World War

War in press
Newspapers announce the beginning of the war.

Life in Madrid that hot summer of 1939 was tough: food was scarce, the black market was booming, prices were extortionate and I did not have a job.

However I had got to know a woman of gypsy extraction, called señora Melero, owner of the Hotel Majestic in Calle Velázquez, who was advertising for a manager. Although the hotel had been taken by the International Brigade during the Nationalist’s siege of Madrid and was in a pitiable state as a result, with its central-heating system completely shattered, I took the job.

The truth is it didn’t even deserve one star, let alone the name Majestic, for the lack of central heating in the winter made the nights unbearable.

But there were greater problems than those posed by the hotel which made me far more upset. On 3 September 1939 England had declared war on Germany. I could see another catastrophe looming over the horizon and thought more than once about leaving Spain where hatred, and a thirst for vengeance between victor and vanquished, was rife.


It was extremely difficult in those days to get hold of a passport unless one could produce an excellent reason. When the chance presented itself, I seized it avidly.

At the hotel I met one Don Enrique, a young Spanish aristocrat, calling himself Duke of La Torre. He seemed to be on Christian-name terms with two ageing ladies whom he called aunts and pompously alluded to as princesses of Bourbon, but in truth I never discovered who he really was.

One day, the Duke of La Torre told me that his aunts were upset because they were unable to buy any Scotch whisky in Madrid and they considered such a drink essential, given their social position and entertaining commitments.

So I suggested to him that since the princesses must wield considerable influence, it was surely possible for them to purchase the whisky abroad. Al they needed to do was to get hold of some passports and head for Portugal.  “Rest assured,” I told him, “if we accompany your aunts, there’ll be no problems”.

And that is how I managed to lay may hands on a document which at the time was nearly impossible to obtain. Even if the new passport was only valid for Portugal, it had great possibilities for the future.

With four of these documents we left for Portugal in their car, with me acting as a chauffeur, bought whisky in Evora and when we returned the customs police didn’t even search the car.