Women’s Voices from the Spanish Civil War is an excellent book full of raw emotion, unbelievable courage and great writing. I have added the book to my library of research for The Olive Tree, my Spanish Civil War Saga.

The fascists won the Spanish Civil War mainly because countries like Britain and America practiced ‘non-intervention’. While Hitler and Mussolini supported Franco, Britain and America looked away. In fact, their appeasement offered tacit support to the fascists, an act they would later regret because it led to the Second World War.

Two extracts from Women’s Voices from the Spanish Civil War, the first by Dorothy Parker the second by Aileen Palmer, that give eloquent voice to the duplicitous stance adopted by many countries during the Spanish Civil War.

‘It is knowing that nothing devised by fat, rich, frightened men can ever stamp out truth and courage, and determination for a decent life.

It is impossible not to feel sad for what happened to the Loyalists in Spain: heaven grant that we will never not be sad at stupidity and greed. To be sorry for those people – no. It is a shameful, strutting impudence to be sorry for the noble. But there is no shame to honourable anger, the anger that comes and stays against those who saw and would not aid, those who looked and shrugged and turned away.’

Letter From the Underworld 

Me lords and ladies, you’ll forget,

no doubt that we have ever met.

Or may think, with a spasm of pain,

‘One of the crowd I knew from Spain…’

Our underworld is different now:

folk live in affluence, and how!

Old boys get knighthoods, and get Thistles:

with aristocracy it bristles.

But, lords and ladies, don’t forget

somewhere on Freedom Road we met…

Meticulously researched, well written and detailed, Wales and the Spanish Civil War is, nevertheless, a disappointment. It is a scholarly account of the Welsh connection with the Spanish Civil War, a connection that was forged through emotion, yet that emotion does not come across in the book. Indeed, you get the impression that the Welsh people didn’t care about Spain, when the historical record shows that they did. A good book to read for a balanced view of the conflict, but dry and academic in its approach.

Note the subtitle: The Dragon’s Dearest Cause. That subtitle attracted me to the book. However, when my copy arrived a question mark had been added to the subtitle. This suggests that the author had one book in mind and changed his mind during the writing of it. Consequently, a negative bias crept into the narrative, which undermines the quality of the book.

Last week, I featured Confidential Agent, a movie based on a Graham Greene novel of the same name. The story about the writing of the novel is as interesting as the book. 

Graham Greene wrote the book, in a rented room in 1938, as an ‘entertainment’, purely for money. Fuelled by Benzedrine, the drug of choice in the 1930s and 1940s, it took him six weeks. He rented the room to avoid distractions. However, that plan failed because he managed to squeeze in an affair with the landlady’s daughter.

Although the Spanish Civil War furnished the background – see Graham Greene’s quote below – it is not mentioned in the story. This is common of novels and movies of the time. While the fascists murdered the Spanish people, the establishments in America and Britain were keen to turn a blind eye and although the vast majority of the artistic community supported the Spanish people not all were prepared to speak out. It was, after all, the age of appeasement.

Graham Greene at the time of writing The Confidential Agent

Graham Greene’s thoughts on The Confidential Agent:

The Confidential Agent was written in six weeks in 1938 after my return from Mexico. The Spanish Civil War furnished the background. I was struggling then through The Power and the Glory, but there was no money in the book as far as I could foresee. Certainly my wife and two children would not be able to live on one unsaleable book so I determined to write another ‘entertainment’ as quickly as possible in the mornings, while I ground on slowly with The Power and the Glory in the afternoons.

The opening scene between two rival agents on the cross-channel steamer – I called them D. and L. because I did not wish to localize their conflict – was all I had in mind, and a certain vague ambition to create something legendary out of a contemporary thriller: the hunted man who becomes in turn the hunter, the peaceful man who turns at bay, the man who has learned to love justice by suffering injustice. But what the legend was to be about in modern terms I had no idea.

I fell back for the first and last time in my life on Benzedrine. For six weeks I started each day with a tablet, and renewed the dose at midday. Each day I sat down to work with no idea of what turn the plot might take and each morning I wrote, with the automatism of a planchette, two thousand words instead of my usual stint of five hundred words. In the afternoons The Power and the Glory proceeded towards its end at the same leaden pace, unaffected by the sprightly young thing who was so quickly overtaking it.

The Confidential Agent is one of the few books of mine which I have cared to reread – perhaps because it is not really one of mine. It was as though I were ghosting for another man. D., the chivalrous agent and professor of Romance literature, is not really one of my characters, nor is Forbes, born Furtstein, the equally chivalrous lover. The book moved rapidly because I was not struggling with my own technical problems: I was to all intents ghosting a novel by an old writer who was to die a little before the studio in which I had worked was blown out of existence. All I can say as excuse, and in gratitude to an honoured shade, is that The Confidential Agent is a better than Ford Madox Ford wrote himself when he attempted the genre in Vive Le Roy.”

My research for The Olive Tree, A Spanish Civil War Saga involves reading books like An Absolute Hero by Emyr Humphreys to discover how other authors, especially Welsh authors, have approached the subject. Like An Absolute Hero, Roots, book one in my series, is set in Wales.

An Absolute Hero is book three in a seven part series that follows the life of Amy Parry throughout the twentieth century, so it differs considerably from my series in that regard.

I managed to track down a second-hand copy of An Absolute Hero and, in fact, my research library is crammed with second-hand books because, quite often, that’s the only way to obtain them.