WINTER IN ALCOY: REMEMBERING 1938/1939
When I drove to Alcoy earlier this month, there was snow at the sides of the main road which leads into the southern end of the city through an impressive gorge. Although the city is in a beautiful location, and surrounded by mountains, it is a cold and isolated place. It is not an obvious tourist destination at any time of the year, and certainly not in the winter. Alcoy is an old industrial town which is today looking a little bit run-down, with quite a few derelict buildings where businesses once flourished. So why are we going there? And why now?
I thought it would be appropriate for LI to visit Alcoy now because this winter is the 70th anniversary of the most eventful and tragic experiences the city has had to endure in modern times. Although the civil war was entering its closing stages by the winter of 1938/39, this region of Spain still remained one of the last parts of the country not under the control of Franco. Alcoy, because of its industrial importance, was key to the survival of the republican cause. Its factories and its mills provided the defenders of the republic with essential materials such as textiles and munitions. Unfortunately, all of this was well-known to the enemies of the republic.
This was why Italian bombers, fighting on the side of Franco, first came to Alcoy in September 1938. They subjected the community to heavy aerial bombardment, dropping over 50,000 kilos of explosives, and inflicting serious damage on the people and infrastructure of Alcoy. Between September and the following February, the bombers were to return on six more occasions, dropping hundreds of bombs and causing more than fifty deaths. Throughout that painful and tragic winter, the people of Alcoy lived in constant fear, not knowing when the next raid would be, and trying to cope with a threat which was almost unprecedented.
One of their key responses was to construct bomb shelters, many of them underground. Some were built as private facilities by more prosperous citizens. Others were built by businesses to provide safety for their workers. But most people had to depend on public bomb shelters, which were constructed right across the city. Some were little more than underground tunnels; others were larger and capable of providing temporary housing for hundreds of people. In some instances, people were so afraid of the bombs that they preferred to stay in the shelters rather than return to their homes.
One of these
public shelters is the Refugio Cervantes, which is now a museum, and which we
will be visiting on this trip. The museum tells the story of how the town was
taken by surprise when the bombing started, of how it responded, and of what
life was like for those who were forced to take refuge and to live in such cold
and crowded conditions. For me, visiting the Refugio was both enlightening and
uplifting. I hope that you will agree that it is appropriate that LI should
understand and respect the price the citizens of Alcoy were forced to pay for
their continued support of the republican cause.