this is a public experiment in family history: my formidable, much-missed grandparents, Frank Girling and Elizabeth Aytoun, met as volunteers in the Spanish Civil War. while I have always strongly (and proudly) felt the romance of this (Spain has always been in my heart), I have never been clear on the hard facts: when exactly were they there? what made them want to go? how did their politics develop? what did they do while they were there? (I think my grandmother worked with refugee children and my grandfather was a radio broadcaster for the Republicans…) where exactly were they? how did they even get there?

so many questions, and potentially so many answers. I come from a long line of hoarders and so I am going to try to tell some of their Spanish story using the letters, photographs and ephemera that are contained in various dusty boxes, folders, wine crates and tea chests. I have no idea what I will find, or the order in which I will find it – but I am keen to share their story, inspired in part by a recent Woman’s Hour item (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07kld0h) about Felicia Browne, the first British volunteer to be killed in Spain. The presenter asked why we don’t know more about all of those British men and women who went to Spain. why indeed? the Spanish Civil War began eighty years ago this month; hopefully my sporadic excavations here will illuminate one small part of what Camus called the “personal tragedy” of Spain.

Anna Girling (e-mail: redthirties@gmail.com)
July 2016


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