Militiawoman María Pérez La Cruz watched her last sunrise on 8 August 1942 when, at the age of just 25, she faced her last fight before a firing squad in Paterna. The young fighter from the anarchist Iron Column, known to her comrades, on account of her mettle and bravery, as La Jabalina (The Wild Sow) was one of the few women, if not the only one, shot by Franco in Valencia in the post-civil war years.
María, born in Teruel in 1917, enlisted as a volunteer with the Iron Column at the age of barely 19 "operating as a fighter in the trenches (of the Teruel front) where she was wounded", to cite the 91-page indictment that Major Salvador Daroca, examining magistrate brought in against La Jabalina in summary trial 2053-V and passed to the Captain-General of No 3 Military Region on 19 August 1941. Major Daroca's account, used as the basis for a court martial that passed a death sentence on María, placed the young libertarian woman in the ranks of the leadership of the anarchist militia, pointing out that she was a member of "the same group as the Pellicer brothers (Pedro and José)", the founders of the Iron Column which marched off to the Teruel front with some 3,000 meagrely armed men and women determined to take on the fascists whilst simultaneously making the revolution. Comparison between the "criminal deeds" that the army judge credited to Maria as a result of revelations made in the hope of being spared by a militiaman engaged in supplying bread to the Iron Column and the substantial bibliography on the Spanish Civil War built up by the Fundación Salvador Seguí in Valencia, affords us an insight into the work done by women on the fighting front. In this regard, historian Eladi Mainar, in his book, De milicians a soldats, les columnes valencianes en a guerra civil epanyola (1936-1937) [From Militians to Soldiers: Valencian Columns in the Spanish Civil War] points out that women "represented a substantial group within the Iron Column" which they joined as nurses "as well as in the capacity as ordinary militiawomen using rifles and fighting against the rebels." Mainar emphasises the presence of women in that column as a fighter "shows the consciousness and social development achieved by women" in those revolutionary times. Never before in Spain had women "attained such tellingly high levels of social, political, economic and sexual liberation". In November 1937, barely seven months after the column vanished after regularisation and became the 83rd Mixed Brigade after the Republican Government passed a decree banning the female presence on the front, the militiawomen were pulled out of the trenches. In his book, The Story of the Iron Column, Abel Paz borrows from the minutes of the 21 March 1937 gathering in Valencia at which the members of the column "unanimously" agreed to its militarisation. At that meeting, a fighter by the name of Falomir asked that the reorganised column "bar women as nuisance elements just on the look-out for a man". This macho allegation was withdrawn after it provoked, the minutes record, "a unanimous objection from the gathering." - "Comrade José Pellicer cleared up the situation of those female comrades, insofar as any who were willing to could serve as militiawomen and thus carry a rifle." This apparent undertaking from the column's delegate was nothing of the sort, according to the evidence of one of the militiamen who participated in the final sitting - Manuel Velasco Guardiola - as mentioned by Paz in his book. "I saw women weep out of courage and rage when they were told that they could no longer fight in the Brigade or on any other front", Velasco relates. He adds too that some of those female comrades who were to be side-lined from that point on "were every bit as brave and led from the front in every attack".
The fortitude of the Iron Column's women can also be gauged in La Jabalina's trial. In spite of her youth, the beatings, torture and abuse that she had had to endure over three years in captivity - she was arrested at the end of the war in 1939 - she never repented of what she had done and the only thing to which she ever confessed was having been the lover of "one Paco aka El Francés [the Frenchman]" Major Daroca tagged on to this admission the fact that the column's war delegate in Sarrión was known as "el Francés", the supposition being that he was the person in question. The only request for María to be spared came from her mother Isabel Lacruz in a letter addressed to the chairman of the court martial. In that letter, which has survived alongside the rest of the summary trial records in the archives of Valencia's Court Martial No 13, La Jabalina's mother calls upon the court to show mercy to her daughter, citing the fact that she was very young at the time that she took off with the militias and thus did not realise what she was doing. What she had done was startling, for the Civil Guard in Sarrión, in its report to Major Daroca, stated that La Jabalina "as a militiawoman, dressed in overalls, was involved, with others from the committee [the column's war committee in La Puebla de Valverde] in taking away detainees who were subsequently murdered." The Civil Guard accused María of involvement in the murder of a deputy Igual, 11 priests and one rightwinger. But the charges that resulted in María's appearing in front of the firing squad emerged from the admissions made to Major Daroca by a male anarchist comrade who had witnessed her performance. That militiaman told the examining magistrate that La Jabalina served with the column's flying squad that had attacked the Castelló prison on 8 August 1936 with the aim of freeing the inmates so that they might then join the anarchist militias. A number of prison warders perished in this operation. The accused also took part in the Iron Column expedition that on 24 September 1936 set fire to the records from the Provincial High Court, Police Headquarters, Model Prison and Civil Registry of Valencia in broad daylight. The informant added that on 14 August 1936, the day that the column captured Sarrión, the accused was implicated in "the murder of the local mayor". The witness explained that one of the column's founders, the Alcoy anarchist Rafael Martí aka Pancho Villa, prior to being killed six days later in the battle for Puerto Escandón, had told him that La Jabalina "had killed more people than he had hairs on his head." One of the most bloodthirsty deeds that the informant chalked up to Maria was the murder in Puebla de Valverde of "two engineers, a father and son, who were transported in the car of the Pellicer brothers to the place where they were going to be murdered, but, after refusing to step out of the vehicle, La Jabalina shot the both of them inside the car, killing them both." The witness told the army magistrate that he knew about this "having had it" from the lips of Pellicer himself who had told the accused "never to shoot anyone inside the car again because she had made a right mess when she shot the engineers."
Benjamin Lajo and Rafa Montaner, Valencia.
Translated by: Paul Sharkey.