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Remembering the Spanish Civil War massacre on the Malaga to Almeria road

Remembering the Spanish Civil War massacre on the Malaga to Almeria road

The Desbandá, on 8 February 1937, has been described as one of the bloodiest chapters of the war. It is believed that around 5,000 people lost their lives as Spanish, Italian and German warships and planes opened fire on fleeing civilians

Jennie Rhodes

Tuesday, 7 February 2023, 15:39

Today, Wednesday 8 February 2023, marks the 86th anniversary of the Desbandá; one of the bloodiest events of Spain’s Civil War. As Franco’s troops marched into Malaga in February 1937, thousands of civilians, mainly women, elderly people and children, fled the city along the Malaga to Almeria road – now known as the N-340 coastal road.

People took the belongings that they could carry and those who had donkeys loaded the animals with as much as possible and went. It is estimated that up to 150,000 people tried to flee Malaga in early February 1937.

There was little other means of escape, due to the difficulty of passing the mountains to the north of the city, both in terms of their height and the fighting that was taking place in them. Furthermore Almeria was still considered safe from Franco’s Nationalists as it was still controlled by Republicans.

On 8 February 1937, Spanish, Italian and German warships and planes opened fire on those trying to escape along the coastal road and thousands were injured or killed in the massacre. It is believed that around 5,000 people lost their lives and was once described in an article in the New York Times as the “most terrible evacuation of a city in modern times.”

Doctor Norman Bethune

Canadian doctor and prominent communist, Norman Bethune, along with a team of medical staff, came to the aid of the fleeing refugees. He would take those most in need to Almeria by ambulance and give them blood transfusions and other medical help.

One of Bethune's photographs and inset, the cover of his book sur

Bethune's photographs are the only visual documentation of the events and they have been exhibited widely in different parts of the province. He later went on to write his account of the events in his book, The crime on the road, Malaga-Almeria.

Last year, to coincide with the 85th anniversary, Benalmádena town hall named a roundabout located at the junction of Avenida Federico García Lorca and Avenida de la Constitución in Arroyo de la Miel in honour of Bethune.

The mayor of Benalmádena, Victor Navas, said at the time that Bethune’s connection with the town was “very significant” because it was a local professor, Jesús Majada, who brought to light the “sad facts” of La Desbandá.

Women remembered

Among other events taking place this year, is the seventh annual march to commemorate the massacre, organised by the Asociación Sociocultural y Club Senderista la Desbandá (La Desbandá socio-cultural association and hiking club). This year the march is being held in recognition of the role women played as protectors of children and the elderly and in helping the wounded.

The group set off from Mijas on Wednesday 1 February and has stopped in Nerja, Salobreña (Granada province) and Roquetas de Mar (Almeria), where memorial events have taken place. It is due to arrive in Almeria city on Friday 10 February.

The association was founded in 2005, on the 80th anniversary of the Desbandá, “With the aim of bringing the memory of the victims of the N-340 death road out of oblivion, victims of Franco's repression, possibly the bloodiest chapter of the entire Spanish war”.

One of the objectives of the organisation is to get signposting for the historical landmarks of the most relevant episodes at places along the N-340 and to establish a footpath as a tribute to the victims.

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In Nerja, the Entre Cañas de Nerja association along with the Otro Maro y Nerja es Posible (Another Maro and Nerja is Possible group) and the University of Granada’s school of architecture have drawn up a joint proposal for memorial on the section of the N-340 through Maro, to pay tribute to the victims of the 'Desbandá'. They have christened it a 'space of democratic memory' after it was declared a Site of Democratic Memory in 2012 by the Andalusian Regional Government.

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