SPECIAL SUPPLEMENT TO THE LABOUR PRESS SERVICE 12TH JANUARY, 1938.
LIFE IN MADRID
Prisoners of War
This afternoon in Madrid we looked at the wreckage shells had caused in the top floor of a hospital. Shelling hospitals in Madrid is not a new story. The point about this was that it was a hospital for the rebels themselves - for wounded rebel prisoners of war.
"They didn't get hurt," the director told us to-day. 'We keep stretchers ready on the top floors. Ordinary shells of course we can't worry about, but when we hear shells hissing over the hospital we get everyone downstairs."
We took a look round the hospital - full of wounded Spanish and Italian prisoners of war. The director came with us, but he stood aside while we talked to the prisoners. They did not behave like prisoners. The convalescents were sitting on the beds, playing cards and singing. Some of the wounded lying in the beds were joking with the nurses. A little group of wounded Italians roared with laughter when we tried to talk Italian to them. But they had learnt some Spanish since they had been in Spain, and we managed to talk with them.
The Italian Prisoners
As usual, these Italians could be divided into four classes. The first is formed from those who came to Spain because they were members of the Italian Regular Army - they came because it was an order. The second class came because they were deceived - they thought they were going to work in Abyssinia, etc. That is the largest class. The third came because they needed the money promised - unemployed, very poor peasants, etc. The fourth, and they seem to be the smallest class by far, came because they believed they should - because they were Blackshirts and believed in Mussolini and did what he said.
I talked a lot to one of the second class, who told me cheerfully, yes, he had volunteered for Spain, but he had not known he was coming to fight. He was told he would have to do some kind of police work in the rearguard. He got to Malaga four days after it fell. That was all right, no fighting. But Guadalajara ! "No more for me!" he said.
All the time we talked to these Italians men were calling across the ward to one another, joking with the nurses, grinning at us - and smoking. We looked at them anxiously. They have not been selling tobacco in Madrid for over three weeks now!
After that we visited some more Spanish prisoners. They seemed pretty happy, except those who were severely wounded; and being a prisoner doesn't make much difference to that. They told us the villages they came from, the reasons they had joined up. Some of them had been conscripted, forced to fight whether they liked it or not, and they were please to be comfortable prisoners of war. Others were soldiers of the former Regular Army - and equally cheerful.
Taught to Read and Write
There was one little boy of thirteen who had been mildly wounded at Quijorna. ''He's quite well enough to leave now and go to the coast where he'll be looked after with the war orphans," the director said. "But he likes it here. He's made lots of friends."
We asked the little boy, Pepe, what he thought about it, and he said he supposed he would have to go when he was well, but he was not anxious to go to school with a lot of children. "Here," he said, "I go to school with the men."