Postcard from... Malaga


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The Independent Travel


In China Mao-Tse-Tung's essay in praise of Canadian doctor Norman Bethune, who died of septicaemia whilst tending wounded Communist soldiers in 1939, was required reading in primary schools in the 1960s. And now in Spain, where Bethune saved dozens, if not hundreds, of lives during one of the Civil War's most terrible massacres, the doctor's own memoirs of those events have finally made it into print.

Bethune, a dedicated Communist who invented the world's first mobile blood transfusion unit, volunteered for medical service in Spain in the earliest days of the Civil War in 1936. He and his transfusion unit, with enough supplies for 100 operations, then worked with the 150,000 refugees systematically machine-gunned by Italian and German fighter planes as they fled on the single road running along the Mediterranean coast after the city had fallen to Nationalist troops in early 1937.

Bethune's chilling written account of how the planes bullets' "weaved intricate geometric patterns amongst the lines of refugees" has now been published for the first time in Spanish, under the title Las Heridas [The Wounds].

Also included is his account as a volunteer military surgeon in China, where he later worked as a civilian and he is buried in the Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery in China, and where the Norman Bethune medal remains the highest medical honour annual awarded by the Chinese government. The publication of Las Heridas may well make the man a little better known in Spain, too.