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Madrid during the Spanish Civil War
In 1936 Madrid, the capital of Spain, had a population of 900,000 people. Madrid had few industries but both the Union General de Trabajadores (UGT) and the National Confederation of Trabajo (CNT) were active in the city. However, the Socialist Party (PSOE) was strong in the city and regularly won more votes than any other party in Spain's general elections. Julián Besteiro, the leadrer of moderates in the party, had a large following in the city.
Two major strikes took place in Madrid in June 1936. The first was in the construction union and the second in the electrical trade. In both cases the workers demanded a 20 per cent salary increase, a 36 hour week and four weeks paid holiday a year. The UGT agreed a deal of 10 per cent increase and a 40 hour week but it was rejected by the CNT. This led to fighting in the streets between the two rival unions.
On 12th June José Castillo, a lieutenant in the Assault Guards, and an active member of the Socialist Party, was murdered by a Falangist gang as he left his home in Madrid. The following day a group of Castillo's friends took revenge by murdering José Calvo Sotelo. This event resulted in a military uprising led by Emilio Mola, Francisco Franco and José Sanjurjo and heralded the start of the Spanish Civil War.
On the outbreak of the war Madrid was under the control of the Popular Front government. Emilio Mola and Francisco Franco were anxious to capture the capital city of Spain as soon as possible. The first bombing raids by the Nationalist airforce began on 28th August, 1936.
By the 1st November 1936, 25,000 Nationalist troops under General José Enrique Varela had reached the western and southern suburbs of Madrid. Five days later he was joined by General Hugo Sperrle and the Condor Legion. This began the siege of Madrid that was to last for nearly three years.
Francisco Largo Caballero and his government decided to leave Madrid on 6th November, 1936. This decision was criticized by the four anarchists in his cabinet who regarded leaving the capital as cowardice. At first they refused to go but were eventually persuaded to move to Valencia with the rest of the government.
Largo Caballero appointed General José Miaja as commander of the Republican Army in Madrid. He was given instructions to set up a Junta de Defensa (Defence Council), made up of all the parties of the Popular Front, and to defend Madrid "at all costs". He was aided by his chief of staff, Vicente Rojo.
Miaja's task was helped by the arrival of the International Brigades. The first units reached Madrid on 8th November. Led by the Soviet General, Emilo Kléber, the 11th International Brigade was to play an important role in the defence of the city. The Thaelmann Battalion, a volunteer unit that mainly consisted of members of the German Communist Party and the Communist Party of Great Britain, was also deployed to defend the city.
On 14th November Buenaventura Durruti arrived in Madrid from Aragón with his Anarchist Brigade. Six days later Durruti was killed while fighting on the outskirts of the city. Durruti's supporters in the CNT claimed that he had been murdered by members of the Communist Party (PCE).
Santiago Carrillo, the Councillor for Public Order in the Defence Council, argued that the main reason that the Nationalist forces was attempting to capture Madrid was the desire to release the large number of Nationalist Army officers in Madrid's prisons. Carrillo was given permission to take them out of the city by bus.
An estimated 2,000 Nationalist soldiers were murdered at Paracuellos del Jarama and Torrejón de Ardoz. Communists later claimed that the buses were hijacked by Anarchists and they were responsible for the killings. However, no evidence has emerged to support this claim. In fact, after the war Francisco Franco claimed that Carrillo and his Communists were guilty of killing 12,000 Nationalists in Madrid.
On 13th December 1936, the Nationalists attempted to cut the Madrid-La Coruna road to the north-east of Madrid. After suffering heavy losses the offensive was brought to an end over Christmas. On 5th January 1937, the attack was resumed. During the next four days the Nationalist gained ten kilometres of road and lost around 15,000 men. The International Brigades, defending the road, also suffered heavy losses during this battle.
Helen Grant worked as an interpreter for a group sent to Madrid by the Society of Friends. She wrote in her diary in April 1937: "The main impression on walking about Madrid is that nobody even thinks about danger. Nevertheless, the majority of the houses and shops in the Gran Via have been hit... Although the guns roar almost continually and sometimes they are quite deafening, no one appears to take any notice."
General Francisco Franco came under pressure from Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini to obtain a quick victory by taking Madrid. He eventually decided to use 30,000 Italians and 20,000 legionnaires to attack Guadalajara, forty miles northeast of the capital. On 8th March the Italian Corps took Guadalajara and began moving rapidly towards Madrid. Four days later the Republican Army with Soviet tanks counter-attacked. The Italians suffered heavy losses and those left alive were forced to retreat on 17th March. The Republicans also captured documents which proved that the Italians were regular soldiers and not volunteers. However, the Non-Intervention Committee refused to accept the evidence and the Italian government boldly announced that no Italian soldiers would be withdrawn until the Nationalist Army was victorious.
The siege of Madrid continued until 1939. Segismundo Casado, commander of the Republican Army of the Centre, was growing increasingly unhappy by the large number of his soldiers being killed. He was also aware that although Juan Negrin and his ministers were talking about the need to fight to the bitter end, they were organizing aircraft for their flight out of the country. With the support of the socialist leader, Julián Besteiro and disillusioned anarchist leaders, Casedo established an anti-Negrin National Defence Junta.
On 6th March José Miaja in Madrid joined the rebellion by ordering the arrests of Communists in the city. Negrin, about to leave for France, ordered Luis Barceló, commander of the First Corps of the Army of the Centre, to try and regain control of the capital. His troops entered Madrid and there was fierce fighting for several days in the city. Anarchists troops led by Cipriano Mera, managed to defeat the First Corps and Barceló was captured and executed.
Segismundo Casado now tried to negotiate a peace settlement with General Francisco Franco. However, he refused demanding an unconditional surrender. Members of the Republican Army still left alive, were no longer willing to fight and the Nationalist Army entered Madrid virtually unopposed on 27th March.
(1) Franz Borkenau, wrote about Madrid and Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War in his book Spanish Cockpit: An Eyewitness Account of the Political and Social Conflicts of the Political and Social Conflicts of the Spanish Civil War (1937)
Certainly there are fewer well-dressed people than in ordinary times, but there are still lots of them especially women, who display their good clothes in the streets and cafes without hesitation or fear, in complete contrast to thoroughly proletarian Barcelona. Because of the bright colors of the better-dressed female element, Madrid has a much less lugubrious aspect than even the Ramblas in Barcelona. Cafes are full, in Madrid as in Barcelona, but here they are filled by a different type of people, journalists. State employees, all sorts of intelligentsia; the working class element is still in a minority. One of the most striking features is the strong militarization of the armed forces. Workers with rifles, but in their ordinary civilian clothes, are quite exceptional here. The streets and cafes are full of militia, all of them dressed in their monos, the new dark blue uniforms; most of them do not wear any party initials on their caps. We are under the sway of the liberal Madrid government, which favors the army system as against the militia system favored by Barcelona and the anarchists. Churches are closed but not burned here. Most of the requisitioned cars are being used by Government institutions, not political parties or trade unions. Here the governmental element is much more in evidence. There does not even exist, in Madrid, a central political committee. Very little expropriation seems to have taken place. Most shops carry on without even control, let alone expropriation. To sum up, Madrid gives, much more than Barcelona, the impression of a town in social revolution.
(2) André Marty, letter sent to the General Consul of the Soviet Union in Barcelona (11th October, 1936)
The Madrid government and general staff have shown a startling incapacity for the elementary organization of defense. So far they have not achieved agreement between the parties. So far they have not created an appropriate relationship for the government and War Ministry to take control. Caballero, having arrived at the need to establish the institution of political commissars, so far has not been able to realize this, because of the extraordinary bureaucratic sluggishness of the syndicalists, whom he greatly criticizes and yet without whom he considers it impossible to undertake anything. The general staff is steeped in the traditions of the old army and does not believe in the possibility of building an army without experienced, barracks-trained old cadres. Meanwhile, the capable military leaders who have been fighting at the front for two months in various detachments, and who might have been the basis for the development of significant military units, have been detailed all over the place. Up to four thousand officers, three-fourths of the current corps, are retained in Madrid and are completely idle. In Madrid up to ten thousand officers are in prison under the supervision of several thousand armed men. In Madrid no serious purge of suspect elements is in evidence. No political work and no preparation of the population for the difficulty of a possible siege or assault is noticeable. There are no fewer than fifty thousand armed men in Madrid, but they are not trained, and there are no measures being taken to disarm unreliable units. There are no staffs for fortified areas. They have put together a good plan for the defense of Madrid, but almost nothing has been done to put this plan into practice. Several days ago they began fortification work around the city. Up to fifteen thousand men are now occupied with that, mostly members of unions. There has been no mobilization of the population for that work. Even the basics are extraordinarily poorly taken care of, so the airport near the city is almost without any protection. Intelligence is completely unorganized. There is no communication with the population behind the enemy's rear lines. Meanwhile, White spies in the city are extraordinarily strong. Not long ago, a small shell factory was blown up by the Whites; an aerodrome with nine planes was destroyed because the aerodrome was lit up the entire night; a train carrying 350 motor-cycles was destroyed by enemy bombs.
Caballero attentively listens to our advice, after a while agrees to all our suggestions, but when putting them into action meets an exceptional amount of difficulty. I think that the main difficulty is Caballero's basic demand, now in place, to carry out all measures on a broad democratic basis through syndicalist organizations. Sufficient weapons, in particular machine guns, are now flowing to the city to raise the morale of the populace somewhat. Masses of peasants and workers are thronging to the city - volunteers. They end up for the most part in the Fifth Regiment, where they go through a very short training course, as they receive their weapons only about two days before going to the front.
(3) Edward Knoblaugh, Correspondent in Spain (1937)
Twenty-five thousand International Brigadesmen arrived from Albacete, where they had been training. Huge quantities of arms and munitions were rushed into the city. Franco succeeded in forcing his way into University City but could get no farther. Thousands of men had been working day and night in the brief interval throwing up fortifications. The completely demoralized militia had regained sufficient courage to help back up the International Brigades. Franco could get no farther into Madrid. Military men know how difficult it is to capture a large city which has been converted into a veritable fortress, unless that city can be completely surrounded and its communications cut. Franco took Malago and Bilbao and other cities by pincering them in this fashion. Madrid was a more difficult problem.
A large city, its circumference of nearly 32 miles made a tremendous number of effectives necessary. Foreign military observers said a minimum of 150,000 men would be needed to carry out this strategy. Franco did not have nearly that number then available. He would not call on his reserves of new Spanish recruits until they had completed their period of training in Melilla. Most of his trained men were scattered along a front some 400 miles long. He probably did not have at his disposition for the November assault on Madrid more than 35,000 or 40,000 men.
The defenders had the physical advantage. Their lines of communications were reduced to minimum length now that they had their backs to the wall. Franco could have destroyed Madrid - razed it to a pile of rubble - but he did not want to do this. He did not want to destroy the city which, if he were victorious, would become his capital. Moreover, to have done so would have imperiled the lives of thousands of sympathizers he knew were waiting to welcome him as liberator. A third reason advanced by many, in explanation of Franco's obvious reluctance to convert Madrid into a city of ruins, was that most of the buildings, the elegant palaces and apartment houses that made the Spanish capital one of the most beautiful in the world, belonged to the men who were financing his campaign.
I could validly argue that my work could now be better done from Valencia, that even if I witnessed the fall of the city Franco's censors would never allow me to send out the story, that I might find myself for several weeks in a Franco gaol. But I opted to stay. I did so less from a journalistic desire to cover the big story than from the feeling that history was about to be made, and I had the chance to witness it.
(5) The Manchester Guardian (19th November 1936)
Tremendous damage is being done to Madrid by Franco's airmen and gunners. Streets are in ruins, palaces damaged, and there are great numbers of killed and wounded. As the results of Tuesday's bombing and shelling it is semi-officially estimated that 200 people were killed and 500 wounded. Yesterday the rebel airmen set buildings on fire with incendiary bombs.
This bring the civilian casualties in Madrid in the last week up to about 500 killed and 1,200 wounded, the majority being women and children. The attacks on Tuesday night were preceded by the dropping of pamphlets telling the people that the worst air raids they had experienced were to come.
(6) Mikhail Koltzov, the Soviet journalist, recorded the evacuation of Madrid by the Popular Front government on 6th November 1936.
I made my way to the War Ministry, to the Commissariat of War. Hardly anyone was there. I went to the offices of the Prime Minister. The building was locked. I went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was deserted. In the Foreign Press Censorship an official told me that the government, two hours earlier, had recognized that the situation of Madrid was hopeless and had already left. Largo Caballero had forbidden the publication of any news about the evacuation "in order to avoid panic". I went to the Ministry of the Interior. The building was nearly empty. I went to the central committee of the Communist Party. A plenary meeting of the Politburo was being held. They told me that this very day Largo Caballero had suddenly decided to evacuate. His decision had been approved by the majority of the cabinet. The Communist ministers wanted to remain, but it was made clear to them that such a step would discredit the government and that they were obliged to leave like all the others. Not even the most prominent leaders of the various organizations, nor the departments and agencies of the state, had been informed of the government's departure. Only at the last moment had the Minister told the Chief of the Central General Staff that the government was leaving. The Minister of the Interior, Galarza, and his aide, the Director of Security Munoz, had left the capital before anyone else. The staff of General Pozas, the commander of the central front, had scurried off. Once again I went to the War Ministry. I climbed the stairs to the lobby. Not a soul! On the landing two old employees are seated like wax figures wearing livery and neatly shaven waiting to be called by the Minister at the sound of his bell! It would be just the same if the Minister were the previous one or a new one. Rows of offices! All the doors are wide open. I enter the War Minister's office. Not a soul! Further down, a row of offices - the Central General Staff, with its sections; the General Staff with its sections; the General Staff of the Central Front, with its sections; the Quartermaster Corps with its sections; the Personnel Department, with its sections. All the doors are wide open. The ceiling lamps shine brightly. On the desks there are abandoned maps, documents communiqués, pencils, pads filled with notes. Not a soul!
(7) Arturo Barea, The Forging of a Rebel (1972)
When Luis Rubio Hidalgo told me that the government was leaving and that Madrid would fall the next day, I found nothing to say. What could I have said? I knew as well as anybody that the Fascists were standing in the suburbs. The streets were thronged with people who in sheer desperation, went out to meet the enemy at the outskirts of their town. Fighting was going on in the Usera district and on the banks of the Manzanares. Our ears were forever catching the sound of bombs and mortar explosions, and sometimes we heard the cracking of rifle shots and the rattle of machine guns. But now the so-called War Government was about to leave, and the Head of its Foreign Press Department expected Franco's troops to enter. I was stunned while he spoke on urbanely.
(8) In his autobigraphy A Moment of War (1991) Laurie Lee described how Madrid changed during the Spanish Civil War.
I found the Puerta del Sol smothered in a pall of greyness, and I remembered the one-time buzz of the cafes, the tram bells, the cries of the lottery-ticket sellers, the high-stepping servant girls with their baskets of fresh-scrubbed vegetables, the parading young men and paunchy police at street corners.
Now there was emptiness and silence - the cafes closed, a few huddled women queuing at a shuttered shop. Poor as it had been when I'd known it, there had always been some sense of holiday in the town, a defiant zest for small treats and pleasures, corner stalls selling popcorn, carobs, sunflower seeds, vile cigarettes, and little paper packets of bitter sweets. Nothing now, of course, no smell of bread, oil, or the reek of burnt fish that used to enliven the alleys round the city centre - just a fusty aroma of horses, straw, broken drains and fevered sickness.
(9) Helen Grant, diary entry (April, 1937)
The main impression on walking about Madrid is that nobody even thinks about danger. Nevertheless, the majority of the houses and shops in the Gran Via have been hit... The telephone building is marked on every storey by shells although the rapidity with which the effects of bombardment are cleared up gives a superficial appearance of order.... Although the guns roar almost continually and sometimes they are quite deafening, no one appears to take any notice.
(10) A member of the Labour Party, Emanuel Shinwell initially argued that the British government should give support to the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. He wrote about his visit to Spain in his autobiography, Conflict Without Malice (1955)
While the war was at its height several of us were invited to visit Spain to see how things were going with the Republican Army. The fiery little Ellen Wilkinson met us in Paris, and was full of excitement and assurance that the Government would win. Included in the party were Jack Lawson, George Strauss, Aneurin Bevan, Sydney Silverman, and Hannen Swaffer. We went by train to the border at Perpignan, and thence by car to Barcelona where Bevan left for another part of the front.
We travelled to Madrid - a distance of three hundred miles over the sierras - by night for security reasons as the road passed through hostile or doubtful territory. It was winter-time and snowing hard. Although our car had skid chains we had many anxious moments before we arrived in the capital just after dawn. The capital was suffering badly from war wounds. The University City had been almost destroyed by shell fire during the earlier and most bitter fighting of the war.
We walked along the miles of trenches which surrounded the city. At the end of the communicating trenches came the actual defence lines, dug within a few feet of the enemy's trenches. We could hear the conversation of the Fascist troops crouching down in their trench across the narrow street. Desultory firing continued everywhere, with snipers on both sides trying to pick off the enemy as he crossed exposed areas. We had little need to obey the orders to duck when we had to traverse the same areas. At night the Fascist artillery would open up, and what with the physical effects of the food and the expectation of a shell exploding in the bedroom I did not find my nights in Madrid particularly pleasant.
The famous and gallant defender of Madrid, General Miaja, invited us to dinner at his headquarters in a vault well below the ground. Most of his staff was there, with their wives. I was struck by the Semitic appearance of many of the women and mentioned to the Chief-of-Staff, who was my neighbour, that exactly similar women could be seen any day in London's East End. He told me that in the days of the Spanish Inquisition large numbers of Jews were given the choice of the stake or conversion, and many preferred the latter.
We were asked to make many speeches to large audiences of soldiers and civilians to encourage them in their struggle. The enthusiasm was there, but I could not help but feel that arms and food would have been of greater value than words if we had only been able to provide them. The most popular speaker was Hannen Swaffer who had years before reported the marriage of Alfonso and Isabella. He invariably took as his theme the contrast between the opulence of the royal court as he saw it then and the miserable poverty of the ordinary people as he now observed it for the first time. The Latin temperament found this type of generalization much more to their taste than a mundane but factual recital of the true facts about the military and political situation.
It is sad and tragic to realize that most of the splendid men and women, fighting so obstinately in a hopeless battle, whom we met have since been executed, killed in action - or still linger in prison and in exile. The reason for the defeat of the Spanish Government was not in the hearts and minds of the Spanish people. They had a few brief weeks of democracy with a glimpse of all that it might mean for the country they loved. The disaster came because the Great Powers of the West preferred to see in Spain a dictatorial Government of the right rather than a legally elected body chosen by the people. The Spanish War encouraged the Nazis both politically and as a proof of the efficiency of their newly devised methods of waging war. In the blitzkrieg of Guernica and the victory by the well-armed Fascists over the helpless People's Army were sown the seeds for a still greater Nazi experiment which began when German armies swooped into Poland on 1st September, 1939.
It has been said that the Spanish Civil War was in any event an experimental battle between Communist Russia and Nazi Germany. My own careful observations suggest that the Soviet Union gave no help of any real value to the Republicans. They had observers there and were eager enough to study the Nazi methods. But they had no intention of helping a Government which, was controlled by Socialists and Liberals. If Hitler and Mussolini fought in the arena of Spain as a try-out for world war Stalin remained in the audience. The former were brutal; the latter was callous. Unfortunately the latter charge must also be laid at the feet of the capitalist countries as well.
(11) David Marshall was badly wounded at Cerro de los Angeles while defending Madrid in 1937.
We were due to capture Cerro de Los Angeles - the Hill of the Angels - eight miles south of Madrid. It was a bollocks of a battle, but you don't see that at the time. We had to attack across a flat plain, in the face of artillery fire and machine-gunning. A bloke got on to me, a sharpshooter, and he put four or five bullets around me. You could hear them hitting the soil nearby. Then I got hit in the foot. It went clean through.
I was panicking by then. I was doubly frightened because they said that our flank was open and there were Moroccan troops on that side. I crawled back to some olive trees and sat down, and while I was sitting there a bloke came at me with a fixed bayonet. Luckily, it was one of the brigade, a Belgian bloke, who was as disorientated as I was. A lad helped me limp back until we met stretcher bearers and they put me on the floor of a lorry. We drove back for quite a long time until we got to a field hospital. I spent the night shivering.
(12) Luis Bolin, Spain, the Vital Years (1967)
Madrid itself was never an objective for our guns. We resorted to counter-battery fire only when we had to - i.e. when the enemy shelled us from the western outskirts of the town. Because of this, some buildings were demolished or defaced, but most of the city remained untouched until the end. We nursed it carefully, almost tenderly. The damage caused inside it by shells or bombs falling wide of their mark was used as copy by writers of international repute, eager to thrill their editors and readers with visions of danger and destruction, but Madrid itself suffered less in the course of its thirty months' siege than many Allied or German towns in a single night of terror during the Second World War.
(13) After her visit to Madrid in April 1937, Eleanor Rathbone wrote to her constituents about the Spanish Civil War.
In these days of defeatism, it is something to have seen a great city full of men and women who throughout a year of privation, terror and suffering have looked death in the face without losing their courage, their complete confidence in the victory of their cause, or even their high spirits. The Civil War had thrown up a great people - great at least in the qualities of courage and devotion to unselfish ends. Think of those men and women, with centuries of oppression behind them, bred in bitter poverty and ignorance, deserted by most of their natural leaders, delivered over defenceless to their enemies by the democracies which should have aided them. Think of them as I saw them last April in Madrid and Valencia, men and women, young and old, without a trace of fear or dejection in their faces though bombs were crashing a few yards away and taking their daily toll of victims, going about their daily business in cheerful serenity, building up a system of social services that would have been a credit to any nation at war, submitting to unaccustomed discipline, composing their party differences, going to the front or sending their men to the front as though to a. fiesta, unstimulated - most of them - by hope of Heaven or fear of Hell, yet willing to leave the golden Spanish sunshine and all the lovely sights and sounds of spring and go into the blackness of death or the greater blackness of cruel captivity without a thought of surrender.
(14) In his autobiography A Moment of War (1991) Laurie Lee described how in Madrid soldiers searched for Nationalist supporters during bombing attacks.
It had happened before, when night-shelling was heavy and precise - someone, some 'Franco agent', would have been flashing a torch from a rooftop or an upper window, and then, when the bombardment was heaviest, would toss a few grenades down into the street to confuse the fire-trucks and rescue parties.
After two winters of siege, the inside war was still active, and not everyone, even in this poor bare tavern, as he talked and moved his eyes about, could be absolutely sure of the man who sat beside him.
'We caught one of them, anyway,' the younger soldier said fiercely. 'Running across the tiles with a cart lamp.'
'Could have been trying to save his skin,' said someone.
'Did you arrest him?'
'Hell, no. We just threw him off the roof. He'd done enough. His body's outside in a barrow.'
Someone drew back the shutters on the cold grey street. A boy sat on the shafts of a hand-barrow, smoking. Stretched out on sacks between the high wooden wheels lay the crumpled body of a thin, old man. It was smartly dressed, and the head which hung down from the tailboard still wore a white-haired look of distinction.
(15) Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, General Consul of the Soviet Union in Barcelona, top secret document sent to NKVD (14th October, 1936)
In Madrid there are up to fifty thousand construction workers. Caballero refused to mobilize all of them for building fortifications around Madrid ("and what will they eat") and gave a total of a thousand men for building the fortifications. In Estremadura our Comrade Deputy Cordon is fighting heroically. He could arm five thousand peasants but he has a detachment of only four thousand men total. Caballero under great pressure agreed to give Cordon two hundred rifles, as well. Meanwhile, from Estremadura, Franco could easily advance into the rear, toward Madrid. Caballero implemented an absolutely absurd compensation for the militia - ten pesetas a day, besides food and housing. Farm labourers in Spain earn a total of two pesetas a day and, feeling very good about the militia salary in the rear, do not want to go to the front. With that, egalitarianism was introduced. Only officer specialists receive a higher salary. A proposal made to Caballero to pay soldiers at the rear five pesetas and only soldiers at the front ten pesetas was turned down. Caballero is now disposed to put into effect the institution of political commissars, but in actual fact it is not being done. In fact, the political commissars introduced into the Fifth Regiment have been turned into commanders, for there are none of the latter. Caballero also supports the departure of the government from Madrid. After the capture of Toledo, this question was almost decided, but the anarchists were categorically against it, and our people proposed that the question be withdrawn as inopportune. Caballero stood up for the removal of the government to Cartagena. They proposed sounding out the possibility of basing the government in Barcelona. Two ministers - Prieto and Jimenez de Asua - left for talks with the Barcelona government. The Barcelona government agreed to give refuge to the central government. Caballero is sincere but is a prisoner to syndicalist habits and takes the statutes of the trade unions too literally.
(16) Dorothy Parker, broadcast, Madrid Radio (October 1937)
I came to Spain without my axe to grind. I didn't bring messages from anybody, nor greetings to anybody. I am not a member of any political party. The only group I have ever been affiliated with is that not especially brave little band that hid its nakedness of heart and mind under the out of date garment of a sense of humour. I heard someone say, and so I said it too, that ridicule is the most effective weapon. I don't suppose I ever really believed it, but it was easy and comforting, and so I said it. Well, now I know that there are things that have never really been funny, and never will be. And I know that ridicule may be a shield, but it is not a weapon.
In spite of all the evacuation, there are still nearly a million people here in Madrid. Some of them - you may be like that yourself - won't leave their homes and their possessions, all the things they have gathered together through the years. They are not at all dramatic about it. It is simply that anything else than the life they have made for themselves is inconceivable to them. Yesterday I saw a woman who lives in the poorest quarter of Madrid. It has been bombarded twice by the fascists; her house is one of the few left standing. She has seven children. It has been suggested to her that she and the children leave Madrid for a safer place. She dismisses such ideas easily and firmly.
Every six weeks, she says, her husband has 48 hours leave from the front. Naturally he wants to come home to see her and the children. She, and each one of the seven, are calm and strong and smiling. It is a typical Madrid family.
(17) Bernard Knox, John Cornford: A Memoir (1938)
Our baptism of fire was sharp and unexpected. We were scattered with our machine-guns along a crest which we had every reason to believe was as safe as anything could be in the Madrid area (which wasn't very safe), when we heard our first shell. Nobody minded much, because it burst a good forty yards behind us, but the next two or three showed us that they were feeling for the crest we were occupying. They got it, and then the barrage started. I remember shouting to John that we ought to go over the crest into the valley, but I don't think he heard me. A few minutes later it became apparent that nothing could remain on that crest and live, so everybody went over, pell-mell. When we sorted ourselves out down below I found that John had taken command of two machine-gun crews and brought them over with guns and ammunition complete. Our commander had gone up to advanced positions that night with one of our gun-crews, so John took over command that morning, inspecting the positions we had taken up, and criticising ruefully the way in which most of us came down the cliff. But it was not a bad performance for raw troops taken by surprise in a barrage.
Our first experience of open warfare (as distinct from the dull business of holding on at all costs in the University) was a great flanking attack on the Fascist lines at Aravaca. I remember it well because after we had been withdrawn to rest-positions after a gruelling day and night in a trench captured from the Fascists (their gunners naturally knew the range to an inch), John was the first to go up again and volunteer as an extra stretcher-bearer, to bring in the badly mangled Poles who were attacking over half a mile of completely open country under accurate shrapnel fire.