A stoker goes ashore

… and that was what Danish volunteer in the Spanish Civil War, Marius Christiansen, did. On 7. January 1937, he arrived in Spain and was enrolled in the XV International Brigade in the Abraham Lincoln Battalion as an ambulance driver and a motor cycle ordonnance

Driving an ambulance during the Spanish Civil War was a demanding and extremely dangerous job. The ambulances, identified by the red cross, were a favourite target for the fascist pilots. From 7 January 1937 to 20 January 1938, Marius drove several ambulances, all of which were destroyed by by grenades and machine guns.

Marius recounts his experiences driving ambulance no. 7:

Marius Christiansen – a Stoker Goes Ashore: Marius Christiansen in ambulance no. 7.

Marius Christiansen in ambulance no. 7.

Transporting dead and wounded, ambulance no. 7 was particularly targeted during the Brunette Offensive driving a long stretch in a dry riverbed, ie. along the front lines. The ambulance got a lot of bulled holes on the side, and believe it or not, a grenade went through the roof and out the back doors leaving the ambulance a little wind-swept. Because of the hot weather, we didn’t mind too much. The engine ran well, that was the main thing. It was a hard job driving night and day.

One late evening, I was allowed to take a nap while they carried the sick and wounded into the ambulance – it could accommodate four persons lying on stretches, 12 seated on two transverse benches and two next to the driver. At the sanitary station there were two tents, one for medical treatment, and one for storage of our stuff. Between the tents was a ditch alongside which there was a stretcher. I lay on the stretcher and fell asleep.

I was awakened by the sound of a scouting plane. Suddenly it was right above me. I immediately rolled down into the ditch. Then, first a flash followed by a bang, earth, limbs and what have you scattered around. Then silence, the bomber’s engine in the darkness of the night being the only noticeable sound.

I came out of the perforated tent and looked for the damn fascist airplane; suddenly I see track bullets from another airplane, [1] then the bomber in fire crashing with a bang nearby. Unfortunately, I did not have time to investigate it further. The medical tent was gone. It was a direct hit. The doctor, the medics and a number of others were gone. I carried the ones I was able to into the ambulance and managed to get it up on the road. The engine made a strange noise and when I examined it, it turned out that half the engine was gone, oil pan and all, you could see the pistons work.

A little further away, lay another sanitary station. I let the wagon roll and reached the post. However, because of the bombing, they tried to chase me away. I had to tell them that my sanitary station had suffered a direct hit, the fascist had been shot down and the ambulance was full of wounded comrades. Now they got busy and I promised to move the ambulance. So I did. It rolled a little, came over a hill. The metal in the bearings was gone. What a terrible racket the little engine made.

Marius Christiansen – a Stoker Goes Ashore: Marius Christiansen (with rifle) in conversation with some comrades

Marius Christiansen (with rifle) in conversation with some comrades

This was the end of my time as an ambulance driver in the 15. brigade’s sanitary service. I handed over the key to the worn-out ambulance to my superior. This being my seventh ambulance, I was now convinced the fascists deliberately targeted ambulances, and I wanted to strike back. I was granted permission and became a motorcycle ordonnance jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.”


[1] 49 years later, Marius meets Russian Michail Jakusjin, the pilot who gained a place in world history by being the first pilot to shot down a fascist aircraft in nighttime air combat. The event raised a lot of attention worldwide. Michail Jakusjin was honoured for his deed by Spanish President Negrin.

In the article Michail Jakusjin and Marius Christiansen — Bound together by History, you can read about the meeting between Marius Christiansen and Michail Jakusjin .

Michail Jakusjin (Mijail Yakushin) with his Polikarpov

Michail Jakusjin (Mijail Yakushin) with his Polikarpov