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Halloween

You never walk far through any poor quarter in any big town without coming upon a small newsagent’s shop. The general appearance of these shops is always very much the same: a few posters for the Daily Mail and the News of the World outside, a poky little window with sweet-bottles and packets of Players, and a dark interior smelling of liquorice allsorts and festooned from floor to ceiling with vilely printed twopenny papers, most of them with lurid cover-illustrations in three colours.

It is curious that more vividly than anything that came afterwards in the Spanish war I remember the week of so-called training that we received before being sent to the front — the huge cavalry barracks in Barcelona with its draughty stables and cobbled yards, the icy cold of the pump where one washed, the filthy meals made tolerable by pannikins of wine, the Trousered militia-women chopping firewood, and the roll-call in the early mornings where my prosaic English name made a sort of comic interlude among the resounding Spanish ones, Manuel Gonzalez, Pedro Aguilar, Ramon Fenellosa, Roque Ballaster, Jaime Domenech, Sebastian Viltron, Ramon Nuvo Bosch. I name those particular men because I remember the faces of all of them. Except for two who were mere riff-raff and have doubtless become good Falangists by this time, it is probable that all of them are dead. Two of them I know to be dead. The eldest would have been about twenty-five, the youngest sixteen.

It was during the first week of December when we reached our destination that we learned that they had both died.

We were given no information as to why. On the contrary, we were told that there would be no news from us for several days at least. Our orders were simple: ‘Don’t talk; don’t write.

Stay here.’ In fact, we remained there for almost three months. For weeks on end we slept in the same barracks, ate the same food, wore the same clothes. At times it seemed like a kind of purgatory.

We were kept there not by coercion but by the lack of it, our guards simply vanishing every few days, reappearing after a few hours’ absence, and evidently trusting us to behave reasonably and keep from any trouble of our own.

We could, of course, have escaped. There was no barbed wire, no chains, the door was not even locked. One night seven of us slipped out and crossed the slippery Pyrenees with the help of a mountain guide.

Banned from everywhere

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