The following Entry is based on the experiences of the grandmother of an h2g2 Researcher.
Clara was just eight years old when the Spanish Civil War began in 1936. She lived with her father Miguel, her mother Maria, her brothers Joaquin and Antonio and her sister Isabella, in the city of Madrid.
An Unsafe City
The Civil War began on 18 July, 1936, when there was an attempted coup on the Spanish Republic by Spanish officers led by Franco. The government in Madrid wanted to put a stop to the uprising but were unsure how to go about it. They didn't know who they could trust and neither did they wish to supply arms to the trade unions and maybe trigger a social revolution.
The assault on Madrid began on 20 July, 1936, Clara's family was in the thick of it. What were they to do? Clara knew that her parents were worried about something but she didn't realise quite what until the Montana barracks were stormed. Although the Spanish Republic managed to keep their hold on Madrid, Clara did not feel safe any more.
The Nationalists reach Madrid
In November, 1936 the Nationalists reached Madrid. Franco had been supplied with air power from both Italy and Germany. Italian planes dropped leaflets into the city, calling all its citizens to rise up against the Republic or Madrid would be wiped off the face of the earth. Clara found one such leaflet and took it home to her padre. He was very angry and ripped the leaflet up, scolded Clara and told her never to bring such filth into the house again. Clara had never seen her father so angry. She was so frightened. With the Nationalists knocking on Madrid's front door, she felt they would all die for certain.
The Republic Government flees to Valencia
Believing that Madrid was about to fall to the Nationalists, the Republic government fled to Valencia. This caused mass panic among Madrid's citizens, and many fled the city, Clara's family included. Their only route of escape was through the east of the city. This part of Madrid held the only open street.
My father gathered us all together, he told us it was no longer safe to stay in our home. He said that Franco was coming, that he was a bad man and we could be hurt and we had to pack only our most treasured of things for the journey. I took my doll Valentina; mother had made her out of odd bits of cloth and sewn on a face for her. I loved her with all my heart. My father chuckled when he saw what I had and sent me back for a few clothes. He told me I could take Valentina as long as I promised to carry her myself on the long journey that lay ahead.
A Blur of a Journey
Clara does not remember much of her long journey from Madrid, her beautiful home, to England, a cold, cold place. She remembers that they could not get a train out of the city. The only trains out were for foreigners, as they had been ordered out of Spain to the safety of their own countries.
This meant a long walk for the family. Clara was the youngest so found the journey extremely hard. She remembered that her feet hurt her so much she was crying in pain. Her father lifted her and carried her for a good part of the journey even though he must have been very tired himself, while her mother carried Valentina for her. She also remembers her mother singing songs to them and playing a game where the children had to spot things in the surrounding landscape. She also thinks that for part of the way they travelled in the back of a farm cart that smelt of horses and hay. They finally made it to Valencia Port. All Clara can remember of the boat trip is that she had never been so sick in her life, and was extremely happy when her father showed her England getting ever nearer in the distance.
The Safety of England
Clara and her family were extremely lucky in more ways than one. Not only had they managed to escape the troubles now affecting their city and their country, they had also managed to get to England relatively unscathed. Their father had another trump card, in that he was a banker, so he spoke a little English and was therefore able to get by more easily than other immigrants. He had also managed to bring some of the family's money with him.
They managed to get a house which shared an outside toilet with the house next door. It wasn't great - it wasn't as nice as their house in Madrid - but at least they had a home. Money was tight; Clara's father was well educated, however, because he was an immigrant, he could only get work as a labourer. The family coped: Clara and her sister and brother went to school and her elder brother Joaquin also went to work. Clara had to pick up English as quickly as she could, and she did quite well. The family lived in Willenhall in the West Midlands and even to this day Clara speaks English with a Black Country accent. All in all, the family had a safe life in England and were glad to be here.
Franco comes calling?
By the time Clara was 11 years old the family had been living in England for three years. She had picked up English well and had even joined a local Girl Guide unit. It was while she was on her way home from one Guide meeting that she heard that Hitler had declared war on Britain, or so she thought. She knew that Hitler had supplied Franco with arms to enable him to fight during the Spanish Civil War, so this little snippet of news upset her greatly. She ran all the way home to her mother in floods of tears, believing that Hitler was coming to England to take their family back to Spain, where they would have to answer to Franco for their actions. Her mother tried to calm her but it was of no use; Clara could not be consoled. When her father came home from work Clara was still in a state but he sat her down and explained this to her gently.
Mi bebé querido, you need not worry, England is a great and powerful country. Hitler dare not cross to this island. The English will kill him like a dog if he so much as thinks about it. The English will protect us, there is no need for you to worry.
This calmed Clara and of course her father was right, Hitler never did set foot in England.