This month celebrates the 77th anniversary of one episode from the Spanish Civil War that still remains relatively unknown: A episode of bravery and betrayal, dogmatism and defeat. It is brief story of Norman Bethune, the Canadian doctor, the “foreign spy” and man who came to help a city in exodus. If you want to read the full story, get a free sample of the 'Kindle mini' book by clicking on the image or read more below.
The Story Begins With a City In Fear...
When Only Foreigners Wore Ties
Malaga Bites Back
However, Malaga soon began to attract the interest of Franco who needed access to this strategically important port town. By the beginning of February 1937, Italians aiding Franco's troops had reached the outskirts of Malaga, and swiftly took control of the city.
No Government Assistence
La Caravana de la Muerte
Today, accounts of the exodus are few. Survivors remember it as the “caravan of death”. They survived on sugar cane, oranges and the blind hope that they would reach safe ground in the republican city of Almería. But the journey was a long one. Many fell victim to the endless rounds of ammunition from the airplanes flying low above their heads or the shells targeting them from just out at sea. Many, too tired to keep up, fell to the back and in turn, fell victim to the reprisals from the Italian tanks and soldiers following them out of the city.
The "Ambulance Man" Arrives
He went first to Madrid in November 1936 to co-ordinate and organise the medical help sent by the Canadian government. During this time in Madrid, he brilliantly organised the first ever mobile health unit. It was an innovation that would also carry crucial blood donations to the front lines - an operation that would save the lives of thousands over the next few years.
As a foreigner in a strange city, Bethune did things his own way. He would make maps to help him re-find locations; he met and had a passionate affair with a Swedish, blond journalist; he got drunk and criticised officials that tried to tell him how to do his job. Like Orwell in Barcelona, his strong opinions and personal perspective would have repercussions later in the war. After Madrid, Bethune drove up to Barcelona with his work companions: Hazen Size and Thomas Worsley. There they stocked up with an ambulance full off donated blood and then headed south to Malaga in the hope of arriving at the city before it fell to Nationalist troops.
The End of the Line
Almería and the Scar on His Heart
The Malaga exodus, the Almería bombings and the heroic role of Norman Bethune and his companions have combined to become one of the great forgotten stories of the civil war. Bethune was finally labelled a suspect and a collaborator with a "fascist spy" by the communists who disagreed with his methods and his criticisms of the discipline they ere enforcing on the medical teams.
The"fascist spy" was a Swedish lover he had known in Madrid, who was found carrying maps that Bethune had drawn up to help him distribute blood in the city. It was a concocted accusation, but enough of an excuse to purge him from the country. Bethune disillusioned left the country, saying that Spain would always be: ”a scar on my heart”.
FORGOTTEN STORIES FROM SPAIN: THE AMBULANCE MAN
Read the Whole Story: For the price of a coffee (1.50), you can download the whole book on Amazon: Forgotten Stories of Spain - The Ambulance Man and the Spanish Civil War
- Background to the Popular Front victory in 1936
- The history of resistance in Malaga
- The Madrid months, his Swedish lover and the rise of the Communists.
- The full story of the Exodus on the Almeria road
- China and the death of Bethune on the battlefield
- Surveys and Amnesia about the Spanish Civil War
- Links to the Canadian Free Documentary on Bethune
Grab the Bethune Poster here...
In the meantime, grab this free poster on Bethune to adorn your laptop screen, your fridge, your car window or to send anonymously to a political enemy.
Click on the link below to download the poster.