The International Brigades mail
PRECURSORS OF THE INTERNATIONAL BRIGADES
On the first monthes of the war, many foreigners enroled the first militia columns dispatched to the fronts to stop the rebels' advance. Most of them went to Spain for the People's Olympics, scheduled for late July 1936 and set up in opposition to the Olympics being held in Nazi Germany. They were surprised in Spain by the July 18th coup. Unless you are careful you can see International Brigade connotations on every cover addressed to a foreign country from the Republican Spain. For this reason, only pieces with an undoubtable origin can be identified as belonging to foreigners fighing in militia columns.
1937 COVERS AND POST CARDS
Only Registered or Air Mail letters had to be franked with stamps to cover the extra rates of these services, but regular mail from brigadists was free of charge for them. The mail was dispatched to Albacete, where it was censored, and from there it was sent to Valencia, where the regular mail that did not require extra franking was stamped with a meter with the rate corresponding to the country where it was addressed to. The exception was the mail addressed to Great Britain, Canada, USA, Holland, Austria, Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries from April 1937.
1938 COVERS AND POST CARDS
The rules for the International Brigades mail remained the same as in 1937, but the course of the war forced some changes. In 1938, before the break through the front in April 1938, when the rebels reached the Mediterranian sea in Vinaròs, the International Brigades postal services moved to Barcelona. All the correspondence sent by regular mail has a Barcelona meter instead of Valencia's from February 1938, and after the dissolution of the International Brigades and the return home of most of the volunteers, still some covers can be found with this meter dated on mid January 1939, just a few days before the fall of Barcelona. The Paris Courier Service was disrupted in mid 1938.
PARIS COURRIER SERVICE
From April 1937 to June 1938 a courrier service was used to send the correspondence from the brigadists to Great Britain, Canada, USA, Holland, Austria, Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries. The covers were collected in the front, with no marks nor franking, and sent to an office in Paris, where the correspondence was sorted, franked with French stamps and brought to the post office number 83, in 14 Rue Bleue, where it was dispatched. From october 1937 no more stamps were used to pay for the postage but a meter of the same Rue Bleue office instead, marked "Paris - 83". This service lasted until late June 1938, when the last meters known are dated.
It is extremely difficult to identify these covers as belonging to international brigadists, as both the postmarks and meter from the Rue Bleue office were used for any kind of correspondence dispatched from that post office. The only ways to identify them are through catalogues including figures of the known examples, or matching covers sent by the same brigadist through the regular International Brigades Spanish postal system first, and through the Paris courrier later.
INTERNATIONAL BRIGADES CENSOR MARKS USED BY THE REPUBLICAN POPULAR ARMY
In late December 1938, when the International Brigades were dissolved and most of their members went back home, except for a bunch of braves who decided to remain in Spain aiding the Republican Army, the Brigades censor marks were used by regular Republican Popular Army units in the Catalan front, during the withdrawal to the French border, between late December 1938 and early January 1939.
COVERS RECEIVED BY BRIGADISTS IN SPAIN
The German collector and erudite Ernst L. Heller, who is the second person after Ronald G. Shelley who has more widely studied and collected the postal history of the International Brigades, states in his work "La historia postal de las Brigadas Internacionales" that an estimation of between 700,000 and 800,000 letters and post cards were sent home by the volunteers while in Spain. From these figures, he believes that less than 1% have survived. He also says that "much more scarce, being practically rarities, are the letters sent to Spain by relatives of the volunteers. From my personal estimation, the existence of these pieces are between 500 to 700 examples" (page 12).
The conditions of the life in the trenches first, and the difficulty of the journeys back home later, made very difficult the conservation of the incoming mail of the brigadists. A code was stablished for the incoming mail, being a fictious address first in Albacete and later in Barcelona. A usual address was SRI (Socorro Rojo Internacional) and a number which was the code of the unit, and "Plaza Altozano".
COVERS SENT OR RECEIVED BY BRIGADISTS IN FRENCH REFUGEES CAMPS
Covers sent from the French refugees camps by brigadists who did not return home and stood there have the same identification problem as those circulated through the Paris Courrier Service. This circumstance was common among Germans and Italians, whose countries were ruled by the fascism they fought in Spain and obvoulsy could not return home without facing consequences. The only way to identify such covers is matching those sent from Spain with those sent from the French camps by the same brigadist, and these kind of pairs are extremely rare.