To the British Secret Service he was Agent 3004, Augustin Remiro

Agustín Remiro Manero, one of Francisco Ponzán’s most active collaborators, was born on 28 August 1904.

Born in Épila (Aragon) into a modest farming family, Agustin was deeply impressed by what he read about the events of Tragic Week in Barcelona [1909] and joined the CNT in 1919, the year when Épila’s pugnacious Sugarworkers’ Society and Farmworkers’ and Amalgamated Trades Society affiliated to the Confederation, after they had attended the ‘La Comedia’ congress as mere observers.

Remiro, who was in charge of the Lower Jalón comarcal (county) CNT was caught unawares by the Franco rebellion while in Used (a town he visited annually, contracted by the landowner Cándido Ibañez to help with the harvest) and promptly set off for Épila. There in the early hours of 21 July, Popular Front and CNT militants managed to fend off the initial attack mounted by Falangist militias and troops from the Castillejos Regiment, inflicting several losses on them, but were overwhelmed by the follow-up attack when reinforcements were drafted in. After spending several days in hiding in the nearby Urrea de Jalón district, Remiro decided to try to reach loyalist territory.

He made it via Tardienta, after crossing the Ebro river by lighter and meeting up in the pine woods of Zuera with hundreds more escapees from the banks of the Ebro and the Cinco Villas area.

Shortly after that, he joined the Durruti Column, where he was put in charge of the XI Centuria and joined the “La Noche” group whose mission was to carry out rescues of antifascists from rebel-held territory. In September 1936 he took part in the capture of Fuendetodos and that November he joined the 118th Brigade of the 25th Division. Within a short time, he and some other leading CNT personnel like Cayetano Continente and Juan Bautista Albesa were setting up a guerrilla unit, “Los Iguales”, whose main function was to mount raids and carry out sabotage attacks behind enemy lines. Among the group’s early successes were the blowing up of part of the railway line into Puerto de Paniza and a bridge in La Puebla de Albortón.

Having played an active part in the capture of the seminary in Belchite and the Sillero Peak, Remiro (using phony papers and wearing a Falangist uniform) travelled to Zaragoza to gather intelligence ahead of a planned republican offensive against Teruel and made several visits to his home town to see his family which was being targeted for all sorts of pressure and harassment. After the loss of Teruel and after the Francoist army broke through the Aragon front, Remiro took part in missions to blow up bridges in lower Aragon (Mas de las Matas, Calanda, etc.) and, by then in Lérida (as commander of the ‘C’ Machine-gun Battalion, better known as the Remiro Battalion) he took part in the fighting around Tremp, Sort and Balaguer were he was wounded in the fighting around Esplá Peak.

At some point, once the war was lost, Remiro crossed into France where he was placed in the Argelès-sur-mer (or as Ángel Samblancat, from Aragon, sardonically described it ‘Argelès-sur-merde‘) concentration camp before being moved later to the Mazères camp. On 3 June 1939 he had a visit from Francisco Ponzán who recruited him for an underground network tasked with smuggling comrades out to France whose lives were at risk. And so it was that in September 1939 Remiro made his first visit to Spain, successfully bringing a five-man team of CNT comrades safely out to Perpignan.

It seems that Ponzán, who had made contact with the British secret services in November 1939, was involved by 1940 (some say 1941) with the ‘Pat O’Leary Network’, one of the escape lines set up to help antifascists, Jews and Allied airmen get out (essentially via Gibraltar and Portugal). Between May and June 1940, Remiro and other Ponzán Group members circulated in large numbers inside Spain a leaflet which the late historian Antonio Téllez held was the very first anti-Franco text distributed after the civil war.

In early 1941 Remiro was acting as a courier for the British. His first stopping-off point was Barcelona where the British consul handed over some papers that Remiro was to take to Madrid for delivery to the Cuban and British embassies. At the British Embassy he was given a sum of money and assured that he could carry on with the next leg of mission, due to finish at the British Embassy in Lisbon. On 23 January 1941, having crossed the Portuguese border via Galicia, he was arrested and taken to Oporto by Salazar’s PIDE secret police. Even though they knew that he was agent No 3004 and working for Britain’s MI6 [Britain and Portugal were allies], on 26 January they drove him to the Spanish border and handed him over to the Francoist authorities in Valencia el Alcantara. After the usual interrogation and torture in Madrid (where he was pressed for information as to the whereabouts of some of his comrades such as ‘El Maño’ or Estévez Coll) Remiro, having been designated a “highly dangerous prisoner” was to spend four months in a cell at the Interior ministry. Even though the references coming in from Remiro’s home town stressed that he had never been implicated in criminal homicide, they could scarcely have been more negative and menacing.

His morale low (in that he sensed that he had been ‘sold’ and betrayed) and in desperate straits (believing that he was facing the death penalty), Remiro wrote numerous letters from Madrid’s Porlier prison to which he had been committed: to his family, to try to raise their spirits; to his comrades (towards whom he was scathing, in the belief that they had washed their hands of him), lobbying for money with which to bribe the judges or ‘ease’ the ferocious prison conditions in which he was being held and warning them not to put their trust in the British; and to a number of individuals (the priest in Cervera in Lérida, whom he had rescued from being shot: Ibáñez the landowner in Used and the odd neighbour in Épila) asking them for character references. It was all to no avail: the “references” mysteriously went missing from his file and Remiro was condemned to death at a court martial held in Madrid on 27 April 1942.

Somewhat later, on 21 July 1942, Remiro who had hinted in a letter that he planned to escape, managed to climb over the wall of Porlier prison but some of the locals tipped off the police and the police opened fire on him from the guard post. Struck by a bullet, Remiro managed to reach a nearby building, only to be wounded a second time. In the end he chose to drag himself on to the street where a patrol of his pursuers finished him off.

In a macabre twist, nine days after he was finished off, the Captaincy-General reduced his death sentence to a lesser punishment.

Such was the end of one idealist and man of action (barely known, like so many others) who perished in the fight against Francoism.

by Manuel Ballarín Aured

[Remiro is the subject of a biographical publication “Agustín Remiro : de la guerrilla confederal a los servicios secretos británicos” Antonio Téllez; introduced by Manuel Ballarín Aured. 2006]

From: From El Sueño Igualitario, No 9. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.