18 April 2020

Lockdown 1800: the yellow fever epidemic in Alcalá

As we approach week 6 of confinement in an effort to stop the spread of a deadly virus, it seems timely to take a look at another virus that devastated the population of Alcalá over two hundred years ago, killing over a fifth of the population. Information on that epidemic comes from an article in Spanish by Ismael Almagro Montes de Oca on his blog Historia de Alcalá de los Gazules.

Yellow fever is spread when a mosquito feeds on blood from an infected person and transfers the virus to its next meal.  However at the time of the 1800 epidemic in Spain contagious diseases were believed to originate in "miasmas", toxic vapours emanating from decaying matter, then passed directly from one human to another.  Viruses were not identified until the late 19th century, the first vaccines arrived soon after, and the discovery of the role of the mosquito in propagating yellow fever was made in 1900.

Symptoms of yellow fever start to appear within about five days.  These include fever, nausea, headache, muscle pain and vomiting. Most people recover after a few days but around 15% move to a second, far more dangerous stage with liver damage and gastrointestinal bleeding. Once jaundice sets in the skin turns yellow, giving the disease its common name. It is also known as vómito negro in Spanish, due to bloodstained vomit.


The virus originated in Africa, probably passing from primates to humans, and the mosquitoes which carried it were transferred to the Americas and the Caribbean via slave ships when mosquitoes bred in kegs of water stored on board. The first recorded outbreak was in the Yucatan Peninsula in 1649 and it gradually spread northwards into the USA via river or coastal traffic. In Philadelphia in 1793 it killed 5,000 people, ten per cent of the population. Large numbers of British soldiers sent to Haiti in the 1790s succumbed to it, and it also ravaged Napoleon's troops sent there in 1802 to suppress the slave revolt. The virus found its way into Europe in the 18th century via ships arriving in Spanish and Portuguese ports from the Americas.  In 1730 there was an outbreak in the port city of Cádiz with 2,200 reported deaths.

The epidemic which devastated Alcalá along with the rest of southern Spain in 1800 was probably down to a ship from Cuba which docked in Sanlúcar de Barrameda on 30 June. Several crew members had died during the crossing; others made their way to the capital and elsewhere in the province.  As it had not been seen in the area for 70 years local doctors were unfamiliar with the disease and did not know whether it was contagious or seasonal. They treated the symptoms as best they could but did not immediately raise the alarm bells, so valuable time was lost in stopping the spread.

On 29 August a letter reached the Ayuntamiento of Alcalá de los Gazules from the Commander General of the Campo de Gibraltar, under whose jurisdiction Alcalá fell, ordering the cessation of all communications with the city of Cádiz in order to stop the disease spreading. This was read and approved by the town council at a meeting on 31 August.

The first steps taken by the council, as usual in the face of calamity, was to petition the town's patroness, Nuestra Señora de los Santos, to intercede and protect her flock.  However instead of making the usual pilgrimage to the Sanctuary where the Virgin resided, it was decided to bring her into Alcalá so as to avoid an influx of strangers.

Troops quickly arrived from the barracks on the Campo de Gibraltar and worked with residents to blockade all the entrances into the town. The containment measures were rigorously enforced, and notices were posted warning that the punishment for breaking the blockade was the death sentence.  Soldiers were authorised to use firearms or bayonets to stop anyone entering the town.  On 11 September a house in Patriste, La Gitana, was requisitioned as a quarantine station, and on 22 September further troops arrived to reinforce the cordon sanitaire.

The old hospital, La Misericordia, on the Plaza Alta
But despite all these measures the number of cases in the town continued to rise.  Residents who owned property in the campo, including several councillors, moved there with their families to escape the danger.  The 12-bed hospital on the Plaza Alta, La Misericordia, struggled to cope with the increasing number of patients. In total 817 deaths were recorded in three months, out of a population of around 4,000.

This figure was much higher than in Medina (136) or Paterna (86). Clearly the virus had already been present in the town before the blockade was set up. The town's medical officer, José Sánchez Aznar, wrote in a report published in 1822 that early in the summer of 1800 he had treated two men recently arrived from Cádiz showing the typical symptoms, which he treated in the usual way, but he did not recognise the disease at the time. They both recovered but it wasn't until later that he realised they must have been contagious. Then he treated a man who had been sharing a hut in the campo with some muleteers; he did not recover, and soon afterwards most of his family fell sick and died.

Travelling salesman c. 1800 - inadvertent carrier?
It is more than likely that the muleteers, who travelled from town to town with their goods, were unknowingly carrying the virus. The doctor also reported that there was a period of exceptionally hot and humid weather at the time which he believed must have helped the disease to become more virulent. In those days the connection between yellow fever and mosquitoes was unknown but in retrospect it is possible that these weather conditions provided ideal breeding conditions for the insect.

As numbers of victims continued to rise it became evident that the cordon sanitaire was not working. At the end of September the Commander General issued a new order, punishable by a prison sentence, preventing people from inviting outsiders into their homes.  But the council was depleted because most of its members had fled to the country, and the mayor himself had given up his civic duties and locked himself into his house within the castle walls, only talking to people from upper-floor windows. The running of the town in its state of emergency was left to the few remaining councillors.  Houses vacated by those who had fled to the country were being looted and the bailiff pleaded with the mayor for more resources to guard them, but his pleas were ignored.  Eventually the mayor was held to account for his negligence and ingmominiously banished from the town.

The first victims of the epidemic were buried in the Pantheon where the Beaterio is now, next to the castle, but this quickly became impractical as the bodies were piling up.  Five mass graves were dug around the outskirts of the pueblo, using gunpowder to break the rock and prisoners to dig the ditches.


Alcalá was hit by several more epidemics during the 19th century which reduced its population. Yellow fever returned in 1802, 1804 and 1820 (60 deaths), while in 1834 cholera took 158 lives. Typhus struck in the 1840s and further cholera epidemics occurred in 1854, 1864 and 1892, following which a vaccine became available.

In 1900 research by the US military in Cuba proved that yellow fever was transmitted via mosquitoes, and soon afterwards the specific mosquito Aedes aegypti was identified as the carrier.  A vaccine finally came into use in 1938.





14 April 2020

New book about Alcalá in the 20th Century



I'm delighted to announce that the book I've been working on for the past year, Winds of Change: Alcalá de los Gazules in the 20th Century, is now available worldwide on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback format, price £5 and £8.50 respectively (if you are in the UK, or the equivalent in other currencies elsewhere).  Any profits will go to the Cruz Roja (Red Cross) in Spain to help run food banks for people who don't have enough to eat. 

As with all the historical material on this blog, I have not done original research myself but instead translated the works of real historians who have slogged through dusty archives to bring the past to life.  Until now none of their work has been available in English; my aim in publishing this book is to make the fascinating history of the pueblo during that turbulent century available to a wider audience.

 Click here to read the full description, download a sample, or buy a copy.  Thanks!









Why the French cut people's throats and blew up the castle: Alcalá in the War of Independence

When I first came to Alcalá I learned two rather scary things about the activities of the French here during the Napoleonic occupation; firstly that they cut the throats of all its inhabitants in retaliation for a guerrilla attack, and secondly that they blew up the castle. During this period of enforced confinement I've taken the opportunity to find out a bit more about these events.  What follows is extracted from detailed research on Alcalá's role in the Guerra de Independencia by local historian Ismael Almagro Montes de Oca (available in Spanish on his excellent blog Historia de Alcalá de los Gazules).


Napoleon Bonaparte did not originally enter Spain as a hostile invader, but was invited in after a deal with King Carlos IV in 1807 so their combined forces could invade Portugal and divide up the spoils (including Brazil). This plan failed, thanks mainly to the Portuguese royal family being whisked away to safety by British ships. So Napoleon decided to concentrate his efforts on Spain and its American colonies instead. In February 1808 he marched his Grande Armée across the Pyrenees, taking the Spanish by surprise as he was supposed to be their ally.  He swiftly dismantled the government and installed his brother Joseph on the throne.  

The citizens of Madrid staged an uprising against their new masters on 2 May 1808, other cities followed suit and thus began the Guerra de Independencia. Anyone suspected of being afrancesado - a supporter of French liberal values and the progressive legal framework known as the Napoleonic Code - was persecuted and punished.  A few years earlier, Spaniards had complained about the Bourbon monarchs because of their absolute power.  Now they couldn't wait to get them back.

As soon as news of the revolt reached Alcalá a recruitment drive was held and the town sent men and arms to support the Spanish army.  An early victory over the French at the Battle of Bailén (Jaén province) helped boost morale, more men enlisted and the town council sent more funds and supplies. Soon the town was left with virtually no able-bodied men, and by the end of 1808 there were no horses or mules left either.  All blacksmiths and craftsmen were ordered to make supplies for the war effort to the exclusion of everything else.  

The first sight of French troops in Alcalá was at the beginning of 1809, described by a local observer as follows:
There arrived in the pueblo at this time a large platoon of French officers taken prisoner at Bailén, who marched proudly through the town two by two, villainously ignoring the terms of the surrender in which it was agreed to transfer them to France from the port of Cádiz. They held these starving and naked wretches in the gloomy uninhabited cloisters of the lower part of Santo Domingo, roaring like beasts and rebuking their keepers terribly for their inhumanity and lack of faith. 
In December 1809 the Spanish court moved to Cádiz, the only part of the country Napoleon hadn't taken over. The French set up a barracks in Medina Sidonia, thousands of soldiers arrived in the area and mounted the Siege of Cádiz, which lasted for for two years.  When the Poniente was blowing they could hear the cannons in Alcalá "like the death-rattle of our dying country". 


On 10 February 1810 a squadron of two hundred French dragoons rode into Alcalá and ordered the town council to swear allegiance to Joseph Bonaparte, King of Spain and the Americas.  They departed next day leaving a detachment of forty soldiers. The mayor kept out of the way, unwilling to take the oath, but the rest of the council set about making their new guests comfortable. Given that there was barely a grain of wheat left in the town by this time, there was considerable resentment among the locals:
The misfortunes that occurred in this miserable town and its inhabitants are well-known throughout Andalucía and almost all of Spain, invaded by despotism and tyranny, and suffering cruel exactions in cash and goods ...   

The opposition had begun forming unofficial armed groups in the mountains, which supplemented the actions of the regular army. Known in English as guerrillas and in Spanish as guerrilleros, they were fast-moving and flexible and inflicted considerable damage on the French.  The first guerrilla attack in Alcalá was in March 1810, which council officials Simón Baena and Pedro Toscano described thus:  
[The French squadron] withdrew leaving a limited garrison of forty cavalry. News of this scattered people on foot into the immediate mountain ranges [from where they] threw themselves onto the Town and with forty or fifty shotguns united with some of the neighbours, killing about sixteen Dragoons. The rest fled.  
The aristocrat Manuel María de Puelles, clearly appalled by ordinary people taking matters into their own hands, gave this more graphic description of events:
It was an overcast and rainy day when a band of five or six hundred men with blunderbusses, daggers and axes silently entered the town, led down Calle de los Pozos by others who knew the way. Dirty, ragged and in a state of total inebriation, they quickly spilled through the town like a band of vultures, and on approaching the houses where the Dragoons were lodging began to slaughter them like lambs as they appeared, half-armed, roused by a great deal of shouting. Others came out of their lodgings and defended themselves like lions, with their backs against some wall, forming a wide circle with their sables and keeping the band of hyenas at bay. But the rabble fired hails of shot from their blunderbusses and tore them apart, breaking their throbbing Herculean hearts as they dragged them along the cobbled streets and skewering their heads on sticks while singing some barbaric burial song ...
  
The retaliation was swift. General Latour arrived from Medina with 2,000 infantry and 200 cavalry and swarmed into the town. They cut the throats of anyone they found on the streets, regardless of age or gender, then looted whatever they could lay their hands on. However since most alcalaínos had already gone into hiding in the mountains, there were just sixteen victims.

Geographically Alcalá was midway between three action hotspots - Cádiz, the Campo de Gibraltar and the Sierras.  Any troops moving between Medina and Jimena or Algeciras had to pass through the town. This made the derelict Moorish castle, a fortified structure with panoramic views, an ideal place for keeping an eye on things. It became a coveted prize for both sides.

Early in 1811 five hundred Spanish troops passed through Alcalá, led by General Begines de los Ríos, as part of the campaign to break the Siege of Cádiz. Begines de los Ríos ordered the repair of the castle, with local craftsmen and labourers working under the direction of his own military engineers, but there were insufficient materials to finish the job.

Mariscal Jean-de-Dieu Soult
Meanwhile in Medina Sidonia Marshal Soult also had designs on the fortress, and in July assembled 2,000 infantry, 300 cavalry and two cannons with the aim of attacking Alcalá. The Spanish officer in charge of the castle, Captain Carmelet, had some warning of the impending attack and left 200 men armed with muskets while he went off to seek reinforcements.  He also sent guerrillas to take a look at what was on the way from Medina. There was an exchange of fire, but the French had five times the manpower and the guerrillas were forced to slash their way through the enemy line with bayonets and flee into the hills of Los Larios.

The enemy entered Alcalá, made their way to the castle and ordered the men to surrender. The response was heavy fire and 122 French soldiers were killed. After five hours of this, and fearing that Carmelet would arrive any minute with reinforcements, the French headed back to Medina, looting as they went.

General Ballesteros
In August General Francisco Ballesteros, having been appointed Commander General of the Spanish army in Cádiz and Málaga provinces, landed in Algeciras with his troops and immediately went on a grand tour to introduce himself and reanimate the troops.  While in Alcalá he warned the men garrisoned in the castle that more attacks were likely. He was right.  The following month Marshal Soult, keen to subdue guerrilla and military activities across the whole province, gave orders to the commander in Medina to take the castle in Alcalá. Fortunately for us, both the commander and the officer he placed in charge of the attack, Colonel Combelle, kept detailed notes of events.
On the orders I have received from you, I took care on the 15th of September of gathering and preparing in Chiclana everything necessary for the siege of Alcalá. On the 16th I met in Medina with 100 men from the eighth Company of the second Battalion of Sappers, useful for trenches and shafts, and ladders for climbing. I received the same day a detachment from the third Company of the second Battalion of Miners that General Garbé sent me.
The artillery, infantry, and cavalry returned the same day to Medina. The column was launched for Alcalá at nightfall, in order to begin operations against this settlement, according to your instructions, the following day at dawn.
Ballesteros, on learning of the concentration of troops in Medina, decided to withdraw immediately to Jimena but ordered one of his best battalions of light infantry to observe the enemy movements in Alcalá.

On the morning of 17th September around 1500 French troops including 400 cavalry arrived on the outskirts of Alcalá. They engaged with Ballesteros's infantry and lost 400 men and 30 horses. They dispersed and spent the rest of the day reconnoitring the area around the castle. 

Copy of the plan used for the attack on the castle

Early the following morning Colonel Combelle led his troops up to the Plaza Alta along Calle San Francisco:  
The bell tower of the main church of Alcalá, next to the castle, was occupied by a detachment of the Spanish garrison. It was barricaded with tree trunks. The main door to the church was lined with iron and prepared for rifle fire. The guard post blocked the approach to the castle. As it dominated the houses of the city and covered several streets, this greatly hindered our communications. I wanted to attack and take it by force ... so I had a corridor opened in the attic of the council buildings (Casas Consistoriales) that led us into the nave of the church. I made an opening in the wall there and Captain Vernou entered at the head of his sappers.
The church was full of women, children and old people seeking refuge from the invading army.  Combelle ordered them to leave and got his miners to start tunnelling into the wall of the bell tower in order to set explosives. The soldiers occupying it were invited to surrender or be blown to pieces.  After some resistance they did so and the French marksmen took their places, with a direct line of fire onto the castle.  At the same time they set up posts surrounding the castle on all sides.

Two new openings were made from the church into the disused convent buildings now known as the Beaterio, and from there into the street leading to the castle (Calle Ángel de Viera).
The sappers and miners occupied themselves with fortifying all the walls [in the Beaterio] which had a view towards the fortress. By 8 a.m. these battlements were finished.  Marksmen were placed there and an extremely lively exchange of fire began, stubbornly maintained on both sides throughout the day. I believed that this kind of warfare would work in our favour, and took the precaution of changing our riflemen every two hours. Our enemy were inferior in number and ability, and in my opinion should be defeated before the end of the day, finding themselves exhausted and intimidated by the superiority of our firepower.
Our victory was as expected. At 2 p.m. the enemy's fire began to subside. Part of the garrison abandoned the first line of defence [the courtyard of the Beaterio] and went into the main tower of the castle, which served as a redoubt. So I made a breach in the house closest to the angular tower, on which I had resolved to direct our attack. Everything was prepared to mine the nearest point under the tower. The enemy rained down a hail of grenades on our guards. But the terrain was very difficult and after an hour of work the miners came to the rock face, so it was necessary to give up building the tunnel rather than waste any more time there.
Aware that Ballesteros and his troops were on their way, Combelle decided drastic measures were needed if he was to force the surrender of the garrison before they arrived. He asked for two volunteer miners to run across open space and position the first defences for scaling the castle wall.
Immediately the miners arrive, they place the first beams against the tower. The sappers rival each other in zeal and rush to follow them. The first shelter (a kind of parapet made of beams) is forced in place despite the live fire of the musketeers and the grenades. A stone block rolls from the top of the tower, crushing it and injuring several sappers. Other beams replace those that have just broken. It continues raining stones. The structure is knocked down a second time. Then I order the timbers to be raised so they are almost standing upright against the tower. From that moment the falling stones only served to sink it into the ground and to strengthen the armour.

The sappers then dug a tunnel to place explosives under the tower. The Spanish hurled insults at them from above, but once they heard the explosions and felt the tower begin to shake, their attitude changed. Combelle invited them to surrender. Their leader, Lt Col Matildo Monasterio, agreed, requesting that his men be allowed to leave early next morning to rejoin the Spanish army, leaving behind their weapons but taking their personal belongings. He also asked that their wives and the prisoners held in the castle be respected.  Commander Legentil, on behalf of Combelle, replied as follows:
The garrison of the fortress of Alcalá de los Gazules will be prisoners of war and will receive from the troops of his majesty the emperor and King all the considerations due to men of honour. The garrison must surrender immediately. Officers and soldiers will keep their baggage. The former will keep their swords, the latter will lay down their weapons at the castle gate. The men and their families will be protected and any prisoners found guilty by the government [i.e. the administration loyal to the government in Cádiz] will be granted amnesty.
The men, around 230 in all, were given half an hour to vacate the castle and taken as prisoners of war to Chiclana. The castle was immediately occupied by the French, who found it well supplied with everything except water.

The following day, while Legantil's team was repairing the damage to the castle, Ballesteros rolled up with 8,000 men.  Combelle's troops were greatly outnumbered and were forced to retreat to Medina, leaving just two companies at the castle.   He was ordered by Marshal Victor to return the next day with reinforcements, but there was a change of plan when they learned of the situation on the ground.  Victor ordered the destruction of the castle on 22 September 2011 before Ballesteros returned from Jimena.  This was only partially achieved, because according to a local newspaper:
It should be clarified that the French dynamited the wall that forms the entrance courtyard and the rear or side courtyard, so that the troops could not take refuge in it, leaving intact the keep, which after all is only a house.  
But whether this was by accident or design is not clear.

There were several more engagements in and around Alcalá until Napoleon finally withdrew from the region in August 1812. On learning that the invaders had left for good, the people of Alcalá celebrated with bell-ringing, bullfights and various other festivities.  Spain's new liberal Constitution from the Cádiz Cortes was read aloud outside the town hall on the Plaza Alta.  The party went on for at least a week - after two and a half years of death and looting, they were finally free.






13 October 2019

Francisca Pizarro Torres 1910-1989

In the brutal suppression of civilians that followed the Nationalist uprising in July 1936, women were not spared.  It was enough simply to be related to a Republican sympathiser.  This is the story of an incredibly courageous Alcalá woman who saw her family members gunned down by firing squad and who only survived by the skin of her teeth.  It was written by her granddaughter, Juana María Malia Vera, and published in Apuntes Históricos de Alcalá de los Gazules 2006.  The original is also available on the blog Historia de Alcalá de los Gazules.




My grandmother Francisca was born in Alcalá in August 1910 to Francisca Torres Amador and Antonio Pizarro Álvarez.  She had three brothers, José, Antonio and Francisco, and one sister, Maria.  Her mother died when Francisca was only nine years old, leaving her in charge of the household and her four siblings.  The youngest, Maria, was only two.  At that point she started to wear black, remaining in mourning for the rest of her life, and started work in her godmother’s bakery, peeling and crushing almonds.

Manuel Vera Jiménez, a young man a few years older than Francisca, fell in love with her.  Like almost everyone in Alcalá, he worked in cork production.  He was the son of Manuel Vera and Juana Jiménez (la Espejita).  He had two brothers, Juan and Rafael, and a sister, Maria.

Manuel and Francisca were married in 1926, when she was 16.  They were overjoyed when their first son was born, but he died a few days later, which was a hard blow for them.  Later came Francisca, Manuel, Juana Antonia and José.

My grandfather was a man of the Left, a Republican, and wrote books on those topics, as did my grandmother’s brother Francisco, a shoemaker and a member of the CNT [the Anarchist union].  Everything was going well, with the real hope of better times in Spain, until one night in the summer of 1936.

The Civil War was already a reality across Spain, but even so, the majority of people in Alcalá were trying to return to their day-to-day lives.  Then the relative peace they had enjoyed for just a few short days began to collapse.  Suddenly people from the town itself, fanatical supporters of the new regime, took up arms and with much hatred began what would be a most tragic period for Alcalá, the most atrocious and cruel repression anyone had ever known.  My grandmother said that it was rare for morning to break without some dead body thrown onto the street.

Within this group was a particular “gentleman” (whose name I will not reveal, out of respect for his family) who caused so much harm to my grandmother and her kin that many years later, on his deathbed, he called out her name saying that when he closed his eyes he saw corpses and blood on all sides, and in the agony of death he begged for her to come and forgive him.  Of course he died without seeing her; I don’t know if she would have ever found it in her heart to forgive him.

My grandfather Manuel Vera Jiménez, his brother Juan, and my uncle Francisco Pizarro were “sentenced”, as was  Manuel's mother Juana Jiménez, “la Espejita”.  On one occasion they warned her “Juana, shut up or we’ll come and kill you”.

My grandfather was advised to gather his family together and go far away from Alcalá, but he said that he had never done harm to anybody and that he would leave, but only to work on the cork as he had always done.

One day a bomb fell from a plane and landed right in the Calle Real.  My aunt Francisca Vera remembers this event clearly, in spite of only being six years old at the time.  She tells how people went running all over the place, not knowing where to go.  She herself was with her mother in the bakery where she worked, and they ran out to find the rest of the family.

My grandmother was warned that they were asking the whereabouts of her husband in order to arrest him.  That same afternoon she, along with her sister Maria and their children, went off to look for him without knowing exactly which farm he was working on.  Nightfall found them in La Palmosa, and they slept in the open air, huddled together under a tree.  The next morning they carried on walking, asking the workers on their way home if anyone knew where Manuel Jiménez was.  Someone told them he was in Las Cobatillas, so they set off in that direction.

On the way they met a lorry loaded with Moroccans who were coming to assist Franco.  Many were the barbaric deeds they committed.  When they saw Maria, so pretty and just 16 years old, they called at her, wolf-whistling, and almost forced her into boarding the lorry.   It could have been disastrous.  She screamed and sobbed, resisting. My grandmother fell to her knees, begging them tearfully to leave them in peace.  Fortunately another lorry arrived, and one of their superiors ordered them in their own language to let Maria go.

My grandfather froze with shock when he saw them arrive.  That was when he realised how bad things were in Alcalá, and that he had no alternative but to flee far away, before they found him and shot him along with the others.  They decided that it would be the best thing for all of them.

My grandmother, with her sister and the children, set off for La Bovedilla to rejoin her in-laws.  They had a shack there where they all stayed for a while, until some Falangist thugs turned up and arrested Juana Jiménez and her son Juan.

Detention record for Juana Jiménez, from the municipal archive.
 Prisoners would never give their address: "No lo dice".

Francisca stayed there with the others, but soon another armed gang arrived, interrogating her about her husband.  They took her to the prison in Alcalá to be held until Manuel Jiménez showed up.  The whole family implored the men to leave her with them, but their tears were to no avail as they separated them with the butts of their shotguns.   When I asked my aunt about this time, she still remembered how much her stomach hurt from the blows.  She was just a little girl.  They took Francisca and her little daughter to the jail in Alcalá, but as the days passed and my grandfather Manuel didn’t appear, they decided to transfer them to La Linea de la Concepción.

Maria, now in charge of everyone, put her pain to one side and set about speaking to anyone who might be able to help her sister return home safely.  She also contacted her brothers to let them know the situation, with the hope that they might help resolve the tragic situation.

Her brother Antonio was doing military service in the Legion when war broke out, and was caught in the Nationalist zone, so he could do nothing to help.  Francisco, “Faico” as he was known, remained in Alcalá.  Faico was a real worry for María, in constant fear of being arrested and shot, which would indeed happen a few days later.  It would be José who eventually helped secure Francisca's release.

In prison at La Línea, my grandmother realised straight away that neither her mother-in-law Juana nor her brother-in-law Juan were there, and when she asked about them she was told they had been moved to the bullring.  They explained that was where they took people to be be shot by firing squad.

I can imagine the terror and desperation with which Francisca received this news, which would be aggravated even further a few days later when she herself and her sickly little daughter were taken to the bullring.  When they arrived she saw how all the prisoners were packed together sitting on the ground.  Straight away she saw Juana and Juan, and they embraced each other weeping, not understanding why she had been arrested too.

My grandmother remembered with real panic how names were constantly being called out, sometimes to be interrogated and sometimes to be executed.  They interrogated her about the whereabouts of her husband, and she kept repeating that she didn't know.  When she asked what whould happen to her daughter after she had been killed they told her not to worry, as there was a soldier prepared to adopt her.

I remember when I was very small, at the end of the programmes broadcast by the two television channels we had then, around midnight, they would show a photo of Franco and play the national anthem.  My grandmother would have a panic attack on hearing it, and always asked us to turn off the set.  Later when she told me her life story for the first time, everything that had happened to her, I understood why: when they executed someone in the bullring they would play the national anthem.  This happened the day they called Juan Vera Jiménez. They told his mother to say goodbye to her son, as he was about to be shot.  Juana Jiménez ran towards him; they shot her as well.  My grandmother always said that the two of them died embracing each other.  She heard the shots.

When they took away the bodies they realised that Juana, executed for the crime of being a Communist, was carrying in her pocket a bunch of holy saints' medals attached to a pin.

With almost all hope lost, there came the news that her brother José had managed to obtain a pardon for Francisca.  At that time he was working in the bakery of Agustin Pérez, a gentleman with some influence.  Without much explanation they let her go.  She  walked from La Línea de la Concepción to Algeciras, carrying her daughter in her arms.  From there she took the bus to Alcalá.

On her return she discovered that her brother Francisco, “Faico”, was being held in custody.  They wouldn’t let her see him.  The jailer took pity on my grandmother with everything she had gone through, and told her to come back in the morning when he would let her in.  One morning she was told he was no longer there.  The same answer must have been heard by many other families of execution victims.  They had taken him the previous night to Casas Viejas.

There were witnesses to his execution, most notably a woman who lived nearby and saw how they shot him in the legs, leaving him badly injured.  This woman said that when he asked for water, he was told to go to the river.  This he did, dragging himself along, finally managing to reach the river where he bled to death.

Of my grandfather Manuel Jiménez little is known, I imagine he was hiding out in the mountains. He stayed there for some time, once coming down to Alcalá in the early morning despite the risk he ran.  A friend of his who during the war was taken prisoner by the Republicans, told my grandmother that he had seen him wearing a captain’s uniform.  We don’t know how he died.  There are various different versions: that he died trying to pass into France, or that he died of an injury in Valencia and is buried somewhere there.

One morning there appeared painted on a neighbour's door the name of the owner of the house, followed by the word “murderer”.  They blamed my aunt María and took her to the cells.  Sometimes luck is on the side of the victims.  María Pizarro did not know how to write; it could not have been her.  She decided to go and work in Algeciras.  My uncles and my mother told me that they used to go crazy with joy when she returned at weekends and they would meet her off the bus, loaded with presents for everyone, especially for the littlest ones, who always adored her.

Little by little things started to get better.  My grandmother started to make confectionery, getting more and more orders over time.  She set up a sweet-shop on the Calle Real, and my mother used to serve behind the counter.

Before she herself passed away, Francisca had to endure the great pain of losing her siblings José and María, her niece Margarita and her own daughter Antonia, my mother, that sickly little girl who was with my grandmother during her stay in the prison at La Línea.

I am amazed by what an incredible woman my grandmother was, and how she found the strength to get up each morning trying to find a chink of light in her life to keep her from going under and taking her whole family with her. I admire her even more on remembering how she would mask over all the hardships she had endured with such special grace, sometimes bad-tempered, but always wonderful and affectionate.

My grandmother FRANCISCA PIZARRO TORRES died in Alcalá de los Gazules, the place where she always said she wanted to die.  She was 79 years old.

She never wanted us to raise our arms in a Francoist salute, even in play.  She was terrified and immediately raised her left fist in the Republican salute, sometimes singing a verse from some song of protest.