Book Review: Ivor Hickman, the last to fall

March 9, 2012
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The Last to Fall, The Life and Letters of Ivor Hickman – an International Brigadier in Spain, by John L. Wainwright’s. Hatchet Green Publishing, 2012.

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, 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 was accepted to Christ’s College, Cambridge University, graduating in 1936.  While at University, he developed liberal political leanings and joined the Cambridge Communist Party.  While still a student himself, Hickman met his future wife, Juliet MacArthur, a student at Newnham College, Cambridge University.

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.

Chris Brooks maintains ALBA’s biographical dictionary of the U.S. volunteers in the Spanish Civil War.

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4 Responses to “ Book Review: Ivor Hickman, the last to fall ”

  1. Ollie-Leonel on March 10, 2012 at 6:46 am

    This looks interesting. I’m interested in PTSD that is mentioned in your review, and wonder how much attention is given to this side of the family story. If it is a faithful account of their personal history as your review implies, it would be valuable, as accounts like that are rare. I notice that you say it can likely be concluded that this young man’s father suffered PTSD in the European theater of war 1914-1918, and that the letters are quite detailed. Is that letters from father to son also? If it is PTSD, diagnostically that would mean there would need to be a number of contributing factors in the family (childhood trauma on the part of the father would need to be present too or it’s not PTSD but another disorder. Combat experience is not enough to make that deduction, but if it is PTSD it would have implications for the man in the picture for sure). Slightly confused as you only really write of the letters to the son but diagnose the father.

    I have a lot of questions really, as the price for this book is kind of crazy. I tried to get hold of it but Amazon and the publishing house both say it is out of print. Barnes & Noble don’t even list it. Same with Abebooks. When I tried to buy thru the only outlet here in the south, the price is $130!!! (and then I have to pay the shipping from the European Amazon for some reason, though the seller is listed as FL!!!). Disappointing as from the review (and what’s gotten from the other reviews) I’d like to read this book, but $130 is beyond my budget. My wife would surely have something to say about that! Sorry for the questions but I get the impression that there is a more accurate story told of the family life and, as an MD as well as a local history mentor I am interested in that. Before I consider paying the extra bucks though, I’d need to know how much detail there is about the family history and what might have led to the suicide of the father? Do you know where I can get a copy at a reasonable price?

  2. Alan Lloyd on March 12, 2012 at 6:39 am

    The second edition is being published at the end of the month, so wait till then and get it at the normal price.

  3. Ollie-Leonel on March 13, 2012 at 8:56 am

    Hello Sirs, Just gotten a copy yesterday on eBay for a reasonable price!!! The publishing house website has the 2nd issue missing 100 pages but costing over three bucks more so I decided to pay more while the original issue is still available. Thank you for your help Mr. Lloyd and thank you for your letter Mr Brooks. Hoping it will arrive soon.

  4. Barbara Foucek on October 10, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    He was a good friend of my uncles, I learned that from the book-my dad and my uncle were both over there-my father came home, my uncle didn’t…but I learned things about my uncle Albert I never knew.

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