Little Juan Pujol mother and brothers
Little Juan with his mother and brothers.

I was born on February 1912 in Barcelona, in the city which they call the Unrivalled. In those days Barcelona was still trying to recover from the bitter memories of the Setmana Tràgica, that Tragic Week in 1909 when radicals, socialists and anarchists collaborated in organizing a strike during which churches, homes and convents were burnt and political agitators and demagogues incited the people to take to the streets, unleashing a week of rioting.

Although the authorities soon restored order, unrest still lay close to the surface and, during my childhood, Barcelona was the scene of frequent street battles, strikes, attempts on people’s lives and revolutionary coups. Every morning, when my father left for work, he would say good-bye to us as if for the last time; each parting was heart-rending.

My mother was called Mercedes Garcia. From the photographs I still have of her as a young woman, it is clear that she had been very good looking. She came from Motril a town in the southern province of Granada, and all her life she preserved the lilting yet elegant stride of an Andalusian.

As her parents brought her to Barcelona when she was only eight, she spoke Catalan without a trace of an accent and used it constantly at home, resorting to Castilian only when we had visitors.

Her parents were strict Catholics who received Holy Communion every day. My mother was, therefore, brought up in an austere atmosphere of considerable harshness. Her rigid attitudes remained with her even after her marriage, and she stayed an unyielding disciplinarian with a relentlessly Christian outlook to the end of her life.

My father, Juan Pujol, was a Catalan through and through. His family came from Olot, a town near La Garrotxa in the province of Girona, but they later moved to Barcelona where my father was born and went to school. By dint of saving and working hard, he was able to set up his own little factory and eventually it became the most important dye-house in Barcelona, well known for the superb black it produced.