About this Archive
Dunbar, [Ronald] Malcolm Loraine (1912-1963) journalist, photographer and Spanish Civil War veteran
Ronald Malcolm Lorraine Dunbar [Malcolm Dunbar] was born on 29 February 1912 at Belle Vue Lodge in Paignton, Devon; son of Lord Loraine Geddes Dunbar, a banker of independent means, and his wife Lady Liola Violet Dunbar.
Dunbar was educated at Repton School, Derbyshire, (1925-1930) and Trinity College Cambridge (1930-1933) graduating with BA hons. Whilst at Cambridge, Dunbar is reported to have been part of an elite set that included the infamous double agent Kim Philby.
Following his graduation, Dunbar worked as journalist and photographer. He was commissioned by some of the leading ballet companies of the day - positions often facilitated by his mother. It was whilst working with Ballet Rambert that he met and forged a life-long friendship with the famous ballerina Thérèse Langfield. During this time, Dunbar showed an interested in left wing political ideas and a dislike for Fascism, marching against Oswald Mosley’s British Fascists in east London, October 1936.
Following the outbreak of civil war in Spain in July 1936, Dunbar left London to join the anti-fascists on 5 January 1937. Historians have since suggested that Dunbar was an unusual recruit. Richard Baxell noted, ‘[as a] middle-class, Cambridge-educated, homosexual aesthete, he could hardly have been a less typical volunteer. Yet, like a number of other intellectuals, in Spain he discovered a hitherto undiscovered talent for military life.
His Cambridge friend, Kim Philby also travelled to Spain working as a freelance journalist behind the Fascist line. Philby later became an agent for both the Soviet and British Governments sending news from the front via France.
Once in Spain, Dunbar undertook two weeks training before being sent to the front line. He first saw action at the Battle of Jarama on 12 February 1937. As a new recruit, Dunbar had enlisted as a ‘soldado’ (private) but by 15 February he had been made group leader of the battalion. He continued in this role until his arm was injured in an attack against the Fascists in mid-January 1938.
Dunbar recuperated from his wound at Colmenar, Quintanar, Alcazar and Murcia before moving to Benicassim by 22 February. There, Dunbar was elected partially responsible for the English speaking front at the military hospital Villa Ralph Fox in Benicassim. He remained at the Villa until 10 March, when he returned to Albacete. Finding the 16th Battalion quartermaster unable to command his men, Dunbar took the opportunity to return to the Jarama Front. After the quartermaster returned, Dunbar was attached to the Battalion HQ in the capacity of interpreter. After another 3 weeks, he was sent back to Albacete and the officer school.
Dunbar continued to rise through the ranks. He became the most senior British ranking infantry officer in Spain when he served as the Chief of Staff for the entire 15th International Brigade at the Battle of the Ebro in July 1938.
Dunbar was demobilized in December 1938 having served 23 months.
Returning to London Dunbar resumed a quiet life taking a position at the Labour Research Department, and later British Equity the actors’ trade union. However he had returned from Spain a far more committed communist then he had been previously. Although sometimes at odds with the party line, he did join the British Communist Party and contributed articles to the Daily Worker.
During the Second World War Dunbar served in the British Army, but never rose above the rank of Sergeant fueling contemporary claims that veterans of the Spanish Civil War faced discrimination from their seniors.
Back in London, Dunbar renewed his friendship with Thérèse Langfield. Throughout the 1950s the two would regularly work on her garden at 3 St James’ Street, London together. It was in Langfield that Dunbar confided when he began meeting up with his old Cambridge friend, Kim Philby. Since his return from Spain, Philby had risen in the ranks of the British secret service to head of MI5, whilst also working as a Soviet Agent. For Langfield, Dunbar’s confession marked a change in his behaviour. She reportedly told her husband, CJ Pearsall-Horner, that Dunbar had become increasingly withdrawn and depressed.
In July 1963, aged 51, Dunbar walked into the sea at Milford-on-Sea, near Bournemouth. His body washed up on the Welsh coast some days later. All labels are identifiable marks had been removed from his clothes leaving the police unable to identify the body. It was Langfield who was able to identify Dunbar after reading a tabloid newspaper report then mentioned an embroidered handkerchief on his person. Although widely reported to be a suicide, the coroner declared an open verdict at the inquest. Dunbar’s funeral was held on 30 July 1963.
[Note: Philby defected to USSR on 23 January 1963, where he lived until his death in 1988. Langfield cleared Dunbar’s flat on 4 August 1963, discovering the Spanish Civil War documents which were later transferred to Bishopsgate Institute. According to her husband Langfield found nothing else of value, instead finding Dunbar in debt despite his affluent background.]
Scope and content
Papers of Malcolm Dunbar, (1912-2013), including: Spanish Civil War documents, including papers regarding his service in the 15th International Brigade,1937-1939; photographs, 1937-1939; papers and correspondence, 1936-1983; membership cards and certificates (UK), including membership of the Communist Party of Great Britain, 1912-1949; and biographical papers, 1937-2013.