Seventy years ago General Francisco Franco led an uprising against Spain’s leftist government, a failed coup d’etat which would lead to a three-year civil war. The right-wing rebels were not able to win power outright. The government mobilised resistance, mainly in Madrid and Barcelona, and so the war began.
On one side were the “Nacionales”, soon to be led by General Franco. He would be victorious, ushering a 36-year dictatorship, which would last until his death in 1975. On the other side were the “Republicanos”. After the defeat, their future was bleak. Repression, prison, the firing squad or exile were their probable fates.
Seventy years on these men are back in the ruins of Belchite, a village in Aragon – the site of one of the bloodiest battles. At the time they were teenagers but their memories are strong.
One said: “When the Reds took the first house over there, they put a machine gun on the balcony so they could fire at all the road up to where we lived and they killed everyone who passed.”
But the Spanish Civil War was also an international conflict, sometimes called a rehearsal for World War Two. The bombardment of Guernica in May 1937 by the German and Italian air forces rapidly became a symbol of the war – the first where civilians were systematically targeted.
The Republicans had the support of the Soviet Union but also of thousands of International Brigadiers. Now 98, Penny Fiewell was a nurse during the war.
She said: “I always get emotional when I think about that. But anyway it’s many years ago now and it’s past history. But people don’t know the half of what happens in war time. War is a bad thing.”
In London veterans have paid homage to the fallen. For the first time the Spanish ambassador to the UK was in attendance.