George Orwell’s Commander in Spain: The enigma of Georges Kopp by Marc Wildemeersch, Thames River Press, 2013 £10.99
Anyone who has read ‘Homage to Catalonia’ or any major biography on Orwell will have come across several mentions of Georges Kopp. Unpicking the many facets of this intriguing man has involved the author in several years of investigation including research both in British and European archives and interviews with members of the Kopp family. Portrayed in this book we have an individual who served in the Spanish Civil War in the POUM militia, was imprisoned in Spain, served in World War II both in the Regular French Army where he was wounded four times and in the Resistance before finally moving to Britain where he married into Orwell’s wider family. If this was not enough we have a man who was a womaniser, spy, fraud, regularly in financial trouble, an inventor and possibly he was also the inspiration for a major character in Orwell’s famous book 1984.
Georges Kopp is a complex figure and often lied and exaggerated about his life and career . For example in Spain he claimed he had previous military experience and even Orwell believed this to be the case because of his bearing and natural authority. But the author proves that in fact he had no previous military experience and this was never discovered, maybe because of the inactivity on the Aragon front this was never seriously put to the test! The author also looks at other questions like was he a Communist spy, his links with MI5 and whether he had an affair with Orwell’s wife Eileen Blair. His experiences in jail in Spain and his wounds in the Second World War cut short his life and he died from a blood clot aged fifty.
This is a fascinating well researched book and as the author admits could well have made a good novel. Marc Wildemeersch although sympathetic to the subject matter gives a warts and all coverage of the life of Georges Kopp and covers the more unsavoury aspects of Kopp’s personality as well as his undoubted bravery and anti-Fascism. Mr Wildemeersch has written a fascinating account about one of the most mysterious figures in the Spanish Civil War. I strongly recommend this book which is the first proper in-depth biography of Orwell’s comrade in arms.
Christopher Hall 04.11.2013
The enigma of Georges Kopp is available to buy here.