80 years after outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, survivors recount their roles

November 30, -0001
  • Survivors include Josep Capellades, 100, one of the last mechanics of Republican fighter aircrafts
  • Assumpcio Ruera, 87, ‘I was nine and I remember thinking it is my mother’s blood.’
  • During the war many parents from the Republican side sent their children to Russia but failed to return
  • Conflict is estimated to have left 500,000 people dead and caused an additional 450,000 to flee Spain 
  • By

    Paul Miles For Mailonline


    Published:
    08:41 EST, 16 July 2016

    |
    Updated:
    08:46 EST, 16 July 2016

    These are the poignant portraits of survivors of the Spanish Civil War as they speak about their experiences and share their survival stories of the conflict on its 80th anniversary.

    From civilians to soldiers, this specially created gallery of images offers a moving reminder of a conflict which left 500,000 people dead and caused an additional 450,000 to flee their homeland altogether.

    The conflict started on July 18, 1936. when a group of officers attempted to overthrow the left-wing Popular Front government in a military coup and resulted in a four year tug of war between the two sides and resulted in a nation torn apart. 

    BROTHERS IN ARMS: Alffons Canovas, 99, and his brother Antoni Canovas, 87, pose for a portrait on July 5, in Barcelona, Spain.

    BROTHERS IN ARMS: Alffons Canovas, 99, and his brother Antoni Canovas, 87, pose for a portrait on July 5, in Barcelona, Spain.

    Alffons Canovas, 99,
    Antoni Canovas, 87

    REMEMBER WHEN: The two brothers are remembering their experiences of the Spanish Civil War

    Alfons Canovas, 99, fought on the Aragon front in 1938. ‘I am not sure if I killed someone,’ he said.

    ‘I was terrified. I did not aim, I hoisted my rifle over my shoulder and I fired it while I was hidden in my trench’.

    His father was killed during an Italian air raid over Barcelona on January 19, 1938 and he went on to sue the Spain National Court on May, 2011, for carrying out attacks.

    Antoni Canovas, 87, fought during the frustrated offensive to retake Mallorca under Nationalist control and he finished the war fighting in the Ebro’s front where he met by chance his two brothers.

    At the end of the war he was exiled in France but was forced to leave France towards North Africa due to the Nazi’s occupation. He got caught in Morocco and freed by American troops in 1943.

    He was allowed to come back to Barcelona 30 years after he left Spain.

    LOOKING BACK: Joan Pons, 94, and his wife Laura Benesey, 92, pose for a portrait on July 14, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain

    LOOKING BACK: Joan Pons, 94, and his wife Laura Benesey, 92, pose for a portrait on July 14, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain

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    Joan Pons, 94
    Laura Benesey, 92

    Josep Pons was one the last soldiers to be drafted up for the conflict while his wife Laura was also involved. 

    Laura Benesey, 92, remembers how she left Barcelona in 1939 during the massive retreat towards France. She said: ‘We were attacked many times by Italian fighters as we were stuck on the roads full of civilians and soldiers fleeing towards the French border’.

    She ended up at the concentration camp of Argeles and helped her mother, a Catalan teacher, take care of children. Back in Barcelona in 1942, she became a teacher and fought during the sixties against the ban of the Catalan language at schools.

    Josep Pons, 94, is one of the last of not more than 200 living soldiers of ‘La Quinta del Biberon’ (Draft of the Baby’s bottle).

    He was part of the last draft to fight against the National front by the end of 1938.

    He remembers a Republican officer asking them ‘Do you know how to throw stones? These are going to be your only weapons’. His accomplishments during the  conflict included blowing up a bridge over the Llobregat river during the Republican withdrawal.

    Teresa Alonso, 91, pictured in Barcelona on July 14.
    Josep Capellades, 100

    Teresa Alonso, 91, (left) pictured with Josep Capellades, 100, (right)

    Teresa witnessed the air raid over Gernika in 1937. She was evacuated with more children by boat towards the USSR.

    She suffered in the siege of Leningrad in 1941 and 1942. Teresa remembers: ‘We saw hundreds of dead bodies going with the flow under the ice of the frozen Neva river’.

    During the war, many parents from the Republican side sent their children to Russia. They thought that once the war was won they could come back to Spain. They lost the war and more than 2,800 children were forced to stay in Russia. Some of them could only make their way back in 1960.

    Josep Capellades, 100, is one the last two living mechanics of Republican fighter aircrafts. He fought with the fourth squadron fixing Russian Polikarpov-15 fighters during the conflict but was exiled in Argentina after the war. 

    Josep Capellades, (above) 100, is one the last two living mechanics of Republican fighter aircrafts.

    Josep Capellades, (above) 100, is one the last two living mechanics of Republican fighter aircrafts.

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    Assumpcio Ruera, 87
    Neus Catala, 100

    Assumpcio Ruera, 87, (left) and Neus Catala, 100, (right) are some of the last living survivors of the Spanish Civil War. 

    Assumpcio Ruera, 87, is one of the last living survivors of the Italian air raid over Granollers on May 31, 1938. She was walking up the stairs at the school when the bombing started. Parents were arriving at the school to pick their children up at the end of the air attack. Her mother never came, she was killed as she was queueing at the central market of Granollers.

    ‘Red water came down my street from the square where the market was. I was nine and I remember thinking it is my mother’s blood,’ Assumpcio 

    Neus Catala, 100, was a Republican nurse. She crossed the French border taking with her more than 180 orphaned children and widowed mothers during the retreat from Catalonia in 1939.

    She joined the French resistance and deported to the Nazi’s concentration camp of Ravensbruck. She is the last living Spanish survivor of a Nazi’s concentration camp. 

    TIME AGO: Agusti Tarres, 99, (above) poses for a portrait on July 6, 2016 in Spain. 

    TIME AGO: Agusti Tarres, 99, (above) poses for a portrait on July 6, 2016 in Spain. 

    Agusti Tarres, 99, was a volunteer of the Republican army, becoming an official. He fought in Madrid and the Battle of Teruel. Teruel was the first and last provincial capital to be conquered by the Republican Army where nearly 40,000 died from both sides.

    After Teruel, he fought during the famous battle of El Ebro. Agusti Tarres is one of the last surviving Republican officers. 

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