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Two doctors and one cause: Len Crome and Reginald Saxton in the International Brigades

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One of the most impressive, lasting and least known features of the International Brigades was the contribution of their medical services. Impressive, because not all health professionals take their Hippocratic oath seriously, and the doctors and nurses of the International Brigades not only made the same gestures of courage and solidarity as the other volunteers but also left behind them professional careers that were unforgiving of long absences. Lasting, because the contributions of the various Spanish and foreign doctors, from the Catalans Josep Trueta and Moiss Broggi, the famous Canadian Norman Bethune, the New Zealander Douglas Jolly and the Englishmen Len Crome and Reggie Saxton, were of a colossal importance in the later development of traumatalogical medicine in both war and peacetime. Unknown, for the obvious reason that the tireless abnegation, behind the lines, of ambulance drivers, nurses and doctors have attracted far less attention from journalists, writers and historians than the struggle of front-line combatants. In recent times, there has been a growth of interest in this aspect of the history of the International Brigades, and what follows a study of two doctors whose work in Spain had a later impact during the Second World War aims to make a small contribution to that history. Although of widely differing origins, Crome from Russia, Saxton from imperial Britain, they were both typical of volunteers within the Brigades medical services. Their similarities were even more typical their selfless dedication to the struggle against fascism and their later service in the Second World War. Like other doctors in the Spanish Civil War, Broggi, Trueta, Bethune, Jolly, both made medical advances that would be of considerable use thereafter. This could have been the story of other doctors who were equally courageous, idealistic and professional in their service with the International Brigades. Nonetheless, these two men were both exemplary and representative of so many others. Their stories go some way to giving some notion of the dedication and sacrifice that characterized the men and women of the International Brigades medical services.
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Keywords: Crome; International Brigades; Medical Services; Saxton; Spanish Civil War

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: London School of Economics.

Publication date: 2006-08-01

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  • The International Journal of Iberian Studies (IJIS) is the academic journal for scholars from around the world whose research focuses on contemporary Spain and Portugal from a range of disciplinary perspectives. IJIS is interested in history (20th century onwards), government and politics; foreign policy and international relations.
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