George Orwell's son embarks on pilgrimage to save war site that inspired Homage to Catalonia

Richard Blair is concerned Spain may lose the history of its civil war

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The Independent Online

For Richard Blair, the sight of the sandbagged trenches outside the Spanish village of Alcubierre gives rise to strong emotions. It was here that his father, George Orwell, came within millimetres of death as a sniper’s bullet traversed his neck and nearly robbed the world of some of modern literature’s greatest works.

But nearly 80 years after Orwell was wounded while fighting Franco’s fascists near Zaragoza, Mr Blair is concerned that another danger is lurking in the hills of Aragon – the risk that as the trenches where his father fought fall into disrepair, Spain is in danger of losing the very history of the civil war which his father chronicled in his personal account of the conflict, Homage to Catalonia.

The 71-year-old retired businessman told The Independent after a visit to the trenches near Alcubierre in north-eastern Spain that he feared a fresh reluctance in the country to confront the traumas of the civil war and Franco’s subsequent dictatorship will soon leave it with an “enormous gap” in its historical memory.

Mr Blair said Homage to Catalonia should not be allowed to become one of the few records of the three-year conflict, which claimed some 500,000 lives.

His warning coincides with fresh debate in Spain about the commemoration of the war and the preservation of some of its key sites, including the Alcubierre trenches where Orwell was shot in 1937 while fighting with the militia of the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification (Poum).

Orwell’s ‘Homage to Catalonia’ records his experiences

Attempts by the previous Spanish government to preserve battlefields have been thrown into reverse by the current centre-right administration, which froze a €3m (£2.1m) project to restore the Orwell trenches. As a result, the trenches have begun to fall into disrepair. Meanwhile, the leaders of a group set up to discover the graves of tens of thousands of republicans killed by the nationalist forces say grants to locate burials are being cut or turned down.

Mr Blair, who was five when his father died, said: “It is humbling for me to come see the places where my father lived and fought. I find it quite emotional – for me it is a pilgrimage. But the trenches are not preserved to the same standard that we might expect in Britain. And I think it fits into a wider debate in Spain.

“There is an enormous gap in Spanish history. And I worry that history will disappear with the older generation.” He added: “There is a great dearth of accurate information available for Spaniards. My father’s book has its little place in telling the story of the war. But it is a problem if Orwell’s contribution is about the only thing that people can hold on to.”