George Orwell in Barcelona and on the Aragon Front

George Orwell and Eileen O’Shaughnessy with members of the ILP unit on the Aragon Front outside Huesca, 13th March 1937

STOP PRESS. Richard Blair, Orwell’s adopted son, with members of the Orwell Society will come to Spain 16th to 19th May 2013

Just to let readers know that the Orwell Society is organising a trip for members with Richard Blair and Quentin Kopp, to Barcelona and the Ruta Orwell between May 16th and 19th 2013. I think it will be for members only, but if you wish to join the group membership is not too expensive. Go to for further details and how to join.

Sanatori Maurin

The newly identified Sanatori Maurin which members of the Orwell Society hope to visit next May


24th May 2012

75th Anniversary of George Orwell’s wounding with Georges Kopp’s son and members of the Orwell Society. 19th to 20th May 2012.

Over the past couple of months I have been working with the newly formed Orwell Society ( to arrange a visit to Barcelona and the Aragon Front to show members of the Society the places that Orwell so vividly describes in “Homage to Catalonia”. The original plan was to have George Orwell’s adopted son, Richard Blair and Georges Kopp’s son, Quentin Kopp, but sadly family matters prevented Richard and his wife from being able to attend. But we will repeat this weekend with them both at a later date.

In Placa Catalunya. 

“In the window near the last O but one in the huge “Hotel Colon” that sprawled across its face they had a machine gun that could sweep the square with deadly effect.”

Hotel Colon in 1937

 Quentin Kopp and his wife, Liz, joined Canadian Sylvia Topp on Friday 18th May in Barcelona. Sylvia Topp is writing a biography on George Orwell’s wife, Eileen Blair. We met eight Catalan and Spanish at the Café Zurich on the Saturday morning and visited the various locations described in “Homage to Catalonia”.

(l to r) Fernando Casal, publisher of the beautiful new Spanish edition of “Homage to Catalonia” with Manu, a member of the Fundacio Andreu Nin whose name I have forgotten (Sorry!) and Quentin Kopp

“I turned round and saw some youths, with rifles in their hands and the red and black hand kerchiefs of the Anarchists round their throats, edging up a side street that ran off the Ramblas northward.  They were evidently exchanging shots with someone in a tall  octagonal tower- a church, I think- that commanded a side street.”

The Hotel Falcon

“”Come on, we must get down to the Hotel Falcon…. “The POUM chaps will be meeting there. The trouble’s starting. We must hang together.””

The group in the Teatro Principal

“I went across to the Comité Local of the POUM, which was almost opposite. Upstairs in the room where the militiamen normally went to draw their pay, another crowd was seething”

“I went up to the Hotel Continental, made sure that all was well, washed my face…”

“…and then went to the POUM Executive Building (it was about a hundred yards down the street).”

After a late lunch the four of us then drove to Lecinena to stay in the beautiful hotel Magallon.

Hotel Magallon near Lecinena


“When you had been to the Comité de Guerra and inspected the holes in the wall-holes made by rifle volleys, various fascists having been executed there-you had seen all the sights that Alcubierre contained.”

The view from Monte Irazo (wrongly named Monte Trazo by Orwell).

“””Buttered toast!”- you could hear his voice echoing across the lonely valley-We’re just sitting down to hot buttered toast here! Lovely slices of hot buttered toast!””

On the Sunday morning we were met by the former director of the Ruta Orwell, Victor Pardo, and were kindly invited into La Granja near Huesca by the owners.

“La Granja, our store and cookhouse, had possibly at one time been a convent.”

The little church that adjoined it, its walls perforated with shell holes,”

“had its floor inches deep in dung.”

“in the great courtyard where the cooks ladled out the rations the litter of rusty tins, mud, mule dung, and decaying food was revolting.”

We talked with the locals in Montflorite and we may have identified the hospital where Orwell had a sceptic wound on his hand lanced.


“The church had been badly knocked about but was used as a store.” 

“I had to go into hospital, but it was not worth sending me to Sietamo for such a petty injury, so I stayed in the so-called hospital at Montflorite, which was merely a casualty clearing station.”

The yellow building on the left was the hospital, according to local knowledge

Finally we visited the Ermita Salas just outside Huesca where the sniper who shot Orwell on the 20th May 1937, may have fired on him from,

Ermita Salas, 175 yards away from the front line outside Huesca

“Roughly speaking it was the sensation of being at the centre of an explosion.”

Needless to say, we had not only a coffee in Huesca on the 75th anniversary of Orwell’s wounding but also a nice lunch.

Victor Pardo, Quentin Kopp, Sylvia Topp and Liz Kopp in Huesca

Georges Kopp in 1937

“”This is not a war,” he used to say, “it is a comic opera with an occasional death.”

 After lunch, as time was against us a bit, we had a choice to either visit Sietamo and Barbastro where Orwell was taken to after being wounded, or to the Interpretation Centre at Robres. We decided on Robres and spent the afternoon there before driving back to Barcelona and allowing Quentin. Liz and Sylvia to sleep a night in the Hotel Continental.

The trip was a great success. We discussed improvements on the way back and will now offer a trip from Thursday to Monday for Orwell Society members. This will allow a less hectic visit to absorb all there is to see in both Barcelona and on the Aragon Front.

For those interested in George Orwell, have a look at the excellent Orwell Society website on

Many thanks to Quentin and Liz Kopp and Sylvia Topp and the committee of the Orwell Society in setting this trip for their members. More wished to come, but the lateness of organising the trip made it impossible for all those who would have liked to have come difficult to arrange in time.


9th July 2011


Georges Kopp

The view that Orwell saw when he was stationed at Monte Irazo in early 1937 (or Trazo as he mispelt it!)

“Where are the enemy? Benjamin waved his hand expansively. “Over zere.” (Benjamin spoke English-terrible English.). “But where?” (Orwell, p 20)

Last weekend I had the pleasure of showing Marc Wildemeersch (, Belgian author of a recent book published in the Netherlands on the mysterious life of Georges Kopp, George Orwell’s commander. This man is a complete mystery, yet his presence in Orwell’s classic book “Homage to Catalonia” makes him come alive. His outrageous claims, his attraction to women (“the nurses here are mostly brunette”) his life as a double agent after the Spanish Civil War in France and his fraught relationship with Orwell after having sold him a dodgy lorry during his “gentleman farmer” period of his life after the Second World War deserve retelling and Marc’s excellent book does this very well. Warren & Pell Publishing intend to publish an English translation of Marc’s book  next May 20th (the anniversary of the wounding of George Orwell on the Aragon Front) in Barcelona, hopefully at the unveiling of a plaque to George Orwell at the recently identified Sanatori Maurin. Early days yet, but here are some photos of our trip last weekend to the Ruta Orwell.  We will keep you posted as to developments.

We stayed at the Albergue Monegros near Lecinena  ( which is situated in a reformed monastery and is quite  charming place to stay. Originally taken by Republican militiamen in the summer of 1936, it finally fell to the Nationalists in October 1936. Javier, the manager, kindly showed us some Nationalist cartoons hidden away in the rooms (below).

And then to the Ruta Orwell….


“As we neared the line the boys round the red flag in front began to utter shouts of “Visca POUM!” “Fascistas-maricones!” and so forth- shouts which were meant to be war-like and menacing, but which,  from those childish throats, sounded as pathetic as the cries of kittens.” (Orwell. p 18)

Marc Wildermeersch (left) and Victor Pardo, director of the Ruta Orwell


Alcubierre church. “The church had been used as a latrine; so had all the fields for a quarter of a mile around” (Orwell. p 15)

Alan & Victor talking about the new 6 part series on Aragon televison, “La Guerra en Aragon”.

“When you had been to the Comité de Guerra and inspected the rows of holes in the wall- holes made by rifle-volleys, various fascists having been executed there-you had seen all the sights that Alcubierre contained.” (Orwell, p 15)

“La Granja, our store and cookhouse, had possibly at one time been a convent. It had huge courtyards and outhouses, covering an acre or more….every room that was not in use had been turned into a latrine- a frightful shambles of smashed furniture and excrement.” (Orwell, p 54)

“The little church that adjoined it, its wall peforated by shell-holes, had its floors inches deep in dung.” (Orwell, p 54)

I now understand better the reasons for the description by Orwell of the desecration of such churches. Perhaps the well known Spanish phrase,”Caga en Dios!” (“I shit on God!”) may explain this?

We spent some time on the Estercho Quinto above Huesca to look at the impressive Castell Monte Aragon and later to Sietamo to identify some film taken in the Plaza Mayor during the fighting.

Castell Monte Aragon

And finally, Marc and I slipped into Huesca for that obligatory  cup of coffee!


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