English -> Catala

English -> Español


This is the first entry for this blog. I will try to add to it each day with a summary of the places visited as we go. It may adapt by experience, but I hope that you enjoy the information presented.

In actual fact this is the day before the official start of the tour. Vaughan Parker (or “Parkie”, as he likes to be called and will be so called from now on in this blog), half brother of Eric de Witt Parker flew in to Madrid on the morning of the 27th October and we elected to drive up to Salamanca to visit this beautiful university city (the second oldest surviving university in Europe and the oldest university in Spain), and also to show him the incredible Salamanca Military Archives housed there.

Parkie and Alan in front of the Salamanca Military Archives.

This Archive was originally set up after the War by Franco to collate records of the Republican government and to provide information on individuals’ activities during the war. Though the collection is now officially part of the Spanish Civil War Archives luckily it is now open to readers researching family histories and other materiel housed there. Of particular interest to us are Aragon 6 and 7, records on the International Brigades. On April 2nd 1938, at the culmination of the Great Retreat from Belchite towards the Ebro a lorry of the XV International Brigade containing masses of records was captured by advancing Nationalist forces at Gandesa, and it is this materiel that is just part of the collection. And the materiel is worthy of research. From paylists to reports on individuals one cannot explain and detail the materiel found here, but it is a treasure trove fro historians keen to explore the International Brigades. With this in mind, after having lunch with Dave Convery from Cork University, who is doing his post graduate dissertation on the Irish involvement in the International Brigades, having scoured through the Imperial War Museum Sound Archives in London, is now working under the Erasmus scheme at Salamanca University and has access to the Archive. His advice on other files to work on is invaluable and he has a wonderful resource to work on. When a group of British, German and American historians came here for two days with us after the Brunete 2010 March last July, Dave found a collection of post card sized printed forms filled in by British individuals  giving details of themselves. Wally Tapsell was one card shown by Dave and another that I was quickly shown was written by one British Brigader (I never took the name in) who had scribbled in pencil in block capitals under the description of his profession as “TRAMP”!

After signing in and ordering the various boxes, Parkie and I ploughed through various paylists and found his half brother’s name as part of the transmissions company in early February 1938 with Jim Ruskin and towards the end of February as battalion political commissar. His monthly wage for March 1938 was written as 1035 pesetas. However, seeing as he was killed on March 10th 1938 at Belchite (where we will go with Parkie to the exact place on November 5th), I wonder if he received it all? Fausto Vilar, a Valencian who served in the Lincoln Washington battalion at this time remembers that March 9th was pay day and that he missed the payments that morning as he was teaching the Spanish soldiers in the battalion (his activity is stated in the battalion Orders of the day that are here too)  how to read and write and had to wait till after he returned to the battalion following the horrific the Great Retreats to claim it back. He was worried on that day how he was going to survive till the next pay day! He was lucky to get away with his life. We will meet Fausto during this tour too.

We ordered photocopies of relevant pages for Parkie and in time they will come. The whole process in the Archive is quite laborious but fascinating and I urge people keen to research this captured materiel to visit the Archive. Dave Convery will be there until February and may be able to give advice on where to stay and how to study in the Archive. It is about a two hour train journey from Madrid. If people wish to contact him for advice (and not for research to be done by him!) please write to me.

After exploring the Archives we walked to the Plaza Mayor. This beautiful Square has plaques around the walls of Spain’s Kings and in the far right hand corner is this one. Do you recognise who it is? Notice how clean and well kept it is. Well, actually, the reason why it is so clean and new looking is that this particular plaque often gets sprayed or splashed with paint or worse by unruly students from the University. I am led to believe that the ajuntamiento has spare plaques on hand to replace ones that are vandalised (I use the term as it is, though readers may take a different opinion).

The plaque of Fransisco Franco in the Plaza Mayor in Salamanca.

The Department of Philology opposite the Cathedral we also visited. On the first floor Milan Astray’s Propaganda offices were based during the war. We also passed by the University Library where an ornate design of figures covers the wall above the doorway. They say that if you can find the tiny frog sculpted on the fresco it brings good luck (or was it to do with love or babies? I honestly forget!). Here is just a tiny part of this impressive fresco. It is quite hard to find the frog, but I wouldn’t get a head of yourselves straining your eyes to try and find it.

The old University Library Entrance, detail.

The other connection to this building is that inside is the room where Professor Unanamo gave a speech in front of Milan Astray criticising the policies of the Nationalist Government during the early part of the War. Astray jumped up in fury and shouted down Unanamo with the words “Long live Death!” The wife of Franco  escorted the professor to his car amidst scenes of fury from  those attending whipped up by Astray. A few months later, Unamano died, it is said, of a broken heart. The room was used by the University of Salamanca to host a conference on the International Brigades in 2006 on the 70th anniversary of the war and Moe Fishman, Bob Doyle, Hans Landauer  and Maria Massons attended the event. The organisers, professor Antonio Celada, Daniel Pastor and Manuel Gonzalez are the authors of the book “Los Internacionales. English speaking volunteers in the Spanish Civil War” published by Warren and Pell Publishing. This fascinating book has bibliography, filmography, history of the XV Brigade, biographies of writers connected with the International Brigades and a near complete listing of the English speaking volunteers who served in Spain. This listing is constantly being upgraded and expanded and is the basis for a project to compile more information over time.  Ok. Advertising plug over. Lets get back to the tour!

At 2100 that evening we returned to Madrid and Parkie rested whilst I made my way to bed ready to collect Alan Entin and Josie Yurek the following morning. You will meet them tomorrow.


I met Josie and Alan at Madrid airport at 10.30 in the morning. We drove down to the Hostal, right beside Plaza del Sol and introduced them to Parkie to have a light lunch. We discussed plans and any needs and after buying Spanish SIM cards for Alan they visited the Prado Art Museum while I did some business in Madrid. We will be staying at the birthplace of Goya near Belchite and at least they now have an idea of his incredible, dark works especially his “Black Paintings” that are housed there. There is a film by Milo Forman called “The Ghosts of Goya” starring Javier Bardem. As you may know, he is now married to the actress Penelope Cruz who he starred with in Woody Allen’s recent film, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”. As an aside one of the scenes is filmed in the Square of San Philip Neri which we will hopefully visit when we get to Barcelona and has a Spanish Civil War connection of great significance. More later! Oh yes. Penelope Cruz is pregnant! That was what I wanted to tell you!

Later in the evening we passed a protest in Sol by organisations including the Asociación de Ex-presos y Represaliados Politicos. A large group of about 200 people with a banner and photos of people repressed by Franco’s government were paraded round the Square, Like moths to a flame we walked in and talked with people at which point the police turned up. Alan was wondering what would happen and Parkie was also rather curious and concerned as to what was about to develop. Luckily, I persuaded Alan to drop the idea of Molotov cocktails or pushing the police car over and matters returned to normal. I think they just asked a man selling Republican souvenirs on a collapsible table to pack up or move on? We understand that one Thursday a month this march takes place. We had the pleasure of meeting J. Gervasio Puerta Garcia, President of the Association, and an ex prisoner himself.

Here are some photos:

The banner at the head of the long procession that walked round Sol.

The Police arrive…

The group with J. Gervasio Puerta Garcia (centre, right), President of the Asociación de Ex-presos y Represaliados Politicos , and others who just muscled in on the photo. Sorry. I didn’t write your names down!

Whilst Alan, Josie and Parkie were at the Prado I tried to reserve a table at Botin’s, the oldest restaurant in the world for that evening but it was full until too late for us so we reserved a table to go there for tomorrow night. I will give a report tomorrow. And so we left our weary travellers at the hostal to recover from the flights and I arranged to meet them at 900am outside the hostal the following day to meet Seve Montero, the President of the AABI (or the Amigos), in their offices in Madrid for a meeting and something more. Read tomorrow.

FRIDAY 29th OCTOBER 2010. DAY 2. Madrid with a quick visit to Brunete and then Jarama followed by a gin and angostura at Bar Chicote and roast suckling pig at Botin’s!

At 900am I collected Alan, Josie and Parkie from the hostal and we drove to the offices of AABI. This was an informal meeting to meet the new head of AABI, Seve Montero, who became President in July this year at a meeting held at these same offices. Harry Owens and I were also there and witnessed the change of leadership. You may know Seve from his work organising the Annual marches at Jarama and Brunete each anniversary. Bob Doyle started these marches and he is missed. But each year the crowd gets bigger and last year Jarama had 250 visitors and in July over 150 when the ashes of Jack Shafran were scattered in the Guadarrama River below Mosquito Crest. We will visit there tomorrow. February 2011 at  Jarama will follow the route of the XI Brigade and will be a change from the usual XV Brigade marches in the past. I expect that February 2012 will be important for the Americans and British. Also expect a good event organised by Seve.

Seve, Parkie, Alan, Josie and Elisa at the AABI offices

After meeting Seve and Elisa,who has acted as the excellent translator at the recent Charlie Donnolly Jarama and  Jack Shafran Brunete Marches earlier this year (I just made those titles up, but those of you who were there will understand!) for those who cannot understand Spanish).

However the real reason for this meeting was to meet the deputy alcadesa of Vilanueva de la Canada on the battlefield of Brunete. AABI is hoping to ask the ajuntamiento to consider the naming of a street in the town after Gerda Taro, the photographer and lover of Robert Capa, who was killed at Brunete (on the same day as Alan Entin’s uncle, Bernard, actually) when she was standing on the running board of a car that was side swiped by a retreating Russian tank and subsequently died of her wounds. The recent “This is War” exhibition of Capa’s and Taro’s work has just finished in Madrid, but AABI had placed a petition asking visitors to ask the ajuntamiento to name a street after Gerda.

Seve, Josie, Parkie, Manuel and Alan outside the ajuntamiento

We first met Manuel, one of the left wing councillors on the predominantly right wing ajuntamiento, and after an introduction we were greeted by the deputy alcadesa, Ana Luisa Delcaux Bravo. We introduced ourselves and she kindly discussed the matter with us in English for the benefit of Josie, Alan and Parkie.

Seve, Ana Luisa Delcaux Bravo & Manuel talking with  Alan, Josie & Parkie

Josie explained that the naming of a street after Gerda Taro would be a positive gesture as she was a woman in the pioneering photographic and journalistic world alongside Capa and Chim. We carefully discussed the possibilities of such an event with perhaps the showing of the Taro/Capa exhibition, a weekend conference and an event to invite people from abroad and the deputy alcadesa was supportive of the idea. We asked her to discuss the idea in the ajuntamiento meetings and see if the naming of a street in the town could be achieved. Seve presented the over 5,000 signatures now collected from the Taro/Capa exhibition and for good measure the four of us also signed it (I had been meaning to since this petition was placed there!). This was received by the deputy alcadesa aswell as two letters written by Alan Entin asking the ajuntamiento to name a street after Taro on behalf of FFALB (The Friends and Family of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade). This proposition is a matter for AABI and the ajuntamiento to discuss and organise, but we hope that Alan, Josie and Parkie’s presence will be of importance to such a strategy. It may be of interest to know that on the Brunete 2008 march  Ana Luisa Delcaux Bravo welcomed Bob Doyle to the ajuntamiento and gave a speech. Sadly, someone in the group heckled her and it was only after the good offices of Ana Perez, then President of AABI, Harry Owens and Seve that she was persuaded to stay rather than walk away. I have the greatest admiration for her for staying put and also to Harry, Ana and Seve persuading her to stay and though we are coming from different viewpoints regarding which side we would support (some of her family were killed here on the Nationalist side) and that few people in the area wish to talk about or remember the conflict, she is open to the proposition and I hope will debate this on our behalf in the ajuntamiento, perhaps in time for the 75th anniversary in July 2012?

Alan talking with the deputy alcadesa

Parkie, Alan W, Manuel, Alan E, Ana Luisa Delcaux Bravo, deputy alcadesa of Vilanueva de la Canada, Josie and Seve outside Vilanueva de Canada ajuntamiento

We then visited Jarama.

Our first stop was Meson El Cid where we ate and discussed what we had seen and what we will see. Parkie said that the vegetable soup was cold, but he ate most of it After lunch the curator of the museum, Gregorio Salcedo Diaz, showed us round the artifacts in the museum. For those who do not know the museum it is full to the brim of material that Gregorio has collected from the battlefield over many years and supported by photographs has many fascinating items to view. Alan left photos of his uncle which Gregorio promised to place in a new display that they are in the process of building for opening in February 2011.  We were quite clear that Bernard was killed at Brunete but he was more than happy to receive them. He also asked Josie and Alan to sign the visitor book.  I passed on to Gregorio a new book simply called “The Lincolns” published recently by Galland Books in Spanish. This is a Men at Arms style illustrated booklet at 12 euros and is a good general history with up to date materiel including the photo of the African American Brigader that the August Centelles children wished to give President Obama had he visited Spain last May, until it was discovered that he may have been Cuban! We will visit the place where those photos were taken when we get to Barcelona on November 11th or 12th.

Alan signing the visitor book.( It looks like he is signing the Declaration of Independence or a Law giving free sweets to children for life!). Note the Lincoln book recently published by Galland Books in Spain.

Alan & Josie with Gregorio in front of a glass case full of bullets. Josie had given Gregorio a photograph of Oliver Law which he will pace in the same display cabinet as Alan’s photos of Bernard.

Our first stop after lunch was to the remains of a memorial built and unveiled on June 30th 1938 by the 18 Brigada Mixta (designed by a member of the 18 Brigada Mixta, Miguel Caballero) to commemorate the Internationals who died at Jarama.

The original inscription reads:







A photo of the original memorial

Close up of the surviving inscription

Parkie, Josie and Alan sitting on the stone(!)

Of course, after the war many Republican monuments were destroyed by Franco, but by some miracle a tiny fragment is still there if you know where to look.

It is also possible, though not yet proven by excavation, that the flat area above the memorial was a cemetery and possibly used as one by the International Brigades, A description of the aftermath of the American attack by D.P. Stephens mentions a dugout (there is a large one beside the memorial) used as a casualty clearing station by Dr Pike close to a road for the ambulances but under cover from enemy fire. It might make sense for the dead to be buried close by and perhaps the memorial was set up there in connection with the dead buried in the area above? Just an idea!

Josie, Alan and Parkie on the possible site of the cemetery with the American Suicide Hill behind them

The weather was getting a bit blowy by now and rain clouds were building up. Our intention to visit the circular trenches dug by the Lincolns on February 16th when they first came to Jarama on the “American” Suicide Hill (There are a lot of “Suicide Hills” in Spain) was thwarted by meeting a local farmer, Gregorio de la Torre Garcia, with a bucket of olives (“To eat and not for oil” he told us) as we started to walk up from the Morata who suddenly blurted out a mass of information about the battle. We couldn’t stop him talking for at least 45 minutes!

Gregorio de la Torre Garcia.

Josie, Gregorio, Alan and Parkie in the background walking back to the car.

He stated that his father was a sergeant on the staff of one of the International Brigade generals. He also stated that 10,000 bodies had been buried there (pointing towards the front line), 8,100 here and that his father knew of this but only told him in the mid seventies. He then suddenly mentioned Lieutenant Colonel Copic and identified him from a photo. An odd comment by  Gregorio was that Copic had ordered the deaths of 250 Brigaders. We thought for a second that he was meaning executions  but realised that he was probably meaning their deaths in an attack- possibly the 27th February. There was too much for us to take in but Parkie decided to walk back to the car as he was not understanding our cut translations whilst also trying to take in what Gregorio was saying. (You can see Parkie walking back to the car in one of the photos!). Gradually we left Gregorio but he had a lot to say and I thanked him as we escaped to the car and to the British Suicide Hill rather than the American one. We had been stopped by one man and just a bucket of olives (edible, mind!).  I would like Harry Owens to meet and talk with Gregorio sometime to get more out of his knowledge. Time is against us!

And so to the machine guns positions of the British battalion from the fighting on February 12th to show them the memorial to Kit Conway maintained by well wishers from Madrid. This is often a focal point for the Annual Marches and is filled with metal from the battlefield (though some more modern stuff seems to be appearing alongside the human remains).

British battalion Machine gun position at the Kit Conway memorial

Finally to the huge clenched fist memorial that was unveiled on October 7th 2006. Sadly the new Uruguayan memorial on the side of the memorial has been splashed with black paint and the front of the memorial with orange paint. Sadly vandalism often occurs to the Kit Conway memorial but not to this extent. Very sad to see.

The monument

Memorial damage photos

Parkie and Josie with the (American) Suicide Hill behind them

Our last stop was to the Brigade cookhouse below the monument. This was close to where Frank Ryan and Jock Cunningham rallied the demoralised Brigaders on the third day of the battle and marched them back to the open front line singing “The Internationale” with Ryan shouting out “Sing up, ye sons o’ guns!” and picking up the frightened soldiers as they marched back and maintained the line.

And then back to Madrid for a rest and to meet at 2100 to visit Bar Chicote!

For those of you who know Hemingway he wrote numerous short stories including one called “The Butterfly and the Tank” which concerns and event in Bar Chicote. We sat down in the darkened bar with pink walls and loud music and Josie and I bravely ordered Hemingway’s drink of gin and angostura  that he took there in the story to stop the chill and read the account. Sadly the light was so dim that I ended up reading the article in a boring English accent with a torch lent by Josie! But I hope that the description brought the bar alive from seventy years ago. The only question I have is how on earth did they throw the flit gun of the story out of the revolving door? It’s impossible (We didn’t try it, though!). The bar prided itself on never having shut during the war and judging by Hemingway’s account he spent a lot of time there. Whilst I was reading Josie drank her gin and angostura watered down with tonic whilst I tried mine neat. We swapped our drinks so she could sample the drink that Hemingway had and I drank the watered down version. Both were very nice! Oddly enough Hemingway says in the story that he only stopped at Bar Chicote because it was raining as it was doing so when we went there!

Bar Chicote.

Josie with her gin and angostura (Mine had tonic with it!) Parkie had a Baileys and Alan had a mineral water, but not Vichy Catalan.

This was fun but I would only do it again for the strict purpose of historical research into Hemingway.

By the by, I wish to thank Sebastiaan Faber, the new head of ALBA for kindly sending me a copy of the pages of “The Butterfly and the Tank” for us to read there. I have promised him a drink of gin and angostura by way of thanks when he comes to Madrid. The only question I now have to ask him is when is he coming????

You will have to read the story to appreciate the atmosphere in the room smelling of smoke and wet leather jackets. Speaking of leather jackets, Bar Chicote is close to the gay area of Madrid and as we left Josie picked up a fascinating booklet for Alan, Parkie & me describing the gay nightlife of Madrid and Barcelona.

The rain had died down as we walked to Botin’s restaurant, possibly the oldest restaurant in the World, through the Plaza Mayor,. There we ate roast suckling pig and discussed the day’s events. Parkie’s entrée of the garlic soup was too hot this time round (This is getting like Goldilocks and the Three Bears here!). Josie liked the Rioja wine and Alan took photos. We both drank Vichy Catalan mineral water at the table which we are both addicted to!

Josie writing down the name of a nice bottle of wine that she shared with us in Botins. The blur is caused by my hand shaking and not the gin and angostura (with tonic)drunk earlier, honest!

Roast suckling pig at Botins.

Botins restaurant

In summary for our first day, sadly Gregorio’s nattering below the American Suicide Hill prevented us from walking up there but the weather was starting to turn nasty and time was short. However these chance meetings are part of the wonder of these trips as you will find out when we get to Mondejar on Sunday where the British battalion was based after Jarama. Odd oral memories such as these that Harry Owens in Ireland is trying to record before the last of the survivors die is of great importance, but can it be used as an appropriate source? I hope so.

At 0100 we wandered back to the hostal and I made my way to friends in Madrid to sleep. Tomorrow we go to Brunete to meet Ernesto Vinas for lunch and a tour of the battlefield. I expect that this will be an important and emotional day for Alan, whose uncle Bernard, was killed here.


I spent the morning sitting in the delightful Café Commercial by the Bilbao metro station compiling the text and photos of the previous three days and uploading them to the blog. Now, before I head for bed I will write some short notes about today’s events.

Sadly, when we met at 11.00am the weather was still wet and miserable. However, we walked around Madrid showing the Calle de Torro where the huge “No Pasaran” banner was hung and which has become such an iconic sign.

Calle de Torro

We also visited the site of Hotel Florida (now demolished and replaced by a FNAC store) where Hemingway stayed when he was in Madrid and told numerous stories about the antics there. Opposite Hotel Florida is the Capitol Cinema which had a shell hole covered by a tarpaulin. When each performance ended the Nationalists would deliberately fire shells into the Gran Via to terrorise the cinema goers. There was so much shelling that the street obtained the nickname of “Avinguda Quinze i media”, or The Avenue of the 15.5- meaning the 15.5cm shells that used to land in the street.

The modern building to the right of the more beautiful older one on the left was where Hotel Florida once stood. The fact that Hemingway and Martha Gelhorn were having an affair was only discovered when they ran out of a bedroom in the hotel during one of the numerous bombing raids naked!. Dr Pike sometimes was also here showing the prostitutes how to use a prophylactic. They used to shout out when they saw him “Aqui viene Capitan Fucking!”. Here, American pilot Whitey Dahl asked Hemingway how much he could he could get for a painting done by an artist called “Van Dick”.

Finally we stood in front of the Telefonica building on the Gran Via.

Telefonica building on the Gran Via

At the time of the war this building was the tallest building in Spain and was used as an observation post for artillery. Arturo Barea who wrote “The Forging of a Rebel” was based here in the censorship department during the war.

By 2.00pm we were back in Villanueva de la Canada to meet historian Ernesto Vinas to discuss and visit the Battle of Brunete which is his passion. After lunch we drove up to where the front line of the attack began on July 6th 1937 and observed the landscape in the miserable weather. He located roughly where Bernard Entin might have died on July 25th 1937 almost at the end of the battle.

Viewing the battlefield from the start line of the offensive. Alan, Ernesto, Josie and Parkie under the umbrella wearing Alan’s gloves.

Ernesto, Parkie, Josie & Alan with a left wing councillor from Villanueva de la Canada, his wife and son who accompanied us on the visit to Brunete. I will get his name from Ernesto soon.

Ironically this was the same day that Gerda Taro was crushed by a Russian tank and subsequently died at the Escorial hospital. We then drove towards the Guadarrama River where the XV Brigade advanced towards Mosquito Hill, but sadly a car accident had occurred on a bridge before the Ford, and we were forced to turn back and instead look at the memorial plaques in the Plaza Mayor of Brunete. We will make a special journey there for Alan to remember his uncle tomorrow after we have visited the Rastro- the largest open air market in Europe. Tomorrow we leave Madrid and head for Albacete via Ambite, Albares and Mondejar which were villages where the XV Brigade rested after Jarama and between Brunete and Belchite before being moved permanently to the Aragon Front in early December 1937.

Ernesto Vinas with Josie, Alan & Parkie in Brunete

Sadly the wet weather spoiled the chance to visit the places properly, but we will try tomorrow. To visit this area on the anniversary on 6th July on the now regular annual walks organised by Seve Montero really brings home the heat and thirst and exhaustion of this battle. But today it was just wet and cold- more like Jarama in February 1937 than Brunete!

One of the plaques in Brunete Plaza Mayor

Brunete Plaza Mayor rebuilt by Republican prisoners after the War

The second plaque in the Plaza Mayor


On Sunday morning we all met up and visited the Rastro; probably Europe’s largest open air market. I showed Alan, Josie and Parkie the anarchist and Republican stalls in Plaza Tirsa de Molina but they were still setting up and so we agreed to meet at a certain time and explored the Rastro seperately. On our return after lunch and collecting their bags we set off for the River Guadarrama to remember Bernard Entin, Alan’s uncle, who was killed near here on July 25th 1937.

I add just a few photographs of what was a private and very emotional event for the four of us standing by the river. We remembered all those who lost loved ones in this and other wars as we to tried to imagine the same place in July 1937 as we stood there on a rainy day. A rainbow appeared behind the car as we drove to Brunete and as the clouds cleared briefly when we made the commemoration,  and a rainbow appeared as we left.

The rainbow that we saw as we drove to Brunete as seen in the mirror

The second rainbow that we saw beyond Mosquito Hill.

As we got into the car Josie pointed out to Alan the Republican flag crudely sprayed on to a barrier of the track leading up to Mosquito Hill.

The Republican flag sprayed on to the barrier of the track leading up to Mosquito Hill.

These things seemed wonderfully connected.

I was very humbled to be part of this act. Thank you, Alan

The River Guadarrama beside the Ford, vividly described in “The Book of the XV Brigade” by Orr- “It would be a lovely spot for a picnic…..”

Alan Entin holding a photo of his uncle, Bernard, beside the River Guadarrama.

Alan left a photo of Bernard beside the River Guadarrama as a memory of his uncle and the memorial service that we shared.

With light fading we made a mad dash for Albares where the Lincoln battalion rested after Jarama. we have located the bar that Sergeant Hayes and eight others trashed after drinking a litre of anis (“Cissy stuff, Gimme a litre!”) and the location of the cell where they were held (They were released the next day after a deputation of villagers asked the officers of the battalion to show clemency). The church was used as the kitchen, ammunition store and sleeping accommodation for the battalion.  We have also identified the novia of Ray Steele and the then 8 year old battalion mascot, Maria Luz, who is still alive! Read Steve Nelson’s description of “Ibanez” in his book “The Volunteers”. Also D.P Stephen’s book “A Memoir of the Spanish Civil War”, about Ray Steele’s novia, Rosita.

Children playing in front of the church for All Soul’s showed us where Josefina Sanchez, the alcadesa lived and we went to say hello. She has been very helpful to Harry Owens and myself organising interviews with Roma and Saturnio last July, who can remember the battalion being there (Saturnio told us that after Brunete only “one American came back to the village for every five that had left”. They were very sad…). If wishes were horses I would like the children that we met to interview the old people and try and record their memories. Josefina seemed keen to help by perhaps working with the school in Mondejar where the British battalion was based. Let us see.

Alan talking with the children in Albares. The boy with the red scarf, Franco (?), kindly led us and the children to the alcadesa’s house

Albares church where the Lincoln battalion stayed

Franco pointing up the street to where the alcadesa lives.

Josephine Sanchez, alcadesa of Albares

Alcadesa Josefina Sanchez  (second from the right) and her family pose with Alan, Josie and Parkie. (Parkie tried to kidnap the kitten held by Joesphina’s daughter on the left. The family had just adopted it from the street. I had to bodysearch him before we left!).

Leaving Albares we quickly drove to Mondejar to show where a small piece of film was taken on November 30th 1937 of the British battalion receiving their banner made by the women of Battersea (you can see this same banner in the colour film “Defenders of the Faith” by Russell Palmer after it had been captured in the Great Retreats in March/April 1938).

Alan showing the clip of film of the presentation of the British battalion banner by Bill Rust on November 30th 1937. A week later, Clement Attlee, leader of the British Labour Party, reviewed the battalion in this same square. It seems that as he came into the square the battalion was formed up under torches singing “God save the King”! Number 1 company of the battalion was named the “Major Attlee Company” after his visit.

Mondejar church. There is a photo of Dave Doran, Wally Tapsell, Bill Rust & Bill Alexander taken with the same doorway in the background on November 30th 1937.

One curious story that has come out of Harry Owen’s interviews held last February is the famous football match between the village and the British battalion. We know that the British lost the match and failed to win the hearts of the local girls, but a local interviewed remembered the match though he could not remember who won. However he did mention that the football team of the battalion was short of shorts (?) and that one member had to play in his underwear. Unfortunately he became, well, how can I say it, rather excited and his underwear failed to achieve its stated purpose, with the result of screams of shock and embarrassment  from the women present ( I told this story to the alcadesa of Vilanueva de la Canada last week; I am sure that she was amused). He can remember that event!  He also said that a Briton dived from the village bridge into the river and broke his neck. We believe that he is buried in the village cemetery

We took a few photos in the darkness but we had to drive on to Tarazona de la Mancha. We had supper in Saelices close to Vila Paz American hospital. The hospital is a ruin now, but the hospital and the village children appear in Cartier Bresson’s film “Return to Life”. We are working on developing things here. Ernesto Vinas is working principally on this at the moment.


After a good night’s rest we walked round Tarazona de la Mancha, the training base of the XV Brigade under Captain Allan Johnson. Former alcalde Fransisco Picasso had already identified numerous buildings in the town (He remembers a George Peters, an American Brigader, who gave him a suitcase full of clothes and money when the Brigade evacuated the town in March 1938, saying “Take it and use it. I will not be back”). We have identified one barracks used by the Brigade and by chance we were invited in by the owners who showed us round. They teased us by saying that there were words on the walls before the house had been repaired. A barman in the village had also told us in February that he had worked on a house which had the words  on one wall in red block capitals  “MAKE YOUR BEDS AND KEEP THIS ROOM TIDY”. Perhaps this was the same building? The school used as a store has been demolished since the war, but we have identified the ammunition store (which once caught fire and the ammunition held inside was hurriedly passed out through the bars of the windows!), the armoury, the Brigade Estado Mayor and mess hall in the Casa del Pueblo which is now a sad ruin.

One of the cuartels (barracks) used by the XV Brigade

The terrace inside the barracks used by members of the XV Brigade

Antonio Cuevas Atiuenza and Marisa, who invited us into their house, a former cuartel used by the Brigades.

We were lucky to be able to get into the church that was used by the Brigade as a meeting hall. Harry Fisher gave his most effective speech here after Bob Minor (See Harry Fisher’s “Comrades” for details).

Alan & Josie sitting in the church. The Brigaders sat on the floor as the seats had been taken away then.

Above one of the chapel doors in the church one can just make out the word “PRENSA” (PRESS) with another indecypherable word (BRIGADA?)  on the left of the arch, indicating that this was the Brigade Press office. Outside to the rear of the church was the Library.

The church.

The Plaza Mayor

In the Casino Bar whilst talking to the locals, one man told us that there were lots of Russians in the village during the war and that they were always drunk! The fate of the village priest Ibarro Nemesi is also very interesting to hear.

Josie, Alan & Parkie in front of the church door.

The memorial to the dead from the Spanish Civil War that Josie found outside the church door.

We then drove to Albacete and showed Josie, Alan and Parkie the bullring which many of the 35,000 Brigaders from 53 countries passed through before being sent to one of the many villages used as training camps for each Brigade. sadly, time prevented us from visting Madrigueras, Quintenar del Rey (Republica during the War!), Mahora or Pozorubio training camp. Tomorrow, however we have a special treat for Josie, Alan and Parkie in Vilanueva de la Jara in Cuenca from where the Lincoln battalion  left for Jarama in February 1937.

Parkie, Josie and Alan in front of Albacete bullring.


At 10.00am we said goodbye to Tarazona de la Mancha and drove to Vilanueva de la Jara. This was where the Lincoln battalion was based between late January and 13th February 1937 before they were sent to the Jarama Front. Dr William Pike set up a hospital in one of the buildings that has hardly changed inside since then.

Interior of the hospital. Patients were taken up these stairs to the wards above. A German doctor was stationed here according to one old lady here. Dr Eugene Fogarty, the resident doctor, who had married a young local girl, was here when the American arrived also used this building. His daughters are still living in the village and can remember him taking them to Madrid station to leave Spain as a family, but he left them there on the platform. He was killed in the Far East during World War II.

Parkie, Josie & Alan in the doorway of Dr Pike’s hospital in Vilanueva de la Jara

We then went to the Convent of Santa Clara in the town to show them some fascinating evidence. Cecil Eby states that Captain Arthur Harris set up a firing range in the chapel of the convent to get the men used to the noise of rifle fire by the echoes of the target practice therein. Eby writes that they placed targets on the altar, but in actual fact one can see the bullet holes on each of the four paintings of the saints in the cupola of the dome above. They actually used the saints’ paintings as targets instead (Godless Reds!). Joaquin, the owner of the supermarket below explained this to us last July which is a fascinating fact concerning the Lincoln battalion in the early days!

One of the four paintings of saints in the cupola of the chapel. All four are riddled with bullet holes!

The doorway into the Covent of Santa Clara where the Abraham Lincoln Battalion was based between January and February 1937 before Jarama.

The church where Dr Pike explained to the men how to avoid unnecessary dental appointments in Albacete. It seems that they also constantly showed the films “Sailors of Kronstadt” and “How to operate a Maxim Machine gun” to packed audiences of villagers .

We then walked round to see a surviving veteran from the war, Enrique Peraile Navarra. This man is such a noble human being. Not a communist or anarchist but a man who believes in socialism in a very noble and pure form. I had given a copy of his autobiography, “Reir Llorando” to the Pavello de la Segunda Republica in Barcelona after we had met him in July, and he proudly showed me the letter of acknowledgment that he had recieved from the Pavello. He kindly signed books for Alan and Josie and photographs were taken of this incredible man. Harry Owens interviewed him last July and his story is summarised in his autobiography. He noticed a new badge that I had bought on the Rastro of the Republican flag with the 3rd Republic written on it and I gave him my badge. He was very happy, as was I.

Spanish Civil War veteran, Enrique Peraile Navarro, wearing the badge that I gave to him, with Josie.

Enrique & Alan

After much explanation of his experiences in the war (He was in Campesino’s Brigade at Brunete) he proudly showed us his gravestone which is missing just the date of his death, whenever that comes! I love this man as an amazing human being. He sends a hug to Harry Owens as I gave him a hug from Harry too.

Enrique proudly showing his prepared gravestone. I sincerely hope that it stays there for a long, long time! Un abrazo por Harry Owens!

We then drove to Huete and on the way listened to Alun Menai Williams’ sound recordings from the Imperial War Museum. This was very enjoyable especially when Alun mentioned Steve Nelson, Josie’s father.

We arrived to meet Manuel Olarte, councillor on the Huete ajuntamiento and author of a forthcoming book on the “Hospital Inglese” at Huete. We were first introduced to the alcalde of Huete, Fernando Romero, who welcomed us to the city.

Standing, l to r. Fernando Romero, alcalde of Huete & Manuel Olarte

After a quick guided tour of the ajuntamiento, we had lunch and then were shown the various places identified by Manuel from photographs taken in 1937 in the hospital. The research  was started by Des Speight’s book “Australia’s Spanish Knight” on the experiences at this hospital of Richard Bryant. Photos from the Imperial War Museum and Manuel’s extensive research of the population’s memories will allow this book to be published very soon in Spanish. I was kindly asked to write a foreword to the book and was very honoured to do so. Manuel and I are planning to produce the book in English and perhaps also as an e book to see how significant the development of e books may be. My own thoughts are that the I Pad is the equivalent of the invention of the Printing Press and I wish to explore the production of future books of mine as e books. Be prepared.

On the first floor the hospital wards led off to either side from this corridor

We were joined by Vincente, vice president of AABI who was curious to see what Manuel has discovered. I think that he was impressed.  Manuel and I talked about a possible future project concerning the American Hospital at Villa Paz involving perhaps an American student assisting Manuel and Ernesto Vinas on obtaining papers from the Tamiment collection through the George Watt award or financial assistance from ALBA to allow an American student to work together with Manuel and Ernesto to produce a book on the American hospital at Villa Paz. This has great potential and I hope that Sebastiaan Faber from ALBA may be interested in facilitating such a project in the near future. If any students have access to the Tamiment Collection and would like to work with Ernesto and Manuel on this project please get in touch with me.

Parkie, Josie, Alan, Manuel, Vincente and the custodian of the church in front of the doorway opened up by Richard Bryant to take the ambulances into the church to protect them from pilfering at night

One side of the “Hospital Inglese”; the largest building in the Cuenca Province.

Vincente kindly showed Josie, Parkie and  Alan round the beautiful city of Huete while Manuel  & I watched Cartier Bresson’s film “Return to Life” examining the film taken at the American hospital at Villa Paz. This project has great potential and the distinct possibility of an event on the weekend of the Fiesta of Merced on 23rd September 2012 to unveil a plaque commemorating the hospital with family of George & Nan Green, Willi Remmel & the plumber’s children who all appear in a famous photo located in the hospital complex.

Inside one of the courtyards of the hospital. (l to r). George & Nan Green, Willi Remmel, Vladimir from Catalonia & the fontanero (plumber) from the town.

The same spot today

This would also allow visitors to stay over a weekend and take part in a traditional Spanish fiesta. For more information contact Alan as we work on the plans to show this incredible hospital and the beautiful city of Huete to visitors.

The ajuntamiento is situated in just a small part of the monastery.


We left Huete in the morning and slowly drove to Teruel, stopping at Torrebaja for lunch. Various vistas unseen by tourists revealed themselves on the journey.

A bridge on the way to Teruel

Don Quixote & Sancho Panza looked after us on our journey out of Castille la Mancha. After all, he was supposedly from Tarazona de la Mancha!

Enough said. We have our own windmills to fight…

When we got to Teruel at about 3.00pm after a nice lunch at Torrebaja, we visited the British battalion positions beside Mas el Chantre.

Josie, Alan & Parkie examining the British battalion trenches near Mas el Chantre.

A flock of sheep roamed on the hill with us.

At 4.30 met Alfonso Casas. secretary of ABATE concerning the Battle of Teruel. He took us to the North Pole, near Celadas, and also promised to show us some British graffiti north of Teruel.

Alfonso Casas, secretary of ABATE, talking to Alan at the American positions at the North Pole.

Alan & Josie huddling in the cold wind at The North Pole

Company 2 of the Lincoln Washington battalion at the North Pole, January 1938

Alfonso kindly invited us to his house to see his collection of materiel concerning the Battle of Teruel including an unpublished  photo of Hemingway outside the City.  Alan, Parkie and Josie went back to the Hotel  (right beside the bullring of Teruel!) as I accepted their kind invitation to have supper with Alfonso and his family (though Josie, Alan & Parkie were invited they were too tired). During supper Alfonso mentioned the British graffiti north of Teruel and gave me directions to find it.


Going on an Expotition?” said Pooh eagerly. “I don’t think I’ve ever been on one of these. Where are we going on one of these?”…

“We are going to discover the North Pole”

“Oh”, said Pooh again. “What is the North Pole?”, he asked.

“It’s just a thing you discover” said Christopher Robin, carelessly, not quite sure himself….

Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne & E. H Shepard

After a walk round Teruel showing various places connected with the Battle, we drove north towards Cuevas Labradas (so cold that the Americans called it “The Caves of Labrador”!) we identified a kitchen used by the Lincoln Washington battalion and a hospital used by the Internationals- Plus some graffiti!

The chapel of Santa Carmen at Teruel


Plaza del Torico

According to one of the guides at the Museum of Doomed Lovers of Teruel, this tower was used by “the Brigaders” as an observation post for enemy bombing raids.

Lincoln Washington kitchens

The same place today

We also located the hospital in Cuevas Labradas where James Neugass who wrote “War is Beautiful”, was based for a time.

The hospital at Cuevas Labradas

The same building used as a hospital in January, 1938

Aurelio Igual who helped to locate the hospital with his partner, Amparo Sanchez. The two hills in the background are in one of the two original 1938 photographs that we used to try and find it Thank you, Aurelio!

The hospital from a distance in January, 1938

Rafael Alfonso who was 4 years old at the time of the Battle. He can remember his mother was given a bottle of medicine by the hospital and the time that the village was bombed. He also talked about taking refuge in a large cave system above the village with the hospital staff during the bombing raids. He can remember  two bombs dropping in the village and “The Moors”. Rafael apologises for the bandage on his nose.

Fausto Vilar, a Spaniard with the Lincoln Washington battalion describes when he was wounded at Teruel:

My right hand comes away smeared with blood as I touch the injured parts.

Meanwhile, two Brigaders have reached me. I do not know how they got here nor why they have come but here they are. I suppose it must have been the noise made by the explosion that injured me. They drag me out of the former machine-gun nest and lay me out in the trench.

Other Brigaders arrive, as well as the medic on duty; he snatches from my waist the little purse that we all carry for emergencies and after dabbing disinfectant into my wounds, he bandages my head and my left arm at the shoulder. Then two of them drag me between them and I am evacuated through the trenches.

As we pass by the Brigaders, they call out to me: “Lucky Strike! Lucky Strike! A few days’ hospital treatment followed by a fortnight’s furlough in the rearguard.”

We come to our field hospital which has been set up in quite a sizable cave with a very wide mouth, through which daylight is filtering just now; the day is bright but very chilly.

The physician, Doc (Simon?), who has met me before, peels away the bandages that the trench medic has just applied, scrutinises the wounds and plucks from them a few splinters from, he says, a dum-dum bullet.

From what they tell me, it looks like a high-powered exploding bullet passed through one of the sandbags before striking me. It is thanks to the sandbag that I am still alive.

Doc says again what the Brigaders I passed in the trenches were saying: “Lucky strike!”

I see Litwin approach while Doc is treating me, so it looks as if the news that I have have been hit has spread along the lines like wildfire, reaching even the Staff.

Litwin gives me a translation of what the Brigaders’ ‘Lucky strike’ comment means; afortunado golpe.

We sadly did not have time to visit the railway tunnel used by the Brigade as their Estado Mayor close by, but we now know a lot more places in this area.


“There are 47 States in the Union, and the Soviet of Washington”

Postmaster General James Farley, 1936

In an abandoned railway station on “The Great Teruel and Manyana Railway line” we found these rosters of Lincoln Washington battalion written on the walls. One clue on the wall is the Washington Commonwealth Federation. This was a Communist organisation which included a Democrat Front too! (Now we know who Obama really is! Sorry. A very bad joke. My sympathies to the American peoples after November 2nd). I have contacted James Gregory who is researching the Washington Commonwealth Federation as to who may have wrote this fascinating graffiti on a cold day around January 15th 1938. Enjoy this unusual evidence:

Alfonso Casas kindly directed me to this graffiti, but thought it was British. Seeing as you Americans don’t know how to spell Armoury, it is obviously some bloody American who wrote this. But who? Answers, anyone?

We then made our way to Fuendetodos, birthplace of Goya. We visited the house where he was born and the wonderful museum of his prints just before it closed. It seems that two American Brigaders constantly carried with them a copy of his “Desastres de Guerra”. The amazing variety of his work and its darkness at times is astounding. I will bring people here again. There is a plan for a purpose built museum here to the arts and I hope it happens soon. This is a relatively unknown place almost on the doorstep of Belchite and you can be sure of a warm welcome by the always giggling Carmen who runs the hotel Caprichio de Goya (Well, she always giggles with me. It must be my magnetic personality or my excellent grasp of Spanish).

Tomorrow filming for Aragon television in Belchite!


We met Rafael & Palma who were going to film & interview us & first drove to Santuario del Pueyo, where Parkie’s brother, Eric de Witt Parker, was killed when a shell landed close to the battalion Estado Mayor on 10th March 1938.

Parkie being interviewed at Santuario del Pueyo with Belchite in the background to the east

Santuario del Pueyo

The cave Estado Mayor below El Santuario del Pueyo, where Eric de Witt Parker was killed and Dave Reiss mortally wounded.

Fausto Vilar describes that fateful morning:

The next day we establish ourselves to the south of Belchite; our officers start to work us non-stop.

It falls to me to resume the classes I give in my capacity (in the lulls between fighting only) as Spanish ‘education officer’. Once the fighting starts up, I cease being that and automatically revert to observer mode.

The satisfaction I get from helping the Spaniards in my class to write their own letters is doubled when they show me the letters they have had from  families delighted to receive letters written by their own hand, even if still written in big, misshapen letters. This is of no matter; they are delighted with me and I with them.

And so pass the first few days in March.

On Wednesday 9th March, my morning classes are interrupted by the crump of artillery fire from the nearby front, while the skies are filled with a great display of Francoist air power.

Like a good observer, I stand and count the planes, German and Italian, which fill the skies virtually the whole day long, and at one point I count a hundred and twenty planes together.

The odd thing is that they are flying at high altitude, not bothering to swoop down upon where we are scattered through the olive groves; it is as if their only interest is in shocking and above all striking fear into us.

Because it is stunning to watch so many planes over our heads that, even as the leading aircraft are disappearing over the horizon, an equal number of planes is coming into sight from the other direction and joining the imposing formation.

Our Brigade’s other battalions are dispersed through adjacvent villages such as Letux, Lécera or Azaila or Samper del Saiz, so far as I know, but they too are left unmolested by the planes.

It is a tremendous show of strength by Franco’s German allies, impressing it upon us that the skies belong to them and that there is nothing we can do about it, because, all through the day, their planes to and fro, circling so that at any given moment they have over a hundred aircraft in the air.

We are all wondering where our air force is, but by now we are used to this and we are afraid that once the ‘joust’ begins, we alone and defenseless, will be the targets.

Today is pay day, for the Brigade pay-master has arrived and everyone lines up in his group to collect his monthly pay. When I take my turn towards the end of the afternoon, I find that the Pay-master has left some time before to pay the other battalions.

I inform Cody of this and he tells me that I can pick up my pay tomorrow.

Just as night is closing in, I write a letter to Mary and another to my mother, this time writing that I have a strange premonition of trouble ahead. I have seen too many of Franco’s planes all day  and I cannot shake off my misgivings. I finish off my letters and turn in for the night.

They rouse us all at about five o’clock in the morning, to tell us that yesterday afternoon the front lines were breached and that we are moving up to seal the gap.

Yesterday’s fly-past flashes across my mind.

They serve us our breakfast which is wolfed down on the run, each man is issued with ammunition and we are ordered to form up in a column, four abreast.

As usual, I am not carrying any weapon. Should I ever need to open fire alongside my comrades, there is always some rifle dropped by a fallen comrade, because, in keeping with the advice from Claudio Villanueva, to whom I was Fausto el españolito, which was who he used to ask for whenever our battalion’s trucks met up on the road with the Spanish Battalion (Claudio’s battalion), I arrive at the front like our officers, carrying no weapons, yet still left that front with a rifle, ammunition and hand grenades.

It is 10th March and the sun is not yet fully up when the Lincoln set off marching down the Belchite to Fuentedetodos road in the four man ranks I mentioned earlier. We are a little uneasy but at the same time upbeat.

Dave Reiss, our acting Battalion commander, Witt Parker, our political commissar, Cody, our ‘grey eminence’ and I, as his sole surviving assistant, march at the head of the battalion.

On this occasion we have not posted any scout patrols ahead of us or on our flanks, because our belief is that we are bound for a front where there are trenches of ours, to relieve our Naval Infantry who man that front.

The pale light of dawn is rendering the entire column formed by our battalion more visible.

We reach the vicinity of the hills at El Santuario del Pueyo and barely half the battalion has passed the Santuario when, without warning, some machine-guns open up, firing at the front ranks of the battalion, inflicting considerable losses; Cody says to me, “Fausto, come on!’ and off I go, running for all I am worth for the top of the El Santuario hills.

On reaching the brow, panting and practically breahless, we scan the huge number of Brigaders sprawling scattered on the ground, most of them never to rise again in that they have been mortally wounded in this unexpected lethal ambush.

We fan out over the hills and to our surprise stumble upon a few companies of Naval infantry ensconced in their shelters; they have been resting up ever since they were relieved from front-line service nearby a few days ago. It seems that these troops have been using El Santuario del Pueyo for this purpose for some time back.

But the surprise is that they spotted the ambush laid for us and into which we have walked; the odd one among them is weeping openly.

I try to calm them, putting questions to them; their answer is that if the fascists laid in wait for us like this, opening up with their machine-guns at virtually point-blank range, without warning, this, they contend, is an indication that their Brigader colleagues have been killed or captured to a man, either yesterday evening, or early this morning.

In no time at all there are artillery fire and mortars raining down all around us.

An ultra-modern fighter plane, a Messerschmitt 109 maybe, or so it seems to me, swoops down on us and starts strafing us with impunity.

At the sight of this plane, which we mistook for just a reconnaissance flight, strafing us without further ado, I duck inside a tiny shelter, little more than a hole in the ground, on the top of the hill, and I am unfortunate enough to drop my knapsack by the entrance to this dug-out.

The flyer, whose outline I can see perfectly, draws a bead on the dug-out and I can see, barely a metre from my eyes, how the plane’s machine-guns are riddling my knapsack as this very latest model of fighter plane makes its pass at around head height.

Once the plane was gone, most probably because he has run out of ammunition, I jump from the dug-out to see what has happened and I see Reiss and Parker along with two Russian advisors  and lots of other people, at the bottom of a gully on the eastern side of the hills.

I spot Cody on the brow of this hill where we are straining to get the measure of what we have in front of us and I question him and he replies in our pidgin English-Spanish that I should get offside quickly for these hills are about to turn into an inferno which will be intolerable.

And in fact shells start to rain down on us. By now this is not a battle any more. The rapid fire from heavy calibre artillery and enemy armour force our Brigaders to take cover as best they may.

I go back down the few metres to where the Naval Infantry dug-outs are; they are terrified by so much booming artillery and I try to reassure them, because to them this is like something out of Dante, accustomed as they are to trading only the odd occasional rifle shot.

After a few moments I hear a horrendous explosion, so close that it might just as well have been a direct hit on our dug-outs.

A few minutes after this and a lieutenant from No 1 Company is carried into the dug-out by some men; they tell us that he has been seriously injured and then they leave again.

I go over to the casualty and, although I cannot name him (this could have been Lieutenant Arnold Staub, listed as having been wounded at Belchite, March 10th 1938. AW), I know him by sight and he knows me.

I reach for his first-aid kit and at the same time, on examining his wounds, I espy a huge shard of shrapnel under his left nipple, momentarily stanching the flow of blood which ought to gushing from there. Other injuries in his right thigh and left calf, however, are bleeding profusely.

He is in pain and by my reckoning is about to die at any moment.

While I am handling him, trying to stem the blood gushing from his thigh, I ask him if there is anything he would like, for I would not dare to touch the wound in his chest. He nods his head and tells me in broken Spanish: “Me want speak with American.” (Mi querer hablar con americano.)

Mustering all of the English at my command, I reply: “ I know I am Spanish, but you can tell me something if you want.”

The casualty, sensing that death is near, insists, but this time in English: “I want to speak with an American.”

At this precise moment Cody dashes into the dug-out and, spotting me, says: “Fausto, come on outside with me.”

To which I reply, in Spanish: “Cody, this guy is dying. Could you not see to him?”

Again Cody tells me: “Come on.”

This time I say to Cody in my broken English: “This man is going to his death and he want to speak with an American man.”

At which Cody gets cross, draws a pistol from his waistband and pointing it straight at me, says: “Come on outside. Let’s go, Fausto.”

I get to my feet beside the injured man and I say to Cody, in Spanish this time: “Sure, Cody, but we’ll talk about this later.”

I emerge from the dug-out with Cody’s gun trained on me, leaving the casualty behind, to meet with a scene from Dante.

Commissar Parker is sprawled on the ground, with a fair proportion of his brains spilling out of the right side of his head.

There are, in addition, the bodies of four or five other dead officers close to the Commissar’s body.

There too is our commanding officer Dave Reiss, arranged on a blanket, his complexion very pale and his eyes already almost glassy; furthermore, part of his intestinal tract is oozing from his belly and he is expected to die at any moment, although efforts are being made to evacuate him.

Which is precisely why Cody has come looking for me.

Three of the four corners of the blanket are held by the clerk-interpreters from Battalion Staff  and the fourth awaits me, or so Cody has determined. It is a matter of necessity as there is no one else around.

We hoist up the blanket bearing the body of the Comandante and in the midst of artillery and mortar  fire and strafing from the German planes, we scurry forward in pursuit of what Brigaders are left from our battalion, all of them hot-footing it in disarray back towards Belchite.

Which is how it turns out that we are the last members of the battalion to evacuate the heights of El Santuario del Pueyo, ferrying the near corpse of our commanding officer, Dave Reiss.

To cap it all, even before we reach the flat ground, enemy tanks are rumbling over the hills and enemy planes, which only yesterday were parading their superiority, are today very active against us, strafing all the retreating Brigaders now.

I can see my three colleagues, struggling, as I am, to ferry our commanding officer’s body along in a blanket, in the knowledge that the worst part in what is to come has fallen to our lot.

For if the vanguard of those desperately scurrying towards Belchite had lent a hand in carrying their commanding officer, they might well have reached the town by now, or at least, found a doctor to try and save the life of the good-natured Dave Reiss.

As we come down the slopes, the groans of our comandante are by now barely audible and his eyes less animated. Two German fighter planes, the only one to have sighted us, peel off from their squadron and dive to strafe us, imagining perhaps – and with good reason – that if four men straggling as they transport one wounded man when all of their comrades have taken to their heels, then that injured man must be very important for those four men to be trying to evacuate him in such adverse circumstances.

And the two fighters hurl themselves at the four stragglers, who are only four now, for the fifth has died.

Because the modest figure of Dave Reiss, a man who never thought himself worthy to command a battalion like the Lincoln Battalion, but comfortable and preferring to command his own Machine-Gunner Company, has just breathed his last.

Taking cover behind the last outcrop before we come to the flat ground, we set the blanket and Dave Reiss’s body on the ground, give hi a shake to see if there is any sign of life remaining and, once certain that he is dead, we close his eyes and leave him there on the ground, almost nestling under the outcrop where we are sheltering.

It is the most that we can do for him.

Our problem now is to find a way to reach the open ground with those two planes hovering over us like two vultures over carrion.

Beyond the low hills of El Santuario del Pueyo there is a bare plain, crossed at the far side by a railway bridge that cuts across the road leading to Belchite. Past that bridge and before one reaches the town, there is more tree cover and then there is a lake.

On the other hand, off to the left of the El Santuario hills and beyond a bald plain, there is an olive grove where we might take cover and defend ourselves against the fighter planes.

Huddled in the lee of the outcrop, we agree on the best way to fall back in an effort to escape the attentions of these tiresome German planes, which wheel and turn, trying to flush us into the open like rabbits.

After a brief discussion among ourselves, the decision is that I should make a dash for it first, with them following suit, one at a time. We also agree that as we make it to the bridge, if we can, we should wait there for the other three, assuming that we all make it.

The manoeuvres of each of us will be visible to the others huddled in the lee of the rock, because it offers a very clear view of the bridge and the supposition is that whoever reaches the bridge will likewise have a clear sight of the others as they withdraw.

My three comrades are less used than I am to exposing themselves to the attentions of fighter planes. I noticed as much when we were carrying our dying commanding officer.

Which is why, I suppose, they reckoned that I should be first to brave the two fighters.

I take off at a furious pave while, looking skywards, I can see the two fighters coming after me. I run in sweeping zig-zag movements, my mind racing to decide the best course of action.

My thoughts race as I run flat out, trying to work out whether I would be better advised to hit the dirt when they strafe me, in which case the target I would be offering them will be 1.65 metres, my height, or to carry on running, in which case the target offered to the strafing German airmen will be no more than 0.30 metres as they zoom by me.

I plump for the latter course and I can hear the machine-gun fire from the first plane thudding into the ground beside me; once it has passed over, I start to zig-zag quickly right and left, thereby weathering unscathed the fire from the second plane as well.

Such is the speed at which I am racing along that I reckon that my heart is about to burst forth from my mouth. Meanwhile, I turn my head and see the two planes firing burst after burst as they make pass after pass over my three comrades’ hiding place.

I can only suppose that the two airmen must reckon that the three hunkered targets and a fourth sprawled on a blanket offer a better target than one running one.

I make it, unscathed, to the railway bridge across the road leading to Belchite and drop to the ground, gasping for breath.

I have barely recovered from my furious dash when I again sight the planes – they have either finished off my three comrades or have at any rate forced them to lie doggo and out of sight- now zeroing in on the bridge, where, in addition to myself, there are a few more Brigaders sheltering who dare not emerge from their hiding place.

The sky as far as Belchite and beyond is filled with planes raking our troops with their fire.

Our venomous enemies, the airmen of the two planes which have peeled away from the rest, are diving again, this time at the bridge and strafing us. Thanks to the bridge, we are not hit.

They make another pass and as they draw level with the bridge and after attempting unsuccessfully to mow us down with their strafing fire, they drop a number of grenades, which are not for me, for without a second thought off I go racing as the planes gear themselves up for a third pass.

I dart over to the big olive grove beyond the bridge and, once there, I have lost sight of the planes which carry on making pass after pass over the bridge.

I try to appraise my new location and I find that near where I have ended up, there are men of the British Battalion flattened against the ground; they have been watching my flight from the planes and their passes over the bridge.

The men from the British Battalion have been lying quiet and silent, trying to evade detection by the planes and using the olive trees for cover.

I report to the officer commanding the British, whose face is familiar to me, though not his name (Sam Wild).

I tell him who I am, he shakes my hand and tells me that he is familiar with me and thus knows who I am .

I brief him on everything that has befallen us since the Francoist dawn surprise attack and he tells me that he knows all this, for they are there for the very purpose of protecting the Lincoln Battalion’s left flank in its desperate fall-back and of ensuring no further ambush of the Lincoln.

He also explains that until daybreak today they were bivouacked in Letux and consequently the trip here has been a straightforward one.

I press him to tell me what is left of the Lincoln and he tells me that the surviving Americans are in Belchite, where Merriman has also arrived.

The British are to try to slow the enemy as best they can but they are also to converge on Belchite, for the enemy has, he says, been detected in very large numbers; Look! the officer commanding the British tells me, and indeed, the El Santuario del Pueyo hills are even now heaving with Franco’s tanks and troops, each column brandishing at its head huge bicolour banners, the old red and yellow flag of Spain. It is apparent that they are ambling along at their ease, as if this is some sort of anodyne military parade for them, because the punishment meted out by their huge numbers of aircraft, artillery and tanks has rendered the opposition hors de combat, as a result of which they can deploy undisturbed.

The commander of the British Battalion advises me to remain with them until we get closer to Belchite, for the enemy has already outflanked us and may hunt me down if I try on my own to reach whatever remains of my battalion.

I ask the officer commanding for a rifle and he has me issued with one, with just ten bullets. He says that he cannot give me any more, but anyway, that should be enough to see me as far as Belchite.

The British make a staged and orderly withdrawal from the olive groves, falling back in echelons, each echelon taking a turn at covering the withdrawal of the other as they fall back in the direction of Belchite.

Just when we are all but in Belchite, with only the lake between us, I take my leave of the British commander who offers his hand again in friendly fashion and shakes mine firmly.

I take off at a desperate run and as I come level with the lake, I have to hit the dirt several times on account of the enemy artillery fire which start to open up at me on my own, until their fire moves ahead towards Belchite.

On past the lake, which I reach on the run in spite of the artillery fire, I come upon a small trench, more of a ditch really, where I can just make out a Brigader from the Lincoln, clutching a silvery self-loading rifle. I scramble across to this little trench before a Francoist column headed by its banner gets too close; it has already taken up position between the British Battalion and Belchite.

As I arrive in the little trench, which is merely a small evacuation trench, a hearty Hello! from the man with the self-loading rifle indicates that he has recognised me from afar and has been awaiting my arrival.

I ask him about Cody and in broken Spanish, because he is aware that my own English is still quite poor, he tells me that Cody must be with Merriman, a little further back.

The troops with the Spanish bicolour flag, already firing upon us, come up against the bold American machine-gunner, who is known to me, as I am to him, albeit not by name; he wastes no time before making effective use of his self-loading rifle. I raise my rifle to my shoulder and I in turn loose off all five of the bullets in the chamber of my Russian Remington, but when I attempt to open the chamber to load the other five I have left, I discover that the chamber is jammed and I cannot open it no matter how I try. I find the American so carried away that he cannot hear my question, so I slap him on the shoulder, show him my rifle and tell him “Goodbye” before scrambling back out of the trench.

As I emerge from the trench on to the road I cross the path of one of our armoured vehicles which, on sighting me, looses off a burst of fire in my direction but misses.

I start to bitch and damn them as ‘bastards’ and the armoured vehicle halts, a lieutenant climbs out and asks me who I am and what is going on.

After telling him who I am, I brief him quickly that the British Battalion is stranded in the olive grove over to the left and that the only thing between the enemy and here and holding them up is the brave American with his self-loading rifle.

I in turn press him for information about the Lincolns and he tells me it is in the cement trenches constructed back when our side captured Belchite. He tells me too, that Cody is trying to rally them and utilise to the full whatever is left of the Lincolns.

I say my farewells to the Spaniards from the armoured vehicle and I begin my uphill climb to where the trenches are and I soon find that I have walked into sludge.

The terrain has been flooded to stop enemy tanks from operating there.

I try to make my way up the slope to the trenches; it is hard going and I advance pulling one foot out of the mud into which I have sunk past the knee and planting the other down to trudge laboriously through the sludge, making headway up the slope, but I can find no way out of the morass.

I call out to some men I can see making their way uphill, they having managed to find a way out of the morass.

In English I call out for help: Help me, comrades! but no one answers.

I give it a go in Spanish: Por favor echarme una mano ! but again get no response.

In the end, seeing as no one wants to lend me a hand and that I am stranded, I call out in Valencian dialect: Per favor achudeume, que no puc isir asoles de asi !

At the sound of my words in Valencian, one of those up ahead turns his head and calls down to me: Ya vaig ! (Coming!)

And down runs this Valencian to greet me, for he knows me, and I ask him his name. And he says to me: Pepe, No 2 Company and you, I know, are Fausto.

He reaches the butt of his rifle out to me. I grab it with both hands, as the Valencian applies his strength to pulling me out and, little by little, I rise up the slope, free of the sludge.

I thank Pepe in Valencian and off he runs up the hill to rejoin the remnants of his unit.

Meanwhile, I halt to get my breath back and ahead of me I spot, on the far side of the morass, Merriman’s Beacon motor car, which looks to me just like an 8 horse-power Ford, and there beside the car is Bob, undaunted and heedless of the grenades exploding near him.

Perhaps conscious of the watching eyes of his men, for he knows for sure that they are watching him, Merriman poses in a display of bravery.

In fact, we all venerate him for his prestige and his holding his ground as the grenades go on exploding now does nothing to diminish it.

As ever he has on high boots like women used to wear at the turn of the century, but higher still, brown and laced up almost to knee height.

His boots, his riding breeches and spotless officer’s tunic as well as his gold braided cap would identify him even if were I not able to see his face, for he is just a little over fifty metres in a straight line from where I am.

I lose sight of Merriman, acting out with dignity his role as the imperturbable hero, as he starts to climb towards the complex of trenches at the very moment that I am about to enter them.

Throughout all this, the German and Italian planes are strafing continually and their artillery bombing us without let-up.

Once in the trenches I ask about Cody and they tell me that he can be found in a spacious ‘bunker’ a few metres beyond the trenches.

I slip into the ‘bunker’ and there is Cody with three or four officers unknown to me, for they are not from the Lincoln Battalion.

Cody, to whom I report and whom I hail very seriously, reacts in a very friendly way, asking me for any news and showing especial interest in Dave Reiss’s death latterly in El Santuario del Pueyo and in the circumstances of the British Battalion which took me under its wing.

He asks how I am physically, having seen my haggard, weary face.

I am, I tell him, footsore, because all I needed on this fateful day, was that mudslide and I tell him that it was only thanks to that Valencian that I managed to extricate myself from the sludge.

He asks me if I am up to  going out on to an observation post, for, of the ten observers we had at the outset, he and I are the only ones left, with this difference, I volunteer – that he is now officer commanding the Lincoln Battalion, there being no one else to do it.

But I also tell him that, physically, I am spent and that maybe some grub would get me over my exhaustion.

Cody’s answer is that there is none to be had and that I should stay in the ‘bunker’ to get what rest I can, for the Francoist troops are so many, as are their tanks and guns, that there is no need for observer work, since they are already on top of us.

Unexpectedly – at any rate unexpected by me – I see Merriman stride into the ‘bunker’, with a negro lieutenant in tow.

He catches sight of me and calls out ‘Hello, Fausto!’ and then strikes up a conversation with Cody about I know not what; my English is so poor that I can only make out two phrases: ‘over here’ and ‘over there’.

Cody takes out some maps and sets about explaining to Merriman how things stood on the front this morning when the enemy caught us on the hop.

At this point I imagine the worst for, after they have been a while in conversation, Merriman’s head turns slightly to look at me across the room. I reckon that Cody must be telling him how he had to force me at gunpoint to lend a hand in the attempt to save Reiss, for I hear them mention that name and later in the conversation I hear the word ‘British’ used, so I imagine that my earlier report to Cody has placed him in a position where he can point out on the maps pretty much the exact spot where the British should be by now.

As their conversation proceeds, with both of them chattering excitedly, lieutenants, or sergeants come in from time to time with ordinary Brigaders who have come to collect crates of munitions, containing bullets, machine-gun ammunition belts and hand grenades from the dump set up here in the ‘bunker’.

Merriman, Cody and the negro lieutenant and the other two officers from Brigade Command there, carry on chatting. Cody points out the telephone in the ‘bunker’ and carries on talking to Merriman, but all that I can make out is the word ‘nothing’ from time to time; the explanation, I think, is that requests were put for food, for munitions, for artillery support, for aerial support, but there are no munitions, no guns no planes to be had except Franco’s munitions, guns and planes.

The conversation dies away and an ominous silence falls over the ‘bunker’.

A little later, in comes another lieutenant with some men in search of munitions and off they go with the last of the boxes.

Cody and Merriman start to splutter and swear. It seems to me that they are saying that the situation is untenable.

That we are not going to have any option but to make a run for it where we may, for we are virtually surrounded on all sides and will shortly be in no position to defend ourselves.

Not only have Franco’s forces poured in along the road from Fuendetodos, but they have also outflanked on our right along the Mediana road and on our left via Azuara.

Franco’s onslaught has resulted in a complete collapse of the front.

There are upwards of a hundred planes continually in the air, huge number of tanks on the ground and who knows how many hundreds of cannons and between them they have pulverised all our defences.

The ambush and subsequent massacre of a goodly fraction of the Lincolns in El Santuario del Pueyo just puts the tin hat on it.

Again some lieutenants arrive in search of munitions for the shooting is very heavy.

Merriman tells the lieutenants that there are no munitions left and that they should hold out as best they can until nightfall, using their men’s remaining ammunition sparingly and, if need be, fight with fixed bayonets. Later he will order a withdrawal so that by morning a new front will have been established. The lieutenants leave the ‘bunker’ in deep depression.

Around six o’clock in the  evening, with the light fading and with nightfall imminent, Merriman issues the order to fall back to Hijar or to wherever each man can reach.

This is tantamount to saying: Run for your lives!

We then drove to Belchite where Josie was interviewed close to Sant Augustin church. I showed them the curious unexploded shell lodged in the church. Whilst I was interviewed, I let Josie, Alan & Parkie “run free” with the warning that I would call them back to the car with a silver plated whistle that I use on the Ebro in the mountains to bring people together. I am not sure if is my exposure to World War One films, but I expect that such whistles might have been used in the trench assaults when “going over the top”? However most attacks by the Republicans were done there at night and in complete silence. Perhaps it is just my imagination?

Republican artillery shell embedded in the tower of Sant Augustin

Eventually, after a lot of blowing on my whistle, we finally drove to Quinto cemetery to show the first objective of the Lincoln Washington battalion on August 24th 1937. It was near here that “English Captain”,Tom Wintringham, was wounded. Across the way one could see Quinto church, the second objective of the assault on the town. The church bells were used, so it seems, as target practice when several assaults had been attempted & the Americans were reluctant to expose themselves. It seems that the bells made a nice sound when hit by a bullet! Eventually the defenders were smoked out. Josie, Alan & Parkie explored the Spanish culture of death whilst I was again interviewed in the cemetery.

We then had lunch in a bar in Quinto with Palma & Rafael before saying goodbye & driving quickly back to Belchite so that Josie could bring back some stones close to where her father, Steve Nelson, was wounded. We then followed one of the routes taken by the Republican Army towards Azaila when they retreated in disorder on March 12th 1938 in the wake of the Nationalist prototype blitzkrieg that broke the line. No cover at all. Just flat, open space for miles and miles. Between March 10th & April 2nd 1938, 283 American Brigaders were killed; 140 of them having been executed after capture. They are still lying in unknown graves or ditches in this landscape…..

Alan, Rafael the cameraman, Parkie, Josie & Palma, the director, in front of Quinto church after shooting.

We visited Hijar to show Alan, Parkie & Josie the old Jewish Quarter where the original synagogue, built in 1410 before the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492. The roof of the synagogue partly collapsed in February 2010, and now a Project in the town is being developed to celebrate & remember this history. More to come on this as it occurs. We were invited to view inside the old synagogue, which is now a chapel, but they could not find the person with the keys. Another time on another visit….

We then quickly drove to nearby Puebla de Hijar, which was an important railway junction for the Aragon Offensive, & also where an American hospital was based until March 1938. On a previous visit we were shown the building used as offices by the hospital, but the wards were wooden huts or tents, & just the location is known. On a previous visit the alcadesa, Juana Barreras, invited us to return & interview her 90 year old mother who remembers the Americans when they were here. We first visited the fossa commun where the dead from the hospital are buried and a memorial is now standing to the Republican dead. Steve Nelson was taken to this hospital after having been wounded at Belchite, and graphically describes the hospital in his book “The Volunteers”.

However, a weekend conference was being held on the day that we came & we had the pleasure of hearing part of one of the papers. Oddly enough the conference coincided with the 400th anniversary of the expulsion of the Moors. So in just one day we touched Christian, Jewish & Moorish history side by side in the landscape! Once these people lived side by side in relative harmony, but then this collapsed in the main, because of greed, ignorance and fear promulgated by their leaders. Sounds familiar?

I am pleased to see these projects that are now ongoing, to understand this hidden past in the landscape & I hope that in the future I can show future visitors this fascinating and diverse history.

During a break in the papers we met the alcadesa and her son, Ramon, who is an historian and would be keen to do more research on the hospital as there is very little in the local archives. This makes me realise that there is a wealth of information in the ALBA Archives. Ramon speaks very good English & as with the Villa Paz project, it would be great if an American student could work with Ramon to search the ALBA Archives in a joint book project on this hospital.  If this interests you, please contact me.

One story from this hospital was by British Brigader, Percy Ludwig. He fell in love with one of the Spanish nurses there and asked her if she would like to marry an Englishman or a Spaniard? After much thought she replied that she would like to marry an Englishman from the waist up, but a Spaniard from the waist down.

I don’t understand either.



We drove to Marca from Casa Ecologica at La Fatarella and arrived at the tomb of John Cookson with the intention of taking part in the laying of Clarence Kailen’s ashes beside John Cookson. Sadly, we missed the event by ten minutes, as did others who were standing there from as far as Madrid with Republican flags waving in the gentle breeze on a sunny day. Perhaps it was a lack of communication between those keen to pay their respects to Clarence, or the desire by the family and friends of Clarence for privacy that muddled the timing, but the more public event by the International Brigade memorial just outside the village had over 100 people attending. After a warm welcome by the new alcalde, various speeches by such people as a representative from Memorial Democratic aswell as speeches by American friends of Clarence, highlighted by a moving and emotional speech by his son, John. A concrete bench was unveiled and an olive tree with a plaque was dedicated to the memory. All the speeches were ably translated into and from English by Bob Coale, who had joined the group of 6 Americans from Wisconsin.

(l to r). Angela Jackson, Bob Coale, and a representative from the PSC of Catalonia

Friends & representatives of the Kailen group from Wisconsin who came to Marca to leave the ashes of Clarence Kailen and to unveil a seat and olive tree in his memory.

John, Clarence Kailen’s son, seated on the bench.

Detail of the inscription on the bench

The meal after the unveiling

The group then ate in Marca at two venues owing to the large number of visitors. At 5.00pm the group then drove to La Torre de Fontabella further down  “Chabola Valley” to view the NJLM exhibition “Brigadistas entre nosaltres”, Papers from the Salamanca Archive concerning the area of the Priorat, and also the initial draft of a new version of “Un pessic de Priorat”- a dvd on the International Brigades in the area after the Great Retreats and before the Battle of the Ebro with added film taken in the area  thanks to the help of Rickard Jorgensson, a close friend of Harry Randall, who was in charge of the XV International Brigade Photographic Unit during the Spanish Civil War and who preserved and took back to the USA in December 1938 a mass of photographs and movie film that provide the basis of identification of various places in Spain and Catalonia. We owe a great deal of thanks to Rickard Jorgensson for his enthusiasm and action in making these things happen.

Some of the people attending the evening event in La Torre de Fontaubella

A smiling Seve Montero, President of AABI, who had travelled with other members of AABI all the way from Madrid to pay their respects to Clarence Kailen

The night drew to a close and we agreed to meet some members of AABI to show them some places on the Ebro battlefield the next day. Luckily, Bob Coale was able to show the Kailen group the important places of the Battle both  before and after the event, leaving me free to show Josie, Alan and Parkie the various unknown places present in the landscape.


At 10.30 we met Isabele Pinar, secretary of AABI, with Curro and Manuela, his wife, at the exact position where the XV Brigade crossed on the morning of July 25th, 1938.

Alan & Merce walking down to the river Ebro

The identification of the site from one of the photos taken on 25th July 1938. Note the crag.

Note the same crag top left. The river level was far lower then.

By some strange coincidence, after the scattering of the ashes of Michael O’Riordan in 2007 and Moe Fishman in 2008, I decided to walk along the Ebro riverbank to try and identify the spot. Starting at the place where we scattered these two Brigaders’ ashes, to my surprise it became apparent that the place where they crossed was the same spot. Though at the time of the crossing the river was far lower, a crag on the far side and some hills perfectly identify the crossing place close to Asco.

Parkie, Josie, Alan & Alan

The same spot on July 25th, 1938

Isabelle, Alan, Manuela & Curro.

We then drove to the Memorial at Camposines. This was a most pleasant surprise for all of us as only two weeks before, new panels with names of the dead from both sides that have been recovered or identified from the battlefield have been unveiled.

The 27 panels includes the following names of International Brigaders:

Hans Andreason.

Karl Olaf Andreason.

Clement Broadbent (English. Dewsbury, Manchester).

Irving Fishgold (American. New York. kia 27th July 1938)

Detail of one of the 27 plaques at Camposines

Leif Frederiksen (Norwegian)

Karl Olaf Frederiksen (Norwegian)

George Gorman (Irish/English. Derry. kia 23rd September, 1938)

Kristian Jacobsen (Norwegian)

Einar Jacobsen (Norwegian)

Olaf Johansen (Norwegian)

Einar Juul Pettersen (Norwegian. kia  23rd September, 1938. His diaries and letters are in the Pavello de la Segunda Republica in Barcelona).

Hartvig Lundberg (Norwegian)

Odd Olsen (Norwegian)

Rudolf Paulsen (Norwegian)

Otto Sunde Refseth (Norwegian)

I originally thought that the remains of these people had been positively identified by COMEBE through papers and DNA sampling and over 400 names are present.  However, after talking with locals, I now understand that mere proof of death has been the criteria for inclusion. There will be more to add to the panels and often one finds human remains in a bag hung on the door to the ossuary  there. One can assume that the Scandinavian names are from the XI Brigade who fought for Hill 565 in the Sierra Cavalls and whose remains have probably laid there sine the fighting over 70 years ago. Oddly enough, in early October I took a group of 29 Norwegians round the Ebro only a week before these plaques were unveiled. I am sure that they would have been very pleased to see Einar Juul Petersen, whose diaries and letters survive describing the fighting on the Ebro. He died on the last day of action. Thanks to Jo Stein Moen from Norway, I have identified the Norwegians from the list . Many flowers, photographs and offerings were there and now that the old panels have been removed (including the one in English concerning David Guest), the place becomes a much more important places of remembrance. It pleased me and us all greatly.

Isabelle, Curro and Manuela in front of the British battalion memorial on Hill 705

Hill 666 to the right behind the tree, as seen from Hill 705

Hill 609 to the south east of Hill 666 (off the photo to the left), held by the Mackenzie Papineau battalion during the defence of the Sierra Pandols. Corbera is behind Hill 609

Josie in front of the Quinta de Biberon memorial on Hill 705

We then visited Hill 481, Hill 705 and had lunch at a bar in Corbera where the owners kindly gave two unused Russian bullets to give to Josie, Parkie and Alan.

(Left) Maria & Jose of La Parada Bar in Corbera, posing with us after a very nice meal, courtesy of Curro. Note the huge plastic bottle of wine on the table in front that was a gift for Curro from Jose and Maria for his singing. All Merce and I got was a bottle of olives (which were very nice too)! Alan, Josie & Parkie got two Russian bullets which they had to decide how to share between them.

I let them decide how they would share them and promised the loser another one when they return to Spain again.

La Parada Bar in Corbera run by Maria and Jose

Curro singing a song from Seville in honour of the Brigaders

After a lunch, to which we were kindly invited to by Curro, we visited Vincente Julia to allow Curro the chance to discuss the death of Robert Merriman and for Josie, Parkie and Alan to view his incredible collection of artefacts from the Battle.

Vincente & Curro talking about the death of Merriman

Robert Merriman. I expect that most readers know the story of his death. At night on April 2nd, 1938 the group of American survivors attempted to cross the Gandesa-Corbera road in order to try and get to safety on the other side of the Ebro River near Cherta. The many descriptions by such people as John Gerlach (“Ivan”), Leonard Lamb and Milton Wolff describe Merriman and Dave Doran disappearing into the darkness. However, Vincente Julia has been gathering oral evidence from local people over many years that seems to indicate a different fate for Merriman.  The evidence is slight, but compelling and I will try to summarise what has so far been discovered.

Robert Merriman

According to local evidence, following the ambush close to Corbera on the night of Saturday April 2nd, 1938, seven Internationals were held in the cellar of one of the few still-standing buildings in Corbera as prisoners overnight. One of these men was “a tall soldier wounded in the leg”. The following morning, orders were received from the Nationalist High Command to shoot the prisoners, and so first two, then two more and finally the last three, including  “the tall soldier wounded in the leg” were taken out and shot. It seems that the tall soldier started arguing with the firing squad in order for the two others to make an escape, but they were shot as they tried to run and then the tall soldier was also shot. One of those shot was Polish according to a written statement by an anonymous Nationalist officer. The bodies were buried in “two handwidth depths” of soil under the olive trees (The soil under these trees is constantly tilled to keep weeds down). The place where they were shot has been identified close by behind the building.

The place where Merriman was shot, according to locals interviewed by Vincente Julia

One may class this oral evidence as lacking in hard fact, but many contemporary accounts point to the rumour of capture of Merriman and subsequent execution. See Bessie, Rolfe and other sources such as Conrad Schmidt, a Swiss stretcher bearer, who was part of the group who tried to cross the road, that can be cited to support this.

Fausto Vilar, who served with the Lincoln Washington battalion, describes the possible shooting of Merriman, but many of those researching this period doubt it’s true authenticity regarding when it occurred and where (more likely above Gandesa the previous day, than between Corbera and Gandesa). However, Fausto’s  capture a day or so later and the fate of the Americans also captured with him, seems authentic. The possible location of the execution described by Fausto below has been identified as near the Cave Estado Mayor used by the XV Brigade in September 1938 according to the mappings of bodies found after the Great Retreats. Between March 19th and April 3rd 1938, 243 Americans were killed and of this total 140 were executed.

“Now there is upwards of one hundred of us prisoners, making up a straggling line.

Some Francoist soldiers are frisking the captives one by one. When my turn comes to be searched, the soldier carrying it out spots my silver wristwatch which belonged to my father and which my mother had insisted that I use ever since I turned 18. His eyes light up and he asks me: Will you make me a present of it?

Who could say no?

I agree and am left watchless. As for my wallet containing photos of Mary and my mother, he sees it, says nothing and returns the wallet to me.

Once they have finished searching us all, a Francoist officer, the Valencian, Captain Puig de Carcer, orders: All Spaniards, one step to the front!

The entire line, as one man, takes a step forward, Americans included.

Then Captain Puig de Carcer barks: Americans, one step to the front!

Nobody in the line budges.

In actual fact, had Captain Puig de Carcer, the Spanish officer, used physiognomy and height as his criteria, he could easily have picked them out with scarcely an error.

But it is worth noting that even though they are in the front lines using their cavalry to force pockets of enemy troops into surrender, the men charged with such identification tasks must be acting under very strict instructions, because there is no reaction to this failure to separate the foreigners from the Spaniards.

Starting at one end of the line, Captain Puig de Carcer begins to question us one by one, making his selection and picking out of the line anyone whom he identifies as a foreigner.

In so doing, his opening question goes something like this:

Como te llamas?

Which is to say: What is your name?

This alone induces lots of them to give themselves away the moment they open their mouth and utter a Spanish name in an atrocious foreign accent.

Should the person being questioned reply in good Spanish, but Captain Puig de Carcer reckon him to be a foreigner anyway, there is a follow-up question: Where are you live?

As this is greeted with a display of not understanding, the prisoner is then asked instead: Donde vives?

Donde naciste? Cual es el pueblo mas importante de la provincia donde has nacido?

After all these questions, which those being questioned understand, in that they have a smattering of Spanish, they virtually all end up giving themselves away, because, for all that they know a little Spanish, their knowledge of Spain’s geography is not good enough to rescue them and so they fall into the snares of this simple but effective interrogation technique.……..


Questioning over and after two lines have been formed – one of foreigners, the other of Spaniards – the foreign Brigaders are marshalled and taken away.

But those of us still left face subtler questioning until eventually they seem to be persuaded that all of us who are left are Spaniards.

Later, albeit at some remove, there is the ratatat of machine-guns. We fear and reckon with some sadness that they must have liquidated all of the Internationals that were taken away earlier, although we cannot say so, because from time to time we can still hear scattered shots.

Not that that is the end of it. The eternal Judas, a lad from Buñol (Valencia), whom I never liked, either to show himself in a good light or because he himself is a fascist – God alone knows for sure – wastes no time in denouncing two out of the five or six American Brigaders whom I know to be still in our line posing as Spaniards, having weathered the questioning.

The squalour of the actions of the fellow from Buñol makes my stomach heave but, by way of a counter-point to the actions of this Buñolense, I am even more disturbed by the conduct of one of the Americans betrayed who throws himself to the ground, prostrate at the feet of the Francoist officer, to plead for mercy.

I am intensely revolted and disgusted to see a Spaniard – a Valencian, at that – sink to such depths and by the American Brigader’s lack of integrity in offering us the depressing spectacle of the vanquished anxiously pleading with the victor for mercy.

I begin to nurse a resentment and repugnance towards them all. Just then, any belief in human kindness has deserted me.

It strikes me that evil is in the ascendancy and that it might have been better had I been cut down by the machine-guns this morning.

When all is said and done, Cody and Merriman were lucky, for they both were spared the evil times I have just sampled.”

The place is known, the evidence is known, but what is the truth?

After visiting Corbera Curro. Isabelle and Marylina (sic) parted to return to Seville and Madrid and Parkie and Alan joined me to visit the Cave Estado Mayor near Corbera which was described by Alvah Bessie in “Men in Battle” and mentions the last moments of John Cookson. Luckliy Bob Coale was given directions by Vincente and took the Kailen group there on the Friday before the comemmoration the day before and save me the task.

To read the passage in the peace and quiet of the cave today is a worthwhile and moving experience in the peace and calm of today when compared to early September 1938:

XV Brigade Estado Mayor

“Here, at one time, peasants had utilised the natural shelter, filled its mouth with masonry and constructed a home (Spain was still full of cave dwellers who had no place else to live). The cavern was partitioned into many large rooms, and each room was now crowded with men. From each room there rose a hum of conversation in a low tone, the rattle of typewriters, the buzzing of the central, the separate voice of one or another of the jefes on the telephone. For the cavern in the rocks was the central, the nerve centre of our Brigade; from there ran a network, a spider-web of wires, down the mountainside, over the barrancos, to the seperate command posts of our four battalions, deployed in front of the enemy lines. Over the wires, strung precariously from hill to hill, went the information that coordinated our activities, that bound us together and permitted us to function as an integral corps. And at the centre of this web of wire was the man who held all the wires in his hands, whose will and intelligence was felt at the extremities of the lines. He was a small man, as stature goes; he did not afford the stereotyped picture of a military man. But you would not have needed to read a record of his achievements as a commander since this war began, to feel that he knew what he was doing and that his adjutants had confidence in him. This small, unimpressive man was Major José Antonio Valledor, Commander of the XVth International Brigade.


Candlelight has a way of distorting shadows; they wave and flutter over the stone ceiling, augmenting the atmosphere of unreality. You cannot overcome this sense of unreality, of walking and climbing through the quiet Spanish countryside, mounting the terraces, skirting the olive trees, and then, entering a cave to find activity that should only rightly have its place (or so it seems) in some large meeting hall in some  large city.

“Pongame con la Cincuenta y Ocho,” says tha voice. Then, “Wolff…four hundred zapadores are coming up there; use them as you see fit. Hello. Oiga, oiga! Central, yo estaba hablando con la Cincuenta y Ocho…”.

In the distance there is a machine gun speaking; it has a sharp authoritative voice in the silence of the night. There is a moon behind mottled clouds, moving in and out of them, and the night is alternately bright and then, suddenly, the light fades out of the sky. The huge black hill that the enemy is holding is afire, a creeping line of flame, like a glow-worm, crawls across its face… Inside again, Valledor is standing near the doorway; he wears a short leather jacket that hangs open; his hands are in its pockets; he wears no hat. In the course of the night, that seems interminable, that is filled with mechanical and human voices, you notice that he is never alone-he is always talking to the soldiers, to his officers; he always has time to talk to his men, and there is no difference in his demeanor, whether he is talking to the Divisional Commander or to a soldier posted as a guard at the door. He is always cheerful; he gives the appearance of possessing a boundless fund of good humour; he laughs frequently, talking in a manner that is entirely characteristic of the man-short, staccato sentences.

“Digame.” Says the voice. “Quien? El capitán Dunbar? Un momento………”.

Two A.M.

There are men stretched in their blankets against the rock walls of the cavern, transmissions men, guards, runners resting temporarily from their endless rounds of the battalions; they lie in grotesque postures like the dead, the heavy sleep of exhaustion upon them for the moment; although they can rise from sleep with their senses wide-awake. But the hum of the central never ceases; the 59th is reporting on fortification work, the British, in reserve, are getting ready to move into the lines. “Digame.” Says the voice. “Aqui La Quince. De parte de quien?”. “Damn it all!” says another voice, “Goddard was here to show them where to place that anti-tank. Get busy on it!”. “Pongame,” says the voice, “con La Batallon Sesenta…Oiga…Oiga!”. The candles flicker in the draft through the open doorway, where a guard stands wrapped in a blanket; there is a hum of conversation from a point on the dirt floor where Valledor and Brigade Commissar gates are talking. They are huddled close together; Gate’s voice low, indistinct. Valledor’s sharp, accented. These two, years apart, continents distant in culture and training, are here together in a cave in the hills of Spain, talking together in a manner characteristic of old friends who have never parted since they met, years before. Gates gets up to go; he is visiting the lines before he turns in for an hour´s sleep.

There is something in the night air; there is tension to be felt both in the silence and the still persistent hum of conversation; in the sound of feet coming and going. It had been felt during the day when the enemy artillery was active, when the shells dropped in the dooryard of the command-post, when the walls of the cavern trembled under the load of air-bombs, when the Fascist observation plane was wheeling overhead like a broad-winged vulture. Now it is felt again in the silence of the night, a silence broken only by a heavy gun in the near distance, by the rattle of our tanks moving on the main road below, the authoritative voice of the distant machine gun.

Valledor and Dunbar, chief of staff, examine maps on which the hills are numbered. Goddard speaks in his slow, precise voice. Brigade scouts and observers are listening. “That point is under observation in daytime” someone says. The heads draw closer together over the maps, the voices are lower, the tension seems to mount. The central buzzes continually and Valledor bends over the phone at his side; he consults a map. Outside the moon is uncovered and there are mules moving up the barranco; the patient, tireless beasts are bringing up endless cases of munitions. They pass over the crest of the hill on their way to the battalions…..

Dawn came to the sleeping and waking men in the cavern atop the hill and the front awoke. Squadrons of planes battled over out heads, not two hundred feet above the mountain-top, and we watched them eagerly through the open space above the blocked up entrance to the cave. One fascist plane fell, and word came by telephone that the pilot, who had bailed out, had been captured and would be brought to headquarters. The enemy artillery, that had had our command post spotted from the beginning of the engagement, filled the long barranco and landed regular shells in the very dooryard. You did not dare go outdoors for a leak, and so you held your water all day long. The acoustics of the cave amplified the sound; dust fell from the rock ceiling, it was an echoing void of noise, and we sat calmly enough on the floor, waiting for the inevitable shell that would come right through the doorway.

“What are those bastards trying to do?” said Cookson, the transmissions adjutant, “If they keep this up, they´re going to hurt somebody.” He spoke it in a high nasal voice that was pretty enervating, but worse than that, he insisted on reading the Spanish newspaper aloud to everyone within earshot. The linesmen were continually going out on the lines; the Lincoln´s line was broken, the Mac-Pap, the British, the 24th. One man lost a leg…..

Johnny Gates came from the other room of the cave, where Valledor and Dunbar had their map table. He was looking at me; he was smiling. I showed him the two letters and he laughed and handed them back to me. He turned to walk away, and then he said,

“You know about Aaron, don’t you?”

No, what?” I said.

“He died.”

Aaron Lopoff

They brought the Fascist pilot in, and he was a Spanish youngster in a beautiful Italian flying suit, with a bullet wound in his arm and a broken face. The Spanish company commander had smashed him in the jaw in a fit of rage (and we all agreed that while this may have been humanly understandable, it was politically incorrect. He was obviously terrified; he shook like a leaf from head to foot and expected to be shot out of hand. Valledor questioned him and Smyrka, our Czech chief of intelligence, questioned him, and he was most polite. He was a native of Majorca and had been a pilot before the war. When the Fascists took Majorca, they had asked him to fly for them and since there is nothing a pilot would rather do than fly, he had accepted. He had raided Barcelona many times. Like most pilots everywhere, he had no political convictions whatsoever, and it is relatively easy to drop high explosives on people you cannot see. He was utterly astonished and tearful when we took his picture, and even more so when Smyrka gave him his name and address and said, “Write to me in a month or so and let me know how you are.” The artillery that was landing outside horrified him…..

For a time, at Valledor´s request, I lay on top of the hill and watched the battle through binoculars. It would have taken a trained observer to know what was going on, and I was not a trained observer. I could see the flash of their artillery, in broad daylight, from behind Corbera, and I could see where ours was landing in their lines. It was a panoramic vista (as the censor suspected), in which, occasionally, you could catch a glimpse of tiny men moving slowly forward or back; but largely it was a lovely, empty landscape….

The men´s predictions were correct, for with dawn they opened up again. “Christ,” said Cookson, who stopped reading the paper long enough to listen, “if they don´t stop that, somebody´s going to get hurt.” But he had little time to read, for runners came in a dozen times before noon with words that the lines were down, and since all the other transmissionists were out (three had been wounded), he had to go out to the lines himself. The cave was as noisy as a boiler factory, dust was filtering from the ceiling, rising from the floor. First-aid men were being called out continually to take care of comrades in the near vicinity, and the runners ran their legs off….. I was told that a Fascist prisoner had said, “I know that I will die, but please shoot me; don’t feed me to the lions in Barcelona Zoo.” (Franco told them that these “Reds” were capable of anything; and that the Barcelona lions were pretty hungry.)……..

A couple of transmissionists came in the door, panting and filthy, covered with dirt from head to foot. They asked for Jim Ruskin, British transmissions-chief, and one of them said, “Cookson-“ and threw out his hands. Jim bit his lip and turned back to the central; Cookson was his closest friend….

Then there came a hideous whistling scream and the ear-splitting crash that always comes with that crash, and the cave was opaque with brown rock dust and dirt and the sound of wounded crying and moaning and men coughing and spitting with the dust. It took half and hour to clear up, and no more shells came, and they took out the eight wounded, including Captain Dunbar and the fat Spanish secretary who wore the broken pistol. Then the planes came over and unloaded directly over our heads and we hugged the earth floor as the cave rocked and trembled with the weight and concussion, but no stone fell in. The planes went away and returned and strafed the men, their machine guns going full blast for minutes at a time, like sewing machines. And two hours later they directed their artillery at the estado-mayor again, but they were not lucky enough to make another direct hit, and at five-thirty the next morning, in the bitter cold of early September in that part of Spain, I returned to the old headquarters to get out a bulletin.”

We then returned to the guest house and prepared to move on to the Segre Front the following morning.


On Monday morning we returned to Corbera via “Death Valley” (one of two such named valleys here) below Cuatro Camins to take some more photos. On the way we stopped at Wind Turbine 7. The area of the Terra Alta is being transformed by Wind Turbines to the number of 250.

Josie, Alan & Parkie on the infamous Wind Turbine 7

A portion of one of the huge  new turbine towers being brought up to the Terra Alta on the day we were there.

This is no bad thing as far as renewable energy is concerned, but sadly, archaeological evidence is being torn up by the construction of approach roads to service these monsters and recently the building of Wind Turbine 7 disturbed a mass grave of 400 soldiers from both sides including a number of French Brigaders from the XIV International Brigade of the 45th Division who came to fight here in the last days of the presence of the International Brigades in late September 1938. We also visited the place where photographs of the Lincoln Washington battalion moving out of Corbera on the morning of March 31st to their doom.

Then to Darmos to do a “Then and now” shot of Alvah Bessie that was taken there in April 1938. This allowed Alan to do a pretty good impression of Alvah!

Alan “Bessie” Entin

The real Alvah Bessie, April 1938. Darmos

We then drove 90 minutes northwards towards Lleida to the beautiful village of Montsonis. On the way we stopped to visit the remains of a T26 Russian tank that had been dragged out of the River Segre in the late eighties after three tanks had fallen in during the failed August 1938 Offensive here.

We arrived in the beautiful village of Montsonis about 6.00pm and then disaster struck!

Ten little monkeys jumping on the bed.

One fell off and bumped her head.

Mama called the Doctor, and the Doctor said:

“No more monkeys jumping on the bed!”

I can’t take my eyes of Josie, Parkie or Alan for a minute. As I was manfully dragging their bags in, organising washing, arranging Wi Fi for them and so on, there was a horrendous scream from one of the bedrooms! A mouse? A spider? I rushed in and found Josie on the floor having tripped over one of the bed supports  and had dropped awkwardly on her right shoulder. We helped her up and she was in great pain. Possibly a dislocated shoulder or a strained tendon? Ice in a bag was applied and Ibroprufen offered. Then the true horror of “socialised medicine” that Americans shudder in fear at mention of the name began to make its ominous rumblings as we decided to take her to the doctor! Read on, if you dare!

In a nutshell, nothing awful happened, really. We drove to the local medical centre in Artesa de Segre and a doctor soon turned up to examine Josie. She ordered an ambulance to take Josie for an x ray and examination at Lleida Hospital and I duly followed the ambulance in my car after collecting her belongings should she have to stay in overnight. I arrived just as she was being discharged and drove her back to Montsonis where we were able to get back to bed by 0230.  Sadly, her right clavicle had a clean break and if kept immobile for four weeks (which it is now!)  should heal up well.

The most scandalous affair out of this brush with the horrors of socialised medicine was that there was no one to accompany Josie in the ambulance (The two crew were quite shocked that I did not come with them, but I needed to collect Josie’s belongings, just in case)! In addition, the shock of other patients when Josie came in to the waiting room alone was also quite impressive, I have been told! However, Josie passed the time waiting by talking English with a child who had spent a month in Ireland learning English along with his mother. Oh yes. The real scandal was the waiting at Artesa de Segre, but that was for a replacement ambulance to take the place of the one taking Josie to Lleida!

Thank you to all the people who looked after Josie during the night. It was a pleasant surprise to see the European Healthcare system in action too. We are very, very lucky here and I grieve for the American system of medical care. For enlightenment I recommend watching Michael Moore’s film “Sicko”.


Parkie, Josie (with her arm in a sling), Alan & Sara Hamill, our host, in front of the beautiful castle of Montsonis

Josie bravely decided to complete the journey after a long discussion over breakfast. Well done! We then drove to the amazing Escola Militar (Military School) at nearbye Tudela de Segre to view the preserved art in this old building that has been preserved since late 1938 as a Military School to train ncos on chemical warfare. Propaganda art still stands in the old dining room and lesson plans for gas warfare in the adjacent room. Graffiti is strewn on the walls in the top floor where the soldiers slept. This building is a fascinating time machine, but is up for sale and the fear is that if some city slicker buys it the art and rooms will be painted over and lost. It would be lovely if a philanthropic group  or groups working together could help raise money to purchase this and preserve it aswell as adapt the building to use as an interpretation centre and venue for trips, education weekends with young people and a venue for exhibitions. It is 90 minutes from Barcelona and is in a beautiful part of Catalonia. Any offers? We have people there keen to help and though Memorial Democratic made an offer to purchase the building the offer was too low and was refused. However, with the present situation the price could be reduced…

The Escola Militar

The Dining room propaganda. Stabbed in dots on this  wall by bayonet is the word “VIVA” (Espana), and the eyes, throat and groin of the officer have been “bayoneted”, probably by advancing Natioinalist troops searching the house around Christmas 1938.

An example of the Wall art

Chemical warfare lesson plans in adjacent room

However, Josie, Alan and Parkie were very privileged to see this as it may not be visible for long! Many thanks to Sara Hamill for organising this visit.

As an aside, the church  in Tudela de Segre has a bomb casing as a bell!

Our leisurely drive to Ripoll was enlivened by a quick drive up to a hilltop village called Ribelles, hoping to find a bar for lunch.


However we entered a village virtually deserted with a partially ruined castle and church perched on the top. Suddenly a car drove up and out creeped painfully an old man whose name I subsequently learned was Jacinto. He disappeared and then I was suddenly approached by a young man with a twee Burberry  scarf wrapped round his neck and a casual jacket topped by a grey brushed trilby. We eyed each other – one with a smart trilby (looking like a cross between a Mafia hit man and one of the Kray twins) and myself armed only with a much superior Tilley hat. I started to witter on in Catalan asking about the place to which my new friend, “Carlos” (as I found out later) replied in English. I continued nattering in Catalan and we soon parted on amiable, though slightly confused, terms. Five minutes later the old wobbly gateway to the castle was opened from the inside by the equally wobbly Jacinto, holding a bunch of keys straight out of Jack and the Beanstalk (see photo below).

Jacinto’s keys to the castle

He asked me if I was here to see the “senyora”? I gulped and failed to tell a fib. But he let Parkie and I come inside the gate and into the castle courtyard. It soon became apparent that “Carlos” was the man meant to see the “senyora” and Parkie immediately started talking in English to “Carlos” rather than me talk in Spanish (I now realised he was from Madrid!). He became a bit cagey when I asked what was going to happen to the ruined castle, but I expect it was for some grand project he had in mind.

Ribelles castle

We left on good terms and scooted out Alan who had finally wandered up to find us and wanted to go inside the dangerous building. Making our escape we drove on to Ripoll via Montserrat, eating a slap up meal by Imma and her mother Rita, in the Hostal & Bar Trebol at Tora. I was forced by the neighbouring table to drink wine from a burron (photos later care of Alan) but Josie, Alan and Parkie chickened out!

Imma (left) and Rita

We arrived in Ripoll at about 6.30 and I crashed out till 2100 to sleep after a busy and strenuous night! Great fun and a little adventure too!


After finishing the last blog entry at 0300 last night, I slept like a log. We had a pleasant breakfast and leaving the bags in the rooms we looked round Ripoll. This town was quite important as it was one of the towns where the remaining International Brigaders were stationed after their withdrawal from combat on September 23rd 1938. The XV International Brigade, composed of English speakers, were based here between October 17th and December 2nd. Oddly enough, we were here at the same time of year as the Brigaders were, and it was very cold!

The entrance to the monastery. When the Brigaders were here this beautiful sculpture was completely hidden by sandbags to protect it from bombing.

Sadly, there is not a huge amount to see here concerning the XV Brigade, but some accounts and papers from the Ripoll Archive that paint a broader picture in this pretty town in the foothills of the Pyrenees. The Casino or later El Teatro del Pueblo where the British battalion were housed is now gone and a modern building housing a bank now stands beside the river.

The route of a Grand Parade through the town on 31st October  1938 has been identified, aswell as the offices of the Amics de la Unio Sovietica. The Parade started at 0900 in the morning led by a band of 50 musicians with a film  show for the children of the town at 1100 including a ration of bread and chocolate as the children left. At 1500 there was a football match between the Internacionales and the local military. Finally at 2100 there was an event at the Cinema or Salon Condal (still standing and working as a cinema) where a large number of events honouring the Brigaders took place during their enforced sojurn here.

Amongst many other events, on the 22nd November at Salon Condal at 2200, a Grand Festival for the XV International Brigade was offered including dances and typical  songs from Cuba, Scotland, Argentina, England, United States aswell as songs “por los camaradas NEGROS”

Edwin Greening describes Ripoll (and the intense boredom!) in late 1938.

Monday night, the 17th October 1938, our cattle trucks rumbled through the narrow valleys of the north-eastern hills of Catalonia.  In the far distance were the snow-capped Pyrenees.  About 10 a.m. we arrived at the marshalling yards of the textile manufacturing town of Ripoll.

Ripoll in 1938, I reckon, had a population of 20,000 people.  A river like the upper Severn but more turbulent inflow rushed through the town and provided power for its industries.  Ripoll pre-war had 12,000 people.

Ripoll was a prosperous industrial town with solid, large buildings of every kind, but it was a cultural and religious centre of great antiquity for the whole of north-eastern Spain, Christian Spain; third only to Toledo and Santiago de Compostela.  Ripoll is the Canterbury and was the Oxford of Catalonia and Aragon. Ripoll was the centre where the Moorish culture of Saragossa, Barcelona, Valencia met Christian culture in the period 800-1200 AD

Since 1936, Ripoll was an over-crowded town.  The cafes, restaurants, and hotels were thronged with the military and civilians.  Then on the 18th October 1938 came the arrival of 1600-2000 International Brigadiers, British, Americans, Canadians, and Latin Americans.  There was little to eat in the public places, but plenty to drink.

The British International Brigadiers were billeted in a theatre like the Aberdare Cinema called “El Teatro del Poble”.  Bill Alexander, who was not there, writes, “The British were comfortably housed.”  There were about 350 British. We slept on narrow palliasses with one blanket.  We occupied every other row of seats in order to get to one’s bed.  There was no heating.  It was bitterly cold.  We slept, fully clothed, overcoat as well.  It was not comfortable.

The centre of the British Battalion’s activities was the Teatro. The centre of the 15th Brigade’s activities in Ripoll was the great church of the ancient abbey of Ripoll, dating from 650 AD.

Here in the vast nave, on trestle tables, we sat and ate our meagre rations and participated in political meetings…….

I was just over 28 years old, energetic and healthy.  Reveille was 7.30 a.m. We all washed and shaved in cold water in troughs outside the theatre, nearly always in a cold wind from the Pyrenees.  Then we marched singing to the abbey church of Ripoll for breakfast at 8 a.m.

Breakfast was always the same, a big brown loaf, a mug of black coffee and a dab of marmalade.  Then, individually, back to the theatre to look at Battalion Orders of the Day, to see and note meetings in the theatre or church.  Then I examined my timetable for the day.  I took out the books I wanted and went to Ripoll library.  I got on with my studies until lunch.

Lunch parade was at 12.30 p.m. The menu was always the same.  Bread from one’s own loaf, a thick vegetable stew, an apple or orange and a mug of coarse wine.  Then a quick walk up or down the valley in the company of Bill Thompson, Jock McLean, George Murray, Alun Menai Williams, Jim Whelan etc. etc.  Then for a coffee in town until dinner at 6 p.m. Dinner roughly the same as lunch.  There was no supper.  No food in the cafes or restaurants.  Every other day, we were given a packet of American cigarettes, a very small bar of rough chocolate or a tiny bag of boiled sweets.  I had to carry my bread, chocolate, sweets and cigarettes in a knapsack slung around my shoulders.  One dared not leave these things in billets, such was the grim austerity in which we International Brigadiers lived, I regret to record.

After dinner, I again went to the library to study, or I would go to a concert put on by the Town Council or I wrote a letter.  Thus the 50 days we were to spend in Ripoll, Spain 1938 very slowly, freezingly, passed away.

On Friday morning, the 28th October 1938, we assembled in El Teatro.  We were told that we were to go to Barcelona that evening.

After dusk, we marched through Ripoll and entrained for Barcelona in cattle trucks.  At dawn in Barcelona, we were lorried to a large hall for a breakfast, wash, shave and brush.

Then just after midday, there was a great march of the survivors of the International Brigades, past a huge rostrum surrounded by the bright, traditional uniforms of the Republican Guard with military bands playing.  Members of the Government stood on the rostrum, President of the Republic, Manuel Azana, Prime Minister, and Juan Negrin etc. etc., La Pasionara, made the famous speech:

“Comrades of the International Brigades.  Political reasons, reasons of state, the welfare of the same cause for which you offered your blood with boundless generosity, are sending you back, some to your own countries, others into forced exile. You can go proudly.  You are history.  You are legend.  You are the heroic example of democracy’s solidarity and universality.  We shall not forget you and when the olive tree of peace puts forth its leaves of peace again, mingled with the laurel leaves of the Spanish Republic’s victory…come back!”

We then marched through the central streets of Barcelona to the cheers of a great crowd that lined the streets.  Many of the girls ran out to kiss the International Brigadiers.  Children walked hand in hand with us.  A middle-aged man rushed out and kissed me.  Fighter planes circled in the sky.  Jim Brewer of Rhymney carried the Battalion flag at the head of the British Battalion as we marched and sang the songs of the British and international working class.  Then we marched back to our assembly hall and had dinner. We marched to our train and back to the freezing discomfort of El Teatro del Poble in Ripoll.

About Thursday 10th November 1938 at a meeting of the Battalion in the Theatre of the People in Ripoll, Captain Sam Wild informed us that on Saturday 12th November, the Evacuation Control Commission would interview each one of us and give us a visa to return to Britain.

Captain Wild outlined the programme for that day. We would march from the top of the town to the Town Hall where there would be a platform of international officers in military uniform.  This entire event would be filmed.

At 9 a.m. Saturday 12th November 1938 after breakfast, we paraded, and then marched to the top of the town.  There we were given a blank postcard upon which to write our names, home address etc.  Then we were put in alphabetical order.  Two Ripoll teenage drummers beat march time and our own bugler, Enrique Salsa (I think) from Gibraltar blew a march as the Battalion led by two Republican flags and a large Union Jack marched smartly through Ripoll and the cheering crowd to the Plaza Major (Main Square).  There on the platform stood the uniformed commission officers standing at the salute as the men of the 57th Battalion of the 15th International Brigade of the Spanish Republican Army marched in excellent time singing, “A Valley in Spain called Jarama”, the large crowd cheering.  We then stood in closed ordered ranks whilst the Americans came into the square singing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”.  Then the Canadians came singing an unknown song.  The Latin-Americans came singing “El Himno de Riego”.  All this was an inspiring scene.

After the march past of the four Battalions, we Britishers went to the British officers and shook hands. The colonel said, “Well done lads!”  He gave us our visas and a cigarette and they were very friendly.  We saluted and went out into the Plaza Major.  In an hour it was all over.  We marched back to the theatre singing any British Army song of 1914-18 and wondering when or if we would be going home.

But the days that followed the Control Commission parade passed into weeks.  The men began to get irritable as the theatre, the streets and the great nave of Ripoll grew ever colder and we all grew hungrier and hungrier.  I plodded on with my studies and exchanged my cigarette ration for a small meal of egg and ships or for some dates with some café owners I got to know.

Then about the 26th November 1938 at dinner, a fierce fight broke out between a group of white Americans and a group of black Cuban International Brigadiers.  The dimly lit nave soon became a tangle of upturned trestle tables, benches and utensils as those International Brigadiers fought and the onlookers jeered.  The next day in the same church nave an inquiry was held in front of most of the International Brigadiers who had witnessed the affray……..

The remaining days, 30th November, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd December dragged along with the grape vine humming with rumours that we were to leave any day, but when?

After dinner on Sunday 4th December 1938, we were told to get back to the Teatro del Poble at once.  On the platform was Malcolm Dunbar, Sam Wild, George Fletcher, Bob Cooney and Billy Griffiths dressed as soldiers and one civilian, Ernie Woolley.

Then the No. 1 Company was ordered outside and led by Captain Johnny Powers and Lieutenant Arthur Nichol.  We marched through the dimly lit streets of Ripoll for about half a mile, then we filed into a large warehouse.  Our names were called and we went to the tables.

I was called to a table by Alun Menai Williams from Penygraig, Rhondda, our medic.  He said, “I have a grand rig out for you Edwin.  You are the same size as me”.

He gave me a large cardboard box and slipped a beautiful silk lined, grey overcoat on my shoulders.  I got a pair of shoes from the shoe tables.  I went out, and then when my company was done, we went back to the theatre.

The next day, Monday the 5th December 1938 on a bright, cold, Pyrenean morning, we marched off in our new overcoats to shower in the temporary military barracks.  Jock or Bill watched my stuff as I showered.  I watched his. Then we dressed and left our uniforms behind

We spent the rest of the day at meals, in cafes in the theatre, packing our few belongings.  The “grape vine” said we would be leaving at midnight.  At dinner, we were told to be in the theatre at 10 p.m.

At midnight we were all sitting in the Teatro del Poble, Ripoll.  It was freezing.  I had two packs of English and Spanish books. That morning Alun Menai Williams had given me two large, beautifully bound books, The Early Life of Thomas Hardy and The Later Life of Thomas Hardy.  I had no difficulty in getting soldiers to carry my books.  We got a large packet of American cigarettes every other day.  For three packets of cigarettes my soldier friends would do anything.

On to the stage came Dunbar, Wild, Fletcher, Cooney, Griffiths and Woolley.  All now dressed in civvies, i.e. civilian dress.  “Men we are off at 1 am. We will march to the station in ‘column of route’ (three abreast). We will march smartly.  Remember there may be lots of people around.  Then as soon as possible we will be off to France and Britain”.

Nobody cheered.  There was a bustle of conversation and the stage cleared.  About 12.50 a.m., No. 1 Major Attlee Company was ordered outside.  I put my pack of books on my back and a friend, Jim Whelan of County Cork, who looked like a youthful Robert Mitchum shouldered the other pack for two or three packets of cigarettes a day to London.

Out in the dimly lit street of a cold starlit morning the 320 (Bill Alexander says 305) members of the British Battalion lined up.  Then at a word of command, we marched off along the deserted main street of Ripoll.  We had to march about half a mile.  As we marched, the beat of our feet awoke the people.  We could see shutters opening and the people looking down.

At the railway station, we entered a large warehouse which appeared to have been hastily converted into a temporary canteen with trestle tables, chairs, bar, bar-men and waitresses.  They brought us black coffee, cakes and weak beer – all free.  We sat and talked – Jim Whelan, Jock McLean, Bill Thompson, Jack Roberts and Emlyn Lloyd with whom I had been friendly in the No. 1 Company since January 1938.

At long last dawn came.  We paraded outside in the marshalling yard.  Here there was a long line of cattle wagons and into these the British Battalion climbed, and then the music of the Internationale from a military band and with the cheers from a big crowd of the people of Ripoll, the electric train slowly left the town.

The beautiful monastery at Ripoll is open to the public, and contains the tomb of Guifre El Pel, or Wilfred the Hairy, who was the first Count of Barcelona.

The tomb of Guifre el Pel

One can easily imagine the fight between the Americans and Cubans and the upturned tables and benches in this church as described by Edwin Greening……

The monastery nave where the fight took place.

We then drove towards the French border to see the isolated, but quite beautiful village of Beget.


The cow with the crumpled horn that we met on the way to Beget

On a sudden impulse we decided that we would like to have lunch in France and drove over the border from Mollo to Prats de Mollo. We passed over the border at Col de Ares, where over 100, 000 refugees from Calalonia fled from the advancing forces of Franco’s Army in January 1939.  A memorial stands on this Route to Liberty and we felt humbled driving down to Prats de Mollo for a wonderfully produced lunch in the town.

The memorial at Col de Ares

The last view of Catalonia for many of the refugees who crossed into France in the freezing cold of January and February 1939

As night fell we made our way to Figueras via Le Perthus, where even more refugees feld to France. It is estimated that between 500,000 and 600,000 people fled Catalonia in the wake of the defeat in that grim and cold winter of 1939.

Lunch in Prats de Mollo, France, artfully prepared by Gerard. According to Alan and Josie this was the best meal they had during the trip!


Castell Sant Ferran

After a quick breakfast we drove up to the Castle of San Ferran in Figueras to visit the largest castle in Europe that once housed the International Brigaders who made their way over the Pyrenees to support the Spanish Republic. We saw the memorial placed there in April 2006 by the International Brigade Memorial Trust and noticed that someone has carefully scratched out the Catalan senyera on the tiled memorial. Otherwise it is fine.

The plaque (Note the scratched out senyera bottom left)

Alan, Josie & Parkie in front of the International Brigade plaque

We visited the barracks of the Brigaders in the cavalry stables underground and I read descriptions from Harry Fisher and Alvah Bessie.

One of the barracks where the Brigaders slept.

At the mention of an Irishman singing the song “Kevin Barry”, we remembered that Josie had sung that song earlier in the trip whilst in the car. She tried to sing it in the stables but faltered after the first line. However, she bravely continued and again the haunting words were heard in the very same space after over seventy years.

“Early on a Sunday morning.

High upon a gallow tree,

Kevin Barry gave his young life

For the cause of Liberty”

“Shoot me like an Irish soldier,

Do not hang me like a dog.

For I fought for Ireland’s freedom

On that bright September morn….”

It was a great privilege to be there with Josie and to hear that song again.

The rusting remains of an M1936 helmet found in the Castle grounds.

The castle is VERY impressive and we had a lot of fun looking round.

The moat of Castell San Ferran. Can you see the deer?

Another view of the fortifications (and the deer!)

Josie, Alan & Parkie with the snow clad Pyrenees behind them.

Comrade Alan Entin giving the clenched fist salute in the Parade Ground of the Castle.

However, we needed to visit the Museum of Memorial and Exile at La Jonquera and to find another memorial that hitherto I had only heard about.

MUME in La Jonquera

Parkie, Alan & Josie in front of MUME

MUME at La Jonquera is just one of the many Centres of Interpretation that Memorial Democratic, run by the Catalan Generalitat, have set up in recent years. This Centre covers the diaspora of Catalan refugees during the horrific retreats to the French border in January and February 1939. Many died in the mountains of the Pyrenees and it is said that some valleys were full of dead bodies and impossible to enter in the height of summer. This diaspora is extensively covered at MUME with multi lingual audio guides for those who wish to understand what was to all intents and purposes the first mass exodus of people in 20th century history. A modern, innovative and impressive centre that I hope the planned Second Commemorative Walk over the Pyrenees being planned by the International Brigade Memorial Trust will include in their weekend walk. Contact the IBMT for further details.

After lunch we scoured the village of La Vajol to find a rumoured monument to the Disapora and after much searching we found it! It is a life sized memorial to all those who went into exile and is based on a photograph taken at Prats de Mollo during these times. It was a great pleasure to find and to look at as the sun began to set.

Photograph taken by Roger Viollet of Mariano Garcia with his daughter Alicia, taken near Prats de Mollo in early February 1939

In just one day we had visited Figueras where the journey for many International Brigaders had begun and close by had come to the final place where many Catalans fleeing to exile had taken their last steps on Catalan soil. The two places so far apart in time , hope and expectations,  but yet so close to each other, epitomises the struggle that took place in Spain during those important years.

The monument commemorating the exiled at La Vajol, designed by Lola Reyes & Joan Garcia-Codina, unveiled on April 8th, 2000.

And so to Barcelona by car. The end of an emotional trip with many exciting meetings and discoveries.

For now I must stop. Having had a day to rest, I now have to drive down to La Fatarella to a meeting commemorating the final days of the Ebro bridgehead that was evacuated on November 16th 1938. Then back on Monday to assist in some BBC tv work later in the week. Over the next week, I will add more thoughts and comments on this trip aswell as the all important photographs.  Sadly, there are only so many hours in the day, but please keep your eyes on this blog as I add and develop it into an appropriate journal of our adventure.

Many thanks to Josie Yurek, Alan Entin , Parkie Parker, and especially to all the wonderful people who we met on our journey of discovery.

Alan Warren

Published on October 30, 2010 at 8:31 am  Comments (21)  

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21 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Suerte con vuestro viaje. Lamentable que las Brigadas Internacionales todavía no hayan tenido en España el homenaje institucional que se merecen. Para mi ha sido la mayor gesta heroica de nuestra historia. Gracias por venir.

    • Gracias tambien, Javier. Alan W, Josie, Alan E & Parkie

  2. This is a fabulous story. It is good that Spanish
    folks are still reliving their history. I wish that we did more of that here in the U.S. I remember being in
    Madrid in 1983, on the main street above the Prado.
    There was a noisy police chase through the area, and
    I asked what had happened. But no one explained it to me.

  3. Hi,

    This blog is very interesting. I would love to receive the blog at my own e-mail as well. Tell my mom, Josie, I say hi and all is well.


  4. What a pleasure to read of the visit to Salamanca,
    where Moe and I stayed at the “Irish College”and met
    Antonio Celada and visited the extraordinary old library,
    where the librarian asked Moe to read an ancient Torah. Of course, Moe could not read Hebrew and could not oblige him.

    • Thanks Georgia. The Irish College was where O’Duffy’s Blueshirts were quartered. It seems that they are unique in military history having arrived with 700 men & returned with 701!

  5. Sorry I was not able to come along, but I am feeling with you and happy you remember your fathers, grandfathers and uncles, who are our comrades as well, and you are carrying on the fight for a better world which we had lost in 1939 and are still dreaming of.
    Gert Hoffmann, XIth Brigade, 4th batallion,
    94 years old and still alert.
    Salud, compa

    • Thank you Gert. It is a great privilege to know that a Brigader is following our incredible journey of discovery on this blog and letting us know. We were very close to Monte Sillero and Mediana yesterday and I was thinking of Hans Landauer who had been wounded there and wondered how he is? If you see him or will talk with him please give him my regards.


  6. Siento el no haber estado con Uds. Me encanta ve2r como los padres, abuelos y tios de las gloriosas battallas que lucharon por la República son recordados. Ellos son tambien nuestros companeros de lucha, y seguimos luchando con ellos para un mundo mejor a más justo.
    Viva la República! Vivan los combatientes venidos de 50 países!
    Gert Hoffmann, XI Brigada Internacional, vatallón austriaco, 94 anos de edad y siempre alerto! S a l u d !

  7. Posiblemente si los gobiernos de estos heroicos voluntarios, hubiesen ayudado a la lucha contra el fascismo como ayudaron ellos , las consecuencias y la destruccion de la 2ª Guerra Mundial no hubiesen sido tan apocalipticas

  8. A terrific record of a great trip!!

  9. Thanks for this fascinating account. My dad Sam from Manchester England , of the British Battalion went out in Dec 1936 was wounded on the first day of Jarama.He was a machine gunner but received 4 machine gun bullets himself. He survibed to become a Commander and returned home after the Ebro and being wounded 4 more times. He died 1983 but did return after Franco’s death.

    • Last year I had the great pleasure of taking George Fletcher’s children on a tour covering nearly the same places (They now will be appearing in Manuel Olarte’s new book on the Hospital Inglese at Huete in the New Year too!). George was the second in command of the British battalion with Sam during the latter part of the War and we had an incredible time visiting the places associated with George and meeting local people and sampling local hospitality all the way from Madrid to Barcelona.I understand that George’s children hope to bring their own children on a similar trip (perhaps with a tv crew?) to allow them to show George’s grandchildren the places where he was over seventy years ago.


  10. That’s good information Alan. My family woyuld like a similar visit sometime. Any contacts will be helpful.

  11. Hola,

    Increible vuestro viaje. Gracias por relatarlo aqui. Os invito a conocer una de las páginas en Facebook donde rendimos homenaje a los Brigadistas Internacionales, y donde he ido colgando vuestro blog:

    Un abrazo,

    Javier Valero

  12. Outstanding blog post, I look forward to reading more.

    • Dear Rutha,

      Thank you for your kind comment. If you look up the main PdlH website you will find more International Brigade related discoveries that I am constantly adding to every week or so.

      Go to for more information


  13. Alan, really enjoying your blog. What an amazing resource as we prepare our trip to Spain to visit the places my grandfather was stationed with the MacPaps. Thank you for all your help! Michelle Mason

  14. Approximately a year and a half ago I filled out a form I found on the internet requesting information on my great-uncle Irving Fishgold in relation to his death in July of 1938 while fighting the battle on the Ebro in Gandesa. Some time passed and I received a letter, in Spanish, from the Generalitat de Catalunya stating a plaque with Irving’s name would be made and put at the Memorial de les Camposines. I always wondered if this really happened. What a wonderful surprise to find this blog today and to see the actual plaque with Irving’s name. I have done what I can to keep my great uncle’s memory alive and to honor him. Last year I even had the opportunity to visit a high school history class in Palencia,Spain where I spoke about Irving and the
    American Lincoln Brigade. Someday I will come back to Spain to visit this memorial. I would love to join in on any future tours of these battle areas.

    • Dear Wendy,

      It was a wonderful surprise to hear from a relation of Irving Fishgold. Yes, he is there amongst the hundreds of other soldiers who died during the battle. But he is the only American! The memorial at Camposines was redesigned with the these plaques (before the were ten representative biographies of soldiers from both sides,including British Brigader David Guest) and unveiled last October. The effect has been dramatic, to say the least! It has now become a place of remembrance for all the families who have lost relations in the battle. Flowers, photgraphs and dedications are constantly left there. Only last week I took fifty American students to the Ebro, but because of access to the memorial the coach could not get there easily and we unable to show them Irving’s name, but hopefully another time.

      Irving was killed on July 27th, probably in”Death Valley ” between Corbera and Vilalba dels Arcs, when the Lincoln Washingtons were trying to take Hill 442. Read Alvah Bessie’s “Men in Battle” for his graphic account of the fighting there.

      If you have any further information about Irving (when he came, any letters to ad clues to where he was etc) I would be able to try and locate him in the landscape and I would be very happy to show you the places where he was. In the meantime I will search through paylists that I have to see if I can find him.


      Thank you for writing.


  15. Dear Alan,

    Thank you so much for your response and adding some important detail to Irving’s story. I have copies of most everything on Irving that is at the archives at NYU. I have letters that he wrote home which I can go over again to find helpful info to share with you. I’ve also seen bits of information from the copies of Russian archives also at NYU. Ironically I was in Valladolid for 2 weeks a year ago, but wasn’t able to go to Salamanca to look at what they might have at the University, nor did I realize before I went that these records existed.

    Do you have another email address where I can write with info on Irving and discuss things?


    Wendy Petersen

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