Rest and recuperation behind the lines

14th October, 2012. The 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Fuentes de Ebro where the Canadian Mackenzie Papineau first fought.

But were the  Mackenzie Papineau Battalion ever at Pezuela de las Torres?

Where was the Mackenzie Papineau Battalion based when the XV Brigade was at rest in the Tajuna Valley between late October and early December 1937 before they returned to the Aragon Front?

We now think it was here…..

The castle at Pioz

Below are the references to Pezuela de las Torres from various books. All mention the same village and a castle,  except for the contemporary report last cited. Arthur Landis cites the November 7th 1938 “Volunteer for Liberty” article in his book. But where the Hell is Tazuela de Torres???

But there is no castle at all in Pezuela de las Torres. However, locals all directed towards the village of Pioz, just north of Pezuela de las Torres. And whilst there we talked to old people who talked about “Rusos” having been there. This will take time, but hopefully we will discover more by way of interviews before it is too late. But I am hazarding a guess that the Mac Paps were housed here between October and December 1937.

Oh yes. If anyone is interested,, it is up for sale for just one million euros!
Here are the references:
“The Mackenzie Papineau Battalion was stationed at Pezuela de las Torres, an old castle on the Madrid highway.”
(“Canadian Volunteers. Spain 1936-1939. William C. Beeching. University of Regina, 1989. p. 79)

“The Mac-Paps found their billet in an ancient castle called Pezuela de las Torres on the Madrid highway near Ambite.”
(“The Mackenzie Papineau Battalion”. Victor Hoar. Copp Clarke Publishing Company. 1969. p. 153)

“The weary survivors of the Mac-Paps’ baptism of fire settled in the nearby drafty castle of Pezuela de las Torres to recover.”
(“The Gallant Cause. Canadians in the Spanish Civil War. 1936-1939.” Mark Zuelhke. Whitecap Books, 1996. p. 177).

“The Lincoln Battalion went to its base at Albarez, the British to Mondejar, the Brigade staff to Ambite, and the Spanish Battalion to the village of Loranca de Tajuna. The Mackenzie Papineau Battalion first found itself in a drafty, rambling haciendalike house overlooking a nameless village. Within the space of days they were to move to an old, and equally drafty, castle. It was called Pezuela de las Torres, and it was situated on the Madrid highway.”
(“The Abraham Lincoln Brigade”. Arthur H. Landis. Citadel Press. 1967. p. 325).

“The Mac-Paps returned to central Spain and were deployed in small villages to the east of Madrid.” (“Renegades. Canadians in the Spanish Civil War”. Michael Petrou. 2008. p.79).

“It was while the Battalion was at rest in the old castle at Tazuela de Torres that the outstanding Canadian volunteer-Captain E. Cecil Smith joined the Mac-Paps.” (“Volunteer for Liberty. Vol. II, no. 35. November 7th, 1938. p.4).


Albares. The village also known as Ibañez….

Albares Church where the Americans were quartered.

It is known that after the Lincoln Battalion was withdrawn from the Jarama Front they rested at a village to the east of Madrid called Albares. D.P. Stephens in his book A Memoir of the Spanish Civil War describes the village:

Alvarez (sic) was about fifty miles north east of Madrid. It was a pleasant little village on the slope of a steep hill…… The church was requisitioned as our quarters for the duration of our stay. A kitchen was set up in one corner of the church, and another corner was used as our ammunition depot. The centre was used as sleeping quarters and straw mattresses were provided for the troops. Behind the church was the cemetery, and again we had a problem with Spanish members of our Battalion desecrating the graves. I don’t know what prompted them to such vandalism. I soon put a stop to it and posted guards against such incidents. The local municipal office, which was also the mayor’s residence, was occupied by our Battalion staff. Our machine gun company was allotted quarters at one of the imposing houses in the west corner of the village square. 

Steve Nelson in his book The Volunteers describes the initial welcome:

The river, the Tajuna, yellow with clay washed from the hills, twisted through a shallow valley, and the village of Ibañez straggled up the hillside above the river. To reach the village plaza, it was necessary to climb one hundred stairs, deep, centuries old. The trucks halted at the foot of these steps. The men of the Lincoln battalion climbed out, shouldered their equipment, rushed pell-mell up the stairway. One side of the plaza was filled by the church, the ancient walls cracked and mossy. Opposite was the store, and adjoining the store a fine two storey house; in the center of the square was a stone trough where burros were waiting, and between the trough and the head of the stairway, a flagpole stood. The flag of the Republic hung from the flagpole, limp in the hot June sun.

David Boyd and friend in the Plaza Mayor of Albares

And all about the plaza were clustered the people of Ibañez, gathered there to honor the foreign soldiers who had come to rest in their village after one hundred and sixteen days in the trenches, fighting the accursed fascists. They were not many, these people. They were women and children and young boys and old men, but among them there were no young men at all. When the Americans appeared in the plaza, the people stirred and murmured, and the women held their children up to see, and a lame man by the flagpole moved nervously, and his lips moved in a whisper. The battalion commander shouted, “Fall in, you fellows! They want to make a speech to us. Attention!”The Lincolns lined up sedately, and stared at the lame man. He wore a black hat and a blue shirt and black trousers, and a black scarf round his waist. He was dressed in his best, and sweating freely, and his voice was a self-conscious mumble. “Ours,” said he, “is a small, an old village. We have only one store and flour mill. We are all peasants. We have done all we could, one hundred and thirty-one men we have sent to the army, and our teacher among them; he is now a commissar, so for the past year our school has been closed, though we were promised a woman to teach, and the church likewise-our priest left us for the fascists on the very day they began their war against us, so ever since the church has been closed-“ Clearly, the speech he had prepared had been forgotten, run clear out of hand. He paused and swallowed hard, and drew his sleeve across his sweating face, and regarded the Americans. “I am the mayor,” he said, and paused again, searching for the tattered fragment of the address he had planned so carefully. Ah, he had planned it well, while working over his forge. He had arranged his thoughts. But now they flew away like birds, those thoughts. He was the mayor; and the honor of Ibañez rested with him. He put out his hands to the Americans, and spoke in a round, full voice. “You have come to us from far away, and we accept you as our sons, our brothers and comrades. We know how badly you need rest. We are honoured that you come here. We have cleared out a section of the flour mill for you, and all last night our women worked, making mattresses of flour sacks, and filling them with straw, and we hope that they will be comfortable for you for they are the best we could do…. You are welcome here…..” “Viva los Americanos!” The townspeople shouted. “Viva la Republica Español!” came the reply. The citizens of Ibañex shouted “Viva!” The Lincolns shouted “Viva!”. The shower truck was waiting, and the clean clothes. But right away there was a great big mess. Sergeant Hayes and some boys dropped in at a little wine shop run by an old lady. The old lady was overwhelmed, breathless with delight, eager to serve them. But all she had was anise; nothing else in the shop to drink.

“A little wine shop run by an old lady”

They looked at the anise doubtfully, and sipped. Sissy stuff. No authority. But they were feeling good, they were clean, they had dough, for the first time they didn’t have to worry about a shell from a mine-thrower dropping behind them or an explosive bullet whanging through a peephole…. They sighed for hard liquor, and opened the hatches, and began heaving down the anise. A mine thrower works on spring action, and the shell sneaks up on you. The boys knew about mine throwers, but they’d never met anise before. It went down easy. A sissy drink…. Their eyes got glassy, and somebody made a remark somebody else didn’t like, and a bottle sailed through the air, and the war was on…. It took Burns, commanding officer of Hayes’ group, some time to stop the ruckus and haul the reeling men out of the wrecked shop. The battalion staff gathered, hot-eyed, ashamed and angry. The Battalion, the whole International Brigade, had been disgraced. The men who died at Jarama had bought friendship and understanding with their lives; the Spanish people remembered and were grateful. But the people had great difficulty in understanding the full meaning of the struggle, so few could read- and certainly the role of the Internationals was not fully comprehended by them as yet. They must not think of the Internationals as adventurers, as roaring, carousing, fighting mercenaries…… Those nine men. They had betrayed their comrades dead at Jarama. They must be punished, made an example, the townspeople shown that the Internationals did not condone behaviour such as theirs. The guilty nine were lined up on the plaza, facing the Battalion and the watching townspeople. This was my job, and I didn’t like it, but it had to be done. Sergeant Hayes was an old-timer, a veteran of many labor struggles. His legs were unsteady, but he understood what was happening and tears ran down his cheeks as he listened to me tell his comrades of his disgrace. “….so we recommend,” I concluded, “that these men be sentenced to five days in the brig.” I looked up and down the ranks. “Do you approve?” The battalion approved. There was no dissenting voice. The nine were marched off to the jail, hastily improvised from the old tool house facing the plaza. The battalion had approved the sentence. I told myself that, but I was uneasy. I had a feeling the staff had made a mistake, had been too severe in the shock of shame and anger. I heard the boys grumbling that evening, and my uneasiness grew. I heard Ruby saying, “Knock off their pay for a couple months!. Take away Madrid leaves or something. But five days in the cooler out of the first leave we’ve had-after what we been through-hell, it’s too much! It ain’t fair.”

The group in front of the Officers’ Quarters in the Plaza Mayor of Albares

At dawn the next day, the officers of the staff were awakened by a knock on the door, and I who was nearest, stumbled sleepily to open it. Outside stood five villagers. They carried their tools, their pitchforks and scythes, and they were full of anxious apologies. “We regret to waken the Commandante, the Commissar, but we must get to the fields to work, and we wish to speak to you on a matter most important….” The tousled staff, unmilitary in shorts and shirttails, blinked at the villagers. “We,” said their spokesman, “are a delegation from all the village…. We think you know better than we how to run the army, but after the meeting last night, we all felt sorry for the man who cried and the other men you put in jail. They were so long in the trenches, and they did no harm to anybody. They just got to drinking more than they could take-the anise-it is treacherous, the anise-and so.” He ducked his head, and stared intently at the hat in his hands. “And so, senores, in the name of the people of our village we ask you, we beg you not to be too hard on these men.” The delegation removed itself, relieved and smiling. The staff regarded one another unbelievingly, and lighted cigarettes, Oliver said, “Can you beat it? And we thought we were making a demonstration partly for their benefit…. Well, now what?” For the first time the staff was divided on an issue. The discussion was hot. Some argued the decision was made and must be carried out; otherwise the men would have no respect for the military decisions of the command if they backed down now. Oliver carried the ball for the group inclined to reverse its former position. “Since when,” he demanded, “can’t we admit a mistake? The boys will respect us all the more for it! And I know about this anise; it fools everybody… Besides, it’s silly to expect men not to drink after all they’ve been through. The decision has served its purpose, to show how seriously we regard such conduct. I move it now be withdrawn!”The motion carried, with an amendment for the drawing up of a statement explaining the action. The brig was not a pleasant place; the anise had made the men sick. But Hayes was determined not to leave it. “Steve, you’ve disgraced me,” he said, “An old revolutionary- how can I face the men? You had no right to do this to me. I ain’t coming out until you call a meeting of the townspeople, and tell ‘em you were wrong to brand us like criminals.” But the others went out and pulled the old man with them. It wasn’t easy, facing the battalion, but I liked it better than the other thing. “Comrades,” I said, “we made a hasty decision yesterday, failing to take into account that this was the first day after such a long strain. We’ve decided now to withdraw the sentence. However, we want to use this case as an example of how serious we consider any action that will hurt our relations with the people here.” The boys cheered. I grinned at them. The uneasy feeling was gone. I watched them scattering to the river, to the threshing field turned into a baseball diamond, to their billets to clean and overhaul and patch equipment.  The problems, I found, were least among those men who made friends with the people of Ibañez, greatest with those who let themselves be cut off, by the language difficulty, from the life of the country. The latter group, once swimming and games had palled, had nothing to fall back on but gossip and liquor. They were bored and restless, and their stock of grievances mounted in proportion. But the majority of the boys showed an amazing ability to make friends with the villagers, despite the language barrier. They were not merely friendly visitors; many of them made themselves part of the community, took part in its work and its problems. Almost the whole battalion turned out to help harvest the barley, and in one day grew extremely lame and blistered with the unaccustomed labor of harvesting grain with sickles, and wasted so much barley and straw that the farmers, with the utmost tact and delicacy, begged them not to trouble themselves further in the matter. 

Maria, also known as Marie Luz…..

Steve Nelson continues:

The picnic they staged for the children, in the grove by the river, was more successful; and those Ibañez youngsters who are still alive after these years of Franco’s rule must still remember that day ecstatically. There were prizes for every child, and many games new to Spanish childhood, and food-much, much food- and at the end, little Maria, of the long curls and the enormous eyes, was elected the sweetheart of the battalion. A great and distinguished honor.

 Steve Nelson in his 1953 book The Volunteers,  describes the above  event  that occurred in the early summer of 1937. When Steve wrote his memoirs, Franco was still very much in power in Spain and it is assumed that Steve changed names to protect the innocent in Spain. The village of “Ibañez” is, in fact Albares near Madrid and close to Ambite. And after talking with the locals last year, we discovered the name of “Maria” was, in actual fact, Marie Luz. With this name we took our group of Americans and English to show them the village of Albares and to relate the story as told by Steve Nelson. Whilst we were there we soon discovered the whereabouts of Marie Luz and after a few questions she and her husband, Luis, invited us into their house and answered some questions put to her by a Spanish colleague, who accompanied us.

 “Little Maria, of the long curls and the enormous eyes.” 

The photograph is of Marie Luz when she was 16 years aold and was taken in 1947

 Initially she denied having any recollection about the Americans having been there, having been only six years old in 1937, but then to our surprise, she started to remember certain aspects of the Fiesta as described by Steve Nelson. For some odd reason, she was very frightened of the Sack Race that the American soldiers devised. One of “the many new games new to Spanish childhood”. However, poor marie Luz thought that she was going to be taken away in the bag and to never see her parents again, and so was very wary of this game! She then mentioned that a simple platform had been put up in the area where the Fiesta took place and all the children were placed on the platform, not quite sure what was to happen. It seems that with Marie Luz “of the long curls and the enormous eyes” (shades of Shirley Temple, for the homesick Americans, perhaps?) was subsequently chosen as the battalion mascot and given a cardboard crown! The manner in which she made this comment seemed to have been one of great disappointment to her even after over seventy years! We were quite moved. She then told us that she became very frightened when a black man of the battalion picked her up and carried her on his shoulders though the men. Was this Doug Roach, or maybe even Oliver Law? Perhaps the former, as Doug Roach seemed to have a great relationship with the children in the village. We were all very humbled to hear her story and even more so to introduce her to Josie Yurek, the daughter of Steve Nelson. It was  a very moving moment to see the two of them together and that tangible connection that separated until the day we met her and yet joined them over 75 years ago.

Marie Luz, the Lincoln Battalion mascot and Josie Yurek, daughter of Steve Nelson talk.

Many thanks to my Spanish work colleague for making this happen. On the Sunday we both came back and gave her some flowers and a box of chocolates by way of apology for barging into her home unannounced!

Ambite Mill. XV Brigade Estado Mayor. 21st October 2011

The XV Brigade headquarters was stationed between June and December 1937 at the old Mill near Ambite. Miles Tomalin describes the building in Volume II, no. 1, January 3rd 1938 of Volunteer for Liberty:

Where the Brigade last rested, headquarters were established in the private rooms of a riverside grainmill. The mill was under the control of the UGT. The men who worked there spoke of their old employer with a casual tolerance. He chose to go. It was his own affair. They might find him a job if he cared to come back. The machine rooms were spotlessly clean. Machinery was of the latest type, and wherever possible was enclosed in polished wood. The power station generated enough current from the flow of the river to supply several surrounding villages with light. You could walk into any factory in an industrially developed city in Britain or America and see nothing that worked more smoothly or with less dust and noise. The man who formerly owned all this was making enough money out of it to cover extensive and elaborate improvements to his private quarters. He left before they were completed. Headquarters staff ate their meals in his big living room. He had let himself go on this living room; it was lavishly baronial, but its baronialism was childish and not like the bored, cynical taste of the seeded aristocracy…… Every visible wooden surface in this room had been heavily carved. Some of the carving is in itself very fine. Fantastic animals and foliage cover the beams of the ceiling, picked out here and there with colour. The garish vigour of these inventions recalls Gothic carvings four or five centuries old…..  

For the past year I have been trying to locate two photographs from the Tamiment Collection with the titles being Ernest Hemingway with other American visitors to 15th International Brigade. Azaila, 14th September


The 15th International Brigade Photographic Unit Photograph Collection ; ALBA Photo 011-1352.Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY10012, New York University Libraries

On our visit with American and British visitors we were able to recreate the photo above. Guess who is Hemingway and who is Merriman?

Left to right: David Boyd as Malcolm Dunbar, Bill Gilson as Robert Merriman, Henry Yurek as Major Galliani,  my Spanish colleague as the unknown officer checking his shiny boots, Duncan Longstaff as Ernest Hemingway and Nancy Wallach as Hemingway’s aide.

The 15th International Brigade Photographic Unit Photograph Collection ; ALBA Photo 011-1354.Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY10012, New York University Libraries

Over the past year frequent visits to the Aragon Front and the villages surrounding Azaila close to Belchite have proved fruitless until one day whilst studying other XV Brigade photographs, I noticed a similar blurred architectural feature on the canopy above the door in a photograph of Major Modesto at 15th Brigade at Ambite, November 1937. We had successfully located the photograph, not on the Aragon Front but just east of Madrid. In early July 2011, my Spanish work colleague and I with the help of Italian friends Ricardo and Elizabeth made a visit to Ambite. Not only did we discover the Mill, but also the location of the iconic photographs and film of the British anti tank battery


Major Modesto at 15th Brigade at Ambite, November 1937

The 15th International Brigade Photographic Unit Photograph Collection ; ALBA Photo 011-1080.Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY10012, New York University Libraries

The same canopy structure (the window to the right is different owing to a fire in the 1990s and subsequent repairs)

 We know that the XV Brigade headquarters was based in Ambite between June 13th and December 9th 1937 with periods when the Brigade fought at Brunete and on the Aragon Front in the late summer and autumn of 1937. They permanently returned to the Aragon on December 9th 1937, never to return again. Other photographs have since been identified at the Mill:

15th Brigade cyclists Abraham Irving Halpern, Robert Minor and John Burning. October 1937.

The 15th International Brigade Photographic Unit Photograph Collection ; ALBA Photo 011-0981.Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY10012, New York University Libraries

Group at 15th International Brigade Estado Mayor, Ambite. November 1937.

The 15th International Brigade Photographic Unit Photograph Collection ; ALBA Photo 011-0754.Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY10012, New York University Libraries

Brigade scouts. Ambite, Noevember 37. Captain Smyrcka in charge

The 15th International Brigade Photographic Unit Photograph Collection ; ALBA Photo 011-0983.Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY10012, New York University Libraries

The same place today

 Hemingway’s visit to Ambite.

Slowly but surely we are trying to understand the sequences of photos of Hemingway at the XV Brigade Headquarters at Ambite. Accompanied by Martha Gelhorn and journalist Herbert Matthews we have a short clip of film and the photographs of this visit. But when was he here? In the December 1937 to January 1938 issue no. 35 of Our Fight the same photo below appears with the following caption:

The 15th International Brigade Photographic Unit Photograph Collection ; ALBA Photo 011-1352.Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY10012, New York University Libraries

 Officers of the 36th Brigade with a group of 15th Brigade staff officers and Ernest Hemingway, Herbert Matthews and Martha Gellhorn, journalists. The visitors had come to the our Brigade when the 36th presented a library of English books, taken from captured Fascist houses. Within a few days the 75th Brigade made a similar presentation.  

But when was he here exactly? He was near Belchite, close to Azaila, around 14th September 1937, and the magazine Our Fight was published every two weeks. Perhaps a closer study of Hemingway’s time in Spain may lead us to a more accurate date. I would look towards November or December 1937 in connection with these photographs and film. More to come as we talk with Professor Warren Lerude and Alex Vernon, author of the recent book Hemngway’s Second War

The Mill at Ambite

In her book co written with Warren Lerude,   American Commander in Spain, Marion Merriman describes the interior of the Mill when she came to meet her husband on 18th November 1937 for a few days before returning to the United States:

left to right: Dave Doran, Marion Merriman and Robert Merriman, Ambite, probably taken on 18th November 1937 when Marion first came to Ambite?

The 15th International Brigade Photographic Unit Photograph Collection ; ALBA Photo 011-1324.Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY10012, New York University Libraries

 We arrived at the Brigade headquarters, set up in an old mill near Ambite, at 3 o’clock. I looked for Bob as we motored into the picturesque grounds, crossing a small bridge over the mill creek that formed a moat. The grounds reminded me of a feudal estate. The slender poplars lined the moat like castle walls. A spacious garden adjoined a large, two storey frame and stone house that probably had been the mill owner’s family home.

 I beamed when I saw Bob standing tall, so happy to see me, in the driveway. He had, it seemed to me, put on some of the pounds he had lost in the Aragon fighting.  Bob and I walked through the old house, up the wooden stairway to a second storey living room. The room was long and narrow. Handsome French windows faced the west, overlooking the garden. The fields beyond were barren and bleak in the early dusk of the November afternoon.

The fireplace as described by Marion Merriman

 A fireplace attracted my attention. The blue and copper tiles were iridescent, reaching to the ceiling. High on the tile a family crest was emblazoned for all to see. The walls of the room, I noticed, were decorated with blue and brown tile in intricate pattern. The white plaster, beginning where the tile ended, about halfway up the walls, was dotted with bas-reliefs of cupids and druids. Above them, just below the ceiling, were colored porcelain crests of various Spanish cities. The ceiling itself was a masterpiece, ornately carved wood richly stained and gilded in Spanish style.

Detail of the ceiling of the room described by Marion Merriman

 I squeezed Bob’s hand as I stood, a little awed by the splendor of the room. We settled into a divan, opposite the fireplace, and held each other and talked. I would remain with him in Ambite for several days. Then, when the travel plans were completed, I would be off with others who were making the journey to Valencia, Barcelona, Paris, Le Havre , and finally to New York…  The next few days were cold and rainy. I did a little work with the Brigade record keepers, helping them to maintain accurate records about who was coming and going, wounded and killed. Bob worked in the command headquarters most hours of the day.  Every minute we could spend together was precious, I felt closer to Bob than ever. I clung to every moment we shared, including a wonderful dinner and evening of music in the old house. One of the Brigade’s Spanish runners sang, accompanied by another Spaniard on the piano. The cultured, clear voice of the runner and the clipped, smooth style of the pianist were in breathtaking contrast to their sloppy uniforms and muddy boots. Their handsome faces glowed.  One of the Americans sang cowboy songs. And Joe Taylor, a black scout, sang spirituals.


Joe Taylor, April, 1938

The 15th International Brigade Photographic Unit Photograph Collection ; ALBA Photo 011-0167.Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY10012, New York University Libraries

 A Spaniard played a flute. Copic, who disdained American satirical singing, burst into a thundering basso of his own. He loved opera. And, of course, the Americans sang their mournful lyrics of Jarama:  There’s a valley in Spain called Jarama, That’s a place that we all know so well, For ‘tis there that we wasted our manhood, And spent most of our old age aswell..  On our last night in Ambite, Bob and I walked in the moonlight. It had rained earlier, but the sky had cleared partially and stars twinkled brightly between patches of clouds. We walked through the fields and up a road that led to a hill overlooking the river……  As we ate breakfast, I noticed a car beyond the window in the driveway. I looked at Bob. We knew it was time. I summoned what courage I had as Bob walked me to the car.  “Goodbye, my darling.” He said, holding me close. He kissed me lightly. We stood apart for a moment, holding hands slightly, our eyes locked. I felt the tears well in my eyes as we embraced again. I held him as tightly as I could. Then I took my seat in the rear of the car. I looked out the window and saw Bob turn and walk away from the car toward the mill house. He never looked back. I cried silently as we drove away through the trees.  

Fred Thomas, author of To Tilt at Windmills, was in the anti tank battery which was based in the village ofAmbite itself and remembers another performance at the Mill:

Looking at the house from the coach windows I saw Dunbar again so clearly, standing with a group of us in the very large groundfloor room, watching a party of ballet dancers performing on an improvised stage. They were from England, more than likely he had himself played a part in their coming to Spain on this supportive visit. Dunbar’s face was a study, his obvious pleasure in the performance, the dancers so gracefully whirling away all the dirt and ugliness of war-and the hurt, as he heard the only half-suppressed guffaws and derisory comments from some of the onlookers. No, we were not always such good comrades.

Left to right:Malcolm Dunbar, Herbert Matthews, Ernest Hemingway and an unidentified officer at Teruel, December 1937.

The Mill is now owned and run by DiaNova, a charity that deals in drug rehabilitation. Having studied the aims and objectives of the charity (see for information in Spanish) we deceided to donate some of the money made on this trip and contributed 60 euros for the twelve people who came with us and also another 35 euros was kindly put in a hat by those attending which we have donated to DiaNova for the refurbishment of the buildings. Thank you to those who donated, by the way.

However, since our visit we are now in discussion with DiaNova as to possibilities towards broadening the use of the Mill with  other activities not related to drug addiction.  These could include a venue to host visitors interested in Ernest Hemingway, the International Brigades or summer courses in journalism, war journalism or other activities connected with the basic tenets of what the International Brigades stood for. Any ideas then please let us know! DiaNova’s government funding has been cut and perhaps it could be possible top raise money by other activisties. One idea is to host visitors to the 75th Anniversary March at Jarama next February 18th 2012. Anyone interested in coming to stay here for a couple of nights if we can arrange it? It is a beautiful place and with Mondejar and Albares close by there is still a lot to discover here concerning the presence of the International Brigades

As an aside, this stone seat in the beautiful Mill garden  may not be too interesting….

Until you realise that the photo above and many others were taken in the grounds of this Mill!

A lot more to be discovered here in time.


One thought on “Rest and recuperation behind the lines

  1. Your historical contribution to our unfortunate war and in a way to our unfortunate defeat against fascism is very interesting. This weekend I had the opportunity to visit the area (I live in Madrid) in search of the exact place where the photo of Ernest Hemingway, Robert Merriman and other members of the XV Brigade appear at the end of 1937. It is a small palace which was then part of the “Finca Santa Lucía” in the town of Ambite. It housed the old “La Josefilla” flour factory next to the “El Fraile” mill.

    Thank you for your interest in our (your) story.
    Greetings, Health and Republic.

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