Carlism, a right-wing political movement, was created in 1833. The group took its name from Don Carlos, the youngest brother of King Ferdinand VII (1784-1833) and would-be King Carlos V.
Carlists were opposed to liberal secularism and economic and political modernism. As a result it received considerable support from the Spanish Catholic Church. It was particularly strong in Navarre, Valencia, Aragon and Old Castile.
After the abdication of Alfonso XIII, the Carlists led the opposition to the Second Republic. By 1936 the Carlist Youth had 30,000 members. Of these, an estimated 10,000 were armed, making it the strongest right-wing paramilitary force in Spain.
On 15th January 1936, Manuel Azaña helped to establish a coalition of parties on the political left to fight the national elections due to take place the following month. This included the Socialist Party (PSOE), Communist Party (PCE) and the Republican Union Party. The Popular Front, as the coalition became known, advocated the restoration of Catalan autonomy, amnesty for political prisoners, agrarian reform, an end to political blacklists and the payment of damages for property owners who suffered during the revolt of 1934. The Anarchists refused to support the coalition and instead urged people not to vote.
Right-wing groups in Spain formed the National Front. This included the Carlists and the CEDA. The Falange Española did not officially join but most of its members supported the aims of the National Front.
The Spanish people voted in the General Election on Sunday, 16th February, 1936. Out of a possible 13.5 million voters, over 9,870,000 participated in the election. 4,654,116 people (34.3) voted for the Popular Front, whereas the National Front obtained 4,503,505 (33.2) and the centre parties got 526,615 (5.4). The Popular Front, with 263 seats out of the 473 in the Cortes formed the new government.
I was ordered to report to Cancela. I found him talking with some legionaries who had brought in a deserter from the International Brigades - an Irishman from Belfast; he had given himself up to one of our patrols down by the river. Cancela wanted me to interrogate him. The man explained that he had been a seaman on a British ship trading to Valencia, where he had got very drunk one night, missed his ship and been picked up by the police. The next thing he knew, he was in Albacete, impressed into the International Brigades. He knew that if he tried to escape in Republican Spain he would certainly be retaken and shot; and so he had bided his time until he reached the front, when he had taken the first opportunity to desert. He had been wandering around for two days before he found our patrol.
I was not absolutely sure that he was telling the truth; but I knew that if I seemed to doubt his story he would be shot, and I was resolved to do everything in my power to save his life. Translating his account to Cancela, I urged that this was indeed a special case; the man was a deserter, not a prisoner, and we should be unwise as well as unjust to shoot him. Moved either by my arguments, or by consideration for my feelings. Cancela agreed to spare him, subject to de Mora's consent; I had better go and see de Mora at once while Cancela would see that the deserter had something to eat.
De Mora was sympathetic. "You seem to have a good case," he said. "Unfortunately my orders from Colonel Penaredonda are to shoot all foreigners. If you can get his consent I'll be delighted to let the man off. You'll find the Colonel over there, on the highest of those hills. Take the prisoner with you, in case there are any questions, and your two runners as escort.'
It was an exhausting walk of nearly a mile with the midday sun blazing on our backs. "Does it get any hotter in this country?" the deserter asked as we panted up the steep sides of a ravine, the sweat pouring down our faces and backs.
"You haven't seen the half of it yet. Wait another three months," I answered, wondering grimly whether I should be able to win him even another three hours of life.
I found Colonel Penaredonda sitting cross-legged with a plate of fried eggs on his knee. He greeted me amiably enough as I stepped forward and saluted; I had taken care to leave the prisoner well out of earshot. I repeated his story, adding my own plea at the end, as I had with Cancela and de Mora. "I have the fellow here, sir," I concluded, "in case you wish to ask him any questions." The Colonel did not look up from his plate: "No, Peter," he said casually, his mouth full of egg, "I don't want to ask him anything. Just take him away and shoot him.'
I was so astonished that my mouth dropped open; my heart seemed to stop beating. Penaredonda looked up, his eyes full of hatred:
"Get out!" he snarled. "You heard what I said." As I withdrew he shouted after me: "I warn you, I intend to see that this order is carried out."
Motioning the prisoner and escort to follow, I started down the hill; I would not walk with them, for I knew that he would question me and I could not bring myself to speak. I decided not to tell him until the last possible moment, so that at least he might be spared the agony of waiting. I even thought of telling him to try to make a break for it while I distracted the escorts' attention; then I remembered Penaredonda's parting words and, looking back, saw a pair of legionaries following us at a distance. I was so numb with misery and anger that I didn't notice where I was going until I found myself in front of de Mora once more. When I told him the news he bit his lip:
"Then I'm afraid there's nothing we can do," he said gently. "You had better carry out the execution yourself. Someone has got to do it, and it will be easier for him to have a fellow-countryman around. After all, he knows that you have tried to save him. Try to get it over quickly."
It was almost more than I could bear to face the prisoner, where he stood between my two runners. As I approached they dropped back a few paces, leaving us alone; they were good men and understood what I was feeling. I forced myself to look at him. I am sure he knew what I was going to say.
"I've got to shoot you." A barely audible "Oh my God!" escaped him.
Briefly I told him how I had tried to save him. I asked him if he wanted a priest, or a few minutes by himself, and if there were any messages he wanted me to deliver.
"Nothing," he whispered, "please make it quick."
"That I can promise you. Turn round and start walking straight ahead."
He held out his hand and looked me in the eyes, saying only "Thank you."
"God bless you!" I murmured.
As he turned his back and walked away I said to my two runners:
"I beg you to aim true. He must not feel anything." They nodded, and raised their rifles. I looked away. The two shots exploded simultaneously.
"On our honour, sir," the senior of the two said to me, "he could not have felt a thing."