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Martin Pearce &
Ken Oxley

Probus Club Costa del Sol

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Text Box: Escape from Franco’s Spain
Churriana is a village that now overlooks Málaga airport with good road links and a fine restaurant.
When Antonio Gil Ocón moved there from Guaro in the early years of the 20th century, It was a small village of agricultural workers.  Agricultural labourers commonly worked from sunrise to sunset, earning little and faced the threat of starvation when seasonal work was unavailable.  Antonio was something of an exception. His speciality was fruit trees and the planting, pruning and training of trees brought work in most seasons of the year.  He sold his labour and expertise all over the Vega and his family usually had food on the table.  Even more surprisingly, he could read and write.  His appreciation of literature was truly rare in the labouring class of the period.  It was his literacy that really distinguished him and he loved discussing books with his close friend, the local priest.  However, his activities as secretary of the Churriana Anarcho-syndicalists and  membership of the CNT did not blend well with regular attendance at mass.
His son Antonio Gil Santaella (let’s call him Tony 2) only had two years of schooling at the village school and missed much of that as he often had to walk many km to carry food to his father but thanks to his father’s tuition he also learned to love the written word. At the age of nine years he had to start work as a swineherd but hated sleeping among the pigs.  His family contacts enabled him to join a band of youngsters who herded sheep and goats, working for free meals and nugatory monetary reward.  Later, he learned other agrarian skills too and was particularly successful in the growing of the muscatel grape and in all the stages of the preparation of raisins.
As a young man, he loved dancing and because his group of six pals had only three bicycles between them, they rode two-up to dances in Fuengirola and Torremolinos where they still found enough energy to enjoy the Tangos and Pasadobles. 
Political events in Spain in 1931 had rekindled the hope of agricultural reform and the re-allocation of land.  In this area, people known as anarchists were not bearded bomb throwers of 19th C cartoons but thinkers who tried to plan for uniform sharing of work and returns.  For a few years, some of their experiments had observable success, notably among the fishermen of Adra.
In 1934, Tony 2 found time to take a bride.  The couple were married at a civil ceremony in Málaga.  As the area came increasingly under threat from the Nationalist forces, Tony 2 and his family moved to Torox.  In February 1937, Churriana was taken and Antonio Gil Santaella was immediately shot without trial (his grave has never been located).  Tony2 realised that he too would be on the death list and left his wife and young children to escape by a mountainous inland route.  The women of left wing families were badly treated by the Franco regime but their chances of survival were greater than those of their men folk.  Tony2 travelled via Frigiliana, Almuñecar, and Salobreña to the fishing port of Adra, where the syndicalist organised fishing fleet was still beyond the reach of Franco’s forces.
Franco had always presented his fight as a crusade to save catholic Spain from the reds and probably believed his own propaganda.  Unfortunately for some, he took an almost mediaeval view of what a crusader should do and accepted that this included the elimination of the dangerous left wingers.  The infamous militias of the republican fringe movements had killed an estimated 55,000 “fascists” but having more time and power at his disposal, Franco’s
cleanup operation accounted for an estimated 150,000 “reds”.  It is no wonder that Tony2 decided that the only way to save his skin was to flee.
Franco was not the only threat in Adra as the armed Communist party also attacked the syndicalists.  For them, there was only Lenin and Marx and other systems, particularly those with intellectual pretensions, were seen as competition, ripe for eradication.
In March 1939, seventy refugees, including Tony2, left Adra in the fishing boats Quita Penas and República and sailed for Oran.  There, they were welcomed by the author Albert Camus, who was at that time a reporter for Alger Républicain.  Initially, the refugees were well treated in camps which already held many Spaniards.
After the outbreak of WW2, life changed and Tony2 found himself underfed and in a forced labour gang; working on the Trans Sahara railway and sleeping under the stars.  Tony2 could sing popular Tango songs and did get extra food by performing in the villages within walking distance of the rail tracks.  With the French armistice, the possibility of forced repatriation to Franco’s Spain was a danger so in true B.O.P. style, Tony2 joined the French Foreign Legion, under a false name of course.  There he learned French and to sing Chevaliers del la Table Ronde! 
He learned to fight as a Legionnaire and at times, fought against the German forces alongside American troops, who he chacterised as “not very brave.”  This may have been a harsh judgement.  Given that that the majority of the Americans would not have been professional soldiers or even volunteers, they may well have given a doubtful impression to an already hardened Legionnaire.
The Legion was, by tradition, a mixed bag and not all of them loved Spanish refugees.  Tony2 found it wise to desert in 1943.  He hid in Algiers until he could join the Pioneer Corps of the British army and learn English.  In WW2 the Pioneer Corps recruited nationals of many countries including German refugees, many of them Jewish; clearly a natural home for someone fleeing Franco.
Tony 2 defended trains in Algeria and Tunisia before sailing from Algiers to Glasgow in 1944.  He was stationed in Saxmundham, Suffolk on coastal defence duties until his discharge in 1946.
Once free and resident in the UK and with a job in a restaurant, he contacted his wife and daughter, who by now had a little shop in Málaga and invited them to join him in his London bedsit.  They had lived together for just three years and been apart for nearly ten but she immediately set about plotting to join him.
She made a discreet sale of her business, via intermediaries and travelled, with her daughter, to Melilla and then to Tangiers, where she negotiated visas.  A ferry took them to Gibraltar, whence they caught a plane to London.  An unexpected refuelling stop in Madrid brought the risk of arrest but Maria Luque Diaz refused so vehemently to disembark during refuelling that the cabin crew allowed her to stay on board and she arrived safely in London on June 5th 1947.
Husband and wife, together again after more than ten years, went to visit an old neighbour from the Churriana days, the Hispanophile and author Gerald Brennan.   He and his American wife, Gamel Woolsey, were living in a small village not far from Oxford.  To their surprise, he collected them from the bus stop in a horse drawn vehicle.  They told him how much they now hoped to be able to stay together in Britain.  He advised them that, since all civil marriages had been
declared void by Franco’s regime, Maria could not claim to be the wife of a UK resident; the couple took the precaution of marrying again at the Hampstead registry office on the 30th July and in due course were permitted to live as a family in Britain.
Tony2 had worked as a chef in several restaurants in the Soho area but he now applied his knowledge of French to the writings of Escoffier and improved his game.  For the last eighteen years of his career, he was the roasted meats chef at the Jungle Restaurant in Selfridges’ Bond Street store.
They took British nationality and had a British child, a son.  Despite being proud British passport holders, they created a Spanish ambiente in their home and raised their children in the Malagueño Spanish dialect as well as English.
Antonio Gil Luque, the London born son, perhaps we should call him Tony3, met one of my cousins on a teacher training course and their subsequent marriage led to my learning the story of his adventurous family.
For me, his tale painted a moving picture of courage and faithfulness among people seeking to avoid the forces beyond their control and reminded me of the fraternal conflict that so tragically cost more than half a million lives when, in Spain, the politicians couldn’t find answers to the problems of society.
It affects me more than ever now as I note that, in voting terms, the political division between the belligerent parties was really very small and I reflect that I am now living in Spain and looking back at a similar division in the country of my birth.  I do not know what the answer may be but for me at least, it is not aggressive nationalism.
Probus 12 November 2019

                    After our last luncheon I approached Martin Pearce to congratulate him for his superb  after dinner talk, and asked him If he would like me to send him some photo,s of Franco,s Tomb, he suggested that it might be better if I sent them to you to post on the web site for all members to see, therefore please find attached here 5 photo,s of Franco,s Tomb and 4 photo,s of ,Restaurant Botin reputedly Spain,s oldest licensed restaurant,also 2 photo,s of a cathedral being built outside Madrid by an 84 year old Moroccan Monk who depends entirely on donations of money from visiting tourists,waste and surplus building materials and voluntary labour I hope you might be able to make use of them.

Ken Oxley

Restaurant Botin

&

Monk’s Cathedral in Madrid

Franco’s Tomb