22nd September, 2011
“The Last Hero of the Battle of the Ebro”
“Charlie” (Photo: CSID)
Last Thursday morning 22nd September, 2011, on the first day of excavations on the fortifications of La Fatarella not just half an hour after the first cut was started than the skeleton of one of the Republican defenders was unearthed. Lying awkwardly in one of the trenches with two Polish made hand grenades close to him and spent cartidges from a Russian Moison Nagant rifle beneath him, a hand grenade had exploded, mortally wounding him. Hastily covered up after the fighting, he has lain here since November 15th, 1938 when the XV Brigada Mixta (formerly the XV International Brigade) held this line for 48 hours to allow the rest of the Republican Army to safely withdraw across the River Ebro at Flix.
The excavated trenches close to where “Charlie”was found.
The last resting place of “Charlie”
The group of excavators from the University of Barcelona alongside Associacio Lo Riu have called him “Charlie”, on the basis that his height of 1.8metres makes him quite tall for a native born Spaniard and that he may have been an “Internacional” who was not withdrawn on September 23rd 1938, but might have elected to stay with his comrades to the bitter end. It is known that many Germans of the XI Brigade and Poles of the XIII Brigade aswell as other International Brigaders who were unable to return to their home countries because of the current situation at that time rejoined the Republican Army in “The Second Call” of January 1939 near the French frontier, but perhaps this man could have been an International who stayed on? The XV Brigada Mixta were part of the 35th Division that held this are a with the XI and XIII Brigada Mixtas for a short period before a successful withdrawal across theEbro. Hopefully in time more evidence on the provenance of this man will come apparent, but the excavators have named him Charlie in honour of the American contribution to the XV International Brigade whose members might have known this man who died and until now had been forgotten after his tragic death in the cold month of November 1938.
Joan Sambro explaining Bunker No. 7 of the second line of Fortifications held by the XV Brigada Mixta in November 1938 above La Fatarella.
Impact of a heavy gun shell on the inside of Bunker No. 8 close by Bunker No 7.
The unexcavated tunnel leading to the third line of defenses where “Charlie” was found about 80 metres behind.
This discovery is creating quite a stir in Spain and maybe more coverage will be forthcoming. Here is Sunday’s report from El Pais and others as of 28th September 2011. http://www.elpais.com/articulo/cataluna/ultimo/heroe/batalla/Ebro/elpepuespcat/20110925elpcat_1/Tes http://guerraenlauniversidad.blogspot.com/
We were able to visit the excavations late in the afternoon on Sunday 25th September and to see where the body of Charlie had been discovered. The two new bunkers, Nos 7 and 8, that have been excavated in front of the excavated trenches where Charlie was found are impressive and include the impact of a heavy projectile on the inside of one of the bunkers. Tunnels lead off to the rear from these bunkers but it will take time to safely excavate them. It seems as if Lo Riu has a wonderful chance to recover the historical memory here with further fortifications to excavate. Joan Sambro of Lo Riu reckons that there is at least five year’s more work here to complete the task.
A view towards the Front Line above La Fatarella with many Wind Turbines already in place.
Friend Oleguer and his son Vincens beside one of the Wind Turbine towers!
And continuing the subject of Archaeology…..
My 50th Birthday! Yesterday my partner Merce drove me down to the River Ebro supposedly to go for a walk of her own choosing but really to meet friends and family to celebrate my 50th birthday (which is really on September 28th, so you still have time to wish me Happy Birthday!). This was a wonderful surprise as we were able to canoe down the Ebro from where the XV Brigade crossed on July 25th 1938, down to Mora del Ebro. The experience was sublime with over 20 canoes in the river and the various screams and cries of pleasure from the many people who took part. After a shared lunch back at the crossing point the children enjoyed themselves jumping into the River and eventually I was also thrown into the River for good measure! It was very pleasant to stand and watch the children and adults playing and jumping into the river and seemed somewhat healing when one considered the fear and terror that occurred here nearly seventy five years ago as the International Brigades of the Republican army tried to cross this same stretch on July 25th
Crumbs! I do look like I am fifty!
Photos later of the canooing as I did not take my camera with me for fear of it (and me!) falling in the water. But here is afterwards at the place where the XV Brigade crossed. It all started so innocently……
Some of the parents watching from a safe distance….
Slowly the children kindly offer to look after my watch, glasses and mobile phone…… I am nearly fifty, you know!
Splosh! In I go!
Well, That was fun, but the current was very strong!
And I received a birthday present of a flight in a Zeppelin! (I have a thing about airships. Sorry). There is actually a Zeppelin museum on Lake Constance in Germany with a reproduction of the cabins and accommodation of the airship Graf Zeppelin which I said a while ago that I would dearly like to visit (www.zeppelinflug.de and http://www.zeppelin-museum.de/home_en.0.html) . And now I can! I am very grateful to all my friends for making this happen and keeping it as a surprise from me. And especially to my partner, Merce, for making this wonderful day happen. It is not every day that one celebrates one’s fiftieth birthday, and heaven knows where I will be for my one hundredth!