Joe Garber, the son of Jewish immigrants from Russia, was born in 1911. Influenced by his father's left-wing views, Garber joined the Communist Party and was involved in the campaign against Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists in the East End of London.
On the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Garber travelled to Spain and joined the International Brigades at Albacete. He fought at Jarama where he was shot in the groin. After recovering in hospital he rejoined the frontline and was badly wounded at Brunete while defending Madrid.