Women's Voices from the Spanish Civil War

Women's Voices from the Spanish Civil War

Women's Voices from the Spanish Civil War

Women's Voices from the Spanish Civil War

Synopsis

Includes writing by women from Britain, the United States, Australia and New Zealand - and from unsung nurses and relief workers as well as celebrated writers. Bringing together extracts from memoirs, letters, diaries and poems, this collection provides an overview of the Spanish Civil War from the perspective of women participants.

Excerpt

Sally Alexander

When I was a child in England in the 1940s and 50s my mother dreaded the coming of the third world war. Men were precious to my mother. She had grown up almost exclusively among women in the shadow of the first – the Great – war. ‘We never saw a man,’ she told us, ‘no man ever came to our house.’ She lived in the Berkshire countryside, the eldest of four children raised on a peacetime widow’s pension and occasional charity – ‘We idealised men because we didn’t know any.’ Her sisters and brother thought her fortunate because she was the only one who could remember her father, and the only one of his children he had known. My mother’s father had survived the First World War only to die in military service in Africa in the 1920s before his wife, who had been a nurse before her marriage, could reach him to care for him. My mother’s brother had been killed on the last day of the Second World War in Burma. Riding his motor-bike to welcome his commanding officer he was ambushed. So my mother wanted the third world war that she knew was coming – ‘world wars come every twenty years’ – to happen before my brother grew up. Korea and Suez were met with relief in my family because my brother was too young to go.

As far as I can remember this was my first understanding of war: that it was the time when men killed each other somewhere else, a time of telegrams and death when women were left to live in a world changed by men’s absence or mutilation. Gradually I heard other stories: of crouching under the kitchen table with my mother and sister during an air-raid; of gas masks that were never used; of land girls, evacuees, women in uniform (but not fighting) and foreign lovers. My father’s stories were quite different – he and his friends were the first out of Dunkirk; ‘if you see the enemy, duck’; ‘always be the first to surrender’ – and they tempered (as I daresay they were intended to do) my childhood fears. If from my mother I learned about love and loss, then from my father the lessons were as negative if less tragic. He taught me about the disillusionment and impotence of the ordinary soldier, of the humour in self-deprecation (a powerful theme, reaching back through music-hall, of plebeian humour . . .

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