Kevin Doyle Blog

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Orwell on the Aragon Front

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huesca cnt

Anarchism In Huesca: CNT Poster May Day 09

George Orwell fought on the Aragon Front in the Spanish Civil War around Alcubierre and later near Huesca.   One of the front line positions he fought at has been preserved and reconstructed and is well worth a visit.

I drove south out of Huesca on the N330.  About 15 kms out there is a signpost turning for Alcubierre.   Heading east along this road it is narrow and flat.  The land on either side is under cultivation but it seems otherwise to be an arid and dry area.  There are low hills further east, to the north and south, Los Monegros.

Alcubierre is a small town.   Orwell in not very complementary to then village where he spent some days before being sent to a position at the front, to the west.  He was there in the dead of winter but it was early summer when I visited.  It is hard now to imagine what it must have been like but Orwell makes a point of telling us how cold and muddy it was there during his stay.

His period in and around Alcubierre is notable for a number of reasons though.  Firstly it was in Alcubierre that he received his first weapon for use in the war against fascism.  He said though: ‘I got a shock of dismay when I saw the thing they gave me.’  It turned  out to be a gun more than 40 years old – a German Mauser from 1896!  Indeed the reality of ‘civil war within the civil war’ that was, at this time, beginning to gain momentum on the Republican side was brought home to him starkly by this key incident.  He described the gun as follows: ‘It was rusty, the bolt was stiff, the wooden barrel-guard was split; once glance down the muzzle showed that it was corroded and past praying for’.

Alcubierre reminded me of a small market town in Ireland though it a lot dryer and hotter of course.  But there was as they say a good country smell in the air. In front of the town hall, there was a kids’ playground area.  The town hall itself was under renovation.  A small cafe was open but overall it seemed like a sleepy place.  But then I was there in and around siesta time.  There were no signs anywhere around – that I could see anyway – for La Ruta Orwell.  There were no signs anywhere around – that I could see anyway – for La Ruta Orwell.  Like so much in Spain today to do with the Civil War, there is uncertainty about what place the Civil War should occupy.  And of coure there is uncertainty – and in many cases, deep unease – about how to deal with the many scars that are there to see still to this day

Taking the road south out of Alcubierre, you veer to the west.  There is a lot of desiccated vegetation and a white-grey ground which looks generally poor and unproductive.  The road itself is good – it goes to Lecinena and then on into Zaragoza.  As it climbs into the Monegros there are good views back toward Alcubierre and Monazon.

About 12 kms out on this road there is a small sign – quite easily missed – on the left hand size of the road: La Ruta Orwell.  The sign leads onto a narrow unsealed road.  Take it slowly.  It goes uphill and winds for a bout 1.5 km.  Then you come to a fork in the road. There should be a sign for which direction to take at this point but it was missing when I was there.  Take the left hand fork in the road.  This veers around sharply in a horseshoe and goes to hill top just about visible from back where the fork in the road was.   The restored site is just at the top there.

La Ruta Orwell

Spanish Civil War: Trench position where Orwell fought

It is an impressive re-construction.  There are explanatory panels giving good background on the Alcubierre Front and on Orwell’s own observations.  It is possible to see clearly from the vantage point of this restored frontline position what Orwell meant when he said ‘Now that I had seen the front I was profound disgusted’.  The fascist positions were on the far off hills and the soldiers manning those position could barely be seen.  The cold and boredom occupied Orwell’s day.  There are occasional brushes with the enemy but there is a sense of no real movement.  In another important observation made at this stage by Orwell, he explains how different the army is that he is now a member of is from a ‘traditional army’ – he spent some time in the British Army of course.  He said ‘.., There was no military rank in the ordinary sense; not titles, no badges, no heel-clicking and saluting.  They had attempted to produce within the militias a sort of temporary working of the classless society.’

A good deal of information is provided at the site.  It is impressive and the general overview provided is good.   One can see clearly the lie of the land – the difficulty in the terrain.

Overall is it well worth a visit.  Armed with a copy of Homage To Catalonia you get a good feel for what it must’ve been like.  You cannot escape though the sense of betrayal that Orwell unveils in HTC.  Militias were fighting for a new society armed with outdated weapons.  Yet not so far away, behind the front lines, the police and Guardia Civil were being armed with the latest weaponry for the eventual purpose of suppressing the revolution.

See also Ruta Orwell Monegros

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Written by Kevin Doyle

October 12, 2009 at 10:26 am

8 Responses

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  1. […] Orwell on the Aragon Front Good article: “His period in and around Alcubierre is notable for a number of reasons though.  Firstly it was in Alcubierre that he received his first weapon for use in the war against fascism.  He said though: ‘I got a shock of dismay when I saw the thing they gave me.’  It turned  out to be a gun more than 40 years old – a German Mauser from 1896!  Indeed the reality of ‘civil war within the civil war’ that was, at this time, beginning to gain momentum on the Republican side was brought home to him starkly by this key incident. […]

  2. A resident of Huesca province writes: it’s a shame you drove out of Huesca down the Zaragoza carretera! If you’d gone down the A1213 via Gráñen, you could have visited the Civil War Exhibition Centre in Robres.

    I trust you had coffee in Huesca before you went.

    ejh

    June 19, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    • Thanks for that. Maybe next time I will take the road you suggest …. It sounds interesting. I don’t know if it was me but I found it hard to get information on the Civil War in the area – however my Spanish was not up to asking in any detailed way from anyone local about what was around. That said I found the area fascinating.

      And I did indeed enjoy a coffee in Huesca!

      kfdoyle

      June 21, 2010 at 8:47 am

  3. A great description of Alcubierre indeed, almost to a T. My wife and i spent a few days there one year in the local camping grounds and only after leaving did I find out about the Orwell Trenches … but we did go back next year – and the years afterwards also.

    If you are interested in Spanish Civil War remnants, there are many more such sites to visit in the same area. I’d suggest the restored trenches and cave shelters that are in Tierz, on a ridge overlooking Huesca itself and just aside of the 10th century castle of Montearagon. An impressive landscape whose desolation only underlines the sense of history still present.

    A. Langley

    September 11, 2010 at 12:03 am

  4. Very pleased to notice your blog.
    I am writing this note in Huesca having been to La Rute Orwell today.
    I went by a small motorbike from Huesca via the back roads to Alcubierre.
    It’s an ‘ interesting’ ride over a very flat countryside. With long straight very good condition roads.
    I asked at the local petrol station in Robres about the museum describing the war but no body knew anything about it .
    Alcubierre is a big disappointment. I could find no reference to the war and the people were not interested in talking about it. I suppose my poor Spanish was not helpful.
    I have been looking for front line maps in Huesca but even the central museum seems to have nothing.
    The nearest thing is the map on display in one of the dugouts at the trench.
    It all seems such a shame when you think of the sacrifice on both sides.

    I had a copy of HTC with me and it helped with the understanding of the layout.
    All of the on site descriptions are in Spanish.
    There are new sign boards to the trench.
    A good interesting day but I wish there was more local information. I understand that the Spanish would prefer to forget it all.
    I have snap shots of the site as it is on 23rd May 2012 if required.
    Geoff Fox

    Foxvg@me.com

    May 23, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    • HI Geoff.

      Good to hear from you and great that the blog was of help. In the reply above this (on the blog) another visitor to the area pointed out that near Huesca there is some further front line memorials at Tierz. You might see this in time and get to there. This is what he said: “I’d suggest the restored trenches and cave shelters that are in Tierz, on a ridge overlooking Huesca itself and just aside of the 10th century castle of Montearagon.” Let me know how get on if you get there ….I am not sure but I heard that there is a small museum there or else that the locals are more keen to talk. Hope it works out. You are right though about Spain. It is complicated due to the politics of all that happened. I recommend you also take a look at my interview here with a young anarchist activist from Seville about the past https://kfdoyle.wordpress.com/2010/09/01/francos-victims-and-culture-of-terror-in-spain/

      Also Preston’s new book ‘Spanish Holocaust’ tells the dreadful story of what Franco’s Spain meant… and how terror and forgetting the past became a way of survival for many.

      kfdoyle

      May 23, 2012 at 4:06 pm

  5. Hi Kevin. Planning a trip there myself by motorbike in the Spring. Guessing there’s not a great deal of camping around that area and I may get lost for a few days trying to find the trenches? 😀

    Leo

    October 28, 2014 at 9:23 am

    • Hi Leo

      Well the Orwell site is well worth a visit. Not sure about camp sites but pleanty of area around there that you could base yourself. Huesca itself is well worth spendng some tme in. BTW note the comment earlier in this thread re the trenches at “Tierz, on a ridge overlooking Huesca itself and just aside of the 10th century castle of Montearagon” Apparently well worth a visit also. Good luck!
      I

      kfdoyle

      October 28, 2014 at 6:03 pm


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