Rachel Ritchie: a tribute

Post date: 10/01/2017

By Angela Jackson


Sixteen years ago, I was finding it a struggle to communicate with some of the local residents in the small mountain village of La Bisbal de Falset in the Priorat. They spoke Catalan (or strongly accented Spanish mixed with Catalan) and my language skills were not up to the task of interpreting for the group of Brigaders who were going to come and stay there for several days. 


There was to be a ceremony to inaugurate a memorial to mark the site of a communal grave in the cemetery where Brigaders and Republican soldiers were buried. A plaque would then be unveiled in the place where they had died, a massive cave nearby which had been used as a hospital for the wounded from the Battle of the Ebro, as well as civilians injured in bombardments by Franco's forces. 


Due to a shared research interest in the Spanish Civil War, I had recently met Rachel Ritchie for the first time in Barcelona, where she had been working for several years. As an excellent linguist, she was the ideal person to undertake the task of interpreting for the Brigaders and the Catalan politicians who would be speaking at the ceremonies. When I asked for her help, she responded with enthusiasm, and immediately became an invaluable asset, helping to look after the Brigaders and their families, solving problems that arose, as well as translating and interpreting and, rather to the relief of all the English speaking contingent, proved herself capable of summarising some of the long political speeches made by prestigious dignitaries. 


This was just one of her varied talents. A graduate in Modern European Languages from Durham University with an MA in Museum Studies from the University of Barcelona, she was also a gifted artist who had trained at the Glass School of Barcelona, specialising in the restoration of historic stained glass as well as creating her own designs for windows and jewellery. 


For me, those few days working with Rachel in La Bisbal de Falset were the start of a friendship which lasted till her tragic death at Siurana on 22 December 2016. For Rachel, that first event with Brigaders was also the beginning of a romance with Gerard Amorós, the manager of the village olive oil cooperative, leading to their marriage in 2003 and a uniquely memorable wedding ceremony held in the cave – a happy occasion for their families and friends and, for the older villagers, a day that perhaps helped to ease the memories of the terrible suffering that had taken place there during the civil war.


Rachel and Gerard set up home in the market town of Falset and, when I moved to nearby Marçà, she became a founder member of No Jubilem la Memòria, an association aiming to recover the memory of the civil war in the Priorat. Over the following years she was involved with the numerous events we organised: exhibitions, conferences, tours, commemorations, and in the numerous collaborations with other groups, including the IBMT. She'll be remembered by many people of different nationalities who attended these events for her exuberant and generous spirit, her willingness to help and efficiency in moments of difficulty. 






Photos (from top): 

1/ Rachel in the cave hospital near La Bisbal de Falset, translating the speech by Mick Jones in 2009 during the ceremony to unveil a plaque in memory of the medical services. 

2/ Ceremony to inaugurate the memorial in the cemetery at La Bisbal de Falset in 2001 after the speech by Brigader Sam Lesser (third from right). Rachel is on the far left, ready to interpret for the Catalan politicians. 

3/ Rachel translating the words on the plaque at the memorial to the International Brigades in Corbera d'Ebre in 2003 for the American Brigader Harry Randall, photographer of the Lincoln Battalion. 


In recent years, her knowledge of the culture and wines of the Priorat had blossomed and extended further afield as she successfully built up a bespoke tourism company with an office in Falset. Her tours attracted a truly international clientèle who gave wonderful reviews of the trips they had enjoyed, thanks to Rachel's inside knowledge of the wineries and restaurants and her love of the natural beauty and cultural treasures of Catalonia. 


Everyone in the Priorat knew Rachel, a Lancashire lass but Prioratina by adoption, a greatly-loved champion for the region wherever she went, from international wine fairs to the guided tours with descendants of Brigaders. The mother of two young sons, she will be sorely missed by her family and everyone in her wide circle of friends.


Angela Jackson is a historian and IBMT member.


Posted on 10 January 2017.

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