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Authors: Jack Ludlow

A Broken Land

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A BROKEN LAND

JACK LUDLOW

To Eric Gleadall

 

A friend who experienced everything under the sun: good fortune as well as setbacks, both financially and in his health. Yet he never, whatever his condition, let his smile slip, nor ceased to joke and be good company. Bravery is too shallow a word.

C
al Jardine was never himself entirely sure how he got so caught up in the counter-revolution that went on to become the Spanish Civil War. Many who knew him put it down to his inability to pass up on a scrap, but initially it was merely from being in the wrong place at the wrong time and in the company of the wrong people, like his one-time sergeant and now good friend, the boxing gym owner and anti-fascist street fighter, Vince Castellano.

His presence in Barcelona at the fateful time came about because he was doing a favour for a valued friend, one that also cocked a mighty snook at the pretensions of Nazi Germany and the stupidity of Aryan eugenics; given his openly stated antipathy to National Socialism, the idea of helping to facilitate, even on the margins, what was being called the People’s Olympiad appealed to him.

The Berlin Olympics, which Adolf Hitler was using as a showcase for his absurd theories on race, were due to take place in mid August;
the idea of pre-empting that with a socialist set of competitions, as well as demonstrating there was another, saner world, had come from many sources, though it had to be admitted the organisers were no more Cal Jardine’s natural bedfellows than those who claimed to be part of the master race.

Far-left socialists and intellectuals, international trade unionists, syndicalists, anarchists and communists, both Stalinist and Trotskyist in persuasion, did not easily gel with a man of independent means, who had made his way in the world for a decade by running guns and advising on the tactics of guerrilla warfare.

Asked about his own political views, Cal Jardine was inclined to reply that he generally favoured a government that had no need to incarcerate or shoot you if you disagreed with them; beyond that and a deeply honed sense of what was just and equitable, he was fairly indifferent to politics on the very good grounds that most people he had met engaged in that pursuit seemed more than a touch fraudulent.

Even then, he could have been gone a whole week before the balloon went up; the reason he was not, and this surprised no one, was a woman. Florencia Gardiola, when he sought to expound his indifference to politics, insisted he was just selfish, but then she applied that accusation to anyone who did not share her passionate belief in anarchism, the end of wage slavery and the replacement of the capitalist system with a new society based on true democracy and a state managed by the efforts of worker cooperatives; that she did this occasionally in his bed at the very superior Ritz Hotel did not seem to her – and Cal Jardine tried to make a pun out of it – an anachronism.

All he got for his poor joke was a pummelling on his naked chest
which, in seeking to contain her, ended up with another bout of frantic lovemaking with the very fiery and beautiful young woman who had been assigned to him as an interpreter. His friend Sir Monty Redfern had bankrolled some of the British athletes heading to Barcelona – he had agreed to pay for their accommodation – an act the Jewish millionaire had likened, in an expression typical of a man who had hauled himself up from East End poverty, to passing a hard stool through a haemorrhoid arse. Monty’s problem was that, much as he hated the far-left, he hated the Nazis more.

‘But, Cal, you think I am going to just give these madmen my money?’ he had cried. ‘They might send it to Moscow, the crooks, or use it to buy weapons. No, I have to make sure it is spent on their hostels.’

‘Hostels? I hope you don’t expect me to share their accommodation, Monty.’

The response had come with a delighted hoot. ‘That I should see, you in a workers’ boarding house, ten to a room, with the smell of nothing but unwashed feet and garlic farts.’

That the last words had coincided with the opening of Monty’s office door had made him look momentarily abashed, but not for long; as a man he was too ebullient for reserve, and probably, by now, his recently acquired assistant either had become accustomed to his vulgarity or lacked the colloquial English necessary to fully comprehend it. Elsa Ephraim was very attractive, with long black hair, alabaster skin and dark inviting eyes, and Monty, unseen by Elsa, gave a roll of the eyes that was a curse to his advanced years, not to mention a wife who would castrate him if he even looked like straying.

Cal had been gifted with a smile, having been instrumental in
getting Elsa and her family out of Hamburg, crucially with a lot of their possessions, paintings and jewellery, so they had not arrived in England, like so many of their persecuted co-religionists, as paupers. Their extraction had turned out to be the last in a long line of successes; his name and activities had become known to the Gestapo, obliging him to get out of Germany himself, albeit by a different route. Not only beautiful but smart as well, Cal had brought her to the attention of Monty, who had given her a job.

‘You have the draft, Elsa?’ Monty had asked.

The slip of paper had been handed over, as well as a clipboard and a pen, which had made Monty frown. ‘My own shekels, Cal, and I still have to sign for them.’

‘Two thousand pounds is a lot of money, Mr Redfern.’

‘Child, there was a time in my life when two pennies was a lot of money.’

‘I should get out as quick as you can, Elsa, or the violins will start playing “Annie Laurie”.’

The girl had been confused and it showed, it being English so idiomatic it taxed her still-limited knowledge of the language. She spoke it well, but tended to get her tenses mixed up.

‘What this goy layabout means, Elsa, is that I am a sentimental old fool.’

Elsa had replied with a complete lack of irony, her look serious. ‘My father is that too; he cries often for what we left behind in Königsberg.’

‘Thank you, Elsa,’ a misunderstood Monty had replied, before handing the bank draft to Cal.

‘You don’t want me to sign for it?’ he had asked when the door closed behind her.

‘Cal, I don’t want anyone to know you have it, and even more I do not want anyone to know where you are taking it and why. Me paying for beds for a bunch of Bolsheviks! I like it at the synagogue when people speak to me.’

‘How’s Elsa doing?’ Cal had asked.

‘To my head she is doing things I cannot talk about, but the girl is clever and diligent. Don’t fall for that sentimentality shit about her father, ’cause he’s a sly old bird. Right now if he’s crying, it is over the joy of buying a steel stockist on the cheap.’

‘He’s only been here a few months and already he’s gone into business?’

‘He’s Jewish, Cal, it’s what we do.’ Monty had tapped his head. ‘And it is shrewd with rearmament coming.’

‘You’re sure it’s coming?’

‘Damn sure, Cal. We are going to have to fight Hitler and you know that better than me. Now don’t go losing that draft, anyone can take it to a bank and cash it.’

A
s he walked along the Strand later that day, and not for the first time in his life, Callum Jardine had been left to reflect on the effect of coming back home from an area of conflict, something he had done after the Great War and more than once since; the discomfort caused by both the experience of battle and his personal knowledge of what was happening in the Horn of Africa, set against the palpable indifference of those with whom he now mingled on one of London’s busiest thoroughfares.

If the people he jostled and passed had concerns about events elsewhere in the world, it did not show; the Italians were busy annexing Ethiopia, using liberal doses of poison gas against
spear-carrying
tribesmen and civilians, while Nazi Germany, having torn up the Treaty of Versailles, had remilitarised the Rhineland, daring both France and Britain to react and crowing when they failed.

Having got away with that breach of their international
obligations, the Nazis were now putting the thumbscrews on Austria to join them and create a Greater German Reich, stirring up what support they had to create instability. Here at home, Britain’s own fascist leader, Oswald Mosley, was ranting and raving at his blackshirts, being praised by the
Daily Mail
and becoming more like a cut-price version of Adolf Hitler every time he opened his mouth.

He could not help but wonder at what occupied the minds of those on the crowded pavements, apart from the everyday need to earn a crust. Was it sport perhaps? Fred Perry had won at Wimbledon for the third time; the Indian cricket team was struggling through a long summer of defeats, the supporters thrilled by Wally Hammond’s century, showing a return to form for England’s best batsman; and across the pond Max Schmeling had knocked out Joe Louis.

If the nation was still in the grip of an economic depression it hardly showed in the metropolis, especially in the short dead-end road that led to the imposing entrance of the Savoy Hotel, filled with taxis and long black limousines, all overseen by a magnificently attired doorman. The effects were being felt elsewhere, in mining villages and valleys, in the northern industrial centres and idle shipyards.

That induced a slight feeling of guilt, given his destination. Still, lunch at Simpson’s was always something to look forward to: properly aged rib of beef or saddle of lamb carved at the table, though it was not a place where the matters on which he was ruminating would stir even an eyebrow. To the denizens of Simpson’s the unemployed were lazy, not benighted, the dropping of mustard gas on innocents, as long as they were black or brown, more likely to lead to a degree of indifference rather than condemnation.

The spread of fascism in Europe, from the Black Sea to the Baltic, would be seen as a minor irritation in one of the great food bastions of the British upper crust; the clientele tended to be people who had a lot of admiration for anyone who made the trains run on time, added to a less than charitable attitude towards trade unions or workers demanding a decent standard of living.

Peter Lanchester was already ensconced, nursing a schooner of sherry, looking very much at home in the Grand Divan. The
dark-panelled
dining room was full, as usual, and there was the odd glance of recognition as the new arrival made his way to the table – London society was a touch incestuous and he was, after all, a person who carried with him a certain amount of notoriety; not many people can claim to have been acquitted of murder in an infamous
crime passionel
.

Good manners insisted he made eye contact with the one or two people who could be said to be part of his wife’s social circle, as well as some of the very attractive ladies present. He was, by nature, incapable of ignoring them. In turn, they could not disregard the arrival of an extremely good-looking man, well dressed but with a hint of the rogue in him, obviously very fit and sporting a deep and even suntan of the kind hard to achieve under English skies.

‘Cal, old boy! You look as if you have just come back from yachting with our besotted monarch.’

Said loud enough to be overheard at several tables, the remark was greeted with blank looks by the ignorant and a cold stare by the very few in the know. Edward, the yet-to-be-crowned King of England and Emperor of India, was sailing in the Mediterranean with his American lover, Wallis Simpson, divorced once and filing for a second, causing tongues to wag in the higher reaches of society,
though the great unwashed at home were being kept in ignorance by a self-imposed news blackout. Every other national press in the world was openly speculating on how far the golden boy would go.

‘The American newspapers are saying he wants to marry her,’ Cal said quietly, as he slid into his seat, nodding at the invitation to join Peter in a sherry.

‘Cause a hell of a stink if he tries. Anyway, how do you know what the American papers are saying?’

‘Had a letter from a journalist chap I met in Ethiopia. Seems they’d rather print front-page stories about our king-emperor and his less-than-chaste mistress than anything about Italian atrocities.’

‘Romance sells newspapers, poison gas dropped on fuzzy-wuzzies does not.’

That remark had got Lanchester a glare, the return look – arched eyebrows added to a cynical grin – an indication that it had been a deliberate attempt to get under Cal’s skin. To his guest, Peter Lanchester had always been a mite free with his tongue when it came to the common insults, reflecting the attitudes of those with whom he mixed – members of London’s clubland, the country house set and golfing bores.

Eschewing the temptation to react, he had decided to stick to the king. ‘Not that one should care a fig what the booby is up to with his clapped-out paramour.’

That got an arched and cynical eyebrow. ‘You call our future king a booby?’

‘So would you if you’d met him.’ Reacting to the enquiring look, Cal had added, ‘Lizzie introduced me to him, given he moves in the same social circle as my too-easily-bored wife. As a man, he is short in the arse, vacuous in expression, vain, pig-ignorant and, for reasons
best known to the gods, beloved by the great British public or the press that feed their fantasies.’

‘Quite a condemnation.’

‘I assume I am here for a purpose, Peter, and that has nothing to do with Edward Windsor?’

‘Little bird told me you were off to Barcelona?’ Cal was surprised, wondering how he knew, but he had merely nodded as a tall schooner of Manzanilla Pasada was placed before him. Lanchester had then smoothed a hand over his black swept-back hair and looked at him keenly. ‘Which prompts me to ask, Cal, if you have ever heard of a body called Juan March Ordinas?’

‘Hails from Majorca and has made a tremendous pile, originally from tobacco smuggling, though he was quite active during the war as well, shipping supplies of arms through the Mediterranean on the q.t. for both sides. Pals with the monarchical party, though he was threatened with choky after King Alfonso abdicated in ’31 and the Republic came into being. Not fancying a prison cell, he then escaped to Gibraltar where the powers that be, namely His Majesty’s Government, refused to hand him back to Spanish justice.’

‘And I thought I was going to surprise you.’

‘Come on, Peter, in the world in which I move Juan March is quite well known. You can’t amass illegal millions through smuggling without flagging yourself up to your competitors, not to mention those who might want to avail themselves of your routes and shipping. He also dabbled in lots of other nefarious things. My guess is he did a bit of spying for us in the war and I daresay there are some skeletons in our Whitehall cupboards as far as March is concerned that no one wants made public, hence the privilege of protection.’

‘He is holed up in London, Cal, and making mischief.’

‘Nature of the beast.’ Presented with a menu, Cal had aimed it at his host. ‘I hope you are not seeking to inveigle me into risking my neck for the price of a decent luncheon, because, let me tell you, he is not a fellow to mess with, he’s a killer. Quite a few who tried ended up floating face down in the Med.’

That had got a mischievous look. ‘Risking your neck is something you would do whether I asked you to or not.’

Callum Jardine was unable to fault that; he had only been back in London for a few weeks and already he had felt a sense of boredom setting in, not aided by his own personal problems of a socially active wife he could neither ignore nor live with. Peter Lanchester knew him too well; they had served as soldiers together in the last months of the Great War and afterwards in seeking to contain an insurgency in Mesopotamia.

It had been a loose connection, recently strengthened by what had happened in Germany, Romania and Ethiopia, but he could not say, in any way, that he knew the man well. There had been hints of a job with British Intelligence in some capacity, but Cal had no idea if he was still employed or was, as he had hinted, on the scrap heap due to financial cutbacks brought on by government economies.

Lanchester had come to Hamburg the previous autumn to both warn and engage his old acquaintance, claiming to represent a group of wealthy or well-connected individuals who had combined to seek to put a check on the threat of fascism to Great Britain. But, apart from a couple of obvious names – and you could only speculate if he was telling the truth regarding those he had revealed – he had consistently declined to mention the identities of most of his backers.

That they had power had been proven by the way the task Peter had asked him to perform, as well as aided him to execute, had been
both financed and facilitated; that it had been risky went without saying – the clandestine purchase and shipment of the weapons of war could never be anything else. In the process, Jardine’s opinion of Peter Lanchester, not terribly high to begin with, had risen several notches; he was not a fellow with whom he shared much in common in the political or moral line, but he was both brave and gifted.

‘So, apart from the love of my company, Peter, why this?’

‘Over there in the corner,’ Peter had whispered, ‘those three chaps, glowering at the world in general and at each other in particular.’

That was said with a nod past his guest’s shoulder; too experienced to jerk his head round, it was several moments before Cal Jardine had looked to where Lanchester indicated. The table had been as described, but there seemed to be something not quite right about the party, a stiffness that made conversation look difficult. The impression was fleeting – it had to be, because he could not stare – but it was visible that they were either earnestly engaged in serious discussion, or possibly in disagreement.

‘The one with his back to you is MI6,’ Lanchester had continued, idly casting his eye over the menu. ‘Name of Cecil Beeb, and the grey-haired chap is Douglas Jerrold, editor of the
Catholic Review
, a nitwit who thinks the sun shines right out of Oswald Mosley’s alimentary canal. He makes support of the
Mail
look tepid. Swarthy one is Luis Bolin, London correspondent of a Spanish newspaper, also, coincidentally, very anti the present Republican government.’

‘And?’

‘Would you not be interested in what they might be talking about, given where you are off to?’

‘I’m not as nosy as you, Peter.’

‘A little bird has let us know Señor March is up to no good in the Iberian Peninsula.’

Even if he had not wanted to be intrigued, Cal had been unable to help it. ‘Go on.’

‘We think there’s going to be a military revolt in Spain, seeking to topple the Popular Front government, and Juan March is helping to finance the generals leading it. Rumour has it he has piled in over fifteen million US dollars already, with more promised when the balloon goes up.’

It had been hard not to look impressed, indeed not to emit a soft whistle, that being a very serious amount of money, but, taking into account March’s background and those who constituted his enemies, the man’s action made a certain sense.

‘It was the Republic that sought to put him in jail,’ Cal had replied, ‘so he can’t love democracy much, but from what I know of Juan March, which I admit is limited and second-hand, making money is his prime concern. Mind, if he pays out that much to put the soldiers in power, he can name his fee if they succeed.’

Since being apprised of the commission from Monty Redfern he had quite naturally sought to recall what he knew of
present-day
Spain, a seriously troubled country racked by endless political infighting, not that such a thing was new – it had been going on for years. Industrial walkouts, agrarian uprisings from peasant labourers, a full-blown revolution in the mining region of the Asturias involving a bloody military put-down, the whole mixed with various regions seeking autonomy from Madrid.

Yet when Cal had read of such things as general strikes he had to remind himself that there had been that in the United Kingdom ten years previously while he had been in the Middle East – the difference
with the Iberian model being that the peasantry tended to murder the landowners and vice versa, while the industrial workers used guns and the authorities everything including tanks, artillery and bombs to put them down.

‘We also have information March is shipping weapons and that he has been in contact with both Berlin and Rome about further supplies.’

‘And the “we” you represent don’t like it.’

‘Not a bit.’

‘While HMG?’

‘Is either ignorant, which is doubtful, or indifferent, which is likely. We are paying the price for not stopping Hitler in the Rhineland and Mussolini in Ethiopia, we’ve a dictator now in Portugal, as well as a string of rightist governments throughout Central Europe, and that can only get worse if Spain goes the same way.’

There had been the temptation to press, Lanchester having connections that put him in a position to know much of what went by the name of ‘official thinking’, but it would have been pointless; he was close-lipped on anything like that.

‘Has anyone bothered to tell Madrid of what you suspect?’

‘I should think everyone has, but they either don’t believe it or are very sure it is all talk and will not come to fruition. Besides which, they are always being bothered by false alarms regarding military revolts. General Sanjurjo, the chap they are talking about as being the titular leader of this one, tried it on four years ago and fell flat on his hidalgo face.’

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