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Love letter returned to family after 74 years

Two daughters and two granddaughters with the letter.
Two daughters and two granddaughters with the letter. / SUR
  • Rafael Fernández explained to Carmen Díaz that he was planning to escape from a Malaga barracks by pretending to have appendicitis. A journalist from Granada found the descendants of a Vélez-Málaga man who wrote to his fiancée in 1943

Granada journalist, Mariló V. Oyonartes has handed a love letter written in 1943 to its rightful owners after a three-month search for the author's descendants.

In June, Mariló, 40, received a phone call from a resident of Alhama de Granada in Granada province who said that he had a letter with a stamp dating back to May 1943 which had been found in a piece of old furniture and that he thought Mariló would be interested in investigating the story behind the missive.

“The letter was emotionally intense,” explained Mariló. “In it a man was writing from the Benítez army barracks in Malaga city, where he was doing military service, to his fiancée who lived in Vélez-Málaga, saying that he was going to escape, find her and that they would get married,” the journalist explains. She confesses that the search for descendants of the letter's author, Rafael Fernández González and Carmen Díaz Pacheco, turned into “an obsession.”

“I went for weeks hardly able to sleep, I would dream that I had found them but then wake up and realise that it wasn't true,” Mariló said. She started by researching on the internet and in phone books but got nowhere. “I contacted my friend José Aurelio Romero Navas, a retired history teacher from Vélez-Málaga, and it was he who put me in touch with Salvador Conde Méndez, from the Méndez accountancy firm,” she explained. He then put me in touch with Vélez-Málaga's parish archives, where, after several days of intense work, I found the wedding date: 19 September 1943. “It was like looking for a needle in a haystack, but I had the invaluable help of Juan Cabezas and Andrés García Maldonado from the newspaper 'Alhama Comunicación'. One day they gave me a mobile phone number and it was one of Carmen's granddaughters. I cried with the emotion of it all,” she said.

“By then I had achieved the most difficult part, now I just had to give them the letter - their letter - and ask their permission to give Rafael and Carmen's beautiful love story the publicity it deserves, with their photographs, full surnames, exact whereabouts and all the details that are important to a well documented story,” explained Oyonartes.

“It's a real love story. Rafael was from La Viñuela, but as a young boy he moved to Vélez-Málaga. While he was doing military service at the Benítez camp at the age of 21 he met Carmen through one of her brothers, who was also doing military service at Benítez.

Mariló met members of Rafael and Carmen's family in Malaga on 6 October and she handed them the letter. “It was a really emotional moment. They told me so many stories about their parents and grandparents and they got very emotional when I gave them the card, because they knew absolutely nothing about it,” explained the journalist.

Among the many fascinating anecdotes linked to the love story is the one about Rafael pretending to have appendicitis in order to escape from the camp. “They removed a perfectly healthy appendix and left him with a scar that went right across his tummy. His eldest daughters still remember the story perfectly,” revealed Mariló.

Rafael died in 1976, aged 56, and Carmen passed away in February 2012, at the age of 88. The couple had 10 children, eight of whom are still alive. There are also 29 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren and two more on the way.

Secret wedding

When Rafael found Carmen he asked her to marry him. However, Carmen's parents were not happy about the marriage, so Mariló explains that on 19 September 1943, Carmen left her house to go to work at 7am, like every morning. “But that morning instead of going to work, the couple headed to San Juan Bautista church, where priest, José Ariza González, married them. Carmen became pregnant soon after and that was when her parents accepted the marriage,” explained Mariló .

“I am convinced that this entire adventure was destined to succeed, because of this chain of love,” reflected the journalist, who is planning to publish a book about the story soon. “The letter that should never have been lost is now in the family's hands,” she added.