Winter in Madrid
Release Date: 06 Jan 2006
Enthralling historical drama and spy thriller, set before, during and after the Spanish Civil War.
In 1941 Harry Brett, a shell-shocked veteran of Dunkirk, is recruited by British Intelligence, and sent to Madrid to spy on an old school friend Sandy Forsyth who has become a shady businessman with links to powerful people within Franco regime.
Harry had been to Madrid before in more care-free days during the Second Republic with another old school friend, a communist called Bernie. Bernie was now missing in action, presumed killed, after fighting in the Civil War with the foreign battalions.
The Madrid Harry now finds has been devastated by Civil War. Franco, exultant in his victory, is watching the current situation in Europe with an undisguised hope that the Germans and Italians will be victorious, and Britain is fearful that he will bring Spain into the War on their side.
While there, Harry also renews an acquaintance with Bernie’s girlfriend Barbara, who believes that Bernie might still be alive and kept prisoner, and is hopeful he might be rescued.
Sometimes the story-telling devices seem a bit hackneyed: the moral dilemmas of spying on a friend; events at school foreshadowing adult drama. Nevertheless the story is highly involving.
Moreover it creates a vivid picture of the poverty, despair and stagnation in post-Civil War Madrid. Streets are full of beggars; the well-to-do are looking to their own interests; members of Franco’s corrupt regime are enriching themselves; and the Guardia Civil are ever-present maintaining petty discipline.
I might mention two other aspects of post-war Spain that come across very well. The first is the cold vindictiveness of the Franco regime towards the vanquished Republicans. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the harrowing picture of a post-Civil War labour camp for Republican prisoners.
The second is the extent to which the Catholic Church in Spain was complicit with the regime. (Historically I should note that there were exceptions to this, particularly among the Basque clergy. I hope to include a more detailed discussion of this elsewhere in the site.) Here we see a bullying Church revelling in having it’s authority restored, making no protest about the regime’s corruption and brutality, lending weight to what Hemmingway said about the Spanish at the time: that they can be Catholic without being Christian (For Whom the Bell Tolls).
Another point of interest
the book contains a few real characters, among them the Ambassador to Spain, Samuel Hoare, and Captain Alan Hugh Hillgarth.
Hillgarth was responsible for overseeing a wartime Naval Intelligencence operation called Operation Golden Eye. This operation, in the event never implemented, was "to carry out limited sabotage and maintain essential communications with London if the Germans ever marched into Spain"1. Also involved in this operation was a certain Naval Intelligence officer, who had previously been a journalist in civilian life.
Hillgarth, as is mentioned in Winter in Madrid, was famous for having written adventure stories. These stories seem to have largely sunk without trace.
The Naval Intelligence officer, a certain Commander Fleming, would later to write novels in much the same genre, which signally haven’t.