The daughter of the "tall soldier" returns to the spaces of the Battle of the Ebro
The story of the brigade member who saved the life of a child in the bombing of Corbera d'Ebre is probably one of the most beautiful stories of the Battle of the Ebro. Like this one there will be many yet to be discovered and they help to understand the horror of war, but also the humanity of it and how it tied the fate of seemingly unconnected people forever.
The parents of the boy Manuel Álvarez, who lived in Tarragona, decided to send him to Corbera d'Ebre with his uncles. “They thought that in a town he would be safer than in the cities, which had begun to bomb,” explains retired teacher and student of local history Joan Antonio. Without knowing it, they sent the boy, aged 11, to the heart of the bloodiest battle of the Spanish Civil War.
That July of 1938, the bombs of the Condor Legion began to fall on the town. In the attempt to flee from them, the boy ended up taking refuge with another young woman, who died, in a little house next to the water tank, which ended up jumping into the air. Álvarez, wounded in the legs, was dragged through the water and mud until a Canadian soldier was able to pull him out and carry him to a warehouse converted into an aid center. He was later transferred to the cave-hospital of Santa Lucía de la Bisbal de Falset. Little Álvarez is photographed in bed in this hospital, in one of the many photos that the renowned Alec Wainman took while he was a volunteer with the British Medical Unit. But that photo would not be discovered until many years later, by Wainman's son. "Neither one nor the other knew of the existence of those photos," says Antonio. All Álvarez knew was that a Canadian soldier had saved his life and he decided to dedicate his own to looking for him. "The only piece of information he had was that he had been a Canadian soldier. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack,” says Antonio. As a young man, Álvarez joined the merchant marine and was eventually able to emigrate to Canada.
The soldier who saved him was named Jim Higgins and was part of the Mackenzie-Papineau battalion. Higgins had counted among the veterans that he had saved a child during the Spanish Civil War, but he couldn't remember the name of the town. Higgins was 71 years old when Alvarez finally tracked him down and was able to meet him, in 1978 in Peterborough, Ontario, and thanked him for knowing on that horrific day. 40 years had passed. With this life story, Álvarez wrote the book the tall soldier.
Now, the daughter of Jim Higgins has returned to Corbera d'Ebre, after years of work and documentation, to present the Spanish translation of her father's book Jim Higgins. Fighting for democracy. Memoirs of a Canadian activist in the Spanish Civil War (Press of the University of Zaragoza). Higgins arrived in Spain as a volunteer to combat fascism and already wrote a very important part of his experiences in 1939.
«I wanted to come here to honor the memory of my father and the people of Spain. He felt very close to the people of Spain”, declares Janette Higgins. "My father's story is just a specific one, but it serves to get an idea about the international brigadistas, for everything they went through and why they came to Spain."