Women and The Guerrilla War

Women and The Guerrilla War

Photo: Teresa Pla aka La Pastora aka Durruti (left) and Julia Hermosilla Sagredo (right)

Today we shall try to add our own particular grain of sand to the odd and sometimes thorny topic of the role of women in the guerrilla struggle. Whereas their part in support roles and their roles as couriers meant that their participation was unquestioned and crucial … estimates say that they made up about 40% or almost 50% in regions like Galicia and Asturias … it is scarcely surprising that estimates of their engagement with guerrilla activity fall to about 2%, giving an overall figure of 150. Or maybe this not such a surprise, if we look at the overall status of women within Spain, with a slight exception made for the republican era, as witness this late 19th century article in La Vanguardia:

From her intellect to her stature, everything about her is inferior and the opposite of men … Woman, per se, is not like man, a complete being; she is merely the instrument of reproduction, the one destined to perpetuate the species; whereas man is destined to bring her progress, the generator of intelligence, at once creative and a demiurge of the world of society. And so everything bends in the direction of inequality between the sexes and to non-equivalence.”

Women in the guerrilla wars have been doubly forgotten, on the one hand by the heap of dis-remembrance and defamation woven by Francoism around the whole guerrilla movement, but also on account of the weight of masculine domination which has marginalised women down through the ages. From the outset, they were denigrated by Francoism for departing from the alleged role that had been foisted upon them of abiding by Catholic precepts, obeying patriarchal authority and sticking to housework. The regime’s loudspeakers labeled them “the bandits’ paramours”, “the Reds’ whores”, “the concubines from the hills”, “butches”, “harridans” or, as Lieutenant Colonel Aguado Sánchez put it “it is interesting to note that communism in critical situations managed to ease its militants’ sexual urges with female companionship, albeit somewhat on a basis of sharing”. They were always reduced to just their sex. We have another example in the description given of one female courier from Cantavieja: “She belonged to the Libertarian Youth and also lived a licentious lifestyle; in short, a highly dangerous individual, very degenerate in every aspect of her life.” No comment.

Less readily understood, they were also defamed, excluded and many of these macho attitudes (which they had tried to alter during the Republic) were also to be found within their own camp. Added to which there was the bewilderment of many of their male comrades in the struggle. Among other gems dedicated to women and their connection with the guerrilla war, let us single out this one from Santiago Carrillo who explained away the failure of the guerrilla struggle as follows: “Corruptive elements were also a factor: women, drink, squandering of money, especially, during the days when fund-raising raids were frequent”. When Dolores González was arrested in Málaga, she remarked that “they would not assign her any work inside the Party because she was a woman, since they were of the opinion that women had no discretion.” On a tour of the guerrilla agrupaciones of the Centre region, Fermín, one of the men in charge of guerrilla matters, stated that on a visit to the 14th Agrupación one of the things that he found most distasteful was the presence of women up in the sierras, not merely on security grounds, but on account of the sexual competition that they inspired, undermining the group’s solidarity. In a letter to the PCE’s regional committee in Madrid, he announced: “that there were women up in the sierras who, whilst not wives of the guerrillas, took up with them as concubines and this stymied five of the finest, well-armed guerrillas and, having fore-knowledge of the movements of the Agrupación’s guerrillas, as well as most of the support bases, for them to fall into enemy hands (all too easily) meant blowing the organization’s cover.”

As for the libertarians, the Mujeres Libres organization was always belittled by male comrades who looked upon women’s liberation as a secondary struggle.  If we look at the numbers of the women in the action groups that crossed over from France, we will find that there was absolutely none. As for those groups operating within Spain on an ongoing basis, we find some, but they were always very much a minority. In Levante, one former member of the Mujeres Libres who managed to attend meetings of the underground CNT as a women’s representative was forced to listen to this question being asked: Haven’t you any housework to be doing?

Even the historians have repeatedly alluded to them as “so-and-so’s sisters” or “so-and-so’s female comrades” as if determined to belittle their ideological commitment as well as their activities in the sierras.

Most of the women who took to the hills did so in circumstances very similar to or the same as the men who did so, some after the collapse of the northern front or at the end of the civil war, others fleeing punishment, harassment and reprisals which they faced in their villages or after their work as couriers had been uncovered. We ought to state here that most of the male couriers whose cover was blown joined the guerrilla bands whereas many of the women, rather than taking to the sierras, either moved elsewhere in an effort to go unnoticed or were hidden in more or less safe houses and locations, albeit that the majority of them were arrested over the ensuing months or years.

Once up in the hills, life for them was far from easy; some gave birth in the sierras, although as a rule they would hand the new-born on within days to family able to care for it, or to goatherds, due to the latter’s closeness to the guerrillas. For the most part these women were allocated secondary tasks such as quarter-master or guard duty. According to the testimony of Celia regarding her time in the sierras: “From the moment we arrived we were not women; we were comrades just like them, with our knapsacks over our shoulders. And we spent two years like that. It was very tough; it meant sleeping on the ground, unable to disrobe, occasionally going without food and there was even one week when we went without food because snow had fallen and there was no way out of there without leaving tracks behind and you had to swim across the rivers, because you also could not use the bridges, nor the roads which were being monitored, so we had to travel across country. It was very tough, like you cannot imagine, but we learned a lot. Everything I learnt, I learnt from the guerrilla campaign and in prison. The other girls could scarcely read or write and I was no great shakes myself. But there were very well-educated people there who taught us culturally and politically. They put a lot of effort into teaching us and by the time we came away we were different people. The respected us as their equals. When we were in prison, we received beatings like you cannot imagine because they wanted us to tell lies and say that we were only there to sleep with them, but they never succeeded, no matter how often they beat us, they never succeeded. Because that actually was not the case. They respected us like no one else did and taught us to be their equals and these were people we admired them and admire still.” Although Celia herself acknowledges that the women were not sent out foraging, nor did they do sentry duty, even though they were armed and had been trained in the use of arms. As historian Fernanda Romeu remarks: “Where the guerrillas grew out of a process generated ‘from below’ and both their make-up and structure were pluralistic in nature, as was the case with the León-Galicia Guerrilla Federation women found a place among the guerrillas more easily.” Even though they were almost armed and dressed the same as the men, as a rule they did not take part in the direct actions mounted by the bands. Albeit that, as with every rule, there were some exceptions. Teresa Pla aka La Pastora aka Durruti, as she called herself, was caught up in lots of feats of arms and was charged with 28 offences, sentenced to death only to have that sentence commuted to a 30-year prison term. In addition to the torture she underwent, the same sentence was served by Juana Doña for her part in the Madrid urban guerrilla campaign. The Galician Consuelo Rodríguez aka Chelo started out as a courier and when her cover was blown she took to the hills, taking part in several skirmishes against the security forces before reaching the safety of exile in France. In Chelo’s case the fight against Franco was pursued on several fronts where there was no dividing line between the personal and the political; her condition as an armed guerrilla, politically conscious woman and free woman was part and parcel of her discourse. In southwest Asturias, Felisa Fernández aka “A Rubia da Serra” was active carrying out a host of hold-ups along with Boiro. She stayed in the sierras from 1944 until her fellow band member died, before handing herself over to the authorities in May 1953. Another Asturian was Rosario aka La Maña, who was part of the libertarian bands of El Maestro de Villamerein and Santeiro, taking part in operations just like anyone else. Another Asturian woman to take up arms was Delfina Chacón who was active with the ‘Los Chapones’ band. The Galician Josefa Escourido held out in a shack alongside José Pedreira until the Civil Guard torched the place with both guerrillas inside. We also have the names of some of the women who took part in the cross-Pyrenean incursions in 1944, names such as Roser Giménez, Consuelo Carriedo or Madrid’s Pilar Vázquez aka Ramona, a guerrilla wounded when surrounded in Viella and subsequently arrested in Borges Blanques on 16 November. Dolores Lavín aka Lola from the libertarian band of El Cariñoso perished after a ferocious fire-fight in Peñacastillo (Cantabria) on 28 October 1941, alongside two fellow members of her band. Francisca González aka Paquita was blown to pieces by the shrapnel of the grenade she had just thrown during a police swoop on a bar in the Calle de la Cera on 25 January 1946. According to Mercedes Yusta, if women’s experience in the guerrilla war was a revolutionary one, this was not so much because they bore arms as much as the fact that they lived through a political apprenticeship that allowed them to invest their lives with new outlooks and meaning, turning affection, fear and grief into political commitment, making their time in the guerrilla ranks a liberating experience.

We close with the case of Orencia Ventas Cita who took to the sierras intent on stopping her brother the guerrilla leader Chaquetalarga so that the family might be left in peace, after she had been recruited by Captain Chacón. She was caught leaving markers behind for trackers. She was held in the mountains for several months and was later set free (which led to some serious squabbling inside the group in that it circumvented the code of discipline that set out the death penalty for informers).

Let this be a taster for the second part of this article where an effort will be made to list the women we know about who took to the hills and the areas where they did so.

Part Two

We shall now address who they were, where they were active and what became of them.

We know of two women who took to the hills in Albacete province: Ramona Cuenca Alarcón was part of the band led by El Granaino and she was caught with another two members of that group in Elche de la Sierra on 29-6-1944; and Felisa García González aka La Chata, who lived up in sierras with El Sapo, both of them slain following a brush with the Civil Guard in the Yeste district on 19-10-1948.

In Andalusia, we have information regarding the time spent in the sierras by the following women: Carmen Vizcaíno Hernández, from El Mota’s band, active in Almería; she died following a shoot-out with the Civil Guard in late March 1944. María Argüelles Lorca from Culito de Salar’s band in the Granada area was slain by the Civil Guard on 8-2-1947. The libertarian Asunción González Toro aka Catalina, from the Los Clares band operating in provincial Granada, was killed in a clash with the Civil Guard on 23-11-1947; from the same band, Carmen aka La Canela, was murdered by allegedly communist guerrillas in 1947. Victoria Ruiz Casanova aka La Reloja was active during the early years in the Frigiliana area of Málaga according to the testimony of Miguel Martín and was murdered by her own guerrilla comrades. From Secundino Serrano we know that Juana Chacón was from the band of Manolo el Rubio, operating in the province of Cádiz, albeit that we have no further details. An identified female guerrilla was arrested in Santa Eufemia, Córdoba on 10-3-1947. Magdalena Cortés Díaz from the 3rd Guerrilla Agrupación in Córdoba was arrested in October 1946. Manuela Díaz Cabezas aka Parrillera from the Los Parrilleros band active in and around Córdoba was arrested on 20-12-1944. She served a 20-year prison sentence. Luisa Lira Montero and Soledad Moreno García from the Lazarete band operating the provinces of Cordoba and Ciudad Real. Both perished in clashes with the Civil Guard on 2-6-1947. María Josefa López Garrido aka La Mojea from Julián Caballero’s band in Córdoba was killed by the Civil Guard on 11-6-1947. Maria Esquível was part of Chato de Huelva’s unit and was sentenced to death and executed on 12 February 1943. Ana Jiménez Medianilla aka La Compuesta, from Jubrique, was up in the hills with her partner Isabel Moreno Garcia from the Lavija band (active in Córdoba and Ciudad Real) from April 1943 until November 1945 and was arrested in Madrid in November 1946. Antonia Robledillo was in the province of Jaén along with El Sastre and was arrested on 22-1-1944 and served 6 years in jail. All we know of Antonia Moya Villegas is that she came from Andalusia and that when attempting to cross into France with another three comrades from her band and a CNT guide, they were discovered on 11-2-1948 in a train near Ripoll; a shoot-out ended with one policeman dead and another wounded, Antonia and two male comrades dead and the other pair wounded and subsequently shot.

As for the region of Asturias, we know of the activities of Rosario aka La Maña who served with the libertarian bands of Santeiro and El Maestro de Villarmerein; she is said to have dressed in blue overalls, Sam Brown belt and carried a Schmeisser sub-machine gun. Brigida Álvarez Alonso joined the Los Caxigales band for a time, after they were caught unawares in her home. Josefina Álvarez Fernández, together with Popo was surrounded in Llinariegu (Lena) by a counter-gang in February 1939, both of them choosing suicide rather than surrender. Dorotea Carrio Vega was killed after a lengthy fire-fight in Condao (Laviana) in March 1939. Delfina Chacón Ochoa was one of the members of the Los Chapones band operating in the Tineo district. Estefania Cueto Puertas aka Fanny, from the Peñamayor bands was wounded during a dragnet in January 1939, arrested and executed on 29 August the same year. Felisa Fernández Arandojo aka A Rubia da Serra was in one of the bands in the southwest and took to the hills on 15-10-1944 and remained in the mountains, generally alongside her partner, Boiro, until the latter’s death in May 1953, after which she decided to turn herself in and was jailed. Consuelo Fernández Castaño spent some time up in the hills with the Comandante Florez band. Benedicta Llanes González and Santa López Fernández from Sotres took to the hills for a year in April 1945 on account of their ties to the Machado Brigade following a shoot-out, before turning themselves in to the authorities the following year. Amparo Freijo Pérez spent a year in the sierra, handing herself up to the authorities with her two month old baby in the Ibias district in early 1940. Gloria Magdalena Suárez aka Isabelita took to the hills in late 1949 and was caught in Seville along with Larido and Pedro el Andaluz on 22-3-1952, all three dying when their safe-house was stormed. Covadonga Montes Suárez was slain along with another woman, Amparo Gutiérrez Canteli in Peñamayor on 4-6-1938, together with another six people who had taken to the hills. Sisters Avelina, Celestina and María Peruyero Forcellado from Arsenio Álvarez’s band operating in the Pilona area eventually turned themselves in on 10-3-1940. Another three sisters, Estrella, Gloria and Prima were active in the band of Lalo in the Valle del Caudal and wound up turning themselves in, but we do not know the date. On the fringes of that group we also find Soledad García Monteserín who turned herself in before the war ended. Antonia Menéndez García from the Libertarian Youth was part of a band along with siblings Maria and Miguel; after a dragnet, Miguel was killed and his sister was arrested. In the light of these developments, Antonia decided to turn herself in. Balbina Naves Villanueva from the band of Comandante Tano was killed on Nicolasa mountain (Mieres) on 1-1-39 along with her husband and another seven comrades. Haydee Pérez Haces spent some months with Bernabe’s band until she was arrested on 12-9-1949 and subsequently jailed. Matilde Riera Álvarez, her husband and her daughter América Riera Riera, along with another ambush victim was gunned down in the Llau mine (Langreo). Also from the Langreo area and with no further details, we have the runaways Adelina Fernández Argüelles, Celsa Gutiérrez Valles, Luzdivina Vázquez Vargas and Bárbara Zapico. After being badly injured in a brush with 33 Falangists, sisters Asunción and Elvira Rodríguez Pulgar from Silvino Morán’s band in the Aller district were put on trial and jailed in Santurrarán. Argentina Rodríguez Trapiella aka La roja de la Majadica was arrested in Dobres whilst trying to cross into France; she was first raped and then murdered on 23-9-1938. Alicia Temprana “de Castro” who had also been in hiding in the Peñamayor area following the death of her husband on 6-6-38, decided to turn herself in. Oliva Zafa Suárez died with nine male comrades in the La Bornaína mine in San Martín del Rey Aurelio on 28-7-1938.

We come now to Cantabria. There, apart from the women mentioned in relation to Asturias above, we find the Benedicta Llanes and Santa López who, though Asturians, served in the Machado Brigade. There was Dolores Lavín Gómez aka Lola who was with the libertarian band of Pin el cariñoso and who perished in a long fire-fight alongside her male comrades on 28-10-1941. In Valentín Andrés Gómez’s book, mention is made of María González Ganzo, Maria Carmen Manrique Santamaría and Elvira Sánchez Castillo as members of the Santander Guerrilla Agrupación, albeit that the likelihood is that they served as couriers rather than taking to the sierras. Whatever role they played in the story, all three finished up arrested and jailed.

Now to Catalonia where we find the libertarians Hilaria Fondevilla Fuentes in the Pallarés group which operated in Barcelona; they were arrested in mid-March 1943 and she received a 20-year jail term. Teresa Tarrás was in Ramón Claret’s group and her male comrades were arrested and jailed; we have no information that she went to prison. Francisca González aka Paquita, from the Marín Nieto group died tossing a grenade at police after her group was arrested in a bar in Barcelona’s El Raval district on 25-1-1946.

In Ciudad Real province, Paulina Amaro Pacha took to the hills, serving with El Yamba’s group; with him, she went into hiding in Barcelona after quitting the 2nd Agrupación in 1946; they both managed to cross into France in 1949. Sergia Flores Sanz aka La Peloto was with Lazarete’s group and they both died in an ambush in the Sierra Mochuelo on 5-3-1948. Asunción Méndez Jaramago, who had joined the band led by El Manco de Agudo, died following a shoot-out with the Civil Guard in Puebla de Don Rodrigo, along with her father, in July 1941.

Continuing with our tour of Extremadura, in the province of Cáceres we find an unidentified female guerrilla who was arrested on 21-5-1945 near Villar del Pedroso following a shooting in which Pelos Grifos died. Casimira Álvarez Felipe aka La Jopa from the Quincoces band took to the sierras in 1943 and was finally captured on 8-6-1946. Daniela Barroso Escudero aka La Daniela, who had been with the Quincoces band since 1943, ended up turning herself in in July 1946. Flora Martín spent some months on the run in the Sierra de Santa Bárbara near Plasencia before joining up later. Rosa Padilla Pulido aka La Rosa joined the band of El Francés in 1943, went into hiding in Madrid in 1946 and was murdered there by a communist group. Sisters María and Paula Rodríguez Juárez aka La Goyoria and La Migueleta respectively, were with Chaquetalarga’s band but in the end were abandoned by their male guerrilla ‘comrades’ and were arrested on 30-3-1948. Then there was a Carmen Ruiz Rubio aka La Vivillo. In the neighbouring province of Badajoz, we have reports of Josefa Bermejo Grueso aka Paquita from the libertarian band of Chato de Malcocinado; she turned herself in in Seville on a date unconfirmed but prior to 1945. Josefa Gómez Rodríguez aka Mariselva from El Benítez’s band, turned herself in on 28-7-1946. Isidora Merino Merino took to the hills with El Templao and was captured in Fuente Ovejuna following a shoot-out on 27-2-1947. And finally, Sagrario Vera Gordo from Chato de Huelva’s libertarian band, died alongside Chato de Huelva in Valdemusa (Huelva) after a shoot-out on 8-6-1945.

We come now to Levante where we can highlight the sisters Amada, Angelita and Esperanza Martínez García aka Rosita, Blanca and Sole respectively; they were part of the Levante-Aragon Guerrilla Agrupacion as was Remedios Montero Martínez aka Celia. All four took to the sierras in 1949 after having served as couriers. After a while, Rosita found a hiding place in a friend’s home in Yecla, not that that stopped them from arresting her later. Likewise, her sister Blanca who was hidden in another safe house in El Oroque. Celia and Sole were informed on and were viciously tortured in barracks before reaching prison. Oddly enough, every time mention is made of women among the guerrillas in Levante, the details of the following female guerrillas are omitted: Carmen Puig Miñana aka Rosita, a member of the AGLA, was arrested in February 1947 and CNT member Angelines López Rodríguez aka Trini served with its 11th Sector and deserted from the Agrupación in 1948 when the stalinist witch-hunt was at its height. Also active in that area was Teresa Pla Messeguer aka Durruti or La Pastora, who was usually to be found alongside Francisco Serrano; she was accused of a host of armed activities including several murders and was eventually arrested on the border with Andorra on 5-3-1960. She was sentenced to death, but in the end sentence was commuted and she received a 30-year jail term.

In Toledo, the only reference we have found refers to Teresa Paredes Aceituno aka La Golondrina who took to the sierras at the young age of 15, joining the band of El Comandante, before switching to that of Cuquillo, in 1946. She was betrayed and killed en route to France on 30-4-1950.

In Madrid, as part of the urban guerrillas we have Juana Doña Jiménez aka María Luisa who was first arrested in December 1939 and then again on 25-2-1947. She was tortured and sentenced to death, which sentence was commuted to a 30-year prison term, of which she served 18 years.

In the Centre region Elvira Alberdi Conejín aka La Capitana was active; the Civil Guard had her on record as “whereabouts unknown”.

In Galicia and neighbouring León we find several female guerrillas such as A Rubia, the only woman member of the ‘Los enmascarados’ group which was broken up in August 1942; Eudoxia aka A Catalina, who was with the 2nd Agrupación of the Galician Guerrilla Army (EGG); Rosa Alves aka La Africana from the band led by Manolo el del Diente de Oro, which operated out of Portugal; Antonia Díaz Pérez was to perish alongside Guardarríos in an ambush on 25-6-1948 in Vilanova de Lourenza. Josefa Escourido Cobo aka Lúa and Celia González Pernas, both from Lugo, were killed on 21-6-1949 with a further three male guerrillas following a brush with the Civil Guard in Silán, out by Mures; Maria Remedios Gallego Abeledo aka Marita rose to the rank of commissar with a detachment from the 4th Agrupación; Carmen Temprano Salorio from the 4th Agrupación was killed following a fierce firefight in Zas (Negreira) on 5-3-1949. Perhaps the best known of all the Galician female guerrillas was Enriqueta Otero Blanco aka María Dolores, formerly secretary to La Pasionaria. She was part of the libertarian guerrilla band of El Cariñoso de Gredos for 11 months before joining the Galician communist guerrillas. She was arrested in 1946 and served 19 years in prison.

Sisters Antonia and Consuelo aka Chelo Rodríguez López started off as couriers before later taking to the sierras, joining the León-Galicia Guerrilla Federation. Antonia made it out to France in 1948 and her sister followed the year after. Alpidia García Moral aka Maruxa, another member of that Federation, was arrested in Villasinde (León) on 17-3-1949 following a vicious clash with the Civil Guard. A Civil Guard sergeant later finished her off shortly after that. Alberta Viñales Martínez aka La Chata, another member of the Federation, took to the hills in 1945, successfully reaching France on a date unknown. In 1948 Adoración Canedo Canedo from the same group (who had taken to the sierras in early 1941) made the same crossing in 1948. A fellow group member was Asunción Macías Fernández aka Panderete. Alida González Arias aka La Penca, who also belonged to the Federation, had to shoulder the blame for the death of the legendary Girón who had actually been murdered by a Civil Guard infiltrator. Over time, she made it out to Switzerland and it took many years for the truth surrounding Girón’s death and her innocence in the matter to come to light. On 26-11-1947, the bodies of three guerrillas from Casaio were found; one of them was Claudina Calvo Álvarez. All three were Federation members and they appear to have been executed by the guerrillas themselves for transgressing the group’s rules. And, just to finish with Federation members, we should mention the libertarian family of Consuelo Alba Digón and her daughters Baldomera and Domitila Gutiérrez Alba who had served, first, with Abelardo Gutiérrez’s group and later with the afore-mentioned Guerrilla Federation.

From the incursions across the Pyrenees in the summer and autumn of 1944, we should mention the names of Carme Casas Godesart aka Elisa who crossed the river Muga at Agullana (Gerona) only to be arrested on 26-6-1944 shortly afterwards and jailed in Figueras. Dolores Sierra Escudero came in via Urdiceto on 29-10-1944 with the 570th Brigade and was wounded and captured in early December on Castillazuelo. Esperanza Gutiérrez López was with the same unit and she too was arrested and received a 14-year jail term. There were four women with the 5th Brigade that arrived in the Sierra del Cadí in Catalonia, although we have names for only two of them – María Camarasa and Roser Giménez who made it back to France safe and sound. We also know of the participation of Consuelo Carriedo who had officer status. Although that is all the detail we have about her. Madrid’s Pilar Vázquez aka Ramona came in with the 21st Brigade and was arrested in Borges Blanques on 16-11-1944. The libertarian Sonia Niel aka La Chica and Natalia Querol from Broto received a citation for the bravery displayed and returned to France safe and sound. Let us bring this section to a close by mentioning Concepción Tarantiel, Teresa Manelich from Sabadell, Ivette Valls from Fígols and member of the high command, Josefa Ramos.

It should also be pointed out that during the Second World War we find Catalina Llagas Pérez operating as a guide and people-smuggler in the Jaca district.

Coming to attempts on the life of the Caudillo, we find the libertarian Julia Hermosilla Sagredo named as a participant in one such attempt.

Originally posted https://www.diagonalperiodico.net/blogs/imanol/mujeres-y-la-guerrilla.html and https://www.diagonalperiodico.net/blogs/imanol/mujeres-la-guerrilla-2a-parte.html. Translation first posted at https://web.archive.org/web/20210120142111/https://christiebooks.co.uk/2019/05/women-and-the-guerrilla-war-by-imanol-from-diagonal-july-and-august-2015-translated-by-paul-sharkey/

[Updated article from 2022 at: https://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/44j2c7]

Translated by: Paul Sharkey.