The Fall of Catalonia. January 1939

7th February 2011

Ripoll in the winter of 1938

Between October 27th and December 1st 1938, the remnants of the XV International Brigade were assembled in the Catalan town of Ripoll to be eventually returned to their home countries. Americans, English, Canadians and others were based there and with much time on their hands they attempted to occupy themselves as best they could. Various events were put on by the town and by the Brigaders themselves. In the Ripoll Archives there are a number of posters that have survived from this period including the announcement below for an event organised by the XV Brigade for the 22nd November 1938:

However,  American  Archie Brown wrote home to friends giving an insight into the organisation of this particular event which I thought worth sharing:

Ripoll, 24th November 1938.

….“You may not know it, but I’ve become a producer. Yep, we put on the dangdest, whang-up production that you’ve ever seen and not once but twice. The gods cast the dice & decided that I become the chairman of the social, cultural entertainment & miscellaneous committee. Among our activities was building Finnish steam baths & convincing guys it was necessary to register their books when they took them out of the library-and to say “now comrade also the one under your sweater-if you please!” Then came the brainstorm-a Brigade Fiesta- to thank the people of the town for their hospitality and raise funds.  Each company was asked to provide “turns” as the English call them. We had to negotiate for the theatre-but the manager had to see the committee & the committee after one deliberation would not consent to taking up the seats for a dance & there was the problem of holding the program in one place & the dance in another. So we got another place, but then the com. decided to take up the seats. Then we asked to get signs made & the comrade in charge said there was no paint. So we sent another comrade to the cooperative and another to the popular front-still no paint so we sent a comrade to Barcelona. He came back and said no paint unless the union sent it up. So we decided no signs. So Monday the paint arrived from Barcelona, the cooperative sent paint, the mayor brought over his private supply. At 12.30 the comrade in charge came to me breathless & said “I forgot all about it- we had some paint left over from the last time.” The signs looked fairly good. The English on Sat. said they had everything ready-the Ams. had four turns, the Cubans were not sure & the Canadians couldn’t be found. Sunday everybody was ready. So we put in for a leaflet which was to be ready Monday, but came out Tues. at 3pm. The signs scheduled the dance for Tues. 8pm, the leaflet at 10pm (the printer thought that the people would not respond at 8). The announcement at mess was for 9. The commissar in charge also thought it would be too early. At 8 the doors opened and in 15 min. the place was full-but the band leader also thought 8 was too early so he sent word he would come at 9 and arrived at 10. Meanwhile we put on the turns. The English led off with their trio-followed by the Negro chorus-& sundry numbers. The only difficulty was that all the entertainers had brought their friends, particularly the Spanish comrades, & they would hold last minute conferences & rehearsals. So you didn’t know whether the Rumba dancer was singing “Sewanee River” or telling droll stories. I finally posted a guard at the door-but the door swung inward. So after he got smacked in the face a couple of times he stepped to one side. The people would come thru the door, turn a questioning face at the guard’s challenge, get indignant and keep on walking. I said “Why don’t you stop them.” He said, “-I could shoot them if you wish-.” Not wanting blood on the floor we compromised-people came and went as they pleased. Somehow the hours passed and I remarked to Harry Bottcher ( a S.F. boy) “What a mess!” “If you would look out on the floor-or go out and dance you wouldn’t think so.” I took his advice and had a dance & sure enough everybody was having a good time. All the notables expressed their satisfaction & we danced till 2.a.m. Now I’m no longer in charge- I’ve been sent to the Mid-West-Pacific Coast Company. We have reorganised on a regional basis & I am busy helping to organise the activities of the company.”…

The town of Ripoll is virtually unchanged from the winter of 1938 and many places where the Brigaders were quartered and slept can be seen. The Cinema Condal where this event took place still functions as a cinema, though the interior is now in a modern style. Further north is the French border where a number of monuments to the mass exodus of Catalans in January 1939 are visible. The stunning Pyrenees are close by and this whole area makes for an fascinating visit.

Ripoll Cathedral

Interior of the Cathedral. Here the Brigaders were fed and on one occasion a fight broke out between American and Cuban Brigaders arguing over the quantity of food issued.


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