Lambert, Eric (1909-1996), was an Irish historian and former MI-6 intelligence officer who wrote the monumental
Voluntarios Británicos e Irlandeses en la Gesta Bolivariana, a major contribution to the little-known history of British and Irish soldiers in the Wars of Independence of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
Born in Dublin, Lambert went to India in 1929, where he worked as a police officer and a colonial administrator until the end of the Raj in 1947. During the Second World War, he remained a civilian but contributed to the war effort against the Japanese in Burma (Myanmar), receiving the temporary Chinese rank of General and the honorary British rank of Major. Upon his return to Europe, Lambert joined MI-6 (or SIS, the British Secret Intelligence Service) for which he undertook several intelligence-gathering missions around the world, including assignments in Latin America and Afghanistan
in the 1960s.
In 1962, during a visit to an army base in Ibagué (Colombia), Lambert came across a portrait of Colonel James Rooke, which occupied the place of honour in the officers’ mess. Lambert’s hosts belonged to the Infantry Battalion “Jaime Rooke”, a unit named after a hero of Colombian independence who had died of his wounds at the battle of Pantano de Vargas in 1819. Rooke had been the commander of the “British Legion” of Bolivar’s army and his name is still remembered in Colombia’s history books. The Colombian officers were surprised to learn that Lambert had never heard of Rooke and asked him to research his background. Lambert undertook research at the National Library of Ireland and later published an article on Rooke in a Bogotá newspaper. The Colonel was in fact British in the nineteenth-century sense of the word: he had been born in Dublin of an English father and an Irish mother.
After retiring from MI-6 (or, officially, from the British Foreign Office), Lambert dedicated himself to researching the history of the many British and Irish volunteers who had fought for Bolívar during the Wars of Independence. As well as the three volumes of his monumental Voluntarios, he published Carabobo 1821 (a compilation of accounts in English about that battle) and a series of articles in the Irish Sword. He also contributed to other publications such as the Southern Chronicle and became a leading member of the Military History Society of Ireland.
Unfortunately, Lambert’s Voluntarios was never made available commercially. Only a small number of copies (300-400) were ever printed, and they were distributed to a limited number of libraries mainly in Latin America and Britain and Ireland. The English draft was never published and the work is available only in Spanish.
The book was printed in Caracas (Volume 1 in 1981 and Volumes 2 and 3 in 1993), and led to Lambert being awarded the Order of the Liberator by the Venezuelan government. Publication was delayed partly because some South American historians believed that Lambert was saying that the British and the Irish had liberated their continent from Spanish dominion. Lambert never claimed such a thing, but showed that the foreign volunteers had made an important contribution!
Eric Lambert died on 20 November 1996. In his obituary, John de Courcy Ireland called Lambert’s
Voluntarios a model of deep and exacting scholarship. Lambert had no academic training as a historian but his police/intelligence-gathering background made him uniquely qualified for the investigative work required in historical research. He worked from
primary sources, purposely ignoring the books of his predecessors in the field: Alfred Hasbrook (whom he considered inaccurate) and Luis Cuervo Marques (of whom he probably had never heard).
I relied upon Lambert’s books and articles for my own work on the subject but was unable to meet him before he passed away. I was honoured, however, to have met his niece, Laragh Neelin, and the author of the foreword
to his book, General Héctor Bencomo of the Venezuelan army. My conversations with them, as well as Neelin’s article in the Irish Sword, are the sources of this biography.
- Neelin, Laragh. “Remembering Eric Lambert” in the Irish Sword, 105 (Dublin: Military History Society of Ireland, 2009).
- Lambert, Eric. Voluntarios Británicos e Irlandeses en la Gesta Bolivariana (Caracas: Ministerio de Defensa, 1981 and 1993). 3 vols.