Stan Hilton, the last surviving Briton who fought in the legendary International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War, died today [Friday 21 October 2016] in Australia, aged 98.
Stan was a 19-year-old merchant seaman when he jumped ship in the port of Alicante in November 1937. ‘The Spanish people needed help,’ he later explained. ‘It was the right thing to do.’
He made his way to Albacete and enlisted with the British Battalion of the 15th International Brigade. He saw action that winter around Teruel. Then in the spring of 1938 the battalion was routed as General Franco’s forces, aided by troops sent by Mussolini and by Hitler’s Condor Legion, swept through Aragón and Catalonia.
‘It was every man for himself’, said Stan, who eventually reached Barcelona, where he caught a ship home.
Born in Newhaven, Sussex, on 31 December 1917, Stan Hilton went on to serve in the merchant navy throughout the Second World War. In 1956 he emigrated with his family to Australia, where he worked mostly as a tiler in the building trade. He died in a nursing home in Ocean Grove, near Melbourne.
Some 2,500 volunteers from the British Isles joined the International Brigades during the civil war of 1936-39, and 526 of them died in the bitter war that saw the elected government of the Spanish Republic toppled by a fascist-backed military rebellion.
Announcing the news, the London-based International Brigade Memorial Trust (IBMT) said the death of the last British International Brigade veteran marked the end of an era.
IBMT secretary Jim Jump said Stan Hilton had helped write a proud chapter in British 20th century history.
He added: ‘While their own government looked the other way and refused to go to the aid of a fellow democracy, the men and women from Britain who joined the International Brigades did something to salvage their country’s honour and reputation.
‘Stan and the other volunteers will go down in history as the first British soldiers to confront Hitler and Mussolini on the battlefield. In doing so they also set an unequalled example of international solidarity and anti-fascism.’
Posted on 21 October 2016.