He was born in Caniles (Granada) on 8 May 1917. He developed an interest in the social struggle very early in life, for which reason he was persecuted by the political bosses (caciques) in his village and was forced to move to Barcelona where he worked as a carpenter and cabinet-maker, active in the Barcelona CNT’s renowned and important Woodworkers’ Union.
Come the outbreak of the civil war, he took part in the tide of revolution in Barcelona and in defeating the fascists. He enlisted in the militias and at the age of 19 joined the Durruti Column and was appointed a centurion (delegate for a 100-strong group). He was to take part in the successful battle of Alcala del Obispo and on 15 August 1936 was wounded in the arm, but declined to go back into the rearguard, sticking with his comrades instead. He and his centuria set off for Madrid where Durruti perished; this, according to Villegas, destroyed all his comrades’ morale but they fought on with all their might, in spite of it all. Other columns and fighters arrived and there was tough fighting in Madrid. He was see action in Jarama and at a meeting there clashed with Santiago Carrillo [of the Unified Social Youth – JSU] over the issue of militarization. He served in Binefar and at the end of one parade was summoned to staff headquarters. There he stood up to General Pozas who labelled him an undisciplined coward and after a number of provocative remarks Villegas punched him twice, for which he was hauled before a court martial and sentenced to death; he was incarcerated in the castle in Figueras. Luckily the CNT pulled out all the stops to rescue him and helped him escape. He joined the Iron Column and there had to man the lousiest positions in the front lines with his comrades dying “like bugs” and Villegas himself was wounded. The republican camp was defeated and Villegas was forced to flee to France where he was to pass through a number of concentration camps (such as Argelès) where, again, the conditions were very harsh.
He managed to escape and signed up for the new action groups armed with Thompson sub-machine-guns, a couple of pistols and several grenades concealed in his raincoat. After a number of attacks he was given the task of coordinating the anti-Nazi action groups by means of coded messages in the press, but he was to be bushwhacked by the French police before he could insert these coded messages and sustained a gunshot wound after mowing down four policemen. He was brought to hospital where he was tended by some sympathetic doctors who then helped him escape. It was at this point that he met his wife-to-be, went on to collaborate with the Resistance, saved the life of Vincent Auriol (future president of France), was ambushed by the French police at a bakery near his home, managing to gun down two of them and forcing the rest to withdraw. Later he was to be rearrested and wound up in the concentration camps. He was eventually freed whilst on an evacuation march from Buchenwald concentration camp (he was prisoner No 69634) by the Canadian army as it made headway against the Nazis.
After the Second World War he resumed the anti-Franco struggle, joining the group made up of Manuel Pareja Perez, Antonio Gil Oliver (aka Antonio Sancho) and Pedro Adrover, among others, operating as part of the MLR (Libertarian Resistance Movement). Among his operations, he helped assassinate the informer Eliseo Melis, a traitor who caused the capture of nearly every [CNT National] committee during the 1940s. In the exchange of gunfire Manuel Pareja was wounded and died a short time later in hospital. However, his most daring action was the shelling of the Pazo de Meiras where Franco was wont to spend his summers, the obvious plan being to kill him.
José Villegas lived in exile in France, Germany and finally in Venezuela where he spent several decades working in the wood industry before returning to Spain in the 1990s, specifically to Baza, near the village where he was born, Caniles. He was invited to countless important ceremonies in honour of the victims of the Nazi concentration camps, repeatedly representing the Spanish victims. In Baza he made contact again with the CNT-AIT in 2006, rejoining the Confederation up until de died quietly in his sleep on 11 June 2008.
From: CNT (Madrid) No 348. August-September 2008 (Written by CNT Granada, translation supplemented by other sources) . Translated by: Paul Sharkey.