Cristóbal, the five-year-old boy who survived 'La Desbandá'

Cristóbal Moya, with one of his books and a photo with his parents after 'La Desbandá'.
Cristóbal Moya, with one of his books and a photo with his parents after 'La Desbandá'. / F. Torres
  • Now aged 86, he clearly remembers the week in which his life took an unexpected turn towards poverty and war

That night, they were going to eat green beans and boiled egg. For him it was a treat, one of his favourite dishes, but something went wrong. At just five years old, he couldn't understand why his parents left the pot on the stove, grabbed him and started running. He soon realised that they were not the only ones. From his house in the Plaza de la Merced to the Carretera de Almería he was astonished to see that hundreds of people were running, just like them, leaving everything behind. There was shouting, fear and confusion, and the start of the seven hardest days ever for little Cristóbal Moya and the more than 150,000 people from Malaga who fled the city on 7 February 1937, the day of 'La Desbandá'.

For days the population had been hearing General Queipo de Llano broadcasting the imminent conquest of 'red' Malaga, at the height of the Civil War. The republican militia had already abandoned the front and in the mountains the bonfires lit by nationalist troops could be seen. Now aged 86, Cristóbal Moya recalls those days with astonishing clarity. He has studied in depth what caused people to flee at that exact moment, but he only remembers hearing people shout: “They're coming!” and then panic broke out.

On 7 February, the Sunday of carnival week, everything sparked off and people decided to set off for Almeria from where they could reach the Levante region, a republican zone. As they walked along the road between Malaga and Almeria, Spanish, German and Italian planes bombed them. Between 3,000 and 5,000 were killed.

Cristóbal has relived those days many times during his life and has documented them in different books and paintings. One is called 'La huida que me tocó vivir', about fleeing Malaga. On the front page is a photograph of him with his parents just after they reached safety in Valencia, and inside there is a poem in which he recalls what that episode was like through the eyes of the children. 'Siete días' (Seven days) reflects the anguish which he and many others witnessed.

“Those were the seven most terrible days, when we were trying to reach Almeria... they were bombing the road from planes and ships, we were very hungry, our feet were covered in sores, my mother's legs were bleeding.”

Nowadays, Cristóbal lives a peaceful life with his wife Antonia Muñoz in the Ciudad Jardín district of Malaga. He still becomes emotional when he thinks about 'La Desbandá'. “I saw people killing their children because of the shrapnel. One woman picked up two rocks and started to hit herself on the head with them because she didn't want to go on any more. They took me away so I couldn't see; it was terrible.” At this point, he apologises: “I always get upset when I talk about this, I can't help it,” he says, as he dries his tears.

Cristóbal remembers being so cold and hungry that his father carried him on his back to El Palo (about six kilometres) even though he was weak himself. “There was a lot of noise. Some people were shouting, others crying, many of the older people couldn't walk,” he recalls. “There were so many people. My mother and I lost sight of my father several times.” He remembers an elderly man who was riding a donkey and suggested to Cristóbal's mother that he should do the same for a while, to rest. Despite the tragic circumstances, he was excited about this. “I was happy, not because I wasn't walking any more but because I was riding a donkey,” he says.

As the road became more difficult, the ditches began to be filled with personal belongings and valuable items, because they had become too much to carry. When they reached Torre del Mar, they began to notice a far-off noise, loud and continual. Nobody knew what it was, until someone said: “Those are engines!” Planes had arrived to try to stop them going any further, and the subsequent bombardment killed hundreds.

At that time, Cristóbal was walking with his maternal grandfather, who they had met on the road. “He pulled me under a prickly pear bush and lay on top of me. When it was all over, I cried because of all the thorns, but he said: 'You're alive, you're alive!' He had saved my life.”One of his paintings shows bombs falling from the German planes and the bodies piled in the ditch. “It's awful to remember. The machine guns tore people to pieces,” he says.

After reaching Almeria they went by train to Alicante, where they were treated as refugees. Against all expectations, they finally made it to Valencia, where they spent the rest of the war as survivors of 'La Desbandá'.