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Warm earth cover
When Angela Jackson first began interviewing British women who came to Spain and Catalunya to serve as nurses during the Spanish Civil War she was bowled over by their stories. She first used their experiences to write a PhD thesis in Spanish History at Essex University, subsequently published as a book, British Women and the Spanish Civil War (Routledge, 2002).
“I was a mature student, very mature,” she chuckled. “I was studying the Civil War and found out there were still some people from the International Brigade alive. I started to do interviews. I was, fortunately, just in time, while they were still alive. I was very lucky to have met them.
“It was very interesting to meet the people from those years, the Thirties, because they still felt so strongly about things. It’s inspirational to meet elderly people with strong opinions about things going on now, not just the Civil War.”
After that book, she came to Catalunya to write about a Republican army field hospital set up in a cave near La Bisbal de Falset. In 2005, she published Beyond the Battlefield: Testimony, Memory and Remembrance of a Cave Hospital in the Spanish Civil War.
“Then I decided to try to reach a wider audience with a novel. People who didn’t know anything about the war tell me they’ve been able to begin to understand it, though not in a heavy historical way, so that’s good.”
The novel, Warm Earth (Pegasus, 2007) is an engaging and enjoyable read, which does an excellent job of evoking what the War years would have been like in Catalunya for young, idealistic, British nurses.
In the novel, the nurses have passionate affairs during their time in Spain, something that Jackson enjoyed inventing. “The women I interviewed hinted at their romances, but didn’t go into detail, so I imagined them. It’s great fun doing a novel because you’ve got the historic background and you can draw on information you’re familiar with, but it’s fiction so you can add those elements.”
Her commitment to Catalunya is not just literary or historical. She has settled here, living the past six years in Priorat, “in the wild, in the mountains”. She has learned Catalan, putting it to good use as she digs deeper into the past she has discovered.
“[Beyond the Battlefield] has much more about the cave hospital than the novel, including the perspective of the local people. Which is what my next book is about, the presence of the international brigade in the Priorat, in the area of the Ebre where I live. They were there to train quite a few weeks and got to know the people there pretty well. Nobody’s really studied that very much.”
She has started an association in Priorat, No Jubilem La Memòria, to keep the memory of the brigadistas alive and to add to it. And, she cautions, the issues of the Civil War are not just history. In mid-August on Hill 705, in the mountains where the battle of the Ebroewas fought, a plaque made of heavy steel honouring the British battalion’s dead was stolen, and Falangist graffitti was put in its place. “It just goes to show you there’s still something going on.”
To get a sense of what that something might be all about, via a good read, pick up a copy of Warm Earth.
Warm Earth can be purchased from amazon.co.uk