Tag Archives: Felicia Browne

Flowers for Felicia

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Events on October 17th & 18th

Flower shops seem few and far between in Spain. All we want is a few symbolic carnations to throw into the river but we do not find any. Felicia’s niece Glenda settles for a bouquet of berries that she picks from a tree outside the museum at Robres. I give her my hair band to hold them together. We all head for the railway bridge to see where Felicia Browne, a new member of the militia, went on 22nd August 1936 with a party of German & Italian comrades, to blow up the munitions train near Gurrea de Gallego. They were only partially sucessful, the bridge was damaged preventing Fascist re-inforcements reaching Tardienta, but they did not get the train. On the way back they ran into a fascist ambush. An Italian comrade, Paulo Comida, was wounded in the foot. Felicia went back to help him. They were both shot dead.

Glenda has come all the way from Australia to visit Spain, to commemorate the aunt she only knew from vague and contradictory family stories. Yesterday she presented a copy of one of Felicia’s drawings to the Alcaldesa, the Mayor, of Tardiente. It will hang on the wall of the Town Hall, the Alcadesa, a youngish woman, told us, at least until the elections in May. Felicia’s pictures will be among those exhibited at Pallant House, near Chichester between November 2014 and February 2015. Artists paint their own memorials.

The rough track above the river Soton has more wild flowers beside it than we have seen up on the hills. Several of us pick little bunches of track-side weeds & wild rosemary to add to the tribute. Florists’ flowers might not suit Felicia anyway. All the volunteers were unlikely warriors, but Felicia , the first British volunteer killed in Spain, was one of the most improbable; and not just because she was a woman. She was an artist, she had only the few weeks military training she got in Spain, and most astonishing to me, she grew up in Thames Ditton. Because I know Thames Ditton, a village in Surrey on London’s SW fringes. It is a nice place to go for a drink by the river on a warm summer evening, but not remotely artistic and then as now solidly upper-middle-class & Conservative. It is a village but neither agricultural or industrial. The men and younger women commute to the city. I am surprised it produced Felicia but not that she abandoned its constricting environment. She went to Art College in London . In 1933 she joined the Communist Party. The British security service opened a file on her after she fell ill and was admitted to Guys hospital. It seems that the patient was trying to convert the nurses to Communism. In the picture I have seen she has short hair, cut in a fringe, thick spectacles and a cheeky grin. She looks a bit like Harry Potter.

We come to the railway bridge. Glenda and one or two others scrample down to the disused line but it is clear that it would not be safe for the whole party. The Soton is quite a big river, running fast with cloudy green water that looks like glacier melt. Flags wave for photographs. They climb up to the cart-track. Where it crosses the river there is another bridge.  We stop, raise our flags. Glenda and Pauline tell us about Felicia, then Glenda raises her arm to toss the improvised bouquet into the river.  We run like children to the other side of the bridge to see it emerge but it has disappeared entirely, swallowed up in the milky green water or caught on a barrier under the bridge.

2014-10-18 Flowers for Felicia_edited-1

Events on October 17th & 18th 2014 and August 22nd 1933