Unlike other Catalan guerrilla bands which came down from France, the Patacons operated in and around Tarragona and were firmly rooted in the area
Hello, readers. A few months ago – in October 2022 to be precise – I was taking part in the maquis commemoration ceremonies being held in the Prades mountains (Tarragona) under the auspices of the Col.lectiu a les Trinxeres. As ever those activities and the atmosphere were stunning. Among the various talks and trails we met up with some people from ‘La Somereta Lliure’, part of the UGEL (Union of Libertarian Excursionist Groups) who brought us to several locations visited by the Tarragon band Los Patacons, before delivering an entertaining and informative talk on the group. Over the weekend I asked them if they might be interested in working with this blog and writing an article for it, including some of the things they had been talking about. Luckily for me and followers of this blog, the idea tickled their fancy and htis is the result of that collaboration.
From this Ni cautivos ni desarmados blog, we offer our warmest congratulations to this contribution as well as our thanks for the warm welcome received from La Somereta Lliure which is doing great things in respect of preserving libertarian memory. My most heartfelt thanks and best wishes to the group.
That being it for today, over now to the text they sent in.
Come the end of the Spanish Civil War, the Franco regime made a point of persecuting and repressing all who had fought on the legitimate side or who were simply at odds with the policies of the recently installed dictatorship. That repression was brutal and the implications of capture could be terrifying: torture, imprisonment, even death. Those who failed to move abroad had to hide out in barns, isolated farmhouses and other remote location just to avoid discovery by the Francoist authorities or denunciation by the regime’s supporters. Many of them finished up hiding in the forests where they lived in extremely difficult conditions. They had to contend with the cold, the rain, food shortages and the constant threat of being discovered by the authorities. Many of them spent months or even years in hiding, not knowing when they might see their families again and return to a normal existence.
We can discern at least two types of armed resistance to the Francoist dictatorship. On the one hand, the maquis were organized, disciplined groups with a well-defined hierarchy and leadership; they were largely made up of republican veterans or deserters from the Francoist army who, after the Civil War, fled to France where they saw action during the Second World War. From there they made their way back to Spain to carry out acts of sabotage, outrages and other forms of resistance. On the other hand, we should think of the resistance as more scattered and disorganized groups made up mostly of locals, among whom there was a collective decision-making. They were largely dependent on help from the local populace who provided them with shelter and supplies.
In the Camp de Tarragona and Prades mountains there was a pretty organized group living in the forests; they were known as Els Patacons. The group took its name from Ramón Roig Recasens (aka el Patacó) a native of Mas Patacó on the outskirts of Mont-ral, Tarragona. The Patacons band was set up between the end of 1939 and the early months of 1940 and even though at times they numbered as many as 20, the group was forever coming together and breaking up, especially in the early months when they were under the cosh from the Civil Guard and local informers.
Among those belonging to the group at various points we find the brothers David, Joan and Miquel Pàmies, Josep Oriol Tost aka ‘Pep Pastor’ (erstwhile mayor of Almoster), José Garcia Garcia aka ‘el Andaluz’, Ferrán and Ramón Roig (Patacó’s own sons), joined later by José Martí Menéndez aka Capità Pipes.
For long periods (between 1939 and 1948) they had to live in isolation and hide from the authorities, which made living a constant struggle to survive. Like many another antifascist resistance group that stayed in the Peninsula, the Patacons had nothing in the way of organized support or back-up. Meaning that they had to stay in hiding and avoid the fascist court martials at all costs. They would often relocate from one place to another to avoid detection or capture. On more than one occasion, they fell into ambushes set for them by the Francoist forces and some of them were captured or murdered. In fact, after a brush with the Civil Guard on 1 July 1941 in Vila-seca, David Pàmies was killed and Juan Pàmies wounded and actually captured in Tarragona. From then on, the band split up. Pep Pastor was to vanish until sometime around 1946 when he joined a group led by the Teixido brothers (along with Delfi Deltell, Emiliano, Pau Busquets and Manuel Sánchez). As for Patacó senior and his two sons, they settled in the cliffs in La Musarra where they lived in a highly inaccessible cave. There they became friends with the locals, especially with Engracia Estivill and Rosa Rius (mother and daughter and both war widows).
Despite the efforts made, even up to the present to peddle the belief that the band was just a bunch of bandits or thieves, it was not. That view was down largely to the propaganda of the time which depicted them as criminals and bandits, leading many people to fear and shun them. It was obvious that the band had a definite ideological preference for libertarian ideas. El Patacó was a member of the CNT’s Amalgamated Trades Union. When the civil war started, el Patacó was 48 years old and took his orders from the Antifascist Militias Committee, patrolling Reus and mounting guard at the Reus and Salou railway stations. Furthermore, several of the members of the band had direct ties to other anarchist groups; looking no further than Pep Pastor and the Pàmies Odena brothers, they were members of the FAI. Pep Pastor himself served as mayor of Almoster when the town council decided to set aside part of the proceeds from hazel nut harvest to defray the costs of a new council building. The farms of the town’s fascists were also seized. In addition, they all had deep roots in the area as Pep Pastor had rescued the statue of the Virgin del Roser from the flames during the first few hours of the rebellion. He stashed it in his home, meaning to hand it back to the council once the war ended.
Resisters often resorted to theft of food and livestock – as the last inhabitant of La Musarra sets out in his book – which they then sold off or traded for weapons, clothing and other basic necessities. However, there is also evidence regarding the role of the Civil Guard in making threats and exploiting the assets of the villagers. In Francoist Spain the Civil Guard played a vital role in the regime’s repression and social controls. Being a military body, it was empowered to use violence and coercion in order to keep order and keep folk in their place. It was often involved in torture, intimidation and extra-judicial executions of those they deemed enemies of the regime. All of which was a factor in the exodus of inhabitants from country areas into the towns.
Besides, the Civil Guard wielded great sway over the courts and sham trials were often use to convict people without proof or clear-cut evidence. Such trials were often founded upon baseless accusations or phoney evidence, allowing the regime to convict and imprison those opposed to the regime. For instance, they used ridiculously silly stories to explain away their own presence and repression and stories were spread that the Patacons had thrown at the Civil Guards grenades that had failed to explode – this by way of explaining away Civil Guard violence and instilling fear in the populace.
From the mid-1940s on when international public opinion regarding the retention of fascist rule in Spain was becoming clear, the Francoist crackdown was stepped up and grew more brutal. In this context the Francoist authorities resorted to the Ley de Fugas in order to cow political dissent and to keep the populace terrified and submissive. In many cases, prisoners were removed from the jails and taken to remote locations where they were executed without trial. On 24 January 1946, el Patacó, his son Ramón and el Capità Pipes stepped into the Caseta del Glaca in Les Borges de Camp in search of food and lit a fire there against the cold. The owner of the caseta (hut) stumbled upon them and a fire fight erupted between the members of the group and the Sometent, a paramilitary body working hand in glove with the Civil Guard. El Patacó was wounded and captured in l’Aleixar, where he was interrogated and made a statement to the authorities. For their parts, Ramón and Capità Pipes were arrested the following day in a hut in l’Aigua-sana and were executed the day after that on the road to La Selva del Camp.
In the unequal contest, women played an essential role even though they may not have been actually present in the forests. Whilst the men took to hiding in the mountains, a lot of women courageously stood up to the Civil Guard’s violence whilst looking after their families and keeping the lines of communication with the resisters open. They took charge of passing on messages and supplies, hiding and protecting resistance members, ensuring that the fight against the Francoist regime carried on, whilst also educating their children. They were often in line for harassment and torture, favourite targets of the Franco regime. In addition to repression from the Civil Guard, the women who backed the anti-Franco resistance were often shunned and treated like outcasts by their own neighbours. As the wives or relatives of fugitives, their association with the resistance earned them the suspicion and distrust of those who feared the regime’s crackdown. Carme Millán, for instance, the wife of Miquel Pàmies, with three children to look after, was continually being watched and interrogated and arrested by the Civil Guard.
Sometimes it takes more than the passage of time to erase the traces of the past and in the case of resisters who fought during the post-civil war years in Spain, this is very true. One of the main notions that has stuck in the collective consciousness regarding those who survived up in the mountains is that they were bad eggs. That idea survived for many a long year and to this day some people find it hard to talk about them without prejudice.
The webpage http://resistentsmprades.ugel/cat/ arose as the result of the search and collation of information about the post-war resisters in the Camp de Tarragona that was mounted by the La Somereta Lliure collective. That initiative is aimed at preserving the historical memory of the men and women who fought the Francoist regime and who were often silenced or ignored in the official histories. The initiative offers a hiking route that passes through some very picturesque and spectacular countryside in the aim of recovering the history of voices that have to this day been silenced and forgotten, and has a particular interest in the libertarian resistance in the Camp de Tarragona area as it strives to do its bit to spread collective remembrance of the antifascist resistance.
Source: El Salto, 31 July 2023 https://www.elsaltodiario.com/ni-cautivos-ni-desarmados/una-partida-libertaria-montanas-prades-patacons
Image: cave used by The Patacons group in the Prades mountains. Source: Imanol.
Translated by: Paul Sharkey.