21 August 2016

Pedro Valle Barrera: A Story of the Repression

Pedro Valle Barrera was a child victim of the vicious repression carried out by Franco's forces during and after the Spanish Civil War, known as the White Terror. His uncle was executed, his father was imprisoned and his mother had her head shaved, for being on the Republican side. By some miracle he escaped the organised massacres of refugees at La Sauceda and on the 'Road of Death' from Málaga to Alméria. 

In 2009 Pedro recounted his childhood memories to J. Carlos Perales Pizarro, who transcribed and published them. This is an abridged translation of Pedro's story. The full version in Spanish can be found on the Historical Memory website Todos los Nombres.

Pedro was born in 1928 to Francisca Barrera and Juan Manuel Valle Recio, in C/ Sánchez Flores, Alcalá de los Gazules. His grandfather Pedro Valle Marchante worked with cattle; he was well-educated and gave lessons to the agricultural workers who lived around the Finca del Torero. Valle Marchante was related to Diego Valle Regife, who helped set up a branch of the socialist party in Alcalá in 1886, in affiliation with the agricultural workers' union, the UTC. In 1887 he was arrested and charged with being implicated in an anarchist plot, but the judge ruled that it was not a crime to belong to a workers' party. He set up a school to educate and organise agricultural workers, but his activities were short-lived as he continued to suffer harrasment from the authorities.

Pedro's maternal grandfather, Barrera, lived next door to Valle Marchante. He was a woodsman and a carpenter, felling trees and making carts, ploughs etc from wild olive, oak and ash. Pedro's father, Juan Manuel, and his uncle Diego began working with Barrera. Juan Manuel and Barrera's second daughter fell in love, and they were married.

During the summer of 1936, Valle Marchante moved from the countryside into Alcalá, as he did every summer, to work on the cork harvest. His family went to stay in Jerez. Immediately after the uprising, the Falangists came looking for him there, because he was a member of the UGT union and had close links with the Socialist party. His mother, terrified, said he was away working. She decided to take the childen to San José del Valle to stay with the Barreras, but because of all the rumours of arrests and executions they could not stay there for long.

One night, with the help of a donkey, Barrera, his five daughters and two grandchildren set off for La Sauceda, a tiny remote village in what is now the Alcornocales Natural Park. It was still in the Republican zone, and on the escape route towards Málaga, Many other families took the same decision. It was the end of the road for many of them.

The remains of La Sauceda, now a centre for activity holidays
Once we were getting close, they settled me down and I fell asleep. My grandfather went down to the hermitage to take a look around and after a while he came back with five or six men. They were Socialists. One of them took me up on his donkey and we all went down to La Sauceda. There were lots of people there. Some were living under the trees, others in shacks. They slaughtered cattle there, under the orders of the Committee, which were then shared out so people could eat. There were thousands of people. We were there quite a while.
But La Sauceda did not remain a safe haven for long. It was discovered by Franco's troops, bombed from the air, and survivors taken to the nearby Cortijo de El Marrufo, which was being used as a concentration camp.  Many ended up in the mass graves located in the Valley of La Sauceda. Fortunately the Barrera family managed to escape in time.

Excavation of a mass grave, Valley of La Sauceda
Given that things were getting worse with the war, we set off towards Jimena, where we spent the night. The next day we went towards Casares. I remember very well crossing the Guadiaro river, because the water was deep and my grandfather helped us across. I don't remember whether we slept in the campo or in Casares. From there we headed to Málaga. But from the mountains, when night fell, we could already see a lot of traffic along the coast; lorries and military vehicles. It looked as though Franco's forces were arriving at Estepona. There they set up their front line. My father and my uncle Diego stayed behind in Estepona.
Barrera, his daughters and the two grandchildren continued on their way to Málaga. Pedro remembers happily how he and his mother got a lift in a car which took them into the city. It was the first time he'd been in a car. In Málaga they met up with his father and his mother's brother. Diego arrived later, having been wounded fighting in Estepona. He had an injury to his wrist.

Refugees on the way to Málaga
They took refuge, as Pedro recalls, in a convent near the Calle Larios. It had been abandoned by the nuns and was being used to shelter the many families who were arriving in Málaga, fleeing the advance of Franco's troops.
The convent was full of people, it was amazing. When they started bombing Málaga, we could hear the bombs and the shells from the sea and from the planes. Of course, a bomb fell very close to us. Everything collapsed around us. The children were crying, as you can imagine.
They took refuge in the mountains, fleeing from the coast because of the bombardment from the sea.
From there, my grandfather went down into Málaga very early every morning to see what was happening. My uncle Diego, who was wounded, stayed with us. He did go down to get treatment, but he always waited till my grandfather got back, as a precaution. We got news of possible dangers. My grandfather told us he had seen dead bodies in the streets and elsewhere.  
One morning, my uncle Diego lost patience and, trusting that nothing would happen to us, went down to Málaga for treatment without waiting for my grandfather's return. I remember my uncle gave me a kiss. He loved me deeply and I him, to this day. He kissed me goodbye. We never saw him again. They took him prisoner. I think it was around 23 or 24 February 1937, when Málaga fell. They executed him.
Then my uncles were put in prison as well. My uncle Luis was in there the longest. My uncle Francisco was ill and as soon as he came out of prison, he died. And my father was in the concentration camp at Albatera, in Alicante. 
Pedro and his remaining famly left together with a grand caravan of women, children and old people for El Palo, a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Málaga on the road which led to Almería; the notorious Road of Death.  Its story is well documented and its consequences were as grave, if not worse, than the bombing of Guernica, with at least 20,000 casualties. Pedro reminded us that that it was there that Carlos Arias Navarro, the butcher of Málaga, became famous, and not when he announced Franco's death many years later.

Again, the family had a lucky escape.  When they arrived at Torre del Mar their way was blocked by Nationalist soldiers. They could not continue towards the safe zone, so they set off, on foot, back to Alcalá de los Gazules. 
My mother went to my grandmother Francisca and told her what she knew, because the poor woman had no idea what had happened to her sons. Nothing of Diego, nor Luis, nor Francisco, nor my father. From Alcalá we went once more to San José del Valle. My grandfather had to present himself to the Civil Guard and the Falangists there. They put him in prison. All the women had their heads shaved, but they weren't forced to drink castor oil [a common and humiliating punishment for Republican women, as it made them soil themselves in public] because there wasn't any. My grandfather was in prison for a few months and meanwhile the rest of us suffered more calamities.
Republican women, heads shaved to identify them as traitors

Back in San José del Valle, the young Pedro helped his grandfather the woodworker.  Everyone was permanently hungry, living on whatever they could find for the pot.
At that time I was about 13 years old. My mother was ill, mainly from hunger and shortages. What little she had, she gave to me. I ate whatever was edible, the stems of brambles, grass, and even orange peel. I slept under the trees. A cockroach even got in one of my ears. I went up for the clothes that my mother washed for us. There were wolves, even. I was afraid. The wolves wouldn't kill me because they weren't hungry. At that time there was more food for them than for us.
Meanwhile Juan Manuel Valle Recio, Pedro's father, had graduated as a lieutenant and went once more to the front.
There he bumped into his brother Luis, who had been injured in one of the battles. My father carried him on his back, walking all night. They had to cross a river, I don't recall which one. Desperate and with no strength left, not having met anyone who could help them, my father even thought of shooting Luis and then himself.
But eventually they arrived in Valencia, from where women and children were being transported out of the country by ship.  Pedro's father was unable to escape, and was again taken prisoner. He was sent to Albatera, a concentration camp in Alicante, where he met his brother-in-law and uncle. The prisoners were stripped and beaten, and suffered conditions of lice-ridden squalor and near starvation. 
My father told me about a dog who squeezed through the wire fence of the camp. They were so hungry they caught the dog, killed it, roasted it and ate it.
Juan Manuel was eventually transferred to the prison in Jerez, because he was registered as resident there.
About my father's stay in prison, my memories, though distant, are clear. My mother occasionally took advantage of a driver who travelled regularly to Jerez, and visited him in prison there. Sometimes she took me with her. But I could hardly see my father. It was so dark in there, behind a metal grille which stopped you being able to see clearly. I could hear him quite well, but I could hardly see him. My mother visited him mainly to take him food. There was much hunger. I used to set traps, snares, caught rabbits which my mother would stew and take to my father. One day when we went, to her surprise, they told her that it wasn't necessary to hand over the basket because he would shortly be free. And so it was, within half an hour my father came out. He was destroyed, thin, emaciated. He'd been in prison from 1938 to August 1941. He was not quite 38 when he came out. His body was covered in boils, he could hardly walk. 
His brother Luis was more fortunate, as he ended up being transferred to Alcalá de los Gazules.
You could see that the jailer was a very good person and when I went to see my uncle Luis, I found him eating with the jailer's family. He was the only person in the prison, and that trust would become very important.
Luis left prison in 1944, and died in August 1980.

Of their brother Francisco, there is a certificate signed by Isidro Castro Puelles, mayor of Alcalá de los Gazules, on 15 May 1939 stating that according to the records held by the Municipal Guard, “he was affiliated to the Socialist Party, and had propagated it actively".  He was incarcerated, but became ill in prison and died shortly after his release.

The fourth brother, Diego Valle Recio, was judged and condemned under the Emergency Summary Proceedings in Málaga.  In his statement, dated 17 February 1937, he declared that his name was as stated, he was 31 years old, single, agricultural worker, born and raised in Alcalá de los Gazules, lived in C/ Sánchez Flores, Son of Pedro and Francisca. That he was able to read and write.
“That two weeks before the uprising he joined to the Syndicalist party, and was given the post of Treasurer. That when the Nationalist Movement happened he was in Alcalá de los Gazules, where there were no disturbances, and he hadn't taken part in any kind of disorder. That even in that town there was no kind of struggle.  That the workers decided to get away from the town, going in a group to Jimena, Estepona and from there, having enlisted in the Pablo Iglesias Battalion with which he was at the front at Chorro, without having entered into combat, that because of illness he was evacuated and came to Málaga, where he presented himself to the Military Command.
Witnessed and ratified but not signed because of the injury suffered in his right hand.”
Three days later he was found guilty of military rebellion  under Articles 237 and 238 of the Code of Military Justice, and sentenced to death.

Standing, L-R: Juan, Luis and Diego.
Seated: Pedro Valle Marchante and Francisco


Alcalabirder said...

A very moving story made the more so by being told in the context of villages and areas that I know.

Norman McCanch said...

Very moving and sobering to read; a great uncle of mine joined the International Brigade and went to fight in the south of Spain the family never knew where). He never returned to South Wales and 20 years later his mother was told by a
school friend of his (was was also there) that he had been killed in action 'near Malaga'.

Alan said...

John C told us about Alcala few years ago and have been a few times. Always find your blogs worth reading - Alan (Lean)