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10: 1936: Civil War

<< 9: 1935-1936: To Italy and Back || 11: Epilogue >>

    After the totalitarian peace of Italy and the imperial peace in North Africa, Spain, and especially Madrid, was in a pre-revolutionary state. The chaos was such that President Alcalá Zamora decided to dissolve parliament and to hold new elections. They were held on February 16, with the Right calling for a National Front to be dominated by Gil Robles to oppose the .Popular Front proclaimed by the Left. The former clearly had fascist tendencies, while the latter scared the middle classes since it grew out of the seventh congress of the Comintern, held in Madrid with the participation of its secretary general, Georgi Dimitrov, viewed as a hero because he had successfully defended himself in his trial on accusation of setting fire to the Reichstag.

    I watched the elections at a polling booth set up at the Residencia de Estudiantes, generally viewed as a leftist center. The right sent observers who stood like hawks over the registration table. There was a full turnout of all the various police corps, who succeeded in keeping order. To the disappointment of the right and the middle class, the Popular Front won just over four million votes, the National Front just under four million votes. The center won less than 700,000. The left exalted in victory, while the right was plunged into defiant despair, charging that the leftist victory was a Masonic plot. Gloating workers sat around in cafes, some with arms.

    Manuel Portela Valladares was prime minister, while General Franco, as chief of staff, still loyal to the republic, now became alarmed and advised him to proclaim a state of war so as to prevent the Popular Front from assuming power. Instead, Portela Valladares handed power over to Azaña, the leading figure in the Popular Front. To calm unrest in the countryside, the Institute of Agrarian Reform distributed land to some 60,000 peasants, many of whom had seized the land themselves. Some rightist friends drove me to their estate near Chinchón, southeast of Madrid. Despite the chaos in the countryside, they were relieved to find that it had not been taken over. We had a gloomy supper and returned to Madrid. A few days later they took me to a party in the Salamanca district of Madrid, which became notorious as the haven of Franco’s Fifth Column. They were certainly plotting to support a coup.

    The Azaña government distrusted the military and banished General Franco to the Canary Islands and General Emilio Mola to the Baleares. The next step was to depose rightist President Alcalá Zamora, and a constitutional pretext was found to do so. An electoral college appointed Azaña president. He was to prove a great disappoint. Instead of acting vigorously, he slowly withdrew from power, especially after the government moved to Valencia, while he settled in a palace in Barcelona. Many accuse him of being responsible for the collapse of the republic.

    In the turmoil of Madrid there was a series of tit for tat murders. When a leader on one side was murdered, we waited for vengeance by the other side, and sure enough it came. The climax came when, on July 13, assault guards picked up the rightist leader José Calvo Sotelo, took him away and shot him in cold blood. He was buried dressed in a Capuchin hood, while a huge crowd gave the fascist salute. In parliament Gil Robles made a speech praising Calvo Sotelo, saying that there had been sixty political murders that month. At this point civil war seemed inevitable.

    The generals had been plotting action in a confused way. General Franco left the Canary Islands, while General Mola, who was to lead the revolt, plotted in the Carlist stronghold of Pamplona. He was later to be killed, and Franco took over. The uprising in various parts of Spain forced the government to accede to the demands of Madrid workers that they be given arms. I witnessed the scene from a window overlooking the Gran Vía. Trucks full of rifles would stop and workers would rush to grab them. The government had rightly feared that the mob, acting irresponsibly, would not know how to use them. Workers commandeered taxis and drove wildly around, stopping and pointing their rifles at any pedestrian, while one jumped out and searched him. As a result, people stayed off the street as much as possible. Imprudently, I would not let this interfere with my daily walk down the main avenue, the Castellana. Thus, while my colleagues at the Residencia stayed home, I walked down the deserted avenue wearing an armband (I still have it) distributed by the British consulate proclaiming that I was a SÚBDITO BRITÁNICO. Sure enough, a taxi-load of revolutionaries screeched to a halt, with about six rifles pointing at me; one could easily have gone off. One worker jumped out and search me for weapons. I protested, saying I was a British subject, to which he replied angrily “Here we are in Spain.” Having searched in vain, he shouted “he has none,” and jumped back in the taxi, which screeched off at high speed.

    The government tried to keep order. I visited one former royal palace at Aranjuez. At the entrance was a civilian guard keeping order. He calmed potential wreckers that by saying “This is now the property of the people.” However, churches were not as lucky. The Residencia was located on a high spot north of downtown. One evening, from there we saw flames lighting up the darkness from churches being set on fire. The leftist students at the Residencia seemed to regard the crisis as a lark. A uniformed member of the Civil Guard was stationed at the entrance next to a dormitory. From a window students drenched him with buckets of water. He could not have found them, and in any case he had to stay at his post.

    Madrid was completely surrounded by rebel forces, so it was impossible to leave by train. On July 25 Albacete on the railroad to Valencia fell to government forces, and foreigners like me who were not engaged in essential work were ordered to leave Spain. I said farewell to my friends. I called on the Marqués de Silvela, a liberal whose father had been given a title because of his contributions to Spanish industry. I asked him if there was anything I could do for him. He said with grim humor “Put me in your trunk and get me out of this country.” I embraced him and left. That evening, militiamen came to his house took him away and shot him. His services to his country (he was a senior member of the Residencia board) meant nothing. His only crime was to have a noble title.

    I also called on my friend and mentor, Times correspondent Ernest Grimaud the Caux, for whom I had a deep affection. I asked him too if there was anything I could do. He said I could take with me a report he had written on the situation in Madrid, which the censor would not have passed. Knowing that this would be dangerous, I replied that it would certainly be confiscated. He told me not to worry and to return in the afternoon. When I returned, he gave me a book, Strange Adventures at Sea, and said that it was the report to be delivered to The Times. When I looked puzzled, saying I could not find it, he expressed satisfaction that his trick had worked. He had typed his report on thin rice paper and folded it .so that it fit into the spine of the book, for which in those days printed paper was often used. I clutched the book and bade de Caux farewell.

    I left Madrid on my birthday, July 31, on the first train to make the trip to Valencia after the fall of Albacete. It was not a pleasant journey. Behind me in the crowd boarding the train was a militiaman who obviously did not know how to handle the rifle he had over his shoulder, He accidentally pulled the trigger, and the vast roof of the Atocha station re-echoed with the sound of the shot.

    There were fears that the line had been mined. So, ahead of the train went a freight car which the locomotive would push forward. Had the line been mined, it, and not the train, would have been blown up. This procedure was repeated all the way. The most dramatic moment was when the train stopped at Albacete, where a few days earlier there had been bloody fighting. The domestic industry of Albacete was making small knives . While the train stopped, a man walked up and down the platform, trying to sell his knives to the passengers as though nothing had happened.

    The train finally reached Valencia station, where we were taken by bus to the port. There was sand-bagged barricades all the way, and the buses weaved their way through them, When we got to the port everyone was carefully searched. Some were stripped completely. Fortunately little attention was paid to me, and I walked to a waiting launch clutching in my hand the precious book de Caux had entrusted to me.

    Warships from various nations were standing off the port, and we were taken by launch to HMS “Devonshire.” When we were all aboard, the ship weighed anchor and sailed slowly out to sea, the band playing the national anthem of each of the warships we passed. It was a traditional gesture of courtesy. Finally the sacred report was safe, so I took it from the book and put it in my briefcase. De Caux had instructed me to give the book to the ship’s chaplain, who also served as librarian. I finally found him and delivered to him the ark in which the covenant had been hidden. The sailors were very helpful. Each of us was assigned a hammock on the deck. A sailor offered to let me sleep in the paint shop, but after seeing it I refused. I later understood why the offer had been made. A storm swept over the Mediterranean, tearing the huge awning from one end to another. It was difficult not to fall from our hammocks. In the next one was a Moroccan wearing a red fez, the symbol of the independence movement. All night he hung desperately on to his fez. Next day the ship arrived in Marseilles, where I mailed the sacred document to The Times, mission accomplished. The report appeared under the headline “The Tragedy of Spain. First Uncensored News from Madrid.” It attracted great attention.

    Being addicted to scholarly tourism, I wandered back to England stopping at many places on the way. One was Geneva, where I met my old master Salvador de Madariaga, who had escaped by the same route as I a few days later. We strolled up and down the bank of Lake Geneva, comparing notes. He had fought hard for the republic, having been even mentioned as a possible President. He served briefly as minister of education and justice under Lerroux, who was accused of having sold out to the right. The same charge was brought against Madariaga because of his latest book O jerarquía o anarquía—either Spain would accept the need for a hierarchy or it would fall into anarchy. The very word hierarchy indicates opposition to social leveling, and suggests fascism. In fact, Madariaga was moving slowly to the monarchist right, and he recommended a return to the old order in which, among other things, voting was restricted to heads of family. This was a far cry from his old liberalism, but people went on using his name, apparently not having read his latest articles. In Geneva he said to me, I think correctly, that a third of Spaniards supported the republic, a third Franco, and a third was opposed to both. He implied that he belonged to the last group.

    During his prime years, Madariaga was a leading proponent of a united Europa. As he grew older and less optimistic, he retreated into a very conservative ideology. However, the creation of the European Union after his death was a vindication of his early ideals.

    In Geneva I called on Pablo de Azcárate, then Deputy Secretary-General of the League of Nations and later Ambassador to London. We chatted in his impressive office. He seemed glum, which was natural in view of the situation in Spain, but he looked even more unhappy when I praised Madariaga, who had given up his post at the League to serve in the Spanish government only to be ousted by a leftist intrigue. I was accompanied by a Spanish friend who knew the inner workings of Spanish politics. After we left the League building, he exploded; I did not know that Azcárate was part of the intrigue which ousted Madariaga. This was typical of the tangle of hatreds which paralyzed the republic and was a major cause of its defeat.

    From Geneva I returned to England, most of my research destroyed; I had left it in the Institut Français, of which my friend Paul Guinard was director, thinking that it would be safe. It was not. I was bewildered, since my plans were in disarray. I was saved by Madariaga’s successor in the Spanish chair at Oxford, William J. Entwistle. While I brooded in my home in Winchester, he found out that Magdalen College had a Senior-Demyship (a graduate fellowship) available in January,1937, and, thanks to him, I was appointed. In the summer of that year I went to the University of California at Berkeley as a Commonwealth Fund Fellow, ending up in the United States as a Latin American specialist. Life is full of surprises.

<< 9: 1935-1936: To Italy and Back || 11: Epilogue >>