CARDEDEU, Spain – Andreu Canet turns 100 next month. And his year of birth, as it turned out, was a curse.
After joining Spain’s Republican Army at 17, he is now a rare survivor of a contingent of nearly 27,000 soldiers known as the “reimbursement of the baby bottle”. They were all born in 1920 and were called upon by the Republican government in 1938 to recoup the ranks of the military as it prepared one last ditch to prevent General Francisco Franco from winning the country’s civil war.
This July, as he has done every year for the past three decades, Mr. Canet made his annual visit to the Peace Memorial on the hilltop near the Ebro River – a major retaliation launched by Republican troops in July 1938 Of. The epidemic made the difficult pilgrimage even more difficult. And for the first time, he said, he was the only one who changed on the day of commemoration.
“Maybe I really have only one survivor so far,” he said.
Mr. Canet’s story is just one chapter in the legacy of a civil war that Spain still understands.
In September, the government, led by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, tabled a draft bill intended to revive the 2007 law to identify the opening and the remains of more than 2,000 mass graves scattered throughout Spain. He is believed to have died during or just after the war, which took place from 1936 to 1939.
The government wants to shut down any enterprise or institution that glorifies Franco’s dictatorship, and revives the vast underground mausoleum of which it had its remains exhumed Last year and was moved to a cemetery where his family already had a cellar.
Looking back at the war, Mr. Canet said that when he was 17 years old, he was not fully prepared for war.
“We had to bring our clothes and a blanket, and I used to fight in my espadrilles because my family was too poor to buy bus shoes,” he said in a recent interview at his apartment in Cardadue, about 25 miles northeast of Barcelona. I remembered “We get zero training and zero instructions on what we’re doing, and of course, I had never seen Ebro until I was told to get across it.”
Their crossing of the river, which slices into northwestern Spain, enabled the Republicans to recapture some of the conquered territory by Franco. But under heavy bombardment by his fascist allies by German and Italian aircraft, the Republican advance soon reached a halt, and the fighting turned into the longest, largest and deadliest battle of the war.
While historians have offered different numbers, most The assessment The fighting ended at least 20,000 soldiers from both sides over the course of about four months. Once republican forces were pushed back to Ebro, Franco secured his victory, which paved the way for a dictatorship leading up to his death in 1975.
Mr Canet, whose 100th birthday is 30 November, said he can still remember the two clearly after both crossing the trench war and following the treacherous river. He spent the first part of postpartum delivery in a military hospital after recovering from typhoid, which he probably caught while stationed on a rat-infested islet in the middle of the Ebro.
“When I was trying to sleep the mice kept crawling on my face,” he said.
He cut off any notion of heroism and said that his military promotion, eventually to the rank of Sergeant, reflected a lack of officer candidates in excess of his qualifications.
“When we captured our first hill,” he said, “I really remember how tired and thirsty I was, even when I was forced to drink my own urine, and when there were so many People were already dead, so little sense of pride. “
He tore off, remembering the brutality of some of his commanders, who once threatened to shoot him for falling asleep during one night watch.
After surrendering to Franco’s army, Mr. Canet was re-appointed – but this time in military service in Franco’s army. His battalion, based in the northern city of Burgos, was filled with defeated Republicans.
“The war was terrible,” said Mr. Canet, “but then I had military service under the officers, who hated us, while spitting children at our feet through the villages was disgraceful.”
And although Mr. Canet was the only person who showed up for this year’s commemoration, Victor Amela, a writer who was recently published A book Said of this concept that the veteran was probably not the only surviving member of the “Baby Bottlers”. Mr. Amela estimates that there are about a dozen left, most of them living in the Catalonia region.
He said the memorial near Ebro built in 1989 was financed by ex-servicemen and their families because “the Spanish state sadly refused to look back and face the legacy of our civil war, let alone a Offering apology to the bunch of children who were forced to fight in it. “
The “Baby Bottle” conscription revealed that “the saddest side of a very ugly war”, Mr Amella said, as most of the enlisted teens came from poor families without personal connections who allowed others to escape the draft. “I think it’s a crime that a government sent 17-year-olds to almost certain death, in full detail of how much better Franco was than this late phase of the war.”
Once Mr. Canet returned to civilian life in late 1943, he worked in a factory that made fountain pens and then set up his shop in the entrance hall of a metro station in Barcelona, where he made pens, lighters and watches. Sold and repaired. .
Until they became more vulnerable, Mr. Canet said, he visited schools to tell the children about their experiences of “baby bottle conscription” in hopes of retaining the soldiers’ memory.
But he is unhappy with the government’s latest efforts to vindicate the historical record of the war.
“It all seems too late,” he said. “The current generation has no idea what the war was really like, and no government has really done anything for us.”