Sunday, April 23, 2006


They had just got me on to the stretcher when my paralysed right arm came to life and began hurting damnably. At the time I imagined that I must have broken it in falling; but the pain reassured me, for I knew that your sensations do not become more acute when you are dying. I began to feel more normal and to be sorry for the four poor devils who were sweating and slithering with the stretcher on their shoulders. It was a mile and a half to the ambulance, and vile going, over lumpy, slippery tracks. I knew what a sweat it was, having helped to carry a wounded man down a day or two earlier. The leaves of the silver poplars which, in places, fringed our trenches brushed against my face; I thought what a good thing it was to be alive in a world where silver poplars grow. But all the while the pain in my arm was diabolical, making me swear and then try not to swear, because every time I breathed too hard the blood bubbled out of my mouth. The doctor re-bandaged the wound, gave me a shot of morphia, and sent me off to Sietamo. The hospitals at Sietamo were hurriedly constructed wooden huts where the wounded were, as a rule, only kept for a few hours before being sent on to Barbastro or Lerida. I was dopey from morphia but still in great pain, practically unable to move and swallowing blood constantly. It was typical of Spanish hospital methods that while I was in this state the untrained nurse tried to force the regulation hospital meal--a huge meal of soup, eggs, greasy stew, and so forth--down my throat and seemed surprised when I would not take it. I asked for a cigarette, but this was one of the periods of tobacco famine and there was not a cigarette in the place. Presently two comrades who had got permission to leave the line for a few hours appeared at my bedside. 'Hullo! You're alive, are you? Good. We want your watch and your revolver and your electric torch. And your knife, if you've got one.' They made off with all my portable possessions. This always happened when a man was wounded--everything he possessed was promptly divided up; quite rightly, for watches, revolvers, and so forth were precious at the front and if they went down the line in a wounded man's kit they were certain to be stolen somewhere on the way. By the evening enough sick and wounded had trickled in to make up a few ambulance-loads, and they sent us on to Barbastro. What a journey! It used to be said that in this war you got well if you were wounded in the extremities, but always died of a wound in the abdomen. I now realized why. No one who was liable to bleed internally could have survived those miles of jolting over metal roads that had been smashed to pieces by heavy lorries and never repaired since the war began. Bang, bump, wallop! It took me back to my early childhood and a dreadful thing called the Wiggle-Woggle at the White City Exhibition. They had forgotten to tie us into the stretchers. I had enough strength in my left arm to hang on, but one poor wretch was spilt on to the floor and suffered God knows what agonies. Another, a walking case who was sitting in the corner of the ambulance, vomited all over the place. The hospital in Barbastro was very crowded, the beds so close together that they were almost touching. Next morning they loaded a number of us on to the hospital train and sent us down to Lerida. I was five or six days in Lerida. It was a big hospital, with sick, wounded, and ordinary civilian patients more or less jumbled up together. Some of the men in my ward had frightful wounds. In the next bed to me there was a youth with black hair who was suffering from some disease or other and was being given medicine that made his urine as green as emerald. His bed-bottle was one of the sights of the ward. An English-speaking Dutch Communist, having heard that there was an Englishman in the hospital, befriended me and brought me English newspapers. He had been ter-ribly wounded in the October fighting, and had somehow managed to settle down at Lerida hospital and had married one of the nurses. Thanks to his wound, one of his legs had shrivelled till it was no thicker than my arm. Two militiamen on leave, whom I had met my first week at the front, came in to see a wounded friend and recognized me. They were kids of about eighteen. They stood awkwardly beside my bed, trying to think of something to say, and then, as a way of demonstrating that they were sorry I was wounded, suddenly took all the tobacco out of their pockets, gave it to me, and fled before I could give it back. How typically Spanish! I discovered afterwards that you could not buy tobacco anywhere in the town and what they had given me was a week's ration.


Anonymous WhattheH said...

I often thought that I could never have been more than a mediocre writer because of my lack of perception of events surrounding my own little world. The words were there, just not the inspiration. Orwell has convinced me that I would have been a terrible writer, darn him.
Wonderful excerpt, but what are you going to do for an encore? I await with anticipation.

1:04 PM  
Blogger durrati said...

We still have two more from Orwell (darn him) then I think I'll do a series on Durutti...

2:37 PM  
Blogger Private Partz said...

Ahh, the realities of war. How terribly inconvenient it is for Los Elefantes Amarillos in this country. The pain, the suffering, the inhumanity. Funny, I have a feeling that their keyboard activisim would fade into a deafening silence after one day at a hospital such as the ones at Sietamo. If it were 1930's Spain, I surmise they would just slap a yellow ribbon on their burro or simply reinsert their heads in the sand while uttering the immortal words of Roberto Duran -
No Mas.


5:57 PM  
Blogger durrati said...


Thanks as always for your insight. The "yellow elephants" would indeed shrink from the realities of war, but thanks to our "fair and balanced" media are not subjected to it. One half hour segment of the NBC Nightly News circa 1968 contained more footage of American casualties than have been broadcast during the entire debacle that is Iraq. Out of sight, out of mind! May the craven, cowardly network execs burn in hell...

8:47 PM  
Blogger durrati said...


2:51 AM  
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