Antonio Téllez Solá, A Historian in the Service of the Forgotten

Antonio Téllez Solá was born in Tarragona on 18 January 1921. After attending school up as far as first year baccalaureate levels, he started work in January 1936 as an apprentice carpenter and became active in the Libertarian Youth in the city.

The army revolt in July 1936 caught him on the hop in Lérida where he tried to join the Los Aguiluchos Column but was rejected as too young. On 19 January 1939, during the Francoist onslaught against Catalonia, he was drafted. With the collapse of the Republican Army he crossed into France on 10 February 1939 and, like many thousands of other Spanish exiles, was interned in the Prats de Molló concentration camp and then, after 19 January 1940, in the Septfonds camp.

As we know, the Vichy government capitalised upon the helplessness of the Spanish exiles and drafted them into Labour Companies, using them as cheap labour to help with the German war effort In spite of the dire conditions in the camp, Téllez refused to serve in the labour companies and in order to avoid being drafted into them he hid out in the huts set aside for TB and scabies sufferers. In the end, having no other option, he agreed to join a free workers' company and was paid a 'wage' of 50 centimes a day plus four packs of cigarettes. Téllez started work on 1 March 1941, helping to refurbish the GRS barracks in Mende (capital of the Lozère department).

While this work was in progress there was widespread objection from the workforce to their low pay. In response, government officials supplied them with an "official complaint form" to be presented to the Interior Ministry. Faced with this stratagem designed to put them off, all of the workers reconsidered their attitude - all except Téllez. As a result, Téllez, who had been summoned to police headquarters and accused of being a trouble-maker, was dispatched on 19 February 1943 to hard labour in the antimony mine in Le Collet de Deze (Lozère).

In this new setting he was involved in another display of defiance when he went absent without leave. This action, which Téllez reckoned was entirely justifiable, was punished by a fine of three days' pay. After suing unsuccessfully for repayment, he was reported by the engineer running the mine to the Germans, having traded rather more than just words with the engineer. Surprisingly, the German officers, who had fought in the Spanish Civil War and admired the mettle of the republican soldiers, backed him in his claim against the mine managers and pressurised the latter into acceding to his demands.

After working on various fortifications (in the docks in Sète, in Agde, and at the St Affrique War Convalescent Hospital in Aveyron), he was ordered in March 1944 to report to Rodes, near Perpignan for transport to Germany on STO (Compulsory Labour Service). Téllez who was due to report on 17 March 1944 with a bedroll and plate, decided to run away. On 25 May 1944 he reached La Cavallerie (Aveyron) where he came upon a transmission centre. There he came into contact with resistance members who had set up an escape network for Soviet POWs and he worked with them up until the leader of the network was arrested.

Later, a stroke of luck brought him into contact with a maquis group and he found in it a number of former workmates he knew from Agde. Téllez joined the group, using the nickname of Tarra (an abbreviation of his native Tarragona) and he was involved in the attack on the Salar Bridge (Aveyron) on 9 August 1944 and in liberating - among other places - Rodès on 10 September 1944.

Shortly after that the order came through that operation "Reconquest of Spain", orchestrated by the Spanish National Union (UNE) and Communist Party should get under way. As part of the groundwork for the operations to liberate the Vall d'Aran on 16 October 1944 Téllez (having been appointed a lieutenant) together with an 8-man platoon, crossed the border to reconnoitre access routes and the general terrain. On 19 October, after spending the night in an abandoned mine waiting for the remainder of the unit, ventured towards Salardú (Teruel) where Civil Guard and Army troops were lying in wait for them. The element of surprise was lost after a member of Téllez's unit accidentally discharged his weapon. In spite of that, the group put up an intense fire fight in the outskirts for eight hours. In the end, the guerrillas withdrew after they spotted the arrival of several truckloads of troop reinforcements.

Although well supplied with light weapons (pistols, carbines, rifles and automatic rifles), the guerrillas from the maquis were short of rations, communications gear, maps and compasses, as well as heavy topcoats and footwear suited to the season. A strong wind made their precarious position even worse and forced Antonio Téllez's unit to pull out of the abandoned mine. Shortly after that they crossed back over the border and reached a hotel in St Girons (Ariege) a few kilometers inside the border. According to Téllez, their feet and their morale were in a sorry state.

After that abortive venture, the UNE committee ordered Téllez to talk to his 37 CNT comrades to encourage them to re-enter the fray. Téllez, who spoke to them, but only in a personal capacity, refused to carry on fighting after seeing what he believed to be the disastrous organisation of the operation and the pointlessness of their efforts. The episode ended with Téllez and his CNT colleagues quitting the guerrilla group and with the UNE high command arraigning them before a court martial for desertion as a result.

From then on, Téllez turned his hand to a variety of jobs and was active in the FIJL and contributed to the FIJL's magazine Ruta and to the CNT's mouthpiece, Solidaridad Obrera.

By 1946 Téllez had come up with the hare-brained idea of trying to link up with the maquis in Asturias and Santander, using phony documents and a Spanish State Railways pass and 'armed' with a 8mm. cine camera.

After the murder of his friend José Lluís Facerías on 30 August 1957 in Barcelona, Téllez and other comrades launched the review Atalaya and he worked for Agence France Presse as a reporter. In 1961, shortly after the murder of another friend, Francisco Sabaté, in March 1960, Tellez withdrew from all organisational activity and devoted himself to writing the history of some of the members of the anarchist action groups ('the forgtten' of our title) and to contributing to the libertarian press. […]

Shortly before he died, Téllez told me in a letter that he had suffered a pulmonary embolism and had been hospitalised for a number of weeks but that, since 26 February, he had been recuperating at home in the Rue des Cigales in Perpignan. He as anxious about the delays in the publication of his book on Remiro. His impatient tone - "I don't reckon we need take as long as the builders of the Pharaoh's pyramids" he wrote me in one letter - indicated that he was anxious about his health. Unfortunately, his worst fears came true. Téllez was never to see the publication of a book in which he had invested so much interest and time: his life of the Aragonese guerrilla Agustín Remiro, a leading member of the Pat O'Leary network (the famous escape line run by Paco Ponzán). This posthumous book, its cover designed by the leading Aragonese painter Natalio Bayo, with notes added by José Luis Hernández and a foreword by myself will more than likely see publication before the year is out. It will be published jointly by the Duiputación Provincial de Zaragoza and by Epila Council. Although the initial intention was that the book (accompanied by a lecture tour) would mark the centenary of Remiro's birth, it will, alas, serve also as a posthumous tribute to Téllez himself.


Manuel Ballarín Aured - Fundación de Investigaciones Marxistas (Rojo y Negro digital, 18 April 2005)

From: Rojo y Negro digital. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.