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Authors: Preston Paul

we saw spain die





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First published in the UK by Constable, an imprint of Constable & Robinson, 2008

Copyright © Paul Preston, 2008, 2009

The right of Paul Preston to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

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ISBN: 978-1-84529-946-0
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      List of Illustrations

Part One: Say that We Saw Spain Die

1   The Wound that Will Not Heal: Terror and Truth

2   The Capital of the World: The Correspondents and the Siege of Madrid

3   The Lost Generation Divided: Hemingway, Dos Passos and the Disappearance of José Robles

4   Love and Politics: The Correspondents in Valencia and Barcelona

5   The Rebel Zone: Intimidation in Salamanca and Burgos

Part Two: Beyond Journalism

6   Stalin’s Eyes and Ears in Madrid? The Rise and Fall of 203 Mikhail Koltsov

7   A Man of Influence: The Case of Louis Fischer

8   The Sentimental Adventurer: George Steer and the Quest for Lost Causes

9   Talking with Franco, Trouble with Hitler: Jay Allen

Part Three: After the War

10   The Humane Observer: Henry Buckley

11   A Lifetime’s Struggle: Herbert Rutledge Southworth and the Undermining of the Franco Regime

12   Epilogue: Buried Treasure

       Postscript: Love, Espionage and Treachery





To the Memory of Herbert Rutledge Southworth (1908–99)


I would like to express my gratitude to all those who have helped to make this book possible. In particular, I must thank those who generously helped me locate the diaries, letters and other papers on which the book is principally based: the Very Reverend Dean Michael Allen and his daughter Sarah Wilson, for giving me access to the papers of Jay Allen; Patrick and Ramón Buckley, for lending me materials relating to their father Henry Buckley; Charlotte Kurzke, for granting permission for me to use the invaluable unpublished memoirs of her parents Jan Kurzke and Kate Mangan; Carmen Negrín, for providing access to the papers and photographs held in the Archivo Juan Negrín, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria; Paul Quintanilla, for giving me access to the papers of Luis Quintanilla; and David Wurtzel, for providing me with the diary and other papers of Lester Ziffren.

I am also very happy to record the help of numerous librarians who helped me locate particular papers. For the good-humoured tolerance with which they dealt with my complicated requests regarding the papers of Tom Wintringham and Kitty Bowler, I am indebted to the Staff of the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives, King’s College London. Similarly, I am immensely grateful to Andrew Riley and Sandra Marsh of Churchill College Cambridge Archives Centre for their enthusiastic assistance in locating the correspondence between George Steer and Philip Noel-Baker. Gail Malmgreen has, for many years, been unfailingly helpful regarding requests and queries related to the ALBA Collection of the Tamiment Library, at New York University. Kelly Spring of the Sheridan Library, Johns Hopkins University, helped in the location of the Robles papers. Natalia Sciarini of the Beinecke
Library, Yale University, went the extra mile in helping find particular items relating to Josephine Herbst. Above all, I want to thank Helene van Rossum of Princeton University Library for help and perceptive advice above and beyond the call of duty regarding the voluminous papers of Louis Fischer.

I am fortunate in the specific help I received regarding particular chapters. This is especially true of the chapter on Mikhail Koltsov, for which I must express my immense debt to Frank Schauff, whose unstinting help with Russian sources was indispensable. Robert Service, Denis Smyth, Ángel Viñas and Boris Volodarsky all contributed with sage advice and saved me from many errors. René Wolf and Gunther Schmigalle provided invaluable assistance on the German dimension of Koltsov’s career. For the chapter on George Steer, I benefited from the generous help of Nick Rankin. I would also like to thank Christopher Holme of the
Glasgow Herald
for sending me material on his namesake who was with Steer in Guernica. For the chapter on José Robles, Will Watson generously shared his encyclopaedic knowledge of Hemingway in Spain, and José Nieto recounted his recollections of his conversations with John Dos Passos, Artur London and Luis Quintanilla. I was greatly stimulated by the enthusiastic response of Elinor Langer to my questions about Josephine Herbst. On the developments in the press office in Valencia, I benefited from the insights of Griffin Barry’s daughter, Harriet Ward. I was also helped by David Fernbach in relation to the role of Tom Wintringham and Kitty Bowler. In Madrid, the indefatigable Mariano Sanz González was as helpful as ever. Regarding matters connected with the International Brigades, I turned to Richard Baxell and was never disappointed. I am also indebted to Larry Hannant of the University of Victoria and Professor David Lethbridge at Okanagan College, British Columbia for their help in unearthing material about Kajsa Rothman.

Surviving protagonists are unfortunately now few. I was thus especially glad to be able to benefit from the memories of three people who were in Spain: the late Sir Geoffrey Cox, whose chronicles from besieged Madrid remain important historical sources; Adelina Kondratieva, who was an interpreter with the Russian delegation; and Sam Lessor, who fought with the International Brigades and, after
being wounded and invalided home, returned to Spain to work for the Republican propaganda services in Barcelona.

Four friends made a big difference. I ended up writing the book in the first place as a result of an invitation from Salvador Clotas to contribute to the catalogue of the splendid exhibition about foreign correspondents in Spain organized jointly by the Instituto Cervantes and the Fundación Pablo Iglesias. A trip to Lisbon to take part in the inauguration of the exhibition brought me into contact with its curator, Carlos García Santa Cecilia. To meet someone who shared my enthusiasm for the subject was an exhilarating experience and helped convince me that I was not engaged in a totally lunatic enterprise. Will Watson read several chapters with hawk-eyed precision. Lala Isla, as always, has been a fount of affectionate encouragement and I am immensely grateful for her close and sympathetic reading of all the chapters. The generous advice of Soledad Fox on sources and archives in the USA has been crucial. Without her unstinting encouragement and advice, this book would have been infinitely poorer.

It is with great pleasure that I also thank Andreas Campomar, my publisher and friend, for his faith in the project.

Finally, I want to thank the two people who have influenced this book the most. The first is my friend Herbert Southworth, who was a participant in much of what follows. Many years of conversations and correspondence with him taught me much about the Spanish Civil War in general and in particular about the correspondents with whom he had worked. The book is dedicated to him with deep gratitude for his friendship and his example. The other is my wife Gabrielle, who has always been my most lucid critic and reliable supporter. Her acute perceptions regarding the way in which unpalatable truths can be dismissed as bias have been an invaluable foundation for the book.


Every effort has been made to locate the rights holder to the pictures appearing in this book and to secure permission for usage from such persons. Any queries regarding the usage of such material should be addressed to the author c/o the publisher.

Henry Buckley and Louis Fischer in Barcelona, 1938.
Courtesy of the Buckley family.

Jay Allen.
Courtesy of the Reverend Michael Allen.

Lester Ziffren, Douglas Fairbanks and Juan Belmonte.
Courtesy of Didi Hunter.

Sefton Delmer in Madrid.
Courtesy of Felix Sefton Delmer.

Geoffrey Cox.
Courtesy of the late Sir Geoffrey Cox.

Louis Delaprée.
Courtesy of the Instituto Cervantes.

Arthur Koestler after his arrest in Málaga, February 1937.
Courtesy of El País

Mikhail Koltsov and Buenaventura Durruti on the Aragón front at Bujaraloz, August 1936.
Courtesy of EFE.

Ernest Hemingway, Communist General Enrique Líster, International Brigade Commander Hans Kahle and Vincent Sheean during the Battle of the Ebro.
Courtesy of the Buckley family.

Mikhail Koltsov and Roman Karmen at the front outside Madrid, October 1936.
Courtesy of the Instituto Cervantes.

Mikhail Koltsov and Maria Osten.
Courtesy of the Instituto Cervantes.

Herbert Matthews and Ernest Hemingway in ‘the Old Homestead’.

Herbert Matthews, Philip Jordan and Kajsa Rothman visit Alcalá de Henares.
© Vera Elkan Collection, Imperial War Museum
(HU 71630).

Josephine Herbst meets the villagers of Fuentidueña del Tajo, April 1937.
Courtesy of Elinor Langer.

Liston Oak watches the front with Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Cowles and Kajsa Rothman, April 1937. Photographed by Joan Worthington.

Claud Cockburn, founder of the satirical news-sheet,
The Week
and Comintern agent Vittorio Vidali.
© Vera Elkan Collection, Imperial War Museum
(HU 71569).

Virginia Cowles
of Harpers’ Bazaar,
autumn 1937.
© Angus McBean.

Kajsa Rothman with a Swedish International Brigader.
© Arbetarrörelsens Arkiv och Bibliotek, Stockholm.

George Lowther Steer with a group of French journalists, January 1937.
Courtesy of George Steer.

Guernica after the German rehearsal for Blitzkrieg.
Courtesy of Museo de la Paz, Guernica.

Jay Allen, Diana Sheean, Mrs Caspar Whitney, Juan Negrín, Muriel Draper and Louis Fischer discuss the display of Picasso’s
at the Paris Exhibition, summer 1937.
Courtesy of Carmen Negrín.

Louis Fischer with the Soviet and Spanish Foreign Ministers, Maxim Litvinov and Julio Álvarez del Vayo at the League of Nations, Geneva, December 1936.
Courtesy of Carmen Negrín.

Tom Wintringham, Commander of the British Battalion of the International Brigades, with Kitty Bowler.
Courtesy of Ben Wintringham.

Safe-conduct issued to Kitty Bowler by the Catalan government.
Courtesy of Ben Wintringham.

Kate Mangan and Jan Kurzke, in the hospital in Valencia.
Courtesy of Charlotte Kurzke.

Kate Mangan’s permission to attend a meeting of the Spanish parliament in Valencia on 30 September 1937.
Courtesy of Charlotte Kurzke.

Luis Bolín.
Courtesy of the Instituto Cervantes.

Clipping of

report of the murder of its correspondent, Guy de Traversay.
Courtesy of the Instituto Cervantes.

Harold Cardozo, Victor Console and Jean D’Hospital on the Madrid front, November 1936.
Courtesy of the Instituto Cervantes.

John Dos Passos, Sydney Franklyn, Joris Ivens and Ernest Hemingway in the Hotel Florida, April 1937.
© Corbis.

Kajsa Rothman fund-raising for the Republic in Stockholm.
© Arbetarrörelsens Arkiv och Bibliotek.

Juan Negrín and Louis Fischer at a meeting of the League of Nations, September 1937.
Courtesy of Carmen Negrín.

Gerda Grepp, Nordahl Grieg and Ludwig Renn.
Courtesy of Norges Kommunistiske Parti, Trondheim

Ernest Hemingway, Henry Buckley and Herbert Matthews surveying the Ebro, November 1938.
Courtesy of the Buckley family.

Ernest Hemingway rows Robert Capa, Herbert Matthews and Henry Buckley across the Ebro, November 1938.

Constancia de la Mora recovering after the war. Photographed by John Condax.
Courtesy of John and Laura Delano Condax.

Jay Allen, captured by the Germans.
Courtesy of the Reverend Michael Allen.

Arturo Barea and Ilsa Kulcsar together in their British exile.
Courtesy of Bruce and Margaret Weeden.

Herbert Southworth in Sitges, April 1984.
Courtesy of Gabrielle Preston.

The Wound that Will Not Heal:
Terror and Truth

‘It was in Spain that men learned that one can be right and still be beaten, that force can vanquish spirit, that there are times when courage is not its own reward. It is this, without doubt, which explains why so many men throughout the world regard the Spanish drama as a personal tragedy.’

Albert Camus

hen Spain’s Second Republic was established on 14 April 1931, people thronged the streets of the country’s cities and towns in an outburst of anticipatory joy. The new regime raised inordinate hopes among the most humble members of society and was seen as a threat by the most privileged, the landowners, industrialists and bankers, and their defenders in the armed forces and the Church. For the first time, control of the apparatus of the state had passed from the oligarchy to the moderate Left. This consisted of the reformist Socialists and a mixed bag of petty bourgeois Republicans. Together, they hoped, despite considerable disagreement over the finer details, to use state power to create a new Spain by curtailing the reactionary influence of the Church and the Army, by breaking up the great estates and by granting autonomy to the Basque Country and Catalonia. These hopes were soon blunted by the strength of the old order’s defences.

Social and economic power – ownership of the land, the banks and industry, as well as of the principal newspapers and radio stations – remained unchanged. Those who held that power united with the Church and the Army to block any challenges to property, religion or national unity. Their repertoire of defence was rich and varied. Propaganda, through the Right’s powerful press and radio networks and from the pulpit of every parish church, denounced the efforts at
reform as the subversive work of Moscow. New right-wing political parties were founded and lavishly funded. Conspiracies were hatched to overthrow the new regime. Rural and industrial lock-out became a regular response to legislation aimed at protecting worker interests.

So successfully was reform blocked that, by 1933, the disillusioned Socialists decided to leave their alliance with the liberal Republicans and go it alone. In a system heavily favouring coalitions, this handed power to the Right in the November 1933 elections. Employers and landowners now cut wages, sacked workers, evicted tenants and raised rents. Social legislation was dismantled and, one after another, the principal unions were weakened as strikes were provoked and crushed – notably a nationwide stoppage by agricultural labourers in the summer of 1934. Tension was rising. The Left saw fascism in every action of the Right; the Right smelt revolution in every left-wing move.

On 6 October 1934, when the authoritarian Catholic party, the CEDA, entered the government, the Socialists called a revolutionary general strike. In most of Spain, it failed because of the swift declaration of martial law. In Barcelona, an independent state of Catalonia was short-lived. However, in the mining valleys of Asturias, there was a revolutionary movement organized jointly by the Socialist union, the Unión General de Trabajadores, the anarcho-syndicalist Confederación Nacional del Trabajo and, belatedly, the Communists. For nearly three weeks, a revolutionary commune heroically held out until finally the miners were reduced to submission by heavy artillery attacks and bombing raids co-ordinated by General Franco. The savage repression that followed was to be the fire in which was forged the Popular Front, essentially a re-creation of the Republican–Socialist coalition.

When elections were called for mid-February 1936, a well-financed right-wing campaign convinced the middle classes that Spain faced a life-or-death fight between good and evil, survival and destruction. The Popular Front campaign stressed the threat of fascism and demanded an amnesty for those imprisoned after October 1934. On 16 February, the Popular Front gained a narrow victory and thus shattered right-wing hopes of being able to impose legally an authoritarian, corporative state. Two years of aggressive rightist government had left the working masses, especially in the countryside, in a determined and vengeful
mood. Having been blocked once in its reforming ambitions, the Left was now determined to proceed rapidly with meaningful agrarian reform. In response, right-wing leaders provoked social unrest, then used it in blood-curdling parliamentary speeches and articles, to present a military rising as the only alternative to catastrophe.

The central factor in the spring of 1936 was the weakness of the Popular Front government. The Socialist leader Francisco Largo Caballero had insisted that the liberal Republicans govern alone until the time came for them to make way for an all-Socialist government. He was mistakenly confident that, if reform provoked a fascist and/or military uprising, it would be defeated by the revolutionary action of the masses. So he used his power in the Socialist Party to prevent the formation of a strong government by his more realistic rival Indalecio Prieto. Mass hunger for reform saw a wave of land seizures in the south. Thoroughly alarmed, the Right prepared for war. A military conspiracy was headed by General Emilio Mola. The liberal Republicans of the Popular Front watched feebly as the terror squads of the growing fascist party, Falange Española, orchestrated a strategy of tension, its terrorism provoking left-wing reprisals and creating disorder to justify the imposition of an authoritarian regime. One such reprisal, the assassination on 13 July of the monarchist leader, José Calvo Sotelo, provided the signal for the conspirators.

The rising took place on the evening of 17 July in Spain’s Moroccan colony and in the peninsula itself on the next morning. The plotters were confident that it would all be over in a few days. Had they faced only the Republican government, their predictions might have come true. The coup was successful in the Catholic small-holding areas which voted for the CEDA – the provincial capitals of rural León and Old Castile, cathedral market towns such as Avila, Burgos, Salamanca and Valladolid. However, in the left-wing strongholds of industrial Spain and the great estates of the deep south, the uprising was defeated by the spontaneous action of the working-class organizations. Yet, ominously, in major southern towns such as Cadiz, Cordoba, Granada and Seville, left-wing resistance was swiftly and savagely crushed.

Within days, the country was split into two war zones. The rebels controlled one-third of Spain in a northern block of Galicia, León, Old
Castile, Aragón and part of Extremadura and an Andalusian triangle from Huelva to Seville to Cordoba. They had the great wheat-growing areas, but the main industrial centres remained in Republican hands. Vain efforts were made by the government to reach a compromise with the rebels. Then, to appease the Great Powers, a new cabinet of moderate Republicans was formed under the chemistry professor, José Giral. There was some reason to suppose that the Republic would be able to crush the rising. Giral’s bourgeois Republican cabinet hoped to secure international assistance, and it controlled the nation’s gold and currency reserves and virtually all of Spain’s industrial capacity.

There would, however, be two big differences between the two sides that would eventually decide the conflict – the African Army and the help of the fascist powers. At first, the rebels’ strongest card, the ferocious colonial army under Franco, was blockaded in Morocco by Republican warships. However, the fact that power in Spain’s streets lay with the unions and their militia organizations – particularly as interpreted by the conservative newspapers of Europe and the United States – totally undermined the efforts of Giral’s unrepresentative government to secure aid from the Western democracies. Republican requests for assistance met only hesitance from the Popular Front government in Paris. Inhibited by internal political divisions and sharing the British fear of revolution and of provoking a general war, the French premier Léon Blum soon drew back from early promises of aid. Franco, in contrast, was quickly able to persuade the local representatives of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy that he was the man to back.

By the end of July, Junkers 52 and Savoia-Marchetti 81 transport aircraft were undertaking the first major military airlift in history. The bloodthirsty Foreign Legion and the so-called Native Regulars were carried across the Straits of Gibraltar to Seville. Fifteen thousand men crossed in ten days and a
coup d’état
going wrong became a long and bloody civil war. That crucial early aid was soon followed by a regular stream of high-technology assistance. In contrast to the state-of-the-art equipment arriving from Germany and Italy, complete with technicians, spare parts and the correct workshop manuals, the Republic, shunned by the democracies, had to make do with over-priced and obsolete equipment from private arms dealers.

While Mola attacked the Basque province of Guipúzcoa, cutting it off from the French border, Franco’s Army of Africa advanced rapidly northwards to Madrid, leaving a horrific trail of slaughter in its wake, including the massacre at Badajoz where two thousand prisoners were shot. In part because of their iron control of the despatches of foreign correspondents, rebel atrocities made little impression on public opinion in the democracies. In contrast, revolutionary terror had a profound impact on foreign perceptions of the war, to a large extent because of the way in which it was treated by the conservative press. The subsequent sympathy of many foreign correspondents for the plight of the Republican population had therefore considerable obstacles to overcome before they could influence popular opinion in favour of the democratic cause.

One of the greatest was the fact that an inadvertent result of the coup was to leave the Republican government virtually without the structures of law and order. The consequent terrorism in the Republican zone, mainly directed against the supporters of right-wing parties and the clergy, predisposed foreign opinion in favour of the rebels. The disappearance of the police force and the judiciary had permitted revolutionary crowds to open the jails and release the common prisoners. Accordingly, for about four months, behind rhetoric of revolutionary justice, acts of violence of all kinds were perpetrated. Revenge was directed at the sections of society on whose behalf the military was acting. Thus, hatred of an oppressive social system found expression in the murder or humiliation of parish priests who justified it, Civil Guards and policemen who defended it, the wealthy who enjoyed it and the employers and landlords’ agents who implemented it. In some cases, there was a revolutionary dimension – the burning of property records and land registries. But there were also criminal acts, murder, rape, theft and the settling of personal scores. Courts were replaced by revolutionary tribunals set up by political parties and trade unions.

About 55,000 civilians were killed in the Republican zone in the course of the war while more than three times that number were murdered in the rebel zone. Some, like the imprisoned army officers killed at Paracuellos del Jarama and Torrejón de Ardoz during the siege of Madrid, were victims of military decisions based on an assessment of
their potential danger to the Republican cause. Some were executed as known fifth columnists. Others died in explosions of mass rage which occurred as news arrived of the savage purges being carried out in the Nationalist zone and especially of atrocities committed by Franco’s Moors. Air-raids on Republican cities were another obvious trigger of popular fury. Whatever the reasons behind the violence, it seriously damaged the reputation of the Republic abroad and undermined its efforts to secure international support. Most notably, the near indiscriminate violence of anarchist elements in Barcelona in the first months of the war branded the Republic – whose authorities were desperately trying, with gradual success, to re-establish law and order – as a bloodstained regime of terror. In contrast, the atrocities in the Nationalist zone did nothing to diminish its standing in British and French government circles, let alone in Berlin or Rome.

In the first days after the military coup, the events in Catalonia saw newspapermen flocking from around the world. One of the first to arrive was the swashbuckling Sefton ‘Tom’ Delmer of the
Daily Express.
He had set off with his new wife Isabel for a holiday in Mallorca. The military coup in Spain took place while they were motoring through France. He managed to bluff their way through the frontier by flourishing his League of Nations press card. As they neared Barcelona, they were stopped by anarchists who either did not respect or could not read the card. However, the presence of a Siamese cat in a basket in the car convinced them that they were indeed dealing with holidaymakers. The couple were taken to the village of Mollet, just north of Barcelona. After just one night there, a night interrupted by the sounds of firing squads executing fascist sympathizers, they were obliged to return to France.

From Perpignan, Delmer sent a report on their adventure which set the tone for much early reporting from the Republic zone. Under the headline
he relayed unsubstantiated gossip about thousands killed in Barcelona despite the fact that he had been prevented from visiting the city:

The Red Terror wave that has broken out following the army’s uprising has given the excuse for the settlement in the Barcelona district at least, of many private feuds. I heard of no fewer than
three similar murders which had taken place during the last twenty-four hours in Mollet and the villages around.

In the following days, reports from the Reuters correspondent were equally lurid. It was alleged that bodies were piled in the underground stations and that: ‘The victorious Government civilian forces, composed of Anarchists, Communists and Socialists have burned and sacked practically every church and convent in Barcelona.’ The Reuters report went on: ‘The mob drunk with victory, afterwards paraded the streets of the city attired in the robes of ecclesiastical authorities.’

Over the next few days the stories became ever gorier. The reign of terror was described under the sub-heading ‘Priests Die Praying. The mob is uncontrollable and class hatred rules.’ According to this account ‘Priests are being dragged with a prayer on their lips from their monasteries to be shot – in the back – by firing squads. Some of them have had their heads and arms hacked off after death as a final vindictive act.’ Delight in the bloodshed went hand in hand with an almost racist patronage of the simplicity of the perpetrators:

like children with a new and dangerous toy which they scarcely understand. Alongside them on the firing line are city clerks who have let their beards grow and are heavy eyed with free liquor and days without sleep. The Robespierre of Barcelona sits on a pedestal fashioned like a throne on the balcony of a magnificent house in the Ramblas, the famous thoroughfare between the Plaza Cataluña and the port… On either side of the throne the leader’s lieutenants sit on chairs with rifles over their knees and blood red silk scarves round head and waist. But for their menacing and unkempt appearance they would be like fancydress pirates. As armed men pass in the street below they salute the ‘Committee’ with a shout and shaking of the fist in the Communist salute.

The Canadian James M. Minifie left the Paris office of the
New York Herald Tribune
with the instructions of his bureau chief, Leland Stowe, ringing in his ears: ‘Look under every stone and write what you find
there.’ Accordingly, he confined his reports to what he knew to be true. Like Delmer and many of his fellow newspapermen, on his arrival on the Catalan side of the Spanish–French frontier, Minifie was confronted by a gun-toting anarchist in blue overalls who gave him a safe-conduct which would be regarded as valid only by other members of the same faction:

I found Catalan officials very gracious about giving interviews; they damned the Communists as little better than enemy agents, and blamed nightly murders and executions on them. I heard reports of mass graves, looted monasteries, raped nuns and the whole deck of cards; but I never found what I would accept as irrefutable evidence in support of these charges.

He did, however, find ample evidence of looting, whether of farms or urban luxury car showrooms. The anarchists had seized every Rolls Royce, Hispano-Suiza or Cadillac that they could lay their hands on, ostensibly to motorize their columns but often to destroy them in wild joy-rides. After a brief stay, the lack of decent cabling facilities obliged Minifie to return to Paris, prior to going to Madrid and capture by rebel forces three months later.

As Minifie’s example made clear, not all the visiting firemen were in search of a sensational scoop. Indeed, the journalists who knew Spain well wrote more sober accounts of what was happening. However, passing British journalists who visited His Majesty’s Consul, Norman King, in search of orientation were treated to a gruesomely exaggerated account of what was happening. What he told them can be deduced from his consular despatches from Barcelona. He built a lurid picture in which ‘anarchists, and the escaped criminals with other armed hooligans for a time spread terror throughout the town’.
Even when things had calmed down, he speculated almost gleefully that economic collapse ‘will produce widespread distress, and possibly lead to a massacre’, and predicted that ‘a time is not far distant when a wave of xenophobia might set in’.
He confided in the British poet Stephen Spender that he wished Lluís Companys, the President of the Catalan Generalitat, had been shot after the rising of 1934.

In stark contrast to King’s alarmism about ‘raw undisciplined youth armed to the teeth and mostly out of control’ were the considered reflections of Lawrence Fernsworth. The distinguished, grey-haired Fernsworth, who was born in Portland, Oregon in 1898, had lived in Barcelona for a decade and wrote for both
The Times
of London and the
New York Times.
He also wrote for a Jesuit weekly publication called
A fervent Catholic, Fernsworth spoke both Spanish and Catalan. Reflecting on his first wartime experiences in Barcelona, he commented that ‘our escorts and the Republican crowds in the towns, all armed to the teeth, were the most amiable and solicitous revolutionaries one might wish to meet’ and that: ‘The danger to foreigners in Barcelona seems small. Even the Communists and Anarchists have shown respect for foreigners.’
On 19 July, while the workers were fighting with the military rebels, Fernsworth noted groups of picnickers coming down the street with hampers hoping to get on a train for their customary Sunday trip out to the countryside. He also noted popular outrage that many military rebels and their civilian sympathizers had been permitted to establish machine-gun emplacements in numerous church towers before the coup. Fortified therein, these rebel supporters opened fire on the workers. The outrage fed the church burnings but, as Fernsworth also noted, the Catalan government made every effort to save those that it could, such as the cathedral. The Capuchin church in the Passeig de Gràcia was saved because the Franciscan friars were noted for their close relation to the poor. Of others, he wrote, ‘I could hardly consider that these churches were being desecrated. In my eyes, they had already been desecrated by the anointed money-changers and were no longer holy temples of worship.’ In describing the subsequent terror, in which those believed to be ‘enemies of the people’ were murdered, Fernsworth was careful to point out that the Catalan government, the Generalitat, was not responsible, and laboured incessantly to keep itself in business and to save property and lives. Of the efforts of the government to re-establish public order, Fernsworth wrote: ‘Persons in official positions risked the anger of extremists, and consequently their lives, to save priests, nuns, bishops and certain other Spanish nationals by getting them aboard foreign ships or across the frontier.’

Fernsworth felt a deep sympathy for the Republic, but had strict professional ethics. Not only did he not attempt to diminish what he knew about atrocities, but he actually took considerable risks to get stories out when he knew them to be true. In the early days of the war, he crossed clandestinely into France in order to send a report about the liquidation of the ‘enemies of the people’ in Barcelona:

It was a dangerous story to bring out and I took care that my departure and return were unobserved and my passport had no telltale marks to show I had been in France. It was well that I did so, for the publication of the story caused a furore in Barcelona. It was an unpleasant task. I knew the facts would be harmful to the Republican cause for which, as an American, I felt a deep sympathy believing that in its essence the struggle was one for the rights of man. But it was the truth and had to be told. As a reporter I have never shirked at telling the truth regardless of whom it might please or displease.

He regularly used to board a Royal Navy cruiser in Barcelona harbour ‘to visit the captain’ and then be taken to Marseilles on a fast destroyer. Having sent his despatch, a day later he would step off the cruiser, having apparently just ‘visited the captain’.

The unnamed Barcelona correspondent of Lord Rothermere’s
Daily Mail
had none of the Spanish experience of Fernsworth but nor, it would appear, did he have need for much prompting from Norman King. Five days before the military coup, an editorial had already claimed that ‘The present year has seen Spain fall under the control of a Government bearing the sinister stamp of Bolshevism.’ A few days later, another alleged that ‘highly trained groups of revolutionaries were being sent to Spain, France and Belgium to direct operations on the spot’.
The rising itself was acclaimed as Spain’s opportunity to be ‘brought back to order or turned into a vassal of USSR’ by the forces in Morocco and Spain gathered ‘for a simultaneous effort of liberation’ (printed in bold). The Socialist leader Francisco Largo Caballero, ‘the Spanish Lenin’, it was asserted, would try to ‘force the pace to make Spain a vassal state of Soviet Russia’.

When reports began to reach London from Barcelona, they were printed in the most sensationalist manner possible. Refugees were quoted to the effect that ‘between 2,000–3,000 people’ had been killed: ‘The streets of Barcelona, they claim, are splattered with blood.’ In contrast, Harold Cardozo with General Mola’s forces at Soria approvingly quoted the general’s declaration (printed in bold) that the purpose of the coup was ‘to wrench out by the roots, for ever, all that represents the organisations and principles of Marxism’.
Some of the stories sent were not without their inadvertently comic elements. Under the headline,
ran a story of a man who had his car commandeered by ‘some communists’ and was forced to give them driving lessons for two hours.
The general line was that Republican Spain was in the hands of Moscow and that the crimes of the anarchists were committed at the behest of Soviet agents. An editorial declared: ‘As Moscow is the stronghold of the Reds in the east, so Madrid has become their headquarters in the west.’ In the same issue, under the headline
a report claimed that ‘The flag of the sickle and hammer floats over many buildings. Homes of the Spanish nobility are being plundered and burned by Communists and anarchists.’ Another asserted that ‘Anxieties caused by the Communists’ murderous reign of terror are spreading far beyond the frontiers of Spain.’ To add spice to the red-baiting, there was added an element of misogyny. Under the headline

it was asserted that female volunteers in the militias were women who had ‘thrown off religion, parental authority and all restraint’.

The consequence was, as John Langdon-Davies of the
News Chronicle
wrote in September 1936, ‘Today most English people have been convinced that the government supporters are not only “reds” but ghouls; that the reason why they have not defeated the fascists is that they spend their time raping nuns and watching them dance naked.’
Fernsworth, like Langdon-Davies, understood why things were happening as they were in Barcelona. It was not, as the
Daily Express
and the
Daily Mail
would have it, that it was to put a stop to the red terror that the military had risen, but rather that the coup had unleashed the red terror by removing the structures of law and order. As Fernsworth
wrote later, ‘the props were knocked out from under directing authority. Such local and provincial governments as existed in the large provincial capitals were like ships without rudder or motive power or sail, desperately battling ungovernable waves.’

Langdon-Davies made every effort to present a more realistic view to a British audience. Since first visiting Catalonia in 1920, and living there during the years 1921–22 and 1927–29, Langdon-Davies had been an enthusiastic student and advocate of Catalan culture. His book,
Dancing Catalans,
published in 1929, reflected his admiration for the humanity and egalitarianism that he believed were the essence of social relations in rural Catalonia. The persecution of the Catalan language and popular culture under the dictatorship of General Miguel Primo de Rivera (1923–30) intensified Langdon-Davies’ sympathies for Catalan nationalism. Unsurprisingly, the establishment of the democratic Second Republic on 14 April 1931 seemed to him to promise a freedom for the region that he loved.

On 6 August 1936, barely three weeks after the military coup, he arrived at Puigcerdà on the Spanish border on a second-hand motorcycle with his fifteen-year-old son, Robin. After leaving Robin with Catalan friends in Ripoll, he went on to Barcelona as a special correspondent of the liberal London daily, the
News Chronicle.
Between 11 August and 7 September, on an almost daily basis, he wrote articles in which he tried to put the disorder and church-burnings into their historical context. He believed that King’s consular staff were contributing to an atmosphere of panic among British citizens in Barcelona: ‘Many of these lost their heads completely, and one can sympathise with them, seeing that the British officials supposed to look after them completely lost theirs.’ He claimed that Norman King ‘became so childishly terrified that he refused to send a conservative newspaperman a car to go to the local airport, saying that it was too dangerous, and that he would not risk the lives of his chauffeurs. This was in mid August when everyone else was settling down to normal existence.’
The man in question was almost certainly the correspondent of the
Daily Telegraph,
Cedric Salter.

Thereafter, Langdon-Davies went to Valencia, Madrid and Toledo before returning to England on 19 September. He used the material gathered as the basis for lectures on behalf of the relief organization,
Spanish Medical Aid, and for the book
Behind the Spanish Barricades
which he wrote in barely five weeks in the intervals between his lectures. During his brief time in Spain, Langdon-Davies was quickly convinced that the British policy of non-intervention was disastrous for both the Spanish Republic and for Britain. This brought him into direct conflict with the views being propounded by Norman King. In September 1936, he vainly visited the Foreign Office in London in an attempt to counteract the apocalyptic view emanating from right-wing sources about the Catalan President, Lluís Companys, and of the situation in Barcelona. Langdon-Davies mistakenly underestimated the scale of the killing in Barcelona, and this led to officials checking his figures with Norman King. The Consul gloated and he seized the opportunity to brand Langdon-Davies as a Communist, which he certainly was not.