George Orwell to finally make it to Huesca as Spanish city honours writer

Richard Blair at the unveiling of a statue of his father, George Orwell, outside the BBC headquarters in London, England, on November 7, 2017.
Richard Blair at the unveiling of a statue of his father, George Orwell, outside the BBC headquarters in London, England, on November 7, 2017. Copyright Quentin Kopp
Copyright Quentin Kopp
By Graham Keeley
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The English author, who penned "Homage to Catalonia" and "1984", fought on the Republican side in the Spanish civil war but was invalidated after being shot in the neck.

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When George Orwell fought on the Republican side in the Spanish civil war, his division was poised to take the eastern city of Huesca.

Confident of victory over the Nationalists, the generals promised the troops they would soon be drinking coffee in the city but it never came to pass.

Now, almost 90 years after the writer of "Homage to Catalonia" nearly lost his life in the 1936-1939 war, he might finally make it to Huesca – in a way – when a frieze is erected there in his memory in the city.

Richard Blair, Orwell’s son, has led a campaign with Victor Pardo, a Spanish historian, who preserves the writer’s memory in Spain, to fund the memorial in Huesca.

Campaigners in Britain and Spain have mounted a GoFundMe campaign and need only about £7,000 before they can start work on the frieze on a wall which will be entitled Orwell Takes Coffee in Huesca.

So far, the Orwell Society, which preserves the memory of the man who wrote "1984" and "Animal Farm", has raised about £10,000, while Mr Pardo has raised the other £10,000.

To help the campaign, Mr Blair has promised to match every £1 donated by giving £1 of his own money.

With the help of tax aid from the British government, this has raised the amount collected by campaigners.

AP Photo
Writer George Orwell.AP Photo

“After Orwell came back from rest in Barcelona, he went back to the hills overlooking Huesca. The generals said tomorrow we will have coffee in Huesca but it never happened,” Mr Blair told Euronews.

“(Later) my father was shot through the neck and was invalided out of the civil war. Orwell and the republicans never penetrated Huesca.”

Mr Blair said the frieze may raise the profile of the trenches in Aragon, the region of which Huesca is the capital, where Orwell fought.

The trenches have been preserved as a tourist attraction for Orwell enthusiasts and those interested in the history of the civil war.

“I hope that my father would approve. I hope it will do good. I am conscious of interfering with local politics. I don’t want to trample on people’s sensibilities. But if it is approved then I am happy to contribute,” Mr Blair, whose father died in 1950 when he was five years old, said.

“It is a little corner of the civil war which has yet to be unearthed, particularly in that corner of the world. We have always been very well received. People said they thought Orwell was very honest in "Homage to Catalonia."

Orwell arrived in Spain in 1936 to fight for the Spanish Republic in the POUM, a left-wing militia. He nearly died when he was shot in the neck on May 20 in 1937 while serving in Aragon.

Luck meant the bullet shot through a tiny space of about one centimetre between Orwell’s carotid artery and larynx, which bruised his vocal chords but he survived.

“Orwell said that his time in Spain was the most important in his life,” said Mr Pardo.

“We hope that even though in his life he did not make it to Huesca, this will be a symbolic arrival for him to this city. And that it will attract people to come and see this part of Spain.”

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Quentin Kopp, the chair of the Orwell Society, has been a key figure in the campaign.

“The point of this would be to give recognition to Orwell for his involvement in the Spanish civil war and to raise the profile of Aragon which is a poor place in terms of opportunities. This is another reason why people might go into Huesca,” he told Euronews.

“Hopefully we have raised almost enough money and we can get it done this year.”

His father Georges Kopp was the commanding officer of Orwell’s division in the civil war.

In "Homage to Catalonia", Orwell’s account of his part in the civil war, he recounts Kopp’s various acts of personal bravery.

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Later, after the war, Kopp married into the Orwell family so Richard Blair and Quentin Kopp are cousins.

Huesca city council has promised to pay for the erection of the frieze.

In the city, a wall bears grim remembrance to the scores of left-wingers who were executed on the orders of General Francisco Franco’s troops simply for being on the wrong side.

The wall has a plaque with all their names so they are not forgotten.

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