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St Albans nurse Patience Darton went out to Spain to help fight against Fascism. Writer Angela Jackson talks to Rosy Moorhead about her new book.
The Spanish Civil War resonated for decades in the lives of those who lived through it - for some, it impacted the rest of their lives.
It infused the works of Ernest Hemingway, Laurie Lee and George Orwell, but the majority of those involved were just ordinary people with an extraordinary passion.
It is these ordinary people that have inspired the work of academic Angela Jackson, whose latest book on the subject, For us it was Heaven, has just been published.
It tells the story of Patience Darton, an English nurse who worked close to the front line. Angela met this remarkable woman while she was making a documentary in 1994 about British volunteers in the International Brigades, the military units made up of volunteers from different countries who travelled to Spain to fight against Franco.
"She was a great inspiration," Angela says. "Although she was very elderly when I met her, she was still active and was still trying to warn people of the dangers of Fascism. She had a very lively mind, it was lovely to go and talk to her."
Some years after Patience’s death, in 1996, Angela contacted her son, Robert, to see if he had any of his mother’s papers and he produced for her a pile of fragile, yellowed documents and old photograph albums.
The collection contained letters written by Patience and Robert, the young German International Brigader that she met and fell in love with in Spain but who was killed during the fighting. These letters form the basis of Angela’s biography.
"The correspondence is full of vitality: their ideals and love for each other, occasional arguments and grumbles, their hopes for the future and the almost overwhelming sadness at being separated by war."
Born in Orpington in 1911, Patience attended St Albans School for Girls until she was 14. She attended the Young People’s Fellowship classes at St Albans Cathedral, run by Canon Skelton, where she first came into contact with the ideas of ‘Christian Socialism’.
"The classes were never called socialist classes, of course," Angela says. "It was all about learning about poverty, the approach was very much that you should look after poor people. These ideas had a great impact on her - she really wanted to help people."
Patience worked in a provisional hospital in a large cave close to the village of La Bisbal de Falset, in the mountains of the Priorat. She described to Angela how hard the work had been there, nursing under terrible conditions soldiers wounded during the Battle of the Ebro, the last great offensive organised by the Rebublic.
The civil war has had quite an impact on Angela’s life as well. She and her husband moved to Spain on his retirement and they have lived for 10 years in the Priorat, overlooking the mountains where the Battle of the Ebro was fought.
Angela is returning to the UK in March to give a presentation at the Imperial War Museum at an annual event held by the International Brigades Memorial Trust, at which she will also launch her biography of Patience.
For us it was Heaven: The passion, grief and fortitude of Patience Darton by Angela Jackson is published by Sussex Academic Press and is out now. www.sussex-academic.com