I have just returned from Spain where we commemorated the 75th anniversary of the battle of Jarama. It was here that my biographical subject Tom Wintringham commanded the British Battalion for its disastrous opening two days when it lost 200 of its volunteers. What shook me is how alive the memory is today. This is partly because the Civil War remains a live political issue today. The new government follows the Francoist attitude of burying the past while the socialists wanted to excavate it by encouraging research, heritage industry and so on. The two are in direct conflict at the University City in Madrid where the Republic defended the campus throughout the war - the closest the Nationalists came to entering the city. Recent excavations have revealed the network of bunkers but the University refuses to allow markers to show the layout, or to display what was found.
The war was very violent and very personal, like all civil wars, and this is a reason why some do not want to open their family histories. For example, we met a former Francoist family, landed gentry we would call them in the UK, living in their old 'palacio' at Albite in Castille. The grandfather had been shot and cruelly left to die by the villagers in 1936. Then his house had been confiscated by the Republic. His son fought for the Nationalists and after the war he discovered his father's killer, so he summoned him to the town hall and shot him dead. He had his medals confiscated but kept his freedom.
The anniversary of Jarama was commemorated by a 'pilgrimage' round the battlefield by Republican supporters, British, Irish and Spanish. We paid homage at the graves of Kit Conway and Charlie Donnelly, saw the site of the 'casa blanca' on Suicide Hill, and gathered round the International Brigades memorial. Here Republican and Brigade flags were waved and 400 or so supporters burst into the Internationale.
In the Jarama museum at Morata we witnessed the unveiling of a statue made from battlefield shrapnel and Nils Wintringham read his grandfather's moving poem 'Monument', with a Spanish translation. 'Viva!' we shouted afterwards. (Please read my earlier blog on Jarama for info about this.)
The lunch in the village taverna was something else. I shall add some photos soon.