Biographies/John Hagilaou

Tags: Immigrant Battle of Jarama River Ex-Servicemen's League Greek Worker’s Education Club Sanidad Greek Medic Lincoln Battalion Communist Party Ile de France Estado Mayor Marine Corps Spartacus Club Mess Sergeant Battle of Brunete Washington Battalion Carpenter Printer Painter British Battilion Work Progress Administration

Researcher: Yile Tong, Stuyvesant '24

John Hagilaous (also known as Hatzilaou, Hadjigeorgiou, Hageleou, or Hadjilahus) was born on August 4, 1902, on the tiny Greek island of Kalymnos. His mother, Katrina Hagilaou, and his father, James Hagilaou lived a relatively simple life of agriculture in their village. Because of Kalymnos’ rural nature, education was limited on the island, with many children not able to attend school. Even so, many families made significant sacrifices to send their kids to school because they valued education. John was fortunate enough to attend elementary school. Eventually though, he ended up deciding to emigrate to the United States to seek out better opportunities and a chance to explore the world.

Arriving in the United States, he joined the Marine Corps. John underwent arduous training regimens throughout the course of those five years, becoming more resilient physically as well as mentally. In time, he attained the rank of Corporal. His role required leadership, dependability, and communication to effectively mentor and guide the junior Marines. During his stay in the US, John worked for The Works Progress Administration (WPA) which employed him to carry out public work projects. Living in the busy streets of Manhattan on 7th avenue, it was easy to take on various jobs such as printing, painting, and carpentry to earn money.

John also affiliated himself with the Communist Party, and joined several organizations that supported the left’s cause. For instance, the Spartacus Club helped organize the working class people so that they could promote the cause of socialism. They supported labor rights, civil rights, and anti-facism. He also joined the Ex-Servicemen's League that provided a voice for the American veterans. John also sought to be educated and hear the voices of other Greek immigrants, therefore he joined the Greek Worker’s Education Club and indulged in community classes on language, civics, and labor rights. It was there when he learned of the Spanish Civil War. Deeply moved by the cause, John volunteered to fight for the International Brigades.

On December 26, 1936, he sailed aboard the Ile de France. On January 3rd, 1937 he arrived in Spain. Three days later, he enrolled for the Brigades. By this time, he was 37 years old. Although he didn’t fight in a physical sense, John still played an important role as a medic and mess sergeant for the army. During the Lincoln Battalion (17th battalion of the XV Brigade), he served in Co.2, Section 2, Group 3, as a Sanidad (which in Spanish translates to “medical”) that provides health support and combat casualty care to the wounded. Later, he would take on the role of the Mess Sergeant which was responsible for the food supply.

Eventually, John would also serve in a unit for the Washington Battalion, as both the Lincons and the Washington Battalions suffered heavy losses of men. This time putting his training from the Marines to use, he became a military staff, or in Spanish you would call it “Estado Mayor.”

In February 1937, John fought in the battle of Jarama River. Because Franco’s troops were struggling to break through Madrid’s western troops under the slogan “No Pasaran,” his soldiers equipped with the latest weaponry aided by Hitler and Mousolini launched an attack to the south east of the city. Franco’s goal was to cut off the main road between Madrid and Valencia, which was a highway that provided the necessary food and fuel to the city from the Metterarian port. Despite the International Brigades and British Battilion’s lack of training and equipment, they fought bravely but suffered heavy casualties. John was busily aiding soldiers as a medic during this time, healing the countless wounded fighters. Eventually they were forced to retreat into headquarters, but still continued to resist Franco’s troops with machine guns. On the second day, some volunteers. And on the third day, the battalion’s defense broke from the constant bombardment of artillery and tank attacks. At the end, the remaining 140 exhausted volunteers regrouped and successfully recaptured their positions. Because of the time the soldiers bought, the line was reinforced and drew out a stalemate that lasted for the rest of the war.

Later in July of that year, John fought in the Battle of Brunete led by Fred Copeman on the offensive to capture the heavily defended village of Villanueva de la Canada. The idea was to break through the Nationalist’s forces at their weakest point. Though they succeeded in capturing Brunete and a few other villages, they were fatigued with thirst by the scorching temperature of upward of a hundred degrees fahrenheit and the relentless airstrikes. Ultimately, they were unable to progress so they eventually retreated.

However, despite his heroic leadership and bravery, around January 22, 1938, Hagilaou was placed under arrest and imprisoned, likely by his fellow volunteers, who reported his comments to the Brigade. He criticized the Communist Party for allegedly utilizing money raised in America to pay for luxurious party members' purchases instead of aiding the war effort. “All the money, which the Communist Party collects in the United States in order to buy cigarettes and other presents for the comrades in Spain is being spent by the members of the Party in eating steaks in the Fifth Avenue. If you return to the United States, go also to the 32nd Street and to the 13th Street and tell them ...” and “You will be dishonourable persons if you will not tell them this, which I have said.”Hagilaou urged other volunteers to spread the message that the party was misusing funds.

After the war, John settled back to Greece where he visited his cousins Filippos and Nikos.


“The Battle of Brunete.” International Brigade Memorial Trust. Accessed June 12, 2023.
“The Battle of the Jarama River.” International Brigade Memorial Trust. Accessed June 12, 2023.
Brooks, Chris. “Jarama Series the Regiments.” The Voulenteer , July 13, 2016.
Brooks, Chris. “Jarama Series: The Aftermath.” The Volunteer, July 13, 2016.
Ink, Social. “Hagilaou, John.” The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, August 28, 2022.
“Lincoln Battalion.” Wikipedia, June 2, 2023.
“Remembering the Battle of Jarama and the Role of the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War.” The Local Spain, February 12, 2020.