“There is a long straight valley”: one year of Frank and Elizabeth’s “Red Thirties”

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Frank (second from left) and Elizabeth (fourth from left), Puigcerdà, January 1938

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I haven’t posted for a while (I have been trying to have a PhD thesis “push”), but wanted to write something to mark the anniversary of my beginning this project. I didn’t know what to expect when I began; I wasn’t sure quite how the non-chronological posting of items would work (I didn’t, and still don’t, have time to go through and catalogue and order everything properly), nor did I know what I would find, or if anyone (other than my family) would find it all interesting. I am pleased to report that I have been pleasantly surprised on all fronts: the non-chronologicalness of it all hasn’t seemed to matter (and I have really enjoyed just diving into various boxes and seeing what I can find), and various people – from all over the world – seem to have found it interesting. I am incredibly grateful to everyone who has read my posts over the last year – and especially to those who I have had contact with in various capacities (from Nancy Clough, whose uncle, Nik Carter, was in Puigcerdà with my grandparents, to Fraser Raeburn, who sent me my grandfather’s Comintern file, and Hannah and Jenny who translated a long document from that file for me).

For this anniversary I had hoped to find and post an essay by my grandmother about Puigcerdà, and about her and Frank’s time there (I think she may have written it for the Daily Worker, although I don’t know if it was ever published – certainly, it appears to designed to raise support for the Republicans outside Spain). Unfortunately my brief Sunday night raid of my mother’s cellar didn’t yield the typescript (and I can’t remember which box it is in). However, I did find this first draft of the first page, complete with Elizabeth’s notes – I think it’s charming, as well as fascinating (hopefully I’ll find the full version before long). My quick search for it also yielded the above photograph of Frank and Elizabeth in Spain, together with some of the evacuated children from the Puigcerdà camp. This is the first photograph that I have ever seen of them together in Spain (and the only photo I have of Elizabeth in Spain), so I was pretty excited to find it.

Here is an early draft of the first page of my grandmother’s essay/article about life in Puigcerdà during the Spanish Civil War – a curious mix of normality (“there is a funny little hill, with one tower and one lake and one market square on its top”), deprivation (“starvation was drawing near last winter. No vegetables could be bought after seven in the morning, and very few before that; there was no meat at all, bread was poor and the ration five slices a day per person”) and fear (“before the winter was out, bombers had come”).

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“I hope you will not worry about me”: a postcard from Frank

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I came across this postcard completely by chance yesterday, in the pages of a postcard album, along with a pile of much more recent postcards. I suspect that they were all part of a stamp collecting enterprise by my mother or one of her brothers – as, unfortunately, the stamp has already been steamed off this one.

It is wonderful to have something from Frank’s time in Spain – so much of what I have found so far is Elizabeth’s (especially letters, etc.), and what I do have of Frank’s tends to be from a bit later. I didn’t think I would ever find of any Frank’s letters home to his family – this gives me hope that some of them may have survived and that I may find more eventually.

This was sent to his parents (also, confusingly, called Frank and Elizabeth Girling) in Newcastle just before he crossed from France into Spain. The postmark looks to me like 9th October 1937, and this would fit with the Comintern report, in which Frank had stated that he had been working at Puigcerdà since the 10th October 1937 (for more, see: https://redthirties.wordpress.com/2016/12/07/franks-international-brigade-personnel-file-in-the-comintern-archives-2/).

The text is short and sweet, and reads:

I am in Perpignan now and will cross into Spain tomorrow. First to Barcelona and then to Puigcerdà on the French frontier.

The I.V.S.P. have a camp there – farming work.

Love to all

Frank

I hope you will not worry about me. Frank.

Continue reading “I hope you will not worry about me”: a postcard from Frank

23rd August 1939, German-Soviet Pact announced

The announcement of the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact (the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact) on 23rd August 1939, only a week before Germany’s invasion of Poland, and Britain’s declaration of war on Germany, was a key event in the lead up to the Second World War.

This letter, written by Frank on the evening that the pact was announced (a Wednesday), captures some of the intensity of – and speed at which events were moving at – this time. It is written from Newcastle on International Brigade notepaper (Frank was working for the north-east branch of an International Brigade committee at the time), and was sent to Elizabeth – apparently still at Ashintully (“languishing in idleness”, according to Frank). Frank and Elizabeth married almost immediately after the war broke out – so within a few weeks of this letter.

I don’t know what or who the “S. T. D.” that Frank is awaiting a reply from refers to (any pointers gratefully received) – nor who Jack Sword (?) and the Bickfords are.

Transcript below, along with a copy of the invitation to their Diamond Wedding party – they eloped, so this is the closest there was to any kind of wedding announcement.

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Continue reading 23rd August 1939, German-Soviet Pact announced

Frank’s Catalonian Identity Card, 1st February 1938

Seventy-nine years ago, on 1st February 1938, Frank was issued with this ID card (Carnet d’Identitat) for the Generalatit de Catalunya, the government of Catalonia. The Catalonian text states (roughly): Frank Knowles Girling serves in this Comissariat, as  editor of English bulletins. 1st February 1938.

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A few months later, in his own account of what had brought him to Spain, and his activities while there (see Frank’s International Brigade personnel file in the Comintern Archives: 1), Frank would write of his work as a translator for the Generalatit, and his growing disillusionment with the Catalonian government:

Having by this time learnt Spanish and a little Catalan came to Barcelona at the end of January hoping to be able to join the I.B. and serve usefully the cause. Being offered a post in the Propaganda Office of the Generalitat I accepted it thinking that as a translator I might be more useful than as a soldier. Now convinced of the inefficiency of the Cat. Government and in particularly of the Esquerra Republicana I do not want to continue and no other work offering I shall go back to England to stimulate the propaganda for Spain.

His account of coming to Barcelona at the end of January would fit with the issuing of this card on 1st February – and his description of himself as a “translator” fits roughly with his description on the card as an “editor”, although I still don’t really know what his activities were at this time (I have a feeling that he ended up broadcasting on the radio at some point). The Generalitat and the Republican Left of Catalonia (the Esquerra Republicana that Frank talks about) were in internal turmoil throughout the Spanish Civil War (as described by George Orwell in Homage to Catalonia), with numerous groups and factions competing for control – I don’t pretend to understand the intricacies of all this, but perhaps his disillusionment was in some part linked with his allegiance to a particular faction, or perhaps it was due to frustration at the overall factionalism in the face of ongoing assault from Franco’s forces.

Frank’s International Brigade personnel file in the Comintern Archives: 2

I feel like most of the posts so far have been about Elizabeth (more of the ephemera is associated with her), but that when there is a post about Frank it is a cracker. I have described previously how I was sent the information on Frank from his International Brigade personnel file held in the Comintern archives (now in Moscow). The most exciting things in this file were a photograph of a very young (c. twenty-one) Frank, and an account in his own words of how he ended up in Spain (see Frank’s International Brigade personnel file in the Comintern Archives: 1 for more on all this). There were also two other main items: a “Biografía en España” questionnaire (answered by Frank in French), and an intriguing-looking three page document in German, that looks like some kind of security report on Frank by someone called Kurt.

My German is almost non-existent, so two very kind friends (Hannah and Jenny) have been working their way through this document for me over the last few months  – combining the translation of strange German documents (apparently some of the German is an unusual dialect) with various jobs and a new baby! It was a far greater task than I had first anticipated (far longer, and more intricate), and so much information has come out of it, that I have decided to break it up a bit and just post the report page by page. So here is page one, translation first (with the original – and some of my thoughts – below). Here goes:

Around 18 days ago Girling turned up in our delegation to take part in the Interbrigaden. He said that, since 10.10.37, he has been volunteering at the children’s evacuation center in Puigcerda. On his past he gave the following information:

Born in England. Studied at different universities. Then since May 1935 worked in Croydon in England in the Government Office: Civil Service Inland Revenue Department as a scribe. Girling states that this was a position subordinate to the finance ministry. He was here until December 1936. In January 1935 he wanted to enter the K.P.E. [British Communist Party – “Kommunistischen Partei Englisch“?], but left after 11 months, since he was in danger of losing his position in the civil service. After his dismissal from the service, he apparently worked as an unskilled worker in various companies.

Girling is in possession of an English passport no. 4634, issued on 15.7.35, valid for 5 years. In this passport he has various visas and visa stamps of entry and exit to France, from the time he worked in the Civil Service. He states that he went on holiday trips to the French coast. In July 1937 he went to France and joined the International Voluntary Service. Girling states that this is a service attached to the International Red Cross. He was allegedly used for building roads in Kanton Wallis [the Swiss Canton of Vallais] near Loetschental. He was there until the end of September 1937, then went to Bern, where he spent two weeks at the house of Therese Lautenburg, Bern, Falken Höhenweg 8. He states that this is a friend from the International Voluntary Service. In October 1937, he took a bus to Spain to pick up evacuated women. That is why Girling has a visa issued by the Spanish Consul in Bern. He arrived in Barcelona on the 10.10.37. He signed up at the Servicio Internacional de los Amigos Cuaqueros [“International Service of the Quaker Friends”], where he was sent to Puigcerda on October 13, 1937 to work in the children’s evacuation center. He is in possession of a confirmation on the 12.10.37 issued by this service, signed by Alfred Jakob. In Puigcerda he was mainly used for agricultural work by the Comite Ayuda Infantil [“Children’s Aid Committee”] until early January 1938. He then went to Barcelona.

In Puigcerda he met an Austrian physician, Dr. Wallis, who was married to the daughter of a Russian who is living in Barcelona, called Kleinmann. Kleinmann is the owner of a small celluloid factory and lives in Calle Provenza 82. Through the intermediary of Dr. Wallis, Girling met this little man and settled in Barcelona with him. For his time in Puigcerda he refers to the following 2 persons:

1. Friedel Funk (Swiss), head of the Comite in Puigcerda

2. Nic Carter (American), secretary of the Comite.

He first met both people in Puigcerda. Of Funk, we have nothing to complain about, but we are currently trying to inquire about him. Of Nic Carter, we were told that he was the son of an American millionaire. We have also been warned that he is an unknown quantity, with no exact details.

Continue reading Frank’s International Brigade personnel file in the Comintern Archives: 2

Frank’s International Brigade personnel file in the Comintern Archives: 1

Frank - picture - 1I can’t quite get over how young and dreamy a c. twenty-year-old Frank looks in this photograph. It is the main image of him from his International Brigade personnel file held in the Comintern archives (now in Moscow). I was sitting in the library a few days ago when an e-mail arrived (from Fraser Raeburn – an Edinburgh PhD student working on Scottish involvement in the Spanish Civil War) with copies of the various documents held in this file. I hadn’t seen this photo – or any of the other material – before and my heart actually skipped a beat.

The file isn’t huge – but all of the information it contains is new to me (including an intriguing document that looks like a security report on Frank, in German, simply signed “Kurt” – more on this once translated). Most exciting is this, an account of how Frank ended up in Spain, including his involvement in politics before going there. It contains so much interesting (to me) new information that I don’t know where to begin… Here he is in his own words, with my thoughts below:

Continue reading Frank’s International Brigade personnel file in the Comintern Archives: 1

Puigcerdà

Excitingly, this document means that I can pinpoint where my grandparents were for at least part of their time in Spain – Puigcerdà in the Catalonian province of Girona – and now know that they were there roughly between 1937 and 1938. I previously knew that my grandmother had been looking after evacuated children somewhere in the Pyrenees, fairly close to Barcelona, and that my grandfather had come there at some point. My grandmother met Frank and others off a train;  he commented on her “funny hat” – love at first jibe apparently.

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Las Juventudes Socialistas Unificadas al pueblo de Puigcerdà y en particular a las demás organizaciones juveniles (1938)

I had had trouble working out exactly where they were before finding this document, partly due to my grandmother’s handwriting/spelling of the town’s name (as on the back of this 1937 photo of Frank, with what must be some of the evacuated children).

Continue reading Puigcerdà