Father in Spain ©
most exciting and the most interesting story I ever heard was the story of my
father's season in Madrid in the spring summer of nineteen thirty seven; Madrid
besieged. There he, my dad, tangled with Hemingway. There he fell in love with
Capa's girl. "Look after her, Ted," Capa said. Ted was with Gerda Taro
that day, when she died. And Bethune, Norman Bethune, who would impact the world,
the course of history
the Brigade asked Ted to look into what was happening
with Bethune: there were rumours. Beth said, "In that case you be the Unit's
political officer, the commissar." Months later Ted would send Bethune back
to Canada. It's quite a story.
My father, Ted
Allan, made several attempts at writing his autobiography. "Look," he
said, "if I die before I finish this - I keep it here in this desk drawer
- Finish it!"
Many parts of the autobiography
needed expanding, but the story of Ted's adventure in Spain was almost all there
in one or other of his drafts and notes. So here is my take, my assemblage of
"My Father in Spain."
Ted's just twenty, soon be twenty one, and he's off to Spain to stop Franco, to
Canadian Party, in the persons of Fred Rose, had agreed to send me to Spain as
correspondent for the party newspaper, the Daily Clarion. I got my passport, and
a number of farewell parties took place to wish me bon voyage. I traveled first
to Toronto to meet with Leslie Morris, the editor of the paper. The Montreal comrades
had forgotten to check with Leslie Morris, and in the meanwhile Leslie had made
arrangements for Jean Watts to act as the paper's correspondent. Watts had come
into their office just the day before I got to Toronto. Embarrassment and apologies
all round, but I was screwed.
decided, to hell with it, I'd volunteer for the International Brigade. Fred Rose,
our party chief, insisted that I be a good boy and continue my work as the Montreal
correspondent of the Clarion.
said if he didn't okay my volunteering, I'd enlist anyway, without the Party's
permission. He warned me I could be expelled if I acted without Party permission.
said I'd risk the expulsion. Nothing and no one was going to stop me going to
Spain. I was going to participate directly in that war one way or another. If
I was to die, fine I'd die right there in Spain, but I wasn't planning to get
killed. I was planning to avoid the shells and bombs and to do some good work
broadcasting from Madrid and writing freelance for newspapers and magazines.
you join the Brigade you'll be in a bloody trench, not broadcasting from Madrid!"
finally gave in and I was off to Spain, still under party discipline, enlisted
in the International Brigade."
us cut to many weeks later, the town of Albacete, head-quarters of the International
Brigade: the new volunteers are being inducted.
afternoon we were assembled in the bull ring in Albacete. ... There were several
hundred of us. New recruits. An officer stood on an improvised wooden platform
and shouted at us with a heavy Chicago accent. He bellowed a welcome and announced
that he would now assign us to our units. He asked if anyone could drive a truck.
Several recruits spoke out or raised their hands. "Okay, you're in transport."
He marched them over to a table at the side of the arena where they would be signed
into their unit. "Okay, who knows how to operate short wave radio?"
No takers. "Okay, anyone have any medical training?" A few volunteers
selected themselves out of the trenches and moved to the side. "Okay, who
can drive a motorcycle?" A handful raised their hands. "Okay, you'll
be dispatch riders. Okay. The rest of you are infantry. You'll be the heroes."
We were marched over to a table where the rifles
would be issued, our names taken and filed, next of kin... Everyone now handed
over their passport for safe keeping. That was like a door closing. The doom of
the trenches began to drag at my stomach.
we reached the table we were reviewed one by one by the Brigade officer in command.
He introduced himself to each of us - very civilized, Peter Kerrigan, a Colonel
in the Brigade and the Political Commissar of the British battalion. Colonel Kerrigan
inquired briefly of each of us about our background. I told him I was a writer
and reporter, that I'd worked for the Clarion in Montreal, and that I was now
a correspondent for the Federated Press. He made a guttural noise, an "ah",
and paused. "We've lost lot of writers this last month. Cauldwell, Ralph
Fox. Do you know their work?"
"We need journalists," Kerrigan said.
"I may transfer you to Madrid to work as a correspondent for the Brigade."
"But I can't leave my comrades," I protested.
All of me meant this, and all of me feared that he might take me at my word.
He nodded his head tiredly. "Your protest is
noted. Believe me, I'd send you to the front if I though that was where you would
serve us best. Come and see me this evening. We will arrange your transfer."
That evening in the Brigade Headquarters I
had dinner with Kerrigan and others in command. We were joined by George Marion,
the correspondent for the London "Daily Worker" who stopped off in Albacete
on his way from Madrid to Valencia. Discovering that I was a Canadian and from
Montreal he spoke of the rumours that had been circulating in Madrid concerning
Bethune's Blood Transfusion Unit. The rumour ran that Bethune was drinking heavily
and fighting with the Spanish doctors. The morale in the unit was said to be low.
"Do you know Bethune?" Kerrigan asked
me, for he knew we were both from Montreal.
know him well. We are good friends. In fact he asked me to come and work with
him here if I had any spare time. That was when
I thought I was coming over as a reporter."
I want you to see Bethune in Madrid. Place yourself at his disposal. You're to
investigate what's going on in the Blood Transfusion Unit and report back to the
Brigade. Report to comrade Gallo directly." Gallo was the Head Political
Officer of the International Brigade. Kerrigan took out a folded sheet of paper
from the breast pocket of his uniform. "Here is your Safe Conduct pass. Find
yourself transportation to Madrid. Report to brigade headquarters there. Good
luck, and, oh, Ted! finish your dinner first and do stay for a cup of tea."
the Second Republic was founded in 1931, Spain was polarized between right wing
National Front and the left wing Popular Front. Tensions built. During the governments
of the left there were burnings of churches, and abortive military coups. During
the government of the right there were general strikes and fighting in the streets
between the fascist Falange and militants of the left. An up rising of miners
in Asturias was bloodily suppressed.
elections of February the 16th 1936 saw a narrow victory for the Popular Front.
The fascist National Front openly appealed to the military to save Spain from
Marxism. On July 17th 1936 the military revolted. The insurrection was quickly
consolidated in colonial Morocco and in extensive areas in metropolitan Spain.
Catalonia and the Basque Provinces were loyal to the government, for the Republic
guaranteed their autonomy. In Madrid and Barcelona the rank and file of the armed
forces, aided by the militias of the workers, defeated the officers. Spain was
divided in two: the Republic holding the industrial zones; the Nationalist holding
the food producing areas.
core of the Nationalist army were the battle hardened African corps under the
command of General Franco. At first their advance was irresistible. By November
the 7th 1936 Franco's armies were at the gates of Madrid. The loyalist government
fled to Valencia. Madrid was expected to fall. Only the enthusiasm of the people
of Madrid and their militias, and a remnant of the loyalist army, were left to
resist Nationalist onslaught. Arturo Barea writes, "That morning the outlying
workers' district on the other side of Segovia Bridge had been attacked by the
fascists. My sister, her husband, and her nine children had fled together with
all the neighbours, crossing the bridge under shellfire. Now the Fascist troops
were entrenched on the other bank of the river and advancing into the Casa de
Campo, the University City. From the window of the censorship office in the Telefonica
building I heard people marching out towards the enemy, shouting and singing,
cars racing past with screeching motor horns, and behind the life of the street
I could hear the noise of the attack, rifles, machine guns, mortars, guns, and
bombs. The Gran Via, the wide street in which the Telefonica lies, led to the
front in a straight line. The front came nearer. We heard its advance. Towards
two in the morning somebody brought the news that the Fascists had crossed three
bridges over the Manzanares river, the Segovia, Toledo, and King's Bridges, and
that there was hand-to-hand fighting on the campus of the City University a kilometer
here, in the University City, the Fascists were held. The next day saw the first
engagement of the foreign volunteers, the International Brigades. The lines of
the loyalist resistance became firm. The Fascists had been stopped. The siege
of Madrid began.
siege of Madrid would last for two years. During this time the centre of Madrid
was shelled regularly. The Telefonica building, a modest sky scrapper, twelve
stories high, became a primary target. In the spring of 1937 Ted Allan would make
his regular radio broadcasts to North America form this target.
February 1937 the Nationalist renewed their offensive for Madrid with a flanking
attack on the southeastern approaches to Madrid. The loyalist and the International
Brigades halted the enemy advance on the Jarama at a terrible price. This is the
backdrop for Ted's arrival in Madrid in February 1937.
Meanwhile Ted's friend
and mentor, Norman Bethune had left for Spain months before. Bethune arrived in
Madrid on the 3rd of November, just before the siege. Over the ensuing weeks Bethune
devised and began to organise the "Servicio Canadiense de Transfusion de
Sangre" to deliver blood transfusions on the battlefront. The Spanish Red
Cross, the Socorro Rojo, provided Bethune with premises to operate from, a 15
room luxuriously furnished house at 36 Principe de Vergara, a gracious boulevard
in a rich suburb. Many of the rich had fled to the Fascist held lands, and the
rich suburbs of Madrid were the safest part of the city. The Fascists did not
shell the rich or their property.
Red Cross also provided Bethune with a staff for the unit including a couple of
Spanish doctors and nurses. Meanwhile Bethune flew to Paris and then to London
to outfit the unit. He bought two station-wagons and fitted them with generators,
refrigerators and sterilization units. He returned to Madrid in early December
to set up the Unit, which went into operation in January. It was an instant success,
and a great morale booster. It gave the people of Madrid, the Madrilenos, another
way of participated directly in the resistance, by giving blood. And, along with
the International Brigades, it symbolised foreign support. But already in February
their were rumours of serious problems with morale in the Blood Transfusion Unit.
later, I might mention, much later, in China, organizing the medical services
for Mao's revolutionary forces fighting the Japanese, Bethune would become, posthumously,
perhaps the most famous person in China, after Mao tse Tung himself.
now, having left 1937 and Spain, let's travel back to Montreal a few years earlier
to Ted's story.
happened to be visiting my mother one evening in March of 1934, about a month
after my eighteenth birthday. I was very full of myself for I had recently, for
the first time, had a short story published.
telephone rang and my mother answered. "Its a Dr. Bethune wants to speak
to some Ted Allan." (Ted had just adopted the name, Ted Allan.)
swallowed, and taking the telephone's ear piece, I managed to say hello. A cheerful,
vigorous, baritone voice, speaking very clearly, said, "Norman Bethune here.
Miriam Kennedy gave me your phone number. I loved your story in New Frontier.
Just had to call and tell you. Pure gold. Is it true you're only eighteen?"
I grunted an affirmation, and Bethune continued, "I'm having a party this
coming Saturday evening. A lot of my friends will be there. I'm celebrating my
I gulped that I'd
be glad to come, thanked him, and concentrated on getting the address in my head
correctly. He said he was looking forward to meeting me, and hung up.
Beaver Hall Hill apartment was up three flights of stairs. The first thing one
noticed on entering the room were the children's paintings on the walls. Book
shelves covered two further walls from floor to ceiling. As I entered the room
Bethune made his way to greet me through the crowd, both arms outstretched. A
handshake and a quick hug. I was mesmerised.
I introduce you around," Bethune said, "there is something I want you
to do first." He led me off up a little hallway to a door. He opened the
door to the bathroom. On one bathroom wall hung all his diplomas. And the wall
facing the door was covered in handprints. By each handprint was a signature.
A pan of blue paint stood on a high stool. Bethune led me into the bathroom, took
my left hand and placed it in the bowl, in the paint. Then he directed my palm
to the wall, pressed my hand against the wall and said, "Sign it."
"Ted Allan," I wrote.
are now numbered amongst my special friends," said Beth.
Our age difference
made me shy, but in retrospect I realise I had found a surrogate father.
Ted's notes dated February 10, 1937:
arrived in Madrid exhausted. Came by truck from Albacete. No light. Difficult
driving at night.
Beth greeted me warmly, hugging
me, embracing me, laughing at the way I looked in my International Brigade uniform.
I couldn't stop my sudden weeping. With in minutes he had me sitting at a huge
dinning table: coffee, rolls, and terrible tasting margarine! Then he said, "You'll
be the political commissar of the unit."
mouth fell open. I had a sudden terrible feeling. Should I tell him that I had
come because the Brigade wanted me to report on the Blood Transfusion Unit because
of all the stories circulating? Finally I got it out, blushing. He laughed. "Great!"
he said. "Somebody should find out what's going on. I could use some help.
I hereby renew our recent appointment as Political Commissar of the Spanish-Canadian
Blood Transfusion Unit. The moment you feel you know what's going on here please
report in detail to the International Brigade, the Party, anybody you want to.
I did. Then Jim came in (Jean
Watts whom I'd met on the boat across). We hugged. Beth announced I was now Political
Commissar of the unit. Jim said, "Hah!" And then, "Well... congratulations."
Later she told me she didn't like Beth, whispering
to me in the hallway, "Can't stand him!"
I asked astonished.
"Tell you when I have a chance."
suspected that he doesn't find her attractive and this is killing her.
still haunted by the memory of that dead child I pulled out of the ruins in Albacete.
The town in flames. The noise. The nightmare of it. Me holding the dead child
and weeping and screaming. And then that peculiar sensation of seeing the words
"Something happened to me once and I wonder what it is." As if I was
that child, dead. I told Beth about it. He said, "Write it quickly before
you forget. Just get the notes down."
are huge lines outside the Servicio Building to give blood. I watched the Unit
in operation. It's very impressive.
enthusiasm, each donor gets food (don't be cynical).
slept like a log. Slept, slept, slept, in a beautiful room Beth gave me off the
I must write a dispatch for Federated
Press about the Albacete bombardment. And do a piece on the Blood Transfusion
Service. I'm now a Political Commissar with the rank of Colonel. I wonder what
the International Brigade will say to this. It's funny. Beth's done it half as
I'll have to call a meeting of the Party
1937. Damn it. I hate that man sometimes! He got drunk again last night and smashed
the door shut so hard the glass broke. He's infuriated at Culebras and his nasty,
devious manner, and at Culebras' sister. All very well. I can't blame him for
being angry, but to get so damned drunk and scream at Culebras like that in front
I told Gallo about the drinking.
Gallo is a lovely man. Being Italian and more tolerant (is that the reason) he
said he can understand Beth drinking because of the strain. All the rumours of
trouble in the Unit come from Beth losing his temper with Culebras and his sister.
Beth wants them out, but Culebras is a Party member, and the Spanish Party is
not clear about the reasons for the arguments. How does one tell them Culebras
is a prick? I think Culebras feels he should be head of the unit, because he's
a Spaniard. But Beth conceived it, invented it, created it! The whole idea of
bringing blood to the battlefield like a milk delivery system is Beth's,
I hated him last night because of his drunkenness.
It reminds me of my damned Papa.
28, 1937. Rumours of some bloody battle on the Jarama front. That's where my comrades
are, John, Milty, Dave, all the guys with me on the boat and the barracks at Albacete.
I feel guilty living the life of a Medical Worker, Foreign Correspondent, with
them in the trenches. I spoke with Beth about it last night. He said he understood
but suggested I was doing the job I knew best how to do.
1, 1937. Today I love him! He's made me cry. I woke up this morning and a brand
new typewriter was beside my bed. I've been using the Unit's typewriter. Beth
had commented, "How in hell can you call yourself a writer and not have a
"Ah, that's the rub,"
I had said.
Now I stared at the new typewriter
There was a note. "If you want to be a writer you need a typewriter. Love,
Beth." I couldn't believe it. I dashed out of the room, into his bedroom.
Ula was still there. Hah! I love her too. (Ula is a journalist from the Stockholm
Tagblat who came to interview Bethune a week ago. "An in depth interview,"
says Bethune.) She's a darling. She's leaving next week for Sweden. Culebras sister
will be pleased.
I was carrying the machine
with me. "Is this true?" I asked.
looked at me deadpan. "You need a typewriter, don't you, you ninny. One of
your own. You call yourself a writer, don't you?"
did you get such a lovely typewriter?" I asked. It was a Royal.
it sent to me from Barcelona."
out my thanks, felt like a kid, and rushed back to the room and I am typing on
it now. Beautiful machine. I'll write some good stories on it!
you Beth. (Didn't mean a word when I said I hated you. Love yah!)
5th. 1937. Just came back from Jarama. Photographer Geza Karpathi, and Herbert
Kline with me. Can't stand it. John, Dave, Milty and twenty others on the boat
with me, dead! All dead. Wiped out in some stupid attack. God.
1937. Beth says I should have a little holiday. Don't want one. Feel sick. John
dead. Milty dead. Feel sick.
Beth took me for
a walk, We were very quiet. He said very little, but I loved him for being so
sensitive. I hope I come through for him. I wish he didn't drink so much and get
so angry and irascible. It scares me sometimes.
March General Franco made another flanking move on Madrid. At Guadalajara the
International Brigades decisively defeated the motorised Italian corp that the
Nationalist had thrown into the fray, but the loyalists were unable to follow
up on their victory. The Madrid campaign remained in stalemate.
Just got back from an area near a place called Guadalajara. Beth giving blood
transfusions to wounded, dying soldiers. He was like a mother to them. He really
cares. He's fearless. Makes me frightened the way he doesn't care about bullets,
bombs, anything. I told him he's bloody suicidal. He said, "Rubbish."
On the way there in the ambulance, with me and Henning
and Geza (taking pictures), Bethune drove into enemy territory by mistake. Damned
windshield shattered by machine gun fire. Two bullets through right over Beth's
head, and mine! I dived to the floor of the ambulance.
opened the door and jumped out. Beth leisurely brought the ambulance to a stop.
I could have killed his calmness. Geza was white with fear, and I was giggling
at him, probably hysterical. Christ, what a terrible soldier I am! I get petrified
at the sound of bombs, gunfire, any sudden noise. Henning had dived into the ditch
first, me on top of him and Geza on top of me. More machine gun bullets and a
bloody enemy tank, an Italian tank coming towards us. I couldn't believe my eyes.
And Beth? Shouting at us angrily, "Get out
of that ditch. We've got four cases of blood! Get them out!"
great reluctant heroes, Henning, Geza, and myself crawled out of the ditch to
help Beth carry the cases of blood into the ditch, the bloody machine gun still
at us. How in hell did he stay so calm and cool? He wasn't putting on any act,
unless being so cool under fire is an act. Henning, Geza, and I were infuriated
at him for driving us into enemy territory in the first place, and then calmly
making us look like three cowering idiots.
blood was safe for the moment, but the tank kept coming and I said, "Shit,
we're going to be massacred."
necessarily," Beth said. "They'll see our medical insignias (Socorro
Rojo) and just take us prisoner."
from out of nowhere a Republican tank appears and then another and then another
and the Italian tank turns and skidoos.
out of the ditch. Spanish soldiers surround us and cheer and help us put the blood
back into the ambulance.
And then Bethune administering
the transfusions an hour later to these badly wounded kids. God, they don't look
more than 18 or 19. They look so young, crying "Madre mi madre". Beth
putting his hand to their foreheads, giving them cigarettes.
I hate him. Sometimes I love him.
learned from Bethune that throughout his life Bethune might wake at night from
a nightmare, not knowing where he was, but in panic and often with a compulsion
to travel, to move somewhere, anywhere. So in Madrid, on occasion, Bethune would
drive off in the middle of the night in the one of the Unit's station wagons,
the ambulances. "Once he didn't stop until he reached Valencia. He was gone
five days without anybody knowing where he was." This behaviour did not help
the smooth running of the hospital, and put Ted, as Bethune's friend and confidant,
and Political Officer of the unit, in an awkward position.
main problem within the unit, however, flowed from the friction between Bethune
and the Spanish doctors. "Culebras, was a pain in the ass. He would insist
on having his afternoon siestas no matter what was going on." No emergency
would shift him from the leisurely manner he saw as his right. For Bethune such
self-indulgence was totally unacceptable. Culebras' wife work in the Unit's blood
laboratory, and his sister was a nurse with the Unit. All were members of the
Communist Party, which gave them a certain degree of tenure. They were immovable.
Bethune, however, felt the matter was more than a clash of personality or culture,
more than petty obstruction. Bethune felt that Culebras was a fascist sympathiser
and an active saboteur. But Bethune was hardly rational. He drank like a fish.
Ted could understand, but not excuse, the drunken binges. But Bethune seemed insane
when he maintained that even the mild mannered and inoffensive Dr. Gonzales was
a fascist saboteur.
was popular with his patients and with the common people. He was viewed him as
a symbol of Internationalism. But he made enemies easily. Jean Watts told Ted
she thought Bethune was "egocentric to the extent of mania. Really quite
crazy. Completely insensitive. I hate him." Arturo Barea, the censor, describes
how "Doctor Norman Bethune, the dictatorial chief of the Canadian Blood Transfusion
Unit, came stalking into the room with his escort of lumbering, embarrassed young
helpers." Bethune had found some correspondence in German in the house on
Principe de Vergara. It turned out to be rather innocuous inconsequential letters
from some time before, but Barea says Bethune insisted on making an issue of it.
"In immaculate battle dress, his frizzy grey hair slicked back on his long,
narrow head, he stood there swaying slightly on his feet and proclaiming that
he would take these important paper - his own treasure trove - to Alvarez del
Vayo, in the blood Transfusion van."
indeed, Bethune was a handful. What was Ted to do? Nothing for the moment.
in March 1937 Ted visited Valencia. Then on March the 30th, as Ted was about to
return to Madrid, Constancia de la Mora, who was in charge of the government press
bureau, asked Ted if he would mind sharing his car with an American reporter,
the correspondent for Colliers magazine, who was looking for a ride to Madrid.
following is from Ted's notes dated "1946", and titled "Hemingway".
"Constancia is an incredible woman.
She wrote a book that some of you may remember, "In Place of Splendour".
She was in charge of propaganda for the Spanish government. Her husband was the
head of the Spanish airforce, whatever there was of it.
asked if I would take some reporter to Madrid. I made a face to indicate that
I was not too keen on sharing the car. She told me, "You will not be sorry
when you see her."
"In that case,
by all means," I said.
and then frowned. "There is a man, an acquaintance of her's, to travel too."
I shrugged. "C'est la guerre."
next morning in the lobby of the Hotel Victoria, Constancia introduced me to Martha
Gellhorn. Martha was a very attractive young blond lady, in her mid or late twenties,
quite striking looking. She came out of a cultured and comfortable background,
highly educated, and had been working now many years as a writer and journalist.
Her latest novel, "The Trouble I've Seen", which had been published
the summer before, was highly acclaimed. I didn't know all this at the time, just
that she had a wonderful smile, beautiful hair, and a great figure. I absolutely
flipped. Constancia told me that Martha had just arrived and didn't know too much
about the war, so Constancia asked me to brief her on policy matters.
car arrived. The driver opened the door and a man stepped out whom Constancia
introduced to me as Sidney Franklin. Sidney was an American bullfighter with quite
a reputation in Spain. On the way to Madrid when we stopped in a village, the
word spread like wildfire. Children tagged after him, grown-ups stood about entranced,
and even the mayor came out to shake his hand. You know, he may have been the
only Jewish bullfighter in history. Sidney and Martha may have been acquaintances,
but I had my brief, to fill Martha in on the background of the war, so Sidney
sat in front seat beside our Spanish chauffeur.
and I settled in the back seat and I gave her a brief history of the war. We felt
very comfortable together, hit it off immediately, and soon found ourselves almost
sitting in each other laps, giggling and cuddling for
warmth under the baleful eyes of Sidney Franklin, who turned around frequently
with a disapproving glare. It was a long trip. Martha and I spent nearly the whole
journey kissing and necking.
When we got to
Madrid I had to go to the Blood Transfusion Unit: she had to go to the Hotel Florida.
I asked, "When will I see you?"
said, "Whenever you want".
"In a couple of hours."
So a couple of hours later
I was in her hotel room. I asked her, "Have you got the key to the door?"
The various hotels I've had been in in Madrid always needed a key to lock the
She kept smiling. She said, "No."
I said, "For Christ's sake. I know you
have the key. I want to close the door."
kept smiling. It appeared that this door did not need a key to be locked.
So we were sitting on the bed, and there's a knock
on the door. It opens, and there's this big man I've never met, but I've seen
pictures of Ernest Hemingway. He went, "Oh!"
said, "Oh, come in. This is uh, Ted."
I looked at her. He stared at me, and she said, "I'll
see you later, okay Ted?"
26th, 1993. Ted is seventy seven. It is 56 years later. Ted is with his young
friend, Helen. (Is it or isn't it an affair? Helen says no.) They are recording
their conversation on tape. Ted feels the conversations are, in part, hilarious,
and that they may be able to write a comedy from this material. Much of the material,
however, is dry and serious. In the following section Ted's doing most of the
come to the conclusion that I exude a certain kind of scent, a certain kind of
chemistry, because women and men are more influenced by smell than any other factor,
I'm convinced of it. So I must have had a powerful scent that I exuded, otherwise
I can't explain why women have found me attractive. This thought is being triggered
by what Merrily Weisborn told me this morning, that Martha Gellhorn told her when
she was interviewing her for the documentary (on Ted). Martha Gellhorn told her
that when she met me in Valencia - I was then 21 years old, she was 27 (Gerda's
age) - I was exceptionally handsome. I looked like a gypsy. My eyes were sparkling,
and she had an instant crush on me. We cuddled in the car all the way from Valencia
to Madrid. She's the woman who married Hemingway, and happens to be one of the
finest writers alive today.
She then revealed
something to Merrily that I'd forgotten, and that was that Sidney Franklin, the
bullfighter, threatened me in Madrid, and said if I saw Martha again he would
attend to me, and he scared me. It may have influenced me, coz he was a big bruiser.
Sydney Franklin and Hemingway were close friends. They had traveled to Spain together.
Bullfighting and machismo bound them. I didn't see too much of Martha, but that
was mostly because Hemingway was jealous and keeping her under lock and key.
we read in Kert's "Hemingway's Women" an account of Martha Gellhorn's
first days in Madrid : "After her arrival in Madrid, Ernest tried to take
charge of Martha in ways that were sometimes heavy-handed. On her second night,
during a heavy bombardment, she woke up and, seeking company, found her door locked
from the outside. She banged and shouted but to no avail. Finally, when the shelling
stopped a hotel employee unlocked the door. Who had locked it, she wondered. She
located Ernest in someone's room playing poker. He had locked it, he admitted
sheepishly, so that no man could bother her."
From Ted's notes written
in Spain, 1937:
and I met Hemingway today. Beth and Hemingway hated each other at first sight.
But I like Martha Gellhorn. Mmm. So did Bethune. Mmm.
Robert Capa and his girl friend Gerda Taro. Yum Yum. Beth and I giggled at one
another after we left them.
beautiful?" I said.
"A delicious thoracic
creation," he said.
"Make that ditto," he said.
to Ted's "Hemingway" notes:
the correspondents used to eat in a restaurant on the Grand Via. Lunch, not dinner.
And the next day sure enough there was Hemingway and Martha sitting there. There
was every well known writer in the world around that table at the time. Everybody
was there except Shakespeare. It was incredible. And she, Martha - Hemingway was
very possessive about her. It turned out that he was expecting to marry her.
She hadn't mentioned this. Franklin had told Hemingway
that we had been necking in the back of the car, so his attitude to me, right
from the beginning, was not friendly.
I was twenty one at the time. He was in his mid
or late forties. He had not yet written "For Whom the Bells Toll", of
course, but he had been one of my heroes as a writer. I had loved his short stories
and I had loved his novels "The Sun Also Rises" and "A Farewell
to Arms". He was already world famous by this time. He was the correspondent
in Spain for the North American Newspaper Alliance and was writing marvelous stuff.
I was sending cables to the trade unions wire-service,
Federate Press. I was also just beginning to broadcast regular radio reports to
The head censor in Madrid was
a man called Arturo Barea who worked with his wife, Ilsa. Barea met with the foreign
corespondents once a week. He would refer to various dispatches he thought were
special or important and everyone would be very excited.
afternoon Barea started to read what he said was "one of the most vivid,
the most exciting dispatch ever written." Before he started to read we all
automatically turned to Hemingway because that description could only describe
something Hemingway had written. I thought, "What a moment. What a historic,
After the first lines
three of us knew that it wasn't Hemingway's piece. Barea was reading the article
I had sent that morning describing the bombardment at Albacete, and everybody
was going, "Oh, fantastic," looking at Hemingway, and saying, "Great,"
and I thought, "Holy shit." Hemingway was trying to wave off the compliments,
"No, no!" but nobody knew. Finally when it was over they all jumped
up, "It's great. It's Fantastic. It's..." and Hemingway said, "I
didn't write it." And Barea said, "No, no! Ted Allan!"
after that Hemingway asked me if he could read my short stories. I said, "Would
He said, "Yeah."
I said. "I'll get them," and I got up to leave.
said, "Great. Bring them to the hotel"
ran back to the Blood Transfusion Institute and picked up the several short stories
I had with me in Spain, and ran to his room at the Florida Hotel. I gave him the
stories and I thought, "Oh God. This is fantastic. He's gonna read my stories."
I waited and waited. It took a week or so and one
day at lunch he said, in front of everybody, "I read your stories, kid."
guess I don't have anything to worry about."
said, "Yeah, well I didn't think you'd have anything to worry about."
"Yeah," he said. "You know what you
should do with your stories?"
He said, "You should put then
away for ten to twenty years, and then come back to them."
said, "Yeah, okay, thanks."
And this was at the lunch table with
everybody listening. I thought he was being pretty shit ass.
A few days
later I was at the Hotel Florida and there he was at the bar. "Hi. Hi, kid."
All the rest of them called him Poppa or Uncle. Bethune and I were the only ones
who called him "Mr. Hemingway."
both went down to the toilets to pee. As we were peeing in the urinals, the hotel
was hit by a shell. Now the Florida Hotel was hit by shells one or two times a
week. And it shook. We were peeing, and Hemingway said, "Well, one of the
good things about the shells hitting this hotel is it's getting rid of the Jews."
I said, "What do you mean, it's getting rid
of the Jews?"
"Well, I heard Herb
Kline was leaving." And he mentioned three Jewish guys who had been in the
hotel and they were leaving.
I said, "Didn't
you know I was Jewish?"
He said, "Oh
Christ, I didn't remember you were Jewish."
said, "Yeah, I'm Jewish."
"Oh shit." He then said to me, this was after the peeing, "Hey
kid, if you ever write a novel, I don't care what it is, I'll write a preface
I said, "Oh, great."
in New York, Ted brought Hemmingway his first novel, This Time a Better Earth.
"I gave him the novel when he
and his wife, Martha Gellhorn, were in a New York hotel. He said he'd read it
that night. When I came back next day he said, "I read it. Gerda was a whore.
I'm not writing a preface for this rubbish."
Martha came out with me, closed the door and said, "He's so full of shit.
He's so full of shit. I'll tell you something quick: he can't fuck. He goes in,
he's finished and boom it's over. Okay, have I made it up to you?"
said, "Not really."
So much for Hemingway.
few years into the twenty-first century I got a call from a doctoral student researching
"Canadian writing on Spanish Civil War". He wanted to discuss the possibility
of re-issuing This Time a Better Earth. I mentioned that Ted came to call
the work Next Time a Better Book.
I found it a page turner," he said. "You know that both Ted's book,
published in 1939, and Hemingway's Spanish Civil War book (For Whom The Bells
Toll), published in 1940, start with the hero riding in the back of a truck
coming into Spain over the Pyrennes"
told him that Hemingway had refused to write a promised preface for the novel.
interesting," he said. "There were two copies of This Time a Better
Earth in Hemingway's library when he died."
in Spain, in the Civil War, Ted split his time between working with Bethune at
the Blood Transfusion Unit and living the life of a war correspondent in the besieged
city. Madrid, the centre of the world. Rubbing shoulders with Hemingway, Dos Passos:
"everyone but Shakespeare".
the spring Ted suggested to Gallo
Gallo was the nom du guerre of Luigi Longo
who many years later would succeed Togliati as head of the Italian Communist Party.
Gallo, as we've mentioned, was Chief Political Commissar of the International
Brigade, and Ted was reporting to him about Bethune. Ted suggested to Gallo that
he might broadcast reports from Madrid to North America. Gallo approved. This
took Ted to the Telefonica building, that landmark and target, every night in
the midnight hours so that his broadcasts would reach the East Coast of America
in the evenings.
this period Herbert Kline and Geza Karpathi were making a documentary of Bethune's
work, "The Heart of Spain". Meanwhile that other "publicity hound",
Hemingway, was making his documentary, "Spanish Earth." Photographers
Robert Capa and Gerda Taro (Capa's beautiful companion, whom Hemingway is reported
to have called a "femme fatale") were involved in this project. We'll
meet them later.
at the Blood Transfusion Unit, tension continued to grow. Two more Spanish doctors,
a haematologist, and a bacteriologist, joined the unit. With this Culebras gained
some success in his campaign to "democratise" the Institute, to achieve
more Spanish control. In practice what this amounts to was a bureaucrification,
a proliferation of rules and paper, restrictions on Bethune's freedom of action.
responded stormily. Ted had already seen him slam a door so hard its glass window
shattered. Now he watched Bethune hurl a heavy glass ashtray across the room at
Culebras. When the innocuous Dr. Gonzales inadvertently spilled a bottle of blood,
Bethune growled, "Idiot". That's a word the Spaniard recognise, and
it had a chilling effect. Gonzales was mortified. All possibility of professional
cooperation seemed ruptured. By this time everyone else had already turned against
Bethune. Now, even for the young Ted Allan, his hero had lost most of his luster.
and Culebras' antagonism was becoming impossible. After a few more drunken tantrums,
broken windows, thrown chairs, flung ashtrays, another episode absconding in the
night with an ambulance, I began to find myself allied with those Bethune called
"the misfits and the shits". I saw him, not as a loving mentor, but
as a drunkard and a publicity seeker. I agreed now that he must leave the Unit,
and wrote a full report, copies to the Brigade in Madrid and to the Party in Canada,
suggesting Bethune be sent back to Canada. In Spain he was a liability. At home
he could be of service speaking and raising money for the Spanish Aid Committee.
A.A. MacLeod and William Kashtan of the Canadian
Communist Party traveled to Madrid to investigate. The day that they arrived and
phoned me, Bethune, sober for a change, was planning to leave for Valencia to
buy, he said, some medical supplies. Any excuse to get away, because we all knew
there were no medical supplies in Valencia. I suggested MacLeod and Kashton come
to the Unit the following morning and be present at a meeting of the Unit's personnel
to hear it all for themselves first hand.
meeting next morning went its inevitable way, one speaker after the other telling
MacLeod and Kashton how impossible a man Bethune had become with his drinking
and whoring. Admittedly he had done wonderful work at the beginning, but he seemed
to have degenerated into an incurable and unpleasant alcoholic.
took the floor. "We all know he's a son of a bitch..." I began. I didn't
get much further. Some drapes that walled off an alcove parted and, from their
folds, out stepped Bethune. He had not gone to Valencia as he had said he intended,
but had hidden that morning behind these curtains in the room where we held our
meeting. He glared at me.
"Thank you comrades
for your expressions of trust and loyalty. I appreciate it. Especially from you."
His countenance was withering. Beneath the steal of his stare, hurt and humiliation
were too painful to conceal. My shock and embarrassment left me speechless.
He turned to MacLeod and Kashton. "I am happy
to resign from the Blood Transfusion Service, but I see no advantage in returning
to Canada. I can be used here as a surgeon. I will join one of the Brigades medical
MacLeod said they could discuss
all this in private. I persuaded MacLeod and Kashton that it appeared that Bethune
could not handle himself at this time in Spain; that he should be ordered home
where he could be of more use. Eventually Kashton and MacLeod persuaded, or ordered,
or in any event prevailed upon Bethune. Bethune returned to Canada to tour and
lecture promoting the Spanish cause.
would go on to write the first biography of Bethune: "The Scalpel, The Sword",
published in 1952. It was a eulogy - that seemed to Ted and his collaborator to
be politically appropriate at that time - but the book troubled me. Bethune is
portrayed as a man of exceptional energy, drive, ambition, talent, intellect,
and charisma, and the moral of the biography seemed to be - seemed to me when
I first read it at the age of twenty - that if you had that exceptional talent,
energy, et cetera, why then you could make a contribution. But if you're black,
get back... I didn't like this Bethune. I felt he had nothing for me, nothing
of help to me.
the years, listening, talking to my father, I got a different picture of Bethune.
I learned the details of my father's relationship with Beth, which were not then
in print. My father was, in some sense, a protégé of Bethune's.
They were almost like father and son. "He turned into my father, crazy Harry"
said Ted, "I felt that he had betrayed me." Listening to my father tell
the stories on memorable nights in his apartment in Putney above the river, looking
down through the grey to the Thames, I met another Bethune: a man whose passion
and foibles constantly had him falling on his ass, but a man who every time he
fell, wiped off the dust and insisted on trying again. The best, or at least the
biggest example of this was the model hospital in China. Bethune insisted that
the Mao's guerrilla army build a model hospital. He insisted that this was the
only way he could train the Chinese in modern medical methods. And so the guerrilla
army pored enormous energy and effort into the construction of a model hospital.
The partisans took a tremendous pride in this accomplishment. However, within
three week of it completion, just as the Chinese had predicted, it was destroyed
by the Japanese. Now this was a catastrophe that Bethune did not cast off lightly.
He was devastated. But he learned from it, and used it as a spring board for his
great accomplishments in China, and not least for remolding himself. I believe
Bethune developed a receptivity and sensitivity out of this passage. This man,
a man wrestling with his weaknesses, is a man that I can try to use as a model.
At the end of May, 1937,
Bethune was sent home from Spain, publicly a hero, privately humiliated.
is a scar on my heart!" Bethune wrote to his ex-wife, Frances.
sometimes wondered whether he had betrayed Beth, but I think Ted just played in
earnest the part Bethune had given him: he was Bethune's Political Commisar and,
ultimately, Beth's return to Canada was in Beth's best interest and the best interest
of the antifascist cause.
July 22, 1969. Putney, London. I sit here waiting for interruptions..." Looking
out at the river Thames. Ted's third story flat overlooked the grey river, through
a north facing studio window that reached from the ceiling almost to the floor.
No interuptions came, so Ted continued. "...
Hot sun. Madrid. July 22, 1937, Thirty-two years to the day. She was twenty-seven
and looked younger. I thought she was my age. I was twenty-one and looked older.
She was pretty. I wasn't sure about me. She was a photographer for
the Parisian newspaper, Ce Soir, and her work had been featured in Life Magazine.
The man she was with was also a photographer, already famous: black-eyed, handsome
Robert Capa. His photograph of a loyalist soldier- just hit, falling, caught in
the act of dying, his dropped rifle still in the air - was already a symbol of
war. Gerda, Capa and myself had become good friends. When Capa returned to Paris
on business he said to me in his heavy Hungarian accent, "I leave Gerda in
your charge, Teddie. Take good care of her." I was flattered.
three to four weeks Gerda and I spent mornings, afternoons and evenings together
chasing stories of interest -
battlefields, orphanages, women lining up for bread. Driving to or from the front
we would sing. She taught me many songs; "die Moorsoldatan", "Freihejt!".
Her favourite song was "Los Quatros Generalis" in which we laughed at
the four insurgent generals and praised the spirit of Madrid's resistance. Gerda
was always joyful, always laughing. For three or four weeks, we were constant
companions. And finally, one afternoon, we ended up in her hotel room.
afternoon in late July. The twenty-second. A Tuesday. I had brought Gerda my short
stories to read. I sat on a chair trying to look unconcerned. She read slowly.
Finally she looked up. "You're good," she said. I felt dizzy.
walked to the bathroom, slipped off her shirt and skirt, undressing to her underwear.
She returned to the room brushing her teeth, seemingly unaware of her state of
undress. She wandered back to the bathroom to rinse her mouth, and ambled back
into the room again.
"Your very good,"
she repeated, staring at me. I tried not to look at her bra or panties.
lay down on the bed. I sat in my chair.
you feel like taking a nap before we go to dinner?" she asked.
moved to the bed, removed my shoes, and lay beside her, making sure our bodies
did not touch. I lay there stiffly and watched the ceiling. She turned and touched
my right eye-lid with her finger tip. "A man shouldn't have such eyes."
I thought she meant I had woman's eyes.
touched my cheek, then lay back and burst out, "I'm not going to fall in
love again! It's too painful." She sounded irritated.
do you mean?"
"I loved someone. A
boy in Prague. Killed by the Nazi. It's too painful." She took a deep breath.
"You don't love Capa?" I asked, puzzled.
"I do love Capa, but not the way I loved Georg.
I don't want to love anybody like I loved Georg. Capa is my friend, my copain."
She looked at the ceiling. I studied her small nose
and perfect mouth, her golden-red hair. Our bodies still were not touching. I
moved away from her quickly when my hip touched hers. I tried not to move or make
a sound. I hadn't understood what she was saying. I didn't understand anything
that afternoon. We lay like that for many long seconds. Then she placed her hand
on my stomach, looked at me with a serious expression, and moved her hand to my
thigh, near my groin.
"Do you like being
I nodded, quickly, twice.
I held my breath. She took my hand and placed it in her groin. "I like to
be touched there too."
I caressed her gently,
carefully, hardly moving. Then I withdrew my hand and stared at the ceiling again.
We lay there, neither of us moving. "She's
Capa's girl," I thought. "He placed her in my charge." We had been
dear friends for a month now, she and I. I wondered if it might be alright to
turn and gently kiss her on the cheek like a friend, but I didn't dare.
turned on her side and studied me. "You're incredible," she said. She
sat up. "I'd better dress." She looked at me, touched my cheek, bent
down and kissed my forehead, smiling a smile I did not understand. She kept glancing
"Why is she looking so sad?"
I asked myself
She got out of bed and started
dressing. I lay still on the bed, numb.
finished dressing. I put on my shoes, and sat there. "Are you going to marry
She shook her head. "I told
you, he's my copain, not my lover. He still wants us to marry, but I don't want
I sat on the edge of the bed unable
to move. She stood in front of me. I felt like crying, and smiled to hide it.
She touched my head. I said, "He acts like you are lovers. He put you in
my charge. He asked me to take care of you."
sighed. "Yes. He was clever. He saw how I looked at you."
heard myself saying, "My mother will love you."
don't want to live in Montreal," she answered. "We'll live in New York."
We said no more, but went to dinner.
think I was in shock.
Capa wired from Paris that he might have to travel
to China. Gerda thought she might visit him in Paris before he left. Maybe she
would go to China with him. Maybe I would join her in Paris before she left or
when she got back. Nothing was settled. Everything was possible.
morning, July 27, 1937, the sun burst through my window and woke me up before
Gerda phoned. I could hear the Madrilenos going to work. Women carrying baskets
hurried to get a good place in the food queues. The morning papers lay on my bed
and I read that there had been heavy fighting yesterday near Brunete. The village
of Brunete had been entered twice by the fascists and retaken twice by our troops.
The situation was in flux.
The telephone rang.
Gerda had arranged to have a car take her to the front at Brunete. Did I want
Gerda was waiting beside the car. She
wore khaki overalls and her reddish hair was all over the place.
driver was French. He could speak American, not English. "Okeedokee"
was the word he knew. The sun became stronger and the car became hotter. "Let's
sing," sang Gerda. "Okeedokee," sang our chauffeur.
sang songs in many languages till we got tired of singing.
stretched her arms and yawned happily. "Well, I must get some good pictures
to take to Paris. If they are still fighting near Brunete it will be my chance
to get some action pictures."
not go too close," I said.
you want me to take pictures? Long distance?"
"Are you frightened?"
"Yes. Aren't you?"
The chauffeur brought
the car to a stop near Brunete. "Okay, there!" he said pointing towards
the village. We walked though a rolling wheat field. Everything was strangely
"Where are the lines?" I asked.
"Right in front. In the back of the hill,"
Gerda answered. She had an instinct for such matters.
close," I said.
The General, with a few of his adjutants
in tow, was walking towards his dugout. General Walters: we had interviewed him
the week before. He did not seem glad to see us now. "Of all days to come,"
he groaned. "You must go away immediately. Go back. Go right back!"
He stepped forward right into my face. "Get her away from here."
"What!" she complained. "I am going
to Paris tomorrow. This is my last chance. I must stay!"
the General yelled. "Take her away from here. Go immediately. I can't be
responsible for you. In five minutes there will be hell!" Then General Walker
dismissed us from his attention, and marched off to his headquarters.
"You can go. I'm staying."
"But the General said..."
hell with the General." She was adamant.
I conceded, "okay. You're crazy. Let's find some cover. There are some dugouts
on the hillside there."
We snuggled into
a hole barely big enough to hide our two asses. We waited, looked around. Other
soldiers were precariously dug in around us. Then we heard the drone of planes.
We could see a flight, like geese, perhaps twelve bombers in formation. You could
see the tiny pursuit planes flying like flies around the bombers. Their drone
became louder, became a roar. They moved so slowly, one felt they might stop in
mid-air. They didn't stop. They disgorged their shit on us. The bombs fell so
quickly. Then it thundered, black clouds billowing, about a hundred yards in front
of us. It thundered again and again.
busy taking pictures. I was trying to see what I could use to dig the hole deeper,
while the thunder roared and the earth showered around us.
your head down!" she yelled at me.
I put it? I can't put it into my chest."
it down! Put it down!"
I don't think I
can find words to fit the confusion and the fear, dirt, dust, the acrid smoke.
And then the air cleared. The stuttering drone of the planes became dimmer.
"Are you all right?" I asked.
me? Sure. You?"
Heads began to appear from the foxholes, soldiers,
some grinning, some grim. But all to soon the planes returned. Their drone grew
again to a roar. In relays they bombed the government lines, bombed us for an
hour or more. Meanwhile the artillery shell came too without interruption. It
was three o'clock when the bombardment had started. Now, an eternity later, it
was suddenly quiet. Gerda asked me the time. "Four."
must have looked ludicrous trying to hide in that shallow hole. I'm sure my head
and ass showed above the ground. Gerda somehow managed to get her feet underneath
mine, but that was little protection.
they come again you had better watch your head," she said. "Shrapnel,
"I know. But you're taking
pictures and your head is above the ground."
but I must take pictures and you don't have to."
we heard the drone of aircraft, this time, though, with a different timbre. A
flight of bi-planes flying low swung towards the road not far behind us. Gerda
clicked her Leica.
The first plane turned on
its side and bellied in low. We heard the rat-tat-tat of machine gun fire. One
by one the bi-planes strafed us, nine planes in all, and with barely an interruption
the first came back to make a second pass. Then the bombers came and bombed the
lines again, and still the artillery shells fell round us. "It must end sometime,"
I said to break out of my shock. Gerda didn't answer. She took pictures of the
smoke and black earth which heaved with each bomb. She took pictures of the dust
and white smoke which came from the shells. She took picture after picture, and
I crouched there.
Suddenly she said with urgency,
"Scheise! Put your head down." The planes swung right at us. They must
have seen her camera flashing in the sun. It had become personal. We were their
specific target. The lead plane came gently towards us. There was a surge to the
sound of its engine, and a stuttering flashing through the propellers, and the
earth in front of our foxhole jumped in spurts. Gerda, unshaken, took pictures
of the planes as they came down on and over us.
the roll is finished." She rolled on to her back, and started to change films.
The planes roared over just a few yards above us. Gerda's movie camera, in its
leather case, lay just beside the foxhole I grabbed for the movie camera and held
it above her head to protect her from the machine gun bullets. "Don't be
silly," she hissed. "I may lose my film." But the earth from the
strafing flew all over us, splattering us, and she allowed me to continue holding
the camera over her head..
I wanted something
to protect my face. I grabbed a clod of earth and held it on my head. I heard
a suppressed giggle. Gerda's body was shaking. "If you could only see yourself,"
The nightmare continued: bombs,
machine-guns, shells. Cacophony. At about half past five, suddenly on the slope
in front of us we saw men running back towards us. They were retreating all up
and down the line. If that were possible, it seemed the bombardment intensified.
We saw men blown into the air, just like in the movies, but real, just there in
front of us. You could touch it. Gerda put another roll into her Leica and rolled
over to shoot the onrushing retreat. I felt desperate. I didn't know what was
more maddening then, the planes or her camera.
section of the lines was orderly and the retreat went comparatively smoothly.
But a retreat is a retreat, and even though it was not a rout, there was confusion.
Men get panicky and run anywhere as long as they run. In front of us a few took
position with there guns pointed back towards the enemy, and seemed to dare anyone
to pass them. This stopped the panic. The lines reformed.
for godsakes," I pleaded.
while the planes are still strafing. It would be silly to go now. It will be quiet
soon. And anyways, I have one roll left."
was quiet. Very quiet. Here and there a figure moved. A cool breeze came down
from the mountains. The wheat swayed gently.Above the hills clouds puffed and
drifted by in a azure sky. The countryside looked serene.
lets go," she said abruptly.
"Yes, I'm tired."
got out of our rut, our foxhole. We walked back through a meadow away from the
front. The division's doctor, a blond haired man in a bloodied uniform, overtook
us. He looked worn out. All his equipment had been lost in the retreat. We spoke
in English, he with a Scottish accent, as we walked through the fields towards
Villanueva de la Canada. The lines had reformed between the two villages, Brunete
and Villanueva. We joined and followed the road. Beside the road lay the dead
and wounded. Some groaned and begged for water. Some lay silent. Gerda had no
The planes came again. We flung ourselves
underneath an overturned truck. But the planes passed over. They weren't looking
We reached Villanueva de la Canada.
It stank.Two men were sitting beside a wounded comrade.
come. Our friend is badly hurt."
was tired. "I've got nothing. Nothing. No bandages. Nothing."
look at him."
The doctor went over to the
wounded soldier and lifted the blanket. The legs looked as if they had gone through
a meat-grinder. The man made no sound.
passed - one of ours, of course - we stopped it, and put the wounded man on it,
and then jumped on ourselves. There were four tanks behind us. Clumsy looking
animals. Some planes came flying over again. They dived. Tat-tat-tat-tat.
"Silly getting killed now after going through
what we did."
they can't hit a thing," said Gerda.
tank was hot. It snorted and wheezed, made lots of noises, and swung from side
to side. We held on tightly.
A white house beyond
Villanueva served as a dressing station. We took the wounded man off the tank.
The doctor found a car, and rushed away to get ambulances. Not rational, that.
Anyone could have gone on that errand, and he could have stayed with the wounded.
The wounded were dragging themselves, or being carried, to the dressing station.
The five tanks we had come with had stopped right beside the medical station.
That was silly. A marvellous target for planes.
the camera?" Gerda asked.
A large black touring car came down the road. We
stopped it and asked for a lift as far as El Escorial.
We jumped on the running board.
"Gerda, you go on the other side."
"Why? It is big enough. We can both stay here."
She put her cameras on the front seat of the car.
There were three wounded men inside. "Salud."
She took a deep breath. "Boy, that was a day.
I feel good. The lines reformed. I got wonderful pictures. And you? You have a
good story, yes?" she shouted above the wind.
but next time I cover the war from the press office. I can describe it better
"Tonight we'll have a
farewell party in Madrid. I've bought some champaigne. Then perhaps we'll see
each other in Paris. In any event, I am going to China with Capa soon."
"I'd like to go to China too," I said.
There was some confusion ahead of us. A tank was
approaching. It had been strafed by a Nationalist plane and was driving irratically
weaving across the road. Our car swung to the left to avoid it. "Hold on,"
The car went out of control; began to roll. Then I was on the
road. Then I knew that both my legs were off. Then I knew they weren't. I saw
blood on my right leg. And the pants torn on my left. There was no pain.
Two soldiers ran towards me and dragged me towards
"Donde esta mujere! Mujere! Mujere!"
Then I saw her. I saw her face. Just her face. The
rest of her body was hidden by the overturned car. She was screaming. Her eyes
looked at me and asked me to help her. But I could not move. There was no pain,
but I could not move.
The tank was quiet now.
It had swung around and now it was quiet. The young Spanish driver looked at us.
He was frightened.
The planes came. The man
beside me dropped down to huddle in the ditch. The other pulled me into the ditch.
Everyone ran for the fields.
are you? Gerda."
The planes went by.
"Donde esta mujere?"
been put into an ambulance," someone told me.
you sure? Es Verdad?"
"And her camera? Where is her camera?"
"Yo no sai."
brought me a brown cloth belt. It was crumpled and the wooden buckle was broken
into little pieces. "It is hers," said the someone.
is the car?" I asked.
"Yo no sai."
Then I began to feel the pain. "Agua. Water,
I need water." But no one had water.
put me on a stretcher and placed me in an ambulance.
was no water.
The pain became heavier. I held
the brown belt in my hands.
We stopped at a
dressing station. "Did they bring a woman here, a small pretty woman with
"Woman? There was no
They gave me water. I looked at
my watch. It read six-thirty. I put it to my ear, but it did not tick. It had
stopped. "Six-thirty. That's when we were hit."
said the man beside me.
"Nada. Como esta?"
How are you?
"Just a machine-gun bullet
in the thigh," he said.
It was growing
dark. I still held the belt in my hand. It was becoming wet from sweat. At some
point I fainted or slept. I remember someone slapping me awake. Then the hospital
at El Escorial. It was an English run hospital. I asked if they had seen a woman,
a red haired...
"Yes. Gerda Taro. Yes.
She's here. They brought her here some hours ago."
"She's all right."
"Can I see her?"
She's just had an operation. You can't see her."
injected anti-tetanus into my arm and marked a cross on my forehead.
I be able to see her in the morning?"
"How is she?"
English nurse smiled at me. "She's all right. She's suffering from shock
but I believe she'll be all right."
needed an operation?"
Why do you think we gave her one?"
A Dr. Caldwell came over to
my stretcher. "How do you feel?" he asked.
Can I see Gerda?"
"No, I'm afraid
not. She's suffering from shock. It would be bad for her if you saw her."
"But I might be good for her. I love her. I
want to marry her."
"It would not
be good for her," he said, his mouth tightening. He told me that when she
had been brought in she had asked to send a cable to Paris, to Ce Soir and to
Capa. He had done that.
The wounded lay on the
floor of the hospital. All the beds were taken. The ambulances kept unloading.
My pain became worse. Dr. Caldwell gave me a shot
of morphine. "There. Now you'll go to sleep."
she say anything?"
"Well, she asked
for her camera and I told her I hadn't seen it. When I told her you were here
and were all right, she told me to give you her regards."
still showed six-thirty. I asked the time. Three-thirty. I couldn't sleep.
All night the wounded came. The doctors worked smoothly,
quickly in their triage. Here, this one, cut free the clothes. Fracture? Abdomen?
Bullet wound. Bring him to the theatre. This one's dead? Take him away. All through
"What time is it?"
"Five a.m. Why don't you sleep?"
can't sleep. Can I see her now?"
Well I would see her soon. We would joke about the
fact that we had been hit by our own tank after missing all those shells and bombs.
And she would probably raise a fuss about losing her camera. She'd probably insist
we go back to look for it. It might still be in the car. No, we probably couldn't
go ourselves. We'd have to send someone.
five-thirty Dr. Caldwell came to my stretcher. "Well, I think everything
looks much better. We just gave her a blood transfusion and she said 'Whee, I
feel good.' She asked about her camera again, and when I told her it was lost
she said 'C'est la querre.' She's swell."
I see her now?"
"For godsakes, man,
not now. She must sleep now. If she sleeps everything will be all right. You'll
see her later."
I drank some coffee. I
was still holding the cloth-woven belt in my hand, fingering the remnants of the
fractured wooden buckle. It was crushed, shattered. I tried not to think what
that might mean. "I'll try and sleep now," I said to myself. "I
suppose this is a good story."
walked towards me. "I'm afraid I have bad news for you." I knew what
he was going to tell me. "Gerda just died."
me a cigarette," I said.
He lit and handed me a cigarette. He turned
and came back with a hypodermic needle.
I don't need it. For Chrissake, I don't need it. When I need it I'll ask for it.
I feel no pain."
"You're going to
need it." He jabbed the needle into my upper arm.
wanted to ask if he was sure she was dead, but I didn't. I wanted to go to sleep
and forget. I could not.
A nurse came over
and told the doctor about another case, and he had to leave. "Would you like
to be taken into my room?" he asked me.
if you can."
An antiaircraft gun began
to fire. The shutters rattled. Caldwell came back. "You'll never know how
sorry I am I didn't let you see her. But I didn't know. I really thought she would
"Oh, hell. That's all right."
"If you want," he paused. "If you
want you can see her now."
I don't want to see her now." But I did. I didn't believe she was dead.
They brought me upstairs on a stretcher, and I looked
at her, and her face was not quite the same.
they carried me down and I kept slipping on the stretcher, and the boys carrying
me told me to hold on or I might fall. They put me in Dr. Caldwell's room.
Someone had an English cigarette and gave it to
me. The smoke curled. Then a nurse brought me Gerda's cigarette case. There was
one cigarette left. I put out the English cigarette and smoked the one in Gerda's
case. It was a Spanish cigarette, and I never liked Spanish cigarettes. The doctor
asked what I wanted to do with her body and I wanted to tell him to go to hell,
but he meant well, and I asked if he could arrange to get it to Paris. He said
Then the nurse came over and
said that she was sorry.
wrote the story of his involvement with Gerda soon after her death. Then for the
next twenty years he largely forgot her. In many ways his heart froze. Twenty
years later, in the '50s he fell in love with a young red-headed woman who used
the same mixture of two French perfumes. Soon memories of Gerda came flooding
back in dramatic fashion.
we were flying over the English Channel in the belly of a freight-plane, an air-ferry
which transported motor cars. I suddenly started choking. I had the illusion that
I was inside a military tank. I started to talk to Lucille in Spanish, asking
her if she was alright. It frightened her. It frightened me.
the British Customs in Folkstone Lucille went off for a moment to the bathroom
and I became frantic. I asked the Customs Officer in his strange uniform, I asked
him in Spanish, "Donde esta la mujere con pelo rojo?" The puzzled Custom
official asked, "What?" and then Lucille appeared, looking pale and
anxious. I kept asking her, "Are you alright? Are you hurt?"
fine," she mumbled. "Are you alright?"
was the first evidence of my amnesia lifting.
night, back home on Sandy Road, by Hampstead Heath, I became conscious that I
was sitting on my kitchen floor, banging the floor with my fists, sobbing and
screaming, "You're not dead! You're not dead! You're not dead!"
Lucille ran downstairs from our bedroom petrified,
the blood blanched from her face. We didn't sleep that night.
this we frequently find musings on Gerda in Ted's notes.
dated August Tuesday 1985:
"Reading Whelan's book on
Capa and getting confirmation about my conversation with Gerda, the "Capa
and I are not lovers. We are copains, comrades."
to Whelan, all their friends knew this, but Capa didn't like it. He wanted to
continue the relationship as lovers, but she didn't want it. She was falling in
love with me, and kept saying, "I won't fall in love again."
laughing and making terrible sounding noises and spitting. She was mimicking my
cigarette cough. At first I had no idea why she was making such nasty noises.
"Because," she laughed, "that's what you sound like!"
I couldn't believe that. How could I sound like
that? I had no idea I coughed and spat so unpleasant. But she wasn't angry with
me. She just laughed.
Then we were holding each
other and she was telling me that a man shouldn't have such eyes. "I do not,"
I replied, "have a woman's eyes."
are a total idiot," she said, and laughed again.
loved to hear her laugh.
dated "Toronto, July 19, 1990":
what I had written a month or so after she'd been killed, I got very tired. There
are things I left out. Did she really say she might be going to China with Capa?
She was supposed to. I had forgotten that. Was she going back to Paris to rejoin
Capa and go with him to China? Or was she going to tell him that she and I were
going to marry? Now I think I made it all up, about her and me getting married.
Had she been in some internal
conflict about me, and resolved it by deciding
to go with Capa? But she didn't love him the way she had begun to love me. Or
am I imagining that?
If it is true that she
told me she was going to China with Capa, then it would explain what I've blocked
out for so many years: when Dr. Caldwell told me she was dead I heard myself thinking,
"Capa will not get her now."
would be one guilt, one unpleasant thought to repress and feel guilty about.
And another: The General had told me to get her
away as quickly as possible. I didn't. I felt responsible for her death. Had I
been strong, manly enough, I'd have forced her to leave earlier and she wouldn't
have been killed.
undated notes obesses about Gerda: Another
thought has just struck me: did I write that line "Capa and she were going
to China" to appease Capa, to give him a gift? By putting that line in he
knew she was coming to Paris as planned, to go to China with him. Did I write
it for that reason? Or was she really going to China with him? I can't remember
What else do I keep obsessively remembering or obsessively forgetting?
That the General shouted at me to get her away; that I was unsure and indecisive
with her, afraid to make her think I was being cowardly. She had asked me if I
had ever been under fire before. I had been bombed in Albacete for eight hour
straight and that had been terrifying enough. But this, being shot at by planes,
by shells, by bombs, was beyond anything I'd ever experienced. No. I had not been
under fire before! Not like this. This was my baptism. I didn't like it. And then
I wrote the story in Paris in such a way as to hide the truth from Capa, so that
he'd never know she and I had fallen in love and were talking about getting married.
have noted that whenever I used to rewrite the story of that day, I always added
a bit of crap to it. I'd start to describe what she looked like dead. Her mouth
was open and her teeth showed, I'd always add. But in that first version all I
wrote was that "I looked at her and her face was not quite the same."
in Spain on that terrible day. Ted
had just smoked Gerda's last cigarette, and asked the doctor to ship Gerda's body
to Paris, and...
"Then the nurse came over and said that she
"I lay there numbed now by morphine.
I'd had Dr. Caldwell call the Blood Unit. Bethune was in Canada raising money
for Spain, but Hazen and Henning came top pick me up in one of the Unit's vans.
They brought me to a hospital in Madrid.
Many weeks passed: "At first
it was thought that my right leg would never heal. Then I was assured all would
be well in time.
Herbert Matthews of the New
York Times was driving with Sefton Delmar of the Daily Express to Paris. I asked
if I could go with them. I was hobbling about on crutches by then.
drive through the Pyrenees scared me.
Paris I said goodbye to Delmar and Matthews and registered in a small cheap hotel.
I lay in bed most of the time. I had called Ce Soir to find out where Capa lived.
I wanted to see him and tell him I had tried to take good care of Gerda, that
it wasn't my fault she was dead. I left a message that I had phoned. Ce Soir sent
a photographer who took my picture. I wore sunglasses and two crutches and my
photograph was on the front page of Ce Soir next day. I walked out of the hotel
conscious that people were looking at me, and wondered why until I bought the
paper. I returned to the hotel feeling ashamed and excited. I now had my evidence:
I was a complete fraud. The first evidence had been my not feeling anything when
Gerda died. The second had come when I though, "Capa will not get her now".
The third and conclusive item was this, my cashing in on her death. I was getting
attention because of it. I despised myself, but I was still a little thrilled
seeing my picture in the paper, being recognised on the streets. This thought,
this reaction confirmed that I was a phoney. It made me ill. I didn't want to
be a phoney, but I enjoyed the notoriety, the attention. I was still in a bit
of a fog, a bit of a fugue, and I was wearing those sunglasses...
I think Gerda was afraid of Capa. She
went to him because she was afraid of him. I didn't know how to save her from
him. Then when she died and I thought, "He won't get her now," it wasn't
that I meant if I can't have her you can't have her. Perhaps I only meant that
she was being saved from him by dying.
if I was glad she died, then why did I start screaming twenty years later, screaming
my insides out.
When Robert Capa was killed
in Vietnam in 1954 I thought: "Now I can tell the truth about Gerda."
(Capa's friend, fellow photographer, and flatmate) came
for me and found me in a hotel room and made me move to Robert Capa's. I didn't
want to. "I loved her," I told Chim.
all right," said Chim. "Robert knows and still wants you to live with
"I don't want to," I said.
"Please, for Robert's sake."
I went. Robert Capa greeted me shyly and held my
hand and asked about my leg. I was still on crutches.
flat in Montparnasse was a large studio loft, a typical of artist's studio. Robert's
and Gerda's photographs were displayed on one wall.
Chim and his friend Chaya
were also staying in the apartment. Chaya was a lovely Dutch ballet dancer. She
was a tender, gentle woman with jet black hair and pale blue eyes.
was in Robert's flat that I first wrote of Gerda's death. I wrote the story in
a fury. Started in the early morning and finished in the afternoon. Chaya read
it. "It's good," she said in much the same tone of voice Gerda had used
when she had read my stories. Chaya suggested I cut a few lines that were unnecessary,
I think descriptions of fields. And then Chaya and I went to dinner. We slept
together. It was sweet, gentle, tender. We spent some time together, some nights
together, and then, one night I went to a hotel and went to sleep, without telling
Chaya or anyone else.
and Capa sailed together to New York. They planned to return to Spain and write
a book together. But the party would not allow Ted to travel. They accused him
of "adventurism" and in "punishment" insisted he stay and
work as editor of foreign affairs for the Daily Clarion. Capa returned to Europe,
and to Spain.
In Montreal Ted saw Bethune infrequently,
though soon after Ted's return Bethune did examine and dress his wounded thigh.
wrote short stories during this period and began to be published quite frequently.
The story Ted wrote in Paris about Gerda is titled "Lisa". It was published
in Harpers in June 1939.
Much of Ted's time
during this period was spent working on his novel, "This Time a Better Earth",
a fictionalised account of his adventures in Spain, published in 1939. And the
preface for the book?
when Hemingway rebuffed me, I wrote Bethune and asked him if he would write a
preface and he agreed. We met on Mount Royal, and he handed me the preface. I
hated it because he had questioned my motives for going to Spain, leveling the
accusation of "adventurism" at me. I was stung, and later tore up the
preface. I first remember doing it in front of him, but I don't think that's how
it happened. I kept it for a few weeks and then destroyed it because of the charge
of "adventurism" - a terrible crime in the Party in those days.
is a final twist to the story of Ted and Bethune in Spain.
1992 the Spanish Consul in Toronto called and asked if he could come and see me.
I said, "Of course."
A very pleasant
gentleman appeared to tell me he thought it important for me to know that Spain's
modern democratic government had been studying archival material and had come
across information indicating that the two doctors Bethune had accused of being
fascist sympathisers were, in fact, fascist sympathisers and were sabotaging Bethune
at every opportunity they could find."
relationship, his involvement with Bethune never ended. "I dreamed just the
other day," he told me, "that Bethune was looking down at me from heaven
saying, 'You! You're going to write my biography?' and he laughed."
give Ted a last word: "Who
said, 'A man has to do something significant in order to become a man.' I think
I became a man in the Spanish war. After surviving that everything that followed
was a relatively pleasant challenge."