[9] that he was responsible for killing the Sinn Féin Lord Mayors Callaghan and Clancy while working undercover for British intelligence with the Black and Tans in Limerick.[10] He is said to have discussed this with Irish Connolly Column volunteers in Spain in February 1937, saying "We have all grown up politically. We are Socialists together now". Apparently, "the meeting responded to the spirit of his speech and clapped him".[7]

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... efficient, capable, with loads of courage; above all, a typical British officer ... who when giving orders left those receiving them under no illusions as to what was required ... At first I thought him a snob, yet I shall never forget on the third day of Jarama, among the chaos and the slaughter, he stood out as the most capable officer.[11]

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In Spain, where he invariably appeared immaculately dressed, his boots being polished to the point of dazzlement by one or other of his invariably good-looking batmen, he genuinely found himself a mercenary leader — resourceful, brave and respected by all. The very sight of Nathan, with his gold-tipped swagger stick, was an encouragement to his men.[12]

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At the end of the battle, the gallant English major ... was killed.... In his last moments, he ordered those around to sing him out of life. At nightfall he was buried in a rough coffin beneath the olive trees near the River Guadarrama ... "Gal" and Jock Cunningham, two tough men who had been jealous of Nathan, stood listening [to the funeral oration] with tears running down their cheeks.[13]



  1. Thomas (2003), p 475
  2. Thomas (2003), p 477
  3. Beevor (2006), p 280
  4. 4.0 4.1 Eby (2007), p 202
  5. Gurney (1974), p 132
  6. Gurney (1974), pp 93–95
  7. 7.0 7.1 Monks (1985)
  8. Thomas (1961), p 347
  9. Bennett (1961), pp 471-472
  10. Thomas (2003), p 476
  11. Copeman (1948), p 82
  12. Thomas (1961), p 348
  13. Thomas (1961), p 463