Review – Mine Were of Trouble, by Peter Kemp

Mine Were of Trouble: A Nationalist Account of the Spanish Civil War by [Peter Kemp  Kemp]

Peter Kemp was born in Bombay, India. His father was a judge and Kemp was educated to become a lawyer in the United Kingdom. Luckily, he was spared that fate, instead opting to fight in the Spanish Civil War. Mine Were of Trouble is a chronicle of his time serving with the Nationalist side during the war. Kemp saw the rise of communism in Spain, and being a conservative monarchist, thought he should join Franco’s side against the Republicans.

The Spanish Civil war is one of those long events that is known mostly by name, but little of the details is generally understood. This is likely because the war involved many different conflicts, not just political, but ethnic, ideological, and religious. In the Spanish Republic, around 1935-1936, it was becoming obvious that a communist government was going to take power through democratic elections. Several high level officers in the Spanish Republic’s armed forces started plans to stage a coup. Counter measures were taken by the regime and its allies, this escalated into jail time, expatriations, and finally outright violence.

The coup was formally launched in July 1936, which resulted in a civil war lasting almost three years. Spain’s conservative elements largely lined up with General Franco representing the fascist side, with the rest coming under the communist Republicans. You’ll never guess who Germany supported, and who the USSR did. In fact, it appears that both those nations used the war as a testing ground for new weapons, and for training their own soldiers (to a limited extent).

Kemp’s writing is reminiscent of another very popular mercenary, Mike Hoare (the author of fine works like Congo Mercenary, and Congo Warriors). There is some discussion of the politics and the overarching conflict, but Kemp is mostly telling his direct experiences in the war. The Spanish Civil War was not some guerrilla action, but rather a full on war between two well disciplined, trained and supplied armies. (I think I was misled by Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls in this respect.)

Tapestry replica of Picasso's anti-war masterpiece Guernica removed from  United Nations headquarters after 35 years
Picasso’s Guernica, inspired by the bombing of that city during the war.

Kemp has some trouble getting from England to Spain, but manages to enter the country as a reporter, a facade he disposes of shortly after his arrival. He speaks no Spanish, and has no war experience, but manages to pick both of these things up as he goes along. He first enlists with a militia branch called the Requetés, and later with the Spanish Legion (Spain’s Foreign Legion) as an officer. He is involved in several skirmishes and battles. During his service, Kemp leaves Spain a few times to return to England to deal with personal matters. His service substantially ends in 1938 when a mortar round severely damages his hands and face.

What makes this a valuable read was his attitude. He does not struggle once he has made up his mind. He is fully committed, and seems mostly to take things as they come. There is no problem he encounters, including climbing solo over a guarded mountain pass in the Pyrenees from France into Spain, that cannot be surmounted. In our times where victimhood is prized, an “I’m gonna get it done, in time for tea” attitude feels rare.

Another interesting surprise is just how long it took for Kemp to see action. He spends weeks in transit and training before seeing action. There are long intervals and rests in between sorties as well. The amount of time he is not in combat was surprising. And while he provides great detail about his combat experiences, he also details his idle time very well.

This is perhaps the primary strength of the book, in that you get a very good sense of the pace of service and action in a war run by armies. You also get a good idea about the dangers of wars, from traps to bullets to friendly fire, and of the importance of keeping your head and doing your duty, no matter what. To reuse some old humour, in war, preparation is 90% of the work, with the other 90% being combat.

All told, Kemp recounts what is likely a very accurate description of early 20th Century war time experience. To boot, it was a very enjoyable read, and I recommend it.

The version I read is the Mystery Grove Publishing Co. collection, Ten Years at War: The Peter Kemp Trilogy, released last year. It contains all three of Kemp’s war works, with Trouble, as well as No Colours or Crest, and Alms for Oblivion. Mystery Grove is publishing works that are not acceptable in our current times. They have also published Ernst Jünger’s Storm of Steel (an excellent and striking memoir of service for Germany in WWI), and Pyotr Wrangel’s Always With Honour (a White Russian general with WWI experience who fought against the Communists until 1920).

3 thoughts on “Review – Mine Were of Trouble, by Peter Kemp”

  1. Kemps books were great. I read all three. Gave me valuable insights into the nature of the conflicts in which Kemp participated, and the history and politics that continue to influence current affairs in eastern Europe.

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  2. The Condor Legion of the German Luftwaffe trained there and they had an X in a circle instead of the Hakenkreuz or Swastika for airplane markings.
    Spain would allow U-Boats safe passages and stops in ports for refuel and resupply during WWII.
    The commies have been Long Marching for well over 100 years.

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