An extract from A Betrayal of Heroes. Mid-1944, an entire company of Spanish Republicans, now fighting the Free French, find themselves in Pocklington, Yorkshire, waiting to the posted to Normandy.
It was May Day and the men of La Nueve had insisted on celebrating their socialism in style. They didn’t quite understand the Maypole or the Morris Dancers but they joined the pageant with a will, delighted in decorating one of the half-tracks – hastracs, as the Spaniards pronounced the word, and normally parked with precision along the grass verge on Garths End – as a float for the Queen of the May.
They’d been hugely impressed that Pocklington was so left-leaning it even had a trade union for mothers, and though Jack had tried to explain the Mothers’ Union more accurately to them, it all fell on ears he suspected might be deliberately deaf.
They had, of course, been forced to clean up the Muera Franco! slogans daubed on the brewery walls by some of the company’s younger members. Anarchists, naturally. And why not? Campos had insisted. But they had been joined in the solidarity of International Workers’ Day by three draymen, with the horses and wagons, all proudly sporting a small banner proclaiming their affiliation to the Transport and General Workers’ Union.
The Home Guard had led the parade, music courtesy of the school band, and the procession gave Jack an excuse to wear the medal ribbon he’d been presented by Sidi Muhammad. The Spaniards had livened up the normal street party fare of pies, sandwiches and cakes by cooking an enormous yellow and red paella in the Market Place, just across from Telford’s own billet at the Buck Hotel. Not quite large enough to feed Pocklington’s present five thousand, but not far short.
‘Flippin’ eck,’ the proprietor, Mrs Lumley had marvelled, ‘will tha tek a gander at yonder pan.’
He’d done better than that. A photo. One of several he’d taken during the day. Pocklington’s Spanish solidarity. And what better symbol than the paellera. It had been a joint effort, the village blacksmith helped by Ballesteros, the soldier who’d once pursued the same vocation in Priego de Córdoba. Somehow, between them, they’d even managed to procure red wine and nobody asked too many question, but seemingly from the cellars of Dalton Hall, now Leclerc’s headquarters.
Yet if they’d expected the festivities to extend even so far as teatime – a concept more mystifying to the Spanish than almost anything else they’d encountered since their arrival – they had counted without the traditional English conservative approach to fiesta. And this was even discounting the perpetual rain.