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British in Iberia

British history and stories in Spain and Portugal.

The man in the tartan jacket.
29 April 2010 @ 11:33

On the 21st of March, 1970 at home in Alicante, in the city where, through his cunning and bravery he helped hundreds of Spaniards flee whilst fighting for freedom during the Spanish Civil War, a man died of a heart attack.  Christopher Edwin Lance was an Englishman, well-known in Republican areas during this ill-fate period.  Captain Lance, or “the Scarlet Pimpernel of the Spanish War” as he was known by many Spanish fugitives who sought refuge in foreign embassies, was also known as “the man in the tartan jacket” and was considered by the Republican Army to be their public enemy number one.

Edwin C. Lance was a civil engineer, born in Wells in 1893.  In 1914 he signed up in the First World War and rose to the rank of Captain.  In 1926 he came to Spain to take part in the construction of the Santander-Mediterranean railway and returned again in 1931 to help protect English interests in a Spanish company.

At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War the English ambassador, Sir Henry Chilton, left Spain and consequently, as agreed by the Chief Consul John H. Milanes, the embassy was re-opened by Captain Lance and it was then used as a refuge for the six hundred or so English, or those who called themselves English, that lived in Madrid.  All of a sudden, despite not knowing their birth date, hundreds of people remembered that they had been born on-board an English ship or in Gibraltar; many of them not knowing a word of English and some were even known to be opponents of the English.

Lance took control of his businesses and was handed the responsibility for the Embassy vault by Ogilvie-Forbes, which was then used to protect the jewelry, cash and documents of many wanted people, such as the Duke of Alba.  Forbes arrived at the beginning of August, sent by the British Diplomatic Service and nominated Lance honorary attaché.  They were artificially protected by the British flag which was displayed on all their vehicles and they all wore red, white and blue wristbands.  He and the other British subjects could travel around with a certain degree of safety as the Republicans had great respect for foreigners, so long as they weren’t Germans or Italians.  With the help of other members of the British embassy such as Marger Hill, Eric Glaisher and Bobby Papworth, he organized trips travelling by road to Alicante to board them on ships destined for foreign ports and out of Franco’s Spain.  Nobody knew how Captain Lance managed to arrange these trips to reach Alicante, usually with him leading the expeditions and travelling during the night time.

At the end of 1936 he was taken prisoner by the state troops in the university area of the city.  After being registered he was then taken to meet Franco.  In Burgos, General Merry del Val gave him the names of some people who he had to rescue from the republican zones.  He returned to Madrid and continued organizing trips to Alicante and obtaining the documents of those who he rescued.  Amongst the many were Domingo de las Bárcenas who then went on to be ambassador in London, Pedro Muguruza who later conceived the Valle de los Caídos project, one of Don Pedro Muñoz Seca’s daughters and one of the sons of General Martin Moreno, head of General Franco’s headquarters.

The man in the tartan jacket was arrested in Valencia in October of 1937.  First he was in jail in Valencia and then taken to Segorbe and later was transferred to the ship “Uruguay”, anchored in the waters outside Gerona.  His name figured on the list of those condemned to the death penalty.  However, early one morning at the end of January, when Franco’s troops had already reached Barcelona, he was rescued.  Captain Lance thought he was living his last few days and was going to be executed but instead he was taken to a house where a member of the British consul, and ultimately his freedom, awaited him.  He had spent fifteen months in jail.

He remained an anonymous figure until 1960 when the British version of the book by C.E. Lucas Phillips was published, in which his achievements in Spain were revealed.  Editorial Juventud published the book in Spain in 1965 under the title, “The Pimpernel of the Spanish Civil War”.

In November of 1961, Edwin C. Lance returned again to Spain, as guest of the city of Madrid who awarded him an official recognition for the humanitarian work which he had carried out during the war.  “I never dreamed of receiving such an award”, he told the various journalists who attended the press conference.  He had lived for twenty years in total anonymity until an English writer published a book about his achievements.

Written by Jesús Castro

Translated by Rachael Harrison

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