Prisoners at San Pedro de Cardeña

Prisoners at San Pedro de Cardeña

Banners calling for release of the Irish Republican Frank Ryan, captured in March 1938.

A number of volunteers were taken prisoner during the Aragon campaigns of 1938, with over one hundred volunteers captured at Calaceite at the end of March. The prisoners were taken to Saragossa for interrogation, where they were questioned by Merry del Val, who had also interviewed the prisoners captured at Jarama. He recognised Jimmy Rutherford as one of the POWs from Jarama, and Rutherford was taken away and executed for contravening an agreement not to return to Spain.

The other prisoners were transferred to the prisoner camp of San Pedro de Cardeña, eight miles south-east of Burgos. Conditions for the prisoners held in the camp were brutal; violence by the guards was endemic, living facilities were over-crowded and unsanitary, and food and medical facilities were woefully inadequate. Most prisoners suffered from sicknesses whilst they were in the camp and those carrying wounds fared particularly badly.

Despite the appalling conditions, attempts were made by the prisoners to organise themselves. Lectures and language classes were set up, playing chess was very popular and, for a time, there was even a newspaper, The San Pedro Jaily News, until copies started falling into the hands of the guards.

In January 1939, the majority of the British prisoners were released from San Pedro in readiness for their exchange for Italians held by the Republicans. After typical bureaucratic delays, all but a small number were released in February and April 1939. Two prisoners were not- Tom Jones from Wales had to wait until March 1940, the Irish leader Frank Ryan was taken instead to Germany, where he eventually died in June 1944.


Richard Baxell, British Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War: The British Battalion in the International Brigades, 1936-1939, London, Routledge/Cañada Blanch Studies on Contemporary Spain, 2004

Carl Geiser, Prisoners of the Good Fight, Connecticut: Lawrence Hill, 1986.

Walter Gregory, The Shallow Grave: A Memoir of the Spanish Civil War, London: Victor Gollancz, 1986.

George Wheeler, edited by David Leach, To Make the People Smile Again, Newcastle: Zymurgy, 2003.

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