"All quiet in the Alcázar, sir"

4th December 2007, Comments 0 comments

4 December 2007, VILLAFRANCA DEL PENEDES - A Catalan historian, Carles Querol, has just located about 50 previously unpublished photographs of the siege of the Alcázar de Toledo, a famous and crucial episode in the Spanish Civil War, which ended 71 years ago. Until now the photos had been in the possession of the family of Vincent Doherty, a South African who joined the International Brigades to go to Spain and fight for the Republican cause.

4 December 2007

VILLAFRANCA DEL PENEDES - A Catalan historian, Carles Querol, has just located about 50 previously unpublished photographs of the siege of the Alcázar de Toledo, a famous and crucial episode in the Spanish Civil War, which ended 71 years ago. Until now the photos had been in the possession of the family of Vincent Doherty, a South African who joined the International Brigades to go to Spain and fight for the Republican cause.

These remarkable images show Republican militiamen and soldiers, as well as the local people of Toledo, trying to pass the time in an apparently interminable siege, which finally ended when Franco's troops broke through the surrounding Republican lines to relieve the fortress commanded by colonel Moscardó, whose laconic report to Franco was: "All quiet in the Alcázar, sir."

Of Irish origin, Doherty was born in Capetown in 1919, joined the RAF in 1932, and served in Singapore. Then in 1936, at the age of 27, he joined the International Brigades, the forces of foreign volunteers who fought for the Republicans. He was assigned to the Republican airfield at Getafe, just southwest of Madrid and was one of the first volunteers who came to Spain. He took part in the conflict until 1937 and later fought in the Second World War, before working in civil aviation, mostly in Africa. Doherty died in 1967. It is not entirely clear what role, if any, he played in the siege of the Alcázar, but he did get an interesting collection of photographs. It seems unlikely that he took these pictures himself as they look like professional photos, probably taken by a British or American photo-journalist. The collection was inherited by one of Doherty's granddaughters, Ayna, who for the last three years has been living in the Catalan town of Villafranca del Penedès, where she has deposited the pictures in the municipal archive.

Many photo-journalists stationed in Madrid came out to nearby Toledo, and there are plenty of pictures of the siege. "But every photograph always contributes something, because they are all different," says Mariano Gracia, director of the Municipal Archive of Toledo, which will receive copies of Doherty's photographs, which are generally of high quality and taken from different viewpoints.

Ayna Doherty never knew her grandfather, though she knew he was "an original character, an adventurer." Chance brought her into contact with the historian Carles Querol, who had been searching for unpublished images of the Civil War, and was quick to realize the value of the photos. A year ago he organised an exhibition of unpublished photographs by the great photo-journalist Robert Capa, showing the retreat from the Republican front in Tarragona, and a few months ago he also found a set of pictures by the British war correspondent Henry Buckley.

[Copyright EL PAÍS, SL./ PERE LOBATO 2007]

Subject: Spanish news

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