The End of the Civil War

Victory parade in Madrid
Franco during the victory parade in Madrid

For two days we slept in our new trenches and ate and ate. My naïve hopes that, after a few explanations, I would be sent to the rear, were shallow fantasies.

Endless hours of interrogation followed before we ex-Republicans were put in good trains wagons for Saragossa. Once there, we spent the night in the corridors of the Military Academy before being taken to a concentration camp at Deusto in the Basque area of northern Spain.

We were imprisoned in the university and slept on the bare floorboards of the lecture halls. Every morning we would wake up to find ourselves covered in lice.

I had been eating as much as I could get hold since changing sides but, after such a long period of semi-starvation, my stomach reacted violently and I could hold nothing down so I took refuge in the infirmary.

I had managed to preserve my fountain-pen and I sold it to one of the camp guards. I bought a cheap pen, paper, envelopes and stamps and began to write to all my friends and relatives asking for financial help and if they would vouch for me so that I could be let out.

Some wrote back, while fewer still enclosed money but never enough to be of much help. But one person did respond positively, Reverend Father Celedonio Océn, Brother Superior of the Order of St John of God, a very old friend of my father’s and head of the psychiatric hospital at Palencia near Santander.

He made the long journey to the camp and personally presented himself to the authorities where he spoke on my behalf, making himself answerable for my actions and vouched on oath that I was honest, apolitical and a Christian.

On his way back to Palencia, he called in at Burgos, the Nationalist capital, and stirred matters up to such extend that, three days later, the order for my release arrived at the camp.

At his request I spent a week in his hospital at Palencia and was then sent to join the Nationalist troops at the San Marcial barracks in Burgos.

At my first medical examination, they diagnosed acute bronchitis and sent me back to hospital. Many local girls of good standing contributed to the war effort by helping with the wounded and one in particular interested me. Eventually she become my “war-mother”.

I recovered my gallons of second lieutenant, however, because of an unfortunate incident, they took them from me and sent me to the front of Teruel, but my war-mother managed to return me back to Burgos and to recover my gallons again.

I had managed not to fire a single bullet for either side by the time Madrid fell a few months later, bringing the war to an end.

The day of the victory parade found me on leave in Madrid.

The civil war was over, reputedly leaving behind a million dead, innumerable cities destroyed, a ruined economy and a long trail of suffering and desolation.