SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: ‘Defence of Madrid’ by Geoffrey Cox


Goodies and baddies take some sorting out in this tale of the siege of Madrid by Franco’s right-wing forces supported by the Nazis and the fascist regime of Mussolini (the ‘rebels’), against the civilian population and its government representatives, just elected, who happened to be left-wing. Once sorted, Cox’s account of the city under attack, in one of the twentieth century’s first urban wars, has all too many echoes today. This new edition, with an introduction and selection of historical photographs, as well as samples of Cox’s journalism from the front, will confirm its position as one of the classics of twentieth-century reportage. Foreword  by Paul Preston, introduction by Michael O’Shaugnessy.

Cover and blurb for 70th anniversary edition from Amazon


Geoffrey Cox’s Defence of Madrid (1937, republished in 2006) is the New Zealander’s eyewitness account of his time in Madrid from October to December 1936, during the siege of the city. In this brief six-week stint, Cox managed to see the fighting in Casa del Campo, the battles at the university and the bombing of everyday civilians.

Born in New Zealand’s South Island in 1910, Cox moved to study at Oxford in 1932 after a tour through Europe. With Europe under dramatic change in this time, he studied the political state of the continent, including spending time in a Nazi youth camp. Soon, journalism took over his desire for an academic life. In 1936, the News Chronicle had their Madrid-based correspondent taken hostage by Franco’s rebels, and a replacement was needed – Geoffrey Cox had the opportunity no one else wanted.

Defence of Madrid is a stark and honest account of Madrid during those early months of the war as Franco’s forces marched unabated through Spain. Cox landed in Madrid prepared for the rebel’s onslaught, only to land in a city in wait, a city far more complex than imagined, given the social and political state. Cox started writing down his account as soon as he arrived, every sight and sound recorded. Almost immediately, his account was being broadcast, as one of just two British correspondents holed up in the city. Cox soon became immersed in the air of Madrid and was the first writer of explain to the world what it felt like to be part of the war, and what everyday people were feeling and experiencing. The combination of the turmoil and collective desires to defend Madrid were published by Cox, who quickly became recognised as a good judge of character. While in Spain for just six weeks, Cox managed to cover major events before any other – covering the assault on the university and Casa del Campo as the Republicans fought back Franco’s army, honest accounts of the aerial bombings and covered the arrival of foreign volunteers in Spain to help the cause.

Defence of Madrid is the first in a long line of books by Cox, who went on to cover World War II and much more. The book is written with total honesty, a lack of bias, seen through eyes destined to tell the truth. Any author would be proud to be able to produce such work. New Zealanders participated in all aspects of the Spanish Civil War, most totally unrecognised. Geoffrey Cox should not ever be one of these.

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