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The Gentleman and the Civil War in Spain

Burgos, 22nd of October 1937. Anthony Eden, British Foreign Minister, sent an ambassador to visit Franco

‘To install a Soviet regime in Spain’, this was the pretension of the Popular Front, according to the British ambassador Henry Chilton, in his report to London after the victory of the populist front in February 1936.

Sir Anthony Eden - https://www.gov.uk/

He also advised he was prepared for a military coup. Therefore the fears of the British Government after 14th of April 1931, over the recently proclaimed republic, were well founded and resulted in a ‘transitory phase type Alexander Kerensky’, followed by the communist revolution as in Russia in 1917.

The era of the Popular Front caused much uneasiness in the British Government and the establishment. An institution as respected as the Royal Automobile Club sent a circular letter to their members warning they could give no protection for British drivers entering Spain.

The assassination of a Briton, a director of a factory in Barcelona on 4th July 1936 provoked British indignation and demands from Madrid for an explanation. On 13th July of the same year the sub-secretary of the Foreign Office informed the House of Commons that the guarantees given by the Spanish republican Government for the safety of the Britons in Spain, it was known that the head of the parliamentary opposition in Spain, José Calvo Sotelo, had been assassinated by uniformed Police.

This monstrosity upset Anthony Eden, the very English Gentleman who had been educated in Eton and was in favour of Spanish monarchy, an indeed it was Eden who decided Britain’s response to Spanish Civil War, because the prime minister at the time, Stanley Baldwin, was too busy coping with the constitutional crisis caused by the abdication of Edward VIII, he told Eden ‘I hope you are not going to bother me with foreign affairs’

From the first moment after the breakout of hostilities on 18 July, Eden supported the military, and explained to his counterpart in France Yvon Delbos who preferred the victory of the rebels over the republicans. The personal instinct from Eden was reinforced by viable information leaving Spain. The embassy in Madrid and the consul in Barcelona were sending regular dispatches over the atrocities which the militia were carrying out in both capitals, but there were no British diplomats in the rebel held zones, so the Foreign Office could only observe the tragedy.

The same occurred with the press reports at the time, with correspondents in Madrid and Barcelona, but not in Granada.
And the access which Britain had to Andalucía - Gibraltar – which was full of refugees fleeing from Málaga and told the horrors they had seen to the British press in Gibraltar and hence London was informed. The British sailors based on the Rock heard at first hand testimonies of the red terror, and hence the Royal Navy became sympathetic to the rebels.

British historians became influential led by the actions of the Duke of Alba in the circles of opinion and power in London. Don Jacobo Fitz James Stuart Falcó, also a prestigious intellect and academic, belonged to both Spanish and British nobility.
Winston Churchill called him ‘my cousin’ and don Jacobo also called the King of England ‘my cousin’.
‘The relaxed conversations held with the Duke of Alba in the White Club had more influence on the Government than the meetings and demonstrations’ in favour of the Republic, assured Antony Beevor.

MI-6 was another British institution was naturally supporting the rebels, although given their nature their action was limited.
There is a Spanish film which covers this era ‘Dragon Rapide’ (1986) which shows a British plane taking Franco to the Canaries and Spanish Morocco to lead the uprising, as did the millionaire Juan March who gave a blank cheque in Biarritz to Luca de Tena, owner of ABC and how this was followed up by their correspondent in London, Luis Bolín, who rented a plane to collect Franco from Las Palmas. But few people know how much MI-6 was involved.

The plan ‘Dragon Rapide’ (the model of the Havilland plane used) was forged during a meal in the traditional restaurant Simpson’s in the Strand, where women were not allowed.

There, Bolín suggested to Douglas Francis Jarrold, editor of The English Review and sympathiser of fascism, to get in contact with Major Pollard, a information specialist during the War of Irish Independence, and in the Second World War he worked in the SOE, the clandestine fight in Europe, but he never left the community of spies and used a colleague in the secret service, Capitán Cecil Bebb. The designed the operation with professionalism, even including the daughter of Pollard and her girlfriend, two very attractive ladies, as a bluff. Despite the Republican Government did not trust Franco and was keeping close watch on him, nobody would suspect that group of luxury tourists on a private plane.

It is impossible to think that MI6 was not aware of the Dragon Rapide operation. It was because of the professional situation by Pollard and Bebb at that time, for loyalty they could not hide the service they were due to commit. But the MI6 was full of ‘Franco’s friends’ noted author of the book of the same name, Peter Day.

Eden, in his support for the rebels took two significant diplomatic steps. Firstly, he set up a Committee of No Intervention which, in fact, only served to halt aid moving from the French Republic to the Spanish, as Italy and Germany continued donating massive aid for Franco, Russia and the Republic.
Secondly, he recognised the Government in Burgos, via an envoy of a diplomatic representative to the rebel capital on a date as early as 1937. He also officially appointed the Duke of Alba as Franco’s resident diplomat in London, which was confirmed on July 18.

It is significant that, this first ambassador before Franco, Eden designated Robert Hodgson, who had participated in a pioneering mission against the Soviet regime in 1924. Hodgson had retired from the Foreign Office, staying a member of MI6, as spies are never allowed to retire. At all times, as corresponds to a man in MI6, he demonstrated to be an authentic ‘Franco’s friend’