Three Hours in Hell

Written by Lewis Twiby

Guernica, April 25, 1937

“Franco is about to deliver a mighty blow against which all resis…” Testily, Luisa shut off the radio. The rebels had been blasting out their asinine propaganda for the last few hours. It had been affecting some. Over half of her battalion had been destroyed during their flight from Bilbao. Poor rations, political infighting, cramped conditions, and a sense of impending doom had pushed everyone’s tensions to the limit. Franco’s boasts over the radio didn’t help matters either. She gave a heavy sigh. It was getting to her now. Please Maria, be safe. Maria had gone missing during the flight from Bilbao. The big bad generalissimo was scared of women with guns and was very eager to acquaint them with a wall…

“Are you not at all fearful?” the Brit asked. The journalist from London had been nicknamed El Señor for his formality. His hair was still ruffled from their exodus.

“No, Señor. We ousted Napoleon and we ousted de Rivera. Franco is a coward, scared of women and the future while licking the boots of Mussolini and Hitler. No, Señor. We are not fearful.” They would never surrender and that was a fact. Luisa had left her rural home in Catalonia to achieve one thing: freedom. No one could take that away from her and thousands more ranging from Catalans to Basques, from anarchists to Marxists to women.

“Anyway, we have the Soviets on our side!” Anton cried, slapping the journalist so hard on the back that his glasses slipped off of his nose. “They helped us at Guadalajara and they will help us again!”

She stared mournfully at Anton. He was so optimistic.

April 26, 1937

It was another quiet day. Every day was a quiet day in Guernica. Unlike most days a tense feeling hung in the air. The tension was so thick it could be cut with a knife. Refugees from across Basque had flooded into the tiny city putting everyone on edge. The fighters were waiting for the stomping feet of the Rebels and the locals were waiting for the ominous sound of gunfire which had strafed the country. Luisa watched as two snow white doves flew peacefully together in the square. No worries, no war, no fighting. An ideal life. How much simpler life would be if you could grow wings and fly away. Only that would mean running. If you ran you left your troubles behind, but they would still be there unless you confronted them. Suddenly her concentration was shattered. Church bells rang out all around her. As soon as one started ominously chiming another joined in. It created a foreboding melody. The doves scattered.

“Good Lord what is that? Mass?” Señor asked.

“No,” she replied. “Air raid.”

Anton looked through his binoculars and immediately dropped them in shock. “Dios mío. That’s a German plane.” A mottled grey plane clung to the sky like a hawk. Luisa felt like a vole seeing the apex predator flying ahead. A loud whistling noise echoed across the sky. Quickly she grabbed her two compatriots and dragged them into the cellar. The whistling gave way to a roar louder than any lion. Screams of anguish wailed through the sounds of crackling. Luisa’s heart dropped thinking of how many lives had been destroyed. She pulled the other two up; Señor’s glasses had shattered.

“Are you two okay? Good. We need to go and help with recovery!” she ordered. The three staggered out of the cellar to be met with Hell itself. In the distance a great fire summoned by Lucifer greedily lapped at the roofs of buildings. The smoke billowed high into the sky threatening to entirely consume the sun.

“That’s an incendiary!” Señor cried indignantly. “They’ve not hit the munitions factory! Those dogs have hit a civilian centre! Have they no sense of decency?”

Welcome to the Spanish Civil War. They never managed to get to the fire. The next wave hit. It was not one hawk this time. It was a swarm. Engines roared above them like thunder as they dropped their loads. Rubble smashed around them as bombs shattered the formerly tranquil city. Lucifer’s Realm spilled out into Guernica. Luisa saw fires consume all in their path, regardless if it was church, house or human. The flames of Guernica started filling her lungs, trying to strangle the life out of her. Smoke as black as coal vanquished the sun’s brightness to bring about Judgement Day itself. Screeching civilians fled into the streets to escape the great burning.

“Why is that plane so low?”  Señor shouted over the destruction. She could make out the black cross on the green-grey paint of the plane. The road exploded. Innocents were torn apart in red gore. Anton vanished in an explosion of crimson. Señor crumpled to his knees with an anguished cry. This was the end. Through flames and bullets Creation has come to an end.

Luisa and Señor walked through what was left. Hollowed out buildings were painted with white. Her once black hair had been stained grey with ash from the burning of buildings and bodies. She felt numb. Fighter and civilian had burned as one. Fighter and civilian had been strafed as one. Fighter and civilian had died as one. Command had given the orders to move town; the rebels were coming like vultures after a kill.

“Luisa, I do not know how I am ever going to write about this. The atrocities…People in Britain do not like to hear about that. What will I say?” Señor forlornly sobbed. It looked like he had aged fifty years.

“Simple. Say that we went through three hours in Hell.”

Bibliography

Raymond Carr, Spain, 1808-1975, (Second Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982).

Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War, (Fourth Edition, London: Penguin, 2001).

Paul Preston, The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain, (London: Harper Press, 2012).

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