"When I was nineteen, I was the Montreal correspondent
of the party newspaper, the Daily Clarion. I covered the political and labour
scene, and became friendly with Archbishop Charbonneau, whom I loved, and with
Mayor Camilliene Houde, an adorable lying, thieving politician. Mayor Houde was
an enthusiastic and open supporter of Mussolini, but he despised the German Nazis.
Both Mayor Houde and the Archbishop tipped me off that Adrien Arcand's local National
Socialist Party was being financed by Berlin, by Hitler's National Socialist Party.
I decided to join Arcand's fascists and expose them. Now, my name, Alan Herman,
was a Jewish name, so I made up a name to join the fascist National Socialist
Party, and that is how I became Ted Allan, a Nazi for five weeks, during which
time I gathered evidence of Berlin financing hate-groups all over North America.
I wrote an exposé under my pseudonym. At first I intended to us the alias
for "journalism" and use my own name for my "authentic" writing,
but as I was becoming known by my "byline", I dropped Alan Herman and
became Ted Allan.
time Ted had his first short story published in a left-wing literary magazine.
One afternoon, he was round at his family's house talking with his sister. The
phone rang. "Alan!" his mother screamed from the kitchen. "It's
a doctor Bethune looking for some Ted Allan."
"I had admired
Bethune long before I'd ever met. He was Chief of the Thoracic Surgery Department
at the Sacre Couer Hospital in Cartierville just north of Montreal. He was also,
at least locally, a recognised painter, and a patron of the arts - this in a small,
but open hearted manner: he spent a major part of his income buying paintings
to support local talent. Bethune was a compelling orator. His presence guaranteed
an overflow audience at any medical, social or political gathering. He was the
organiser of the Committee For Free Medical Aid For The Unemployed, and an avowed
advocate of socialised medicine. Above all he was a personality of endearing flamboyance
and, in short, one of the most popular figures in the liberal and left-wing circles
of Montreal. For me he was a superstar.
to be visiting my mother one evening in March of 1934, about a month after my
eighteenth birthday. I was very full of myself for I had recently, for the first
time, had a short story published.
rang and my mother answered. "Its a Dr. Bethune wants to speak to some Ted
I swallowed, and taking the telephone's
ear piece, I managed to say hello. A cheerful, vigorous, baritone voice, speaking
very clearly, said, "Norman Bethune here. Miriam Kennedy gave me your phone
number. I loved your story in New Frontier. Just had to call and tell you. Pure
gold. Is it true you're only eighteen?" I grunted an affirmation, and Bethune
continued, "I'm having a party this coming Saturday evening. A lot of my
friends will be there. I'm celebrating my forty-forth birthday."
gulped that I'd be glad to come, thanked him, and concentrated on getting the
address in my head correctly. He said he was looking forward to meeting me, and
Bethune's Beaver Hall Hill apartment was up three flights of
stairs. The first thing one noticed on entering the room were the children's paintings
on the walls. Book shelves covered two further walls from floor to ceiling. As
I entered the room Bethune made his way to greet me through the crowd, both arms
outstretched. A handshake and a quick hug. I was mesmerised.
I introduce you around," Bethune said, "there is something I want you
to do first." He led me off up a little hallway to a door. He opened the
door to the bathroom. On one bathroom wall hung all his diplomas. And the wall
facing the door was covered in handprints. By each handprint was a signature.
A pan of blue paint stood on a high stool. Bethune led me into the bathroom, took
my left hand and placed it in the bowl, in the paint. Then he directed my palm
to the wall, pressed my hand against the wall and said, "Sign it."
"Ted Allan," I wrote.
are now numbered amongst my special friends," said Beth.
age difference made me shy, but in retrospect I realise I had found a surrogate
father, and I could love him with all the adoration I had wanted to give to my
own father when I'd been a child. He kept telling me how much he admired my short
story and asked if I'd written many others. "Hundreds," I replied. "I'd
like to read them all," he said. "You're good. Very good." I got
giddy listening to him.
these Bethune's words: "You're good. Very good"? Later we will find
these words in another mouth. But let's leave them here with Bethune, because
a biography is always historical fiction.
wrote: By virtue of Bethune's friendship and sponsorship I joined the city's
elite. It changed my opinion of myself, and it changed my status. Over the ensuing
eighteen months we spent time together. Beth became the father I had wanted, and
to him, I believe, I became like a son.
the author of this biography, me, I'm Ted's son, Norman Bethune Allan. And my
son, in turn, who is just now rereading this manuscript, feels that I shouldn't
use the first person for my voice in this work as it becomes too confusing with
Ted's I, but... but, I'm gonna. I'm going to identify my writing, my voice, by
using Ariel/Geneva font, and identify Ted's writing by
using Times New Roman font, so that
you know who's writing: you know whose writing is whose.
remember asking Ted to tell me, again, the Bethune story. We were sitting in Ted's
Putney apartment overlooking the river Thames. "Bethune
was the most exciting man I ever met,"
it started."Watching him work with the wounded in Spain, his compassion
with patients, everywhere
In 1936, when Ted
was twenty, the Spanish army, in the control of Fascist generals, staged an insurrection
against the elected Spanish government and the Spanish Civil War between the fascist
"Nationalists" and the democratic "Loyalists" began. The fascist
armies encircled Madrid. The "masses" rose in defense of the Government
and stopped the fascists in the suburbs of Madrid. Bethune set out to help the
Loyalists. The battle against fascism came first before other imperatives. He
would develop a mobile blood transfusion unit to delivery blood transfusions on
the front lines.
Ted planned to follow Beth to Spain.
He would go over as a correspondent for the Clarion, and he would meet up with
and work with Bethune. That was the plan. However
Canadian Party, in the persons of Fred Rose had agreed to send me to Spain as
correspondent for the party newspaper, the Daily Clarion. I got my passport, and
a number of farewell parties took place to wish me bon voyage. I traveled first
to Toronto to meet with Leslie Morris, the editor of the paper. The Montreal comrades
had forgotten to check with Leslie Morris, and in the meanwhile Leslie had made
arrangements for Jean Watts to act as the paper's correspondent. Watts had come
into their office just the day before I got to Toronto. Embarrassment and apologies
all round, but I was screwed.
I decided, to hell with
it, I'd volunteer for the International Brigade. Surely they'll find a use for
me doing newspaper work or radio work. And if they don't, fuck it. I'd fight in
the trenches. I returned to Montreal to tell my family and the Party of my new
plans. Fred Rose laughed. He reminded me of the phlebitis in my right leg developed
when I was fourteen after a case of mastoiditis. From time to time my leg would
swell and I'd be forced to wear a rubber bandage. "No. It's ridiculous,"
said Freddy, who insisted that I be a good boy and continue my good work as the
Montreal correspondent of the Clarion.
I said if he
didn't okay my volunteering, I'd enlist anyway, without the Party's permission.
He warned me I could be expelled if I acted without Party permission.
said I'd risk the expulsion. Nothing and no one was going to stop me going to
Spain. I was going to participate directly in that war one way or another. If
I was to die, fine I'd die right there in Spain, but I wasn't planning to get
killed. I was planning to avoid the shells and bombs and to do some good work
broadcasting from Madrid and writing freelance for newspapers and magazines.
"If you join the Brigade you'll be in a bloody trench,
not broadcasting from Madrid!" shouted Freddy.
Freddy finally gave in and I was off to Spain,
still under party discipline, enlisted in the International Brigade, off
to Madrid to fight fascism!"
January 1937 my father, Ted Allan, was on his way to Spain. He was to travel to
France by ship embarking from New York with a group of North American volunteers.
While in New York, Ted took the time to call in at the offices of the Federated
Press, a wire service for the trade union movement, to offer his services as Spanish
correspondent. His initiative earned him that commission, an accreditation with
the Federated Press.
On the ship Ted shared a cabin
with a young actor from Boston, John Lenthier. Lenthier was a few years older
than Ted (Ted was approaching his 21st birthday). They became fast friends. Ted
recalls John teaching him a full repertoire of left wing music: Union songs. "I
dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night..."
had recently married Kate Schwartz (now Mrs. Lenthier). He feared he might leave
her widowed. He wrote a parting, adieu, letter, and he asked if he should die,
if Ted would deliver the letter to his young widow.
on the boat was Jean Watts, known to all as Jim, the New York journalist who had
forestalled Ted as correspondent for the Daily Clarion. (Jim (Jean Watts) and
John Lenthier became lovers, says Ted.)
the trip, Ted recalls:
"Twenty odd American volunteers and
seven Canadians on our way to Spain. We travel third-class, bunked four to a cabin
without a porthole, next to the kitchens, deep in the hold, all of us seasick,
but still on fire with our cause. We spent as much time as we could on deck, day
and night, singing songs, because our cabins were ill-smelling, sick-making.
We had exciting, but confused, two days in Paris. I looked
up my father's brother, Louis, who was running the clothing factory for the Galleries
Lafayette. Louis asked how my sister Sadie was and I told him she was in a mental
hospital. He looked thoughtful and said, "God has strange ways. Your mother
is being paid back for Rosebud's death." I was astonished. According to Uncle
Louis my mother brought me when I was four to his house after I'd had scarlet
fever. According to him I was still infectious. His daughter Rosebud contracted
the fever and died. From then on his life had been ruined. Now my mother, Annie,
was being paid back with a daughter in a mental hospital, and I should careful
in Spain. It was a relief to leave him for Spain!
took a train to Marseilles, and a truck to Perpignan and over the Pyrenees. We
were the last group of volunteers to be allowed in this way before the "Non-Intervention
Committee" forced all subsequent volunteers to climb through the mountainous
border on foot in secret in the dead of night.
traveled by truck through Catalonia: a glimpse of Barcelona, of Spanish castles,
the culture shock of open toilets, orange trees in fruit and blossom at the same
time, olive groves, dusty roads, to a large barracks in the town of Albacete,
the staging post for the International Brigade, halfway between Valencia and Madrid.
In a later account Ted wrote:
"We were now
over two hundred strong: Englishmen, Frenchmen, anti-Nazi Germans, anti-fascist
Italians, Americans, white and negro, and, we were soon to learn, almost half
of us were Jewish, a fact unsung by us or by history.
learned to drink wine and water out of the leather 'pourrons'. We were given the
khaki uniforms of the International Brigade. We strutted through the town nodding
proudly to welcoming Spanish women, children, and old men. We spoke to comrades,
soldiers of the International Brigade back from the front. They told grim stories
of heavy casualties, of botched leadership, and we wondered if those who would
tell such tales were telling the truth or were they Trotskyites (1).
We were taught to handle rifles. There were not many rifles, and they were a mixed
bag of new, old, and ancient. Then, in the night, the planes came. German Heinkels.
They bombed us all night from midnight till dawn. They came at long intervals
in relays of eight, dropped their bombs, and returned, and returned. Our guns
were useless. There was no defense. There was nothing we could do but listen and
tremble. Some comrades with rifles shot skyward. I trembled. Terror-bombing is
very effective. The barracks were hit, and some recruits were hurt, but miraculously
no one was killed. Albacete itself, though, was bombed to a smoldering ruin.
Most of us, the volunteers, went into the city to help
with the rescue. Picks and shovels were placed in our trembling hands. All night
we dug in the ruins trying to save those entombed in their crushed houses. I helped
dig out the body of a child: a boy perhaps four years old, his bloodied head indented.
One arm twisted at a weird angle, shattered bone showing through, the blood still
oozing. I hugged the broken body close and sobbed.
massacred bodies emit strange and foul odors. There is nothing noble here. I felt
I was in a nightmare, a dream, far away. The night seemed endless. Morning brought
the relief of no more planes, no more bombs. I think we were all in shock. And
exhausted. John Lenthier and I had worked side by side through the whole night
not uttering a word.
We returned to the barracks.
One of the walls and part of the roof had disappeared. The floor we slept on was
cratered. We were slightly crazed and we giggled at the sight. We slept or dozed
through the day scattered wherever we could find shade. Throughout the morning
the air-raid sirens moaned, but the skies were clear, a paled blue sky washed
out by the sun. The ambulances screamed. And we slept, and woke, and waited.
That afternoon we were assembled in the bull ring in Albacete, one of the few
structures untouched by the raid. It was dusty and hot on the floor of the arena.
Skin crawled. Throat dry. There were several hundred of us. New recruits. An officer
stood on an improvised wooden platform and shouted at us with a heavy Chicago
accent. He bellowed a welcome and announced that he would now assign us to our
units. He asked if anyone could drive a truck. Several recruits spoke out or raised
their hands. "Okay, you're in transport." He marched them over to a
table at the side of the arena where they would be signed into their unit. "Okay,
who knows how to operate short wave radio?" No takers. "Okay, anyone
have any medical training?" A few volunteers selected themselves out of the
trenches and moved to the side. "Okay, who can drive a motorcycle?"
A handful raised their hands. "Okay, you'll be dispatch riders. Okay. The
rest of you are infantry. You'll be the heroes."
were marched over to a table where the rifles would be issued, our names taken
and filed, next of kin... Everyone now handed over their passport for safe keeping.
That was like a door closing. The doom of the trenches began to drag at my stomach.
When we reached the table we were reviewed one by one
by the Brigade officer in command. He introduced himself to each of us - very
civilized, Peter Kerrigan, a Colonel in the Brigade and the Political Commissar
of the British battalion. Colonel Kerrigan inquired briefly of each of us about
our background. I told him I was a writer and reporter, that I'd worked for the
Clarion in Montreal, and that I was now a correspondent for the Federated Press.
He made a guttural noise, an "ah", and paused. "We've lost lot
of writers this last month. Cauldwell, Ralph Fox. Do you know their work?"
"We need journalists,"
Kerrigan said. "I may transfer you to Madrid to work as a correspondent for
"But I can't leave my comrades,"
I protested. All of me meant this, and all of me feared that he might take me
at my word.
He nodded his head tiredly. "Your
protest is noted. Believe me, I'd send you to the front if I though that was where
you would serve us best. Come and see me this evening. We will arrange your transfer."
He scribbled on my papers and turned his attention to the next in line, John Lenthier,
an expendable actor, poor John.
Back in our shattered
barracks John and I said our goodbyes. Was it now that John gave me his letter
to Kate, his wife? I think so. With regret and guilt, but with great relief, I
was parted from my friends.
That evening in the Brigade Headquarters
I had dinner with Kerrigan and others in command. We were joined by George Marion,
the correspondent for the London "Daily Worker" who stopped off in Albacete
on his way from Madrid to Valencia. Discovering that I was a Canadian and from
Montreal he spoke of the rumours that had been circulating in Madrid concerning
Bethune's Blood Transfusion Unit. The rumour ran that Bethune was drinking heavily
and fighting with the Spanish doctors. The morale in the unit was said to be low.
"Do you know Bethune?" Kerrigan asked me, for
he knew we were both from Montreal.
"I know him
well. We are good friends. In fact he asked me to come and work with him here
if I had any spare time. That was when I thought I was coming over as a reporter."
"Fine. I want you to see Bethune in Madrid. Place
yourself at his disposal. You're to investigate what's going on in the Blood Transfusion
Unit and report back to the Brigade. Report to comrade Gallo directly." Gallo
was the Head Political Officer of the International Brigade. Kerrigan took out
a folded sheet of paper from the breast pocket of his uniform. "Here is your
Safe Conduct pass. Find yourself transportation to Madrid. Report to brigade headquarters
there. Good luck, and, oh, Ted! finish your dinner first and do stay for a cup
When the Second
Republic was founded in 1931, Spain was polarized between right wing National
Front and the left wing Popular Front (2). Tensions
built. During the governments of the left there were burnings of churches, and
abortive military coups. During the government of the right (3)
there were general strikes and fighting in the streets between the fascist Falange
and militants of the left. An up rising of miners in Asturias was bloodily suppressed.
The elections of February the 16th 1936 saw a narrow
victory for the Popular Front. The fascist National Front openly appealed to the
military to save Spain from Marxism. On July 17th 1936 the military revolted.
The insurrection was quickly consolidated in colonial Morocco and in extensive
areas in metropolitan Spain. Catalonia and the Basque Provinces were loyal to
the government, for the Republic guaranteed their autonomy. In Madrid and Barcelona
the rank and file of the armed forces, aided by the militias of the workers, defeated
the officers. Spain was divided in two: the Republic holding the industrial zones;
the Nationalist holding the food producing areas.
core of the Nationalist army were the battle hardened African corps under the
command of General Franco. At first their advance was irresistible. By November
the 7th 1936 Franco's armies were at the gates of Madrid. The loyalist government
fled to Valencia. Madrid was expected to fall. Only the enthusiasm of the people
of Madrid and their militias, and a remnant of the loyalist army, were left to
resist Nationalist onslaught. Arturo Barea writes (4),
"That morning the outlying workers' district on the other side of Segovia
Bridge had been attacked by the fascists. My sister, her husband, and her nine
children had fled together with all the neighbours, crossing the bridge under
shellfire. Now the Fascist troops were entrenched on the other bank of the river
and advancing into the Casa de Campo, the University City. From the window of
the censorship office in the Telefonica building I heard people marching out towards
the enemy, shouting and singing, cars racing past with screeching motor horns,
and behind the life of the street I could hear the noise of the attack, rifles,
machine guns, mortars, guns, and bombs. The Gran Via, the wide street in which
the Telefonica lies, led to the front in a straight line. The front came nearer.
We heard its advance. Towards two in the morning somebody brought the news that
the Fascists had crossed three bridges over the Manzanares river, the Segovia,
Toledo, and King's Bridges, and that there was hand-to-hand fighting on the campus
of the City University a kilometer away."
here, in the University City, the Fascists were held. The next day saw the first
engagement of the foreign volunteers, the International Brigades. The lines of
the loyalist resistance became firm. The Fascists had been stopped. The siege
of Madrid began.
The siege of Madrid would last for
two years. During this time the centre of Madrid was shelled regularly. The Telefonica
building, a modest sky scrapper, twelve stories high, became a primary target.
In the spring of 1937 Ted Allan would make his regular radio broadcasts to North
America form this target.
In February 1937 the Nationalist
renewed their offensive for Madrid with a flanking attack on the southeastern
approaches to Madrid. The loyalist and the International Brigades halted the enemy
advance on the Jarama at a terrible price. This is the backdrop for Ted's arrival
in Madrid in February 1937.
Recall that Ted's friend and mentor, Norman Bethune had left for Spain before
Ted. Bethune arrived in Madrid on the 3rd of November, just before the siege.
Over the ensuing weeks Bethune devised and began to organise the "Servicio
Canadiense de Transfusion de Sangre" to deliver blood transfusions on the
battlefront. The Spanish Red Cross, the Socorro Rojo, provided Bethune with premises
to operate from, a 15 room luxuriously furnished house at 36 Principe de Vergara,
a gracious boulevard in a rich suburb. Many of the rich had fled to the Fascist
held lands, and the rich suburbs of Madrid were the safest part of the city. The
Fascists did not shell the rich or their property.
Red Cross also provided Bethune with a staff for the unit including a couple of
Spanish doctors and nurses. Meanwhile Bethune flew to Paris and then to London
to outfit the unit. He bought two station-wagons and fitted them with generators,
refrigerators and sterilization units. He returned to Madrid in early December
to set up the Unit, which went into operation in January. It was an instant success,
and a great morale booster. It gave the people of Madrid, the Madrilenos, another
way of participated directly in the resistance, by giving blood. And, along with
the International Brigades, it symbolised foreign support (5).
But already in February their were rumours of serious problems with morale in
the Blood transfusion Unit.
From Ted's notes dated February 10, 1937:
"I arrived in Madrid
exhausted. Came by truck from Albacete. No light. Difficult driving at night.
Beth greeted me warmly, hugging me, embracing me, laughing
at the way I looked in my International Brigade uniform. I couldn't stop my sudden
weeping. With in minutes he had me sitting at a huge dinning table: coffee, rolls,
and terrible tasting margarine! Then he said, "You'll be the political commissar
of the unit."
My mouth fell open. I had a sudden
terrible feeling. Should I tell him that I had come because the Brigade wanted
me to report on the Blood Transfusion Unit because of all the stories circulating?
Finally I got it out, blushing. He laughed. "Great!" he said. "Somebody
should find out what's going on. I could use some help. I hereby renew our recent
appointment as Political Commissar of the Spanish-Canadian Blood Transfusion Unit.
The moment you feel you know what's going on here please report in detail to the
International Brigade, the Party, anybody you want to. Feel better?"
I did. Then Jim came in (Jean Watts whom I'd met on the
boat across). We hugged. Beth announced I was now Political Commissar of the unit.
Jim said, "Hah!" And then, "Well... congratulations."
Later she told me she didn't like Beth, whispering to
me in the hallway, "Can't stand him!"
I asked astonished.
"Tell you when I have a chance."
I suspected that he doesn't find her attractive and this
is killing her.
I'm still haunted by the memory of
that dead child I pulled out of the ruins in Albacete. The town in flames. The
noise. The nightmare of it. Me holding the dead child and weeping and screaming.
And then that peculiar sensation of seeing the words "Something happened
to me once and I wonder what it is." As if I was that child, dead. I told
Beth about it. He said, "Write it quickly before you forget. Just get the
I met the staff. Hazen Sise: tall,
seemingly cold. A patrician's face. Beth says his father's very rich. Something
to do with Bell Telephone in Canada. Henning Sorenson: a Danish Canadian. We took
to each other immediately. There is someone called Allen May who is away in Valencia
at the moment. Jean (Jim) is living here at the moment. Dr. Culebras and Dr. Gonzales
(must get their names right): Spanish doctors. Three Spanish nurses. One is very
pretty. She offered to teach me Spanish. I accepted.
are huge lines outside the Servicio Building to give blood. I watched the Unit
in operation. It's very impressive.
Note: faces, enthusiasm,
each donor gets food (don't be cynical).
I slept like
a log. Slept, slept, slept, in a beautiful room off the corridor Beth gave me.
I'm worrying about Sadie, Momma, Georgie. Must write a
dispatch for Federated Press about the Albacete bombardment. And do a piece on
the Blood Transfusion Service. I'm now a Political Commissar with the rank of
Colonel. I wonder what the International Brigade will say to this. It's funny.
Beth's done it half as a joke.
I'll have to call a
meeting of the Party members within a week or so and report all the rumours going
all over Spain.
UNDATED. 1937. Damn it. I hate that man sometimes! He got
drunk again last night and smashed the door shut so hard the glass broke. He's
infuriated at Culebras and his nasty, devious manner, and at Culebras' sister.
All very well. I can't blame him for being angry, but to get so damned drunk and
scream at Culebras like that in front of everyone!
told Gallo about the drinking. Gallo is a lovely man. Being Italian and more tolerant
(is that the reason) he said he can understand Beth drinking because of the strain.
All the rumours of trouble in the Unit come from Beth losing his temper with Culebras
and his sister. Beth wants them out, but Culebras is a Party member, and the Spanish
Party is not clear about the reasons for the arguments. How does one tell them
Culebras is a prick? I think Culebras feels he should be head of the unit, because
he's a Spaniard. But Beth conceived it, invented it, created it! The whole idea
of bringing blood to the battlefield like a milk delivery system is Beth's,
I keep calling Maria "Culebras sister". I seem
to resent giving her a name of her own.
I hated him
last night because of his drunkenness. It reminds me of my damned Papa.
Febr. 28, 1937. Rumours of some bloody battle on the Jarama front. That's where
my comrades are, John, Milty, Dave, all the guys with me on the boat and the barracks
at Albacete. I feel guilty living the life of a Medical Worker, Foreign Correspondent,
with them in the trenches. I spoke with Beth about it last night. He said he understood
but suggested I was doing the job I knew best how to do.
March 1, 1937.
Today I love him! He's made me cry. I woke up this morning and a brand new typewriter
was beside my bed. I've been using the Unit's typewriter. Beth had commented,
"How in hell can you call yourself a writer and not have a typewriter?"
"Ah, that's the rub," I had said.
I stared at the new typewriter There was a note. "If you want to be a writer
you need a typewriter. Love, Beth." I couldn't believe it. I dashed out of
the room, into his bedroom. Ula was still there. Hah! I love her too. (Ula is
a journalist from the Stockholm Tagblat who came to interview Bethune a week ago.
"An in depth interview," says Bethune.) She's a darling. She's leaving
next week for Sweden. Culebras sister will be pleased.
was carrying the machine with me. "Is this true?" I asked.
looked at me deadpan. "You need a typewriter, don't you, you ninny. One of
your own. You call yourself a writer, don't you?"
did you get such a lovely typewriter?" I asked. It was a Royal.
it sent to me from Barcelona."
I gushed out my
thanks, felt like a kid, and rushed back to the room and I am typing on it now.
Beautiful machine. I'll write some good stories on it!
you Beth. (Didn't mean a word when I said I hated you. Love yah!)
5th. 1937. Just came back from Jarama. Photographer Geza Karpathi, and Herbert
Kline with me. Can't stand it. John, Dave, Milty and twenty others on the boat
with me, dead! All dead. Wiped out in some stupid attack. God.
1937. Beth says I should have a little holiday. Don't want one. Feel sick. John
dead. Milty dead. Feel sick.
Beth took me for a walk,
We were very quiet. He said very little, but I loved him for being so sensitive.
I hope I come through for him. I wish he didn't drink so much and get angry and
irascible so much. It scares me sometimes.
In March General Franco made another flanking move on Madrid. At Guadalajara the
International Brigades decisively defeated the motorised Italian corp that the
Nationalist had thrown into the fray, but the loyalists were unable to follow
up on their victory. The Madrid campaign remained in stalemate.
(UNDATED.) Just got back from an area near a place called Guadalajara. Beth giving
blood transfusions to wounded, dying soldiers. He was like a mother to them. He
really cares. He's fearless. Makes me frightened the way he doesn't care about
bullets, bombs, anything. I told him he's bloody suicidal. He said, "Rubbish."
On the way there in the ambulance, with me and Henning
and Geza (taking pictures), Bethune drove into enemy territory by mistake. Damned
windshield shattered by machine gun fire. Two bullets through right over Beth's
head, and mine! I dived to the floor of the ambulance.
opened the door and jumped out. Beth leisurely brought the ambulance to a stop.
I could have killed his calmness. Geza was white with fear, and I was giggling
at him, probably hysterical. Christ, what a terrible soldier I am! I get petrified
at the sound of bombs, gunfire, any sudden noise. Henning had dived into the ditch
first, me on top of him and Geza on top of me. More machine gun bullets and a
bloody enemy tank, an Italian tank coming towards us. I couldn't believe my eyes.
And Beth? Shouting at us angrily, "Get out of that
ditch. We've got four cases of blood! Get them out!"
great reluctant heroes, Henning, Geza, and myself crawled out of the ditch to
help Beth carry the cases of blood into the ditch, the bloody machine gun still
at us. How in hell did he stay so calm and cool? He wasn't putting on any act,
unless being so cool under fire is an act. Henning, Geza, and I were infuriated
at him for driving us into enemy territory in the first place, and then calmly
making us look like three cowering idiots.
was safe for the moment, but the tank kept coming and I said, "Shit, we're
going to be massacred."
Beth said. "They'll see our medical insignias (Socorro Rojo) and just take
And then from out of nowhere a
Republican tank appears and then another and then another and the Italian tank
turns and skidoos.
We come out of the ditch. Spanish
soldiers surround us and cheer and help us put the blood back into the ambulance.
And then Bethune administering the transfusions an hour
later to these badly wounded kids. God, they don't look more than 18 or 19. They
look so young, crying "Madre mi madre". Beth putting his hand to their
foreheads, giving them cigarettes.
Sometimes I hate
him. Sometimes I love him.
learned from Bethune that throughout his life Bethune might wake at night from
a nightmare, not knowing where he was, but in panic and often with a compulsion
to travel, to move somewhere, anywhere. So in Madrid, on occasion, Bethune would
drive off in the middle of the night in the one of the Unit's station wagons,
the ambulances. "Once he didn't stop until he reached Valencia. He was gone
five days without anybody knowing where he was." This behaviour did not help
the smooth running of the hospital, and put Ted, as Bethune's friend and confidant,
and Political Officer of the unit, in an awkward position.
main problem within the unit, however, flowed from the friction between Bethune
and the Spanish doctors. "Culebras,
was a pain in the ass. He would insist on having his afternoon siestas no matter
what was going on." No emergency would shift him from the leisurely
manner he saw as his right. For Bethune such self-indulgence was totally unacceptable.
Culebras' wife work in the Unit's blood laboratory, and his sister was a nurse
with the Unit. All were members of the Communist Party, which gave them a certain
tenure. They were immovable. Bethune however felt the matter was more than a clash
of personality or culture, more than petty obstruction. Bethune felt that Culebras
was a fascist sympathiser and an active saboteur. But Bethune was hardly rational.
He drank like a fish. Ted could understand, but not excuse the drunken binges.
But Bethune seemed insane when he maintained that even the mild mannered and inoffensive
Dr. Gonzales was a fascist saboteur.
Bethune was popular
with his patients and with the common people who viewed him as a symbol from the
distance. But close up he made enemies easily. Jean Watts told Ted she thought
Bethune was "egocentric to the extent of mania. Really quite crazy. Completely
insensitive. I hate him." Arturo Barea, the censor, describes how "Doctor
Norman Bethune, the dictatorial chief of the Canadian Blood Transfusion Unit,
came stalking into the room with his escort of lumbering, embarrassed young helpers.
... In immaculate battle dress, his frizzy grey hair slicked back on his long,
narrow head, he stood there swaying slightly on his feet and proclaiming that
he would take these important paper - his own treasure trove - to Alvarez del
Vayo, in the blood Transfusion van." (4)
Bethune had found some correspondence in German in the house on Principe de Vergara.
It turned out to be rather innocuous inconsequential letters from some time before,
but Barea says Bethune insisted on making an issue of it.
indeed, Bethune was a handful. What was Ted to do? Nothing for the moment.
Late in March 1937 Ted visited Valencia.
On March the 30th, as Ted was about to return to Madrid, Constancia de la Mora,
who was in charge of the government press bureau, asked Ted if he would mind sharing
his car with an American reporter, the correspondent for Colliers magazine, who
was looking for a ride to Madrid.
The following is
from Ted's notes titled "Hemingway" and dated "1946"
"Constancia is an incredible woman. She wrote a book that some of you may
remember, "In Place of Splendour". She was in charge of propaganda for
the Spanish government. Her husband was the head of the Spanish airforce, whatever
there was of it.
Constancia asked if I would take
some reporter to Madrid. I made a face to indicate that I was not too keen on
sharing the car. She told me, "You will not be sorry when you see her."
"In that case, by all means," I said.
Constancia smiled, and then frowned. "There is a
man, an acquaintance of her's, to travel too."
shrugged. "C'est la guerre."
The next morning in the lobby of
the Hotel Victoria, Constancia introduced me to Martha Gellhorn. Martha was a
very attractive young blond lady, in her mid or late twenties, quite striking
looking. She came out of a cultured and comfortable background, highly educated,
and had been working now many years as a writer and journalist. Her latest novel,
"The Trouble I've Seen", which had been published the summer before,
was highly acclaimed. I didn't know all this at the time, just that she had a
wonderful smile, beautiful hair, and a great figure. I absolutely flipped. Constancia
told me that Martha had just arrived and didn't know too much about the war, so
Constancia asked me to brief her on policy matters.
The car arrived. The driver opened the door and a man
stepped out whom Constancia introduced to me as Sidney Franklin. Sidney was an
American bullfighter with quite a reputation in Spain. On the way to Madrid when
we stopped in a village, the word spread like wildfire. Children tagged after
him, grown-ups stood about entranced, and even the mayor came out to shake his
hand. You know, he may have been the only Jewish bullfighter in history. Sidney
and Martha may have been acquaintances, but I had my brief, to fill Martha in
on the background of the war, so Sidney sat in front seat beside our Spanish chauffeur.
Martha and I settled in the back seat and I gave her a
brief history of the war. We felt very comfortable together, hit it off immediately,
and soon found ourselves almost sitting in each other laps, giggling and cuddling
for warmth under the baleful eyes of Sidney Franklin, who turned around frequently
with a disapproving glare. It was a long trip. Martha and I spent nearly the whole
journey kissing and necking.
When we got to Madrid
I had to go to the Blood Transfusion Unit: she had to go to the Hotel Florida.
I asked, "When will I see you?"
"Whenever you want".
I said, "In a
couple of hours."
She said, "Fine."
So a couple of hours later I was in her hotel room.
I asked her, "Have you got the key to the door?" The various hotels
I've had been in in Madrid always needed a key to lock the door.
kept smiling. She said, "No."
I said, "For
Christ's sake. I know you have the key. I want to close the door."
kept smiling. It appeared that this door did not need a key to be locked.
So we were sitting on the bed, and there's a knock on
the door. It opens, and there's this big man I've never met, but I've seen pictures
of Ernest Hemingway. He went, "Oh!"
said, "Oh, come in. This is uh, Ted."
I looked at her. He stared at
me, and she said, "I'll see you later, okay Ted?"
May 26th, 1993. Ted
is seventy seven. It is 56 years later. Ted is with his young friend, Beth Richards.
(Is it or isn't it an affair? Beth says no.) They are recording their conversation
on tape. Ted feels the conversations are, in part, hilarious, and that they may
be able to write a comedy from this material. Much of the material, however, is
dry and serious. In the following section Ted's doing most of the talking.
"It's ten past seven. I'm sitting with Elizabeth, Helen Elizabeth (Beth)
and we were discussing dreams I've had. At the moment I'm feeling bloated and
gassy and belching and exhausted. I wasn't sure about this actress, directress,
from L.A. who wants to direct "Secret". I didn't even know if I liked
her, and then Beth said something about my sister, Sadie. Was I always unsure
about Sadie? Yeah, but not when we were younger. Not when I was in love with her.
Then later as she got sick, as she got totally paranoid and manic, I became very
scared and unsure about Sadie. And I'm probably unsure and scared about all women.
And Beth (Richards) suggested
that I write about my unsureness with women.
also come to the conclusion that I exude a certain kind of scent, a certain kind
of chemistry, because women and men are more influenced by smell than any other
factor, I'm convinced of it. So I must have had a powerful scent that I exuded,
otherwise I can't explain why women have found me attractive. This thought is
being triggered by what Merrily Weisborn told me this morning, that Martha Gellhorn
told her when she was interviewing her for the documentary
(on Ted). Martha Gellhorn told her that when she met me in Valencia - I
was then 21 years old, she was 27 (Gerda's age) - I was exceptionally handsome.
I looked like a gypsy. My eyes were sparkling, and she had an instant crush on
me. We cuddled in the car all the way from Valencia to Madrid. She's the woman
who married Hemingway, and happens to be one of the finest writers alive today.
She then revealed something to Merrily that I'd forgotten,
and that was that Sidney Franklin, the bullfighter, threatened me in Madrid, and
said if I saw Martha again he would attend to me, and he scared me, it may have
influenced me, coz he was a big bruiser. Sydney Franklin and Hemingway were close
friends. They had traveled to Spain together. Bullfighting and machismo bound
them together. I didn't see too much of Martha, but that was mostly because Hemingway
was jealous and keeping her under lock and key.
read in Kert's "Hemingway's Women" an account of Martha's first
days in Madrid : "After her arrival in Madrid, Ernest tried to take charge
of Martha in ways that were sometimes heavy-handed. On her second night, during
a heavy bombardment, she woke up and, seeking company, found her door locked from
the outside. She banged and shouted but to no avail. Finally, when the shelling
stopped a hotel employee unlocked the door. Who had locked it, she wondered. She
located Ernest in someone's room playing poker. He had locked it, he admitted
sheepishly, so that no man could bother her." (6)
Ted's notes written in Spain, 1937:
"Bethune and I met Hemingway
today. Beth and Hemingway hated each other at first sight. But I like Martha Gellhorn.
Mmm. So did Bethune. Mmm.
Met Robert Capa and his
girl friend Gerda Taro. Yum Yum. Beth and I giggled at one another after we left
"Isn't she beautiful?" I said.
"A delicious thoracic creation," he said.
"Yum Yum," I said.
that ditto," he said.
to Ted's "Hemingway" notes dated "1946":
the correspondents used to eat in a restaurant on the Grand Via, lunch, not dinner,
but lunch. And the next day sure enough there was Hemingway and Martha sitting
there. There was every well known writer in the world around that table at the
time. Everybody was there except Shakespeare. It was incredible. And she, Martha
- Hemingway was very possessive about her. It turned out that he was expecting
to marry her.
She hadn't mentioned this. Franklin
had told Hemingway that we had been necking in the back of the car, so his attitude
to me, right from the beginning, was not friendly.
was twenty one at the time. He was in his mid or late forties. He had not yet
written "For Whom the Bells Toll", of course, but he had been one of
my heroes as a writer. I had loved his short stories and I had loved his novels
"The Sun Also Rises" and "A Farewell to Arms". He was already
world famous by this time.
He was the correspondent in Spain for the North American Newspaper Alliance and
was writing marvelous stuff.
I was sending cables
to the trade unions wire-service, Federate Press. I was also just beginning to
broadcast regular radio reports to North America.
head censor in Madrid was a man called Arturo Barea who worked with his wife,
Ilsa. Barea met with the foreign corespondents once a week. He would refer to
various dispatches he thought were special or important and everyone would be
One afternoon Barea started to read
what he said was "one of the most vivid, the most exciting dispatch ever
written." Before he started to read we all automatically turned to Hemingway
because that description could only describe something Hemingway had written.
I thought, "What a moment. What a historic, incredible moment."
After the first lines three of us knew that it wasn't
Hemingway's piece. Barea was reading the article I had sent that morning describing
the bombardment at Albacete, and everybody was going, "Oh, fantastic,"
looking at Hemingway, and saying, "Great," and I thought, "Holy
shit." Hemingway was trying to wave off the compliments, "No, no!"
but nobody knew. Finally when it was over they all jumped up, "It's great.
It's Fantastic. It's..." and Hemingway said, "I didn't write it,"
and Barea said, "No, no! Ted Allan!"
Soon after that Hemingway
asked me if he could read my short stories. I said, "Would you?"
He said, "Yeah."
I said. "I'll get them," and I got up to leave.
said, "Great. Bring them to the hotel"
ran back to the Blood Transfusion Institute and picked up the several short stories
I had with me in Spain, and ran to his room at the Florida Hotel. I gave him the
stories and I thought, "Oh God. This is fantastic. He's gonna read my stories."
I waited and waited. It took a week or so and one day
at lunch he said, in front of everybody, "I read your stories, kid."
guess I don't have anything to worry about."
said, "Yeah, well I didn't think you'd have anything to worry about."
"Yeah," he said. "You know what you should
do with your stories?"
He said, "You should put then away for ten to twenty
years, and then come back to them."
I said, "Yeah,
And this was at the lunch table
with everybody listening. I thought he was being pretty shit ass.
A few days later I was at the Hotel
Florida and there he was at the bar. "Hi. Hi, kid." All the rest of
them called him Poppa or Uncle. Bethune and I were the only ones who called him
We both went down to the
toilets to pee. As we were peeing in the urinals, the hotel was hit by a shell.
Now the Florida Hotel was hit by shells one or two times a week. And it shook.
We were peeing, and Hemingway said, "Well, one of the good things about the
shells hitting this hotel is it's getting rid of the Jews."
said, "What do you mean, it's getting rid of the Jews?"
I heard Herb Kline was leaving, and he mentioned three Jewish guys who had been
in the hotel and they were leaving."
"Didn't you know I was Jewish?"
"Oh Christ, I didn't remember you were Jewish."
said, "Yeah, I'm Jewish."
He said, "Oh
shit." He then said to me, this was after the peeing, "Hey kid, if you
ever write a novel, I don't care what it is, I'll write a preface for it."
I said, "Oh, great."
in New York, Ted brought Hemmingway his first novel, This Time a Better Earth.
He went back, a week later, with Martha Gellhorn to pick up the preface from
Hemmingway. "I wouldn't put my name on this rubbish," said Papa. They
left. In the hotel lobby Martha said to a dejected Ted, "Don't feel bad.
He can't even get it up," (said Ted to me, taking his revenge).
few years into the twenty-first century I got a call from a doctoral student researching
"Canadian writing on Spanish Civil War". He wanted to discuss the possibility
of re-issuing This Time a Better Earth. I mentioned that Ted came to
call the work Next Time a Better Book.
I found it a page turner," he said. "You know that both Ted's book,
published in 1939, and Hemingway's Spanish Civil War book, published in 1940,
start with the hero riding in the back of a truck coming into Spain over the Pyrennes"
told him that Hemingway had refused to write a promised preface for the novel.
"That's interesting," he
said. "There were two copies of This Time a Better Earth in Hemingway's
library when he died."
in Spain, in the Civil War, Ted split his time between working with Bethune at
the Blood Transfusion Unit and living the life of a war correspondent in the besieged
city. Madrid, the centre of the world. Rubbing shoulders with Hemingway, Dos Passos:
"everyone but Shakespeare".
During the spring
Ted suggested to Gallo - Gallo was the nom du guerre of Luigi Longo who
many years later would succeed Togliati as head of the Italian Communist Party.
Gallo, as we've mentioned, was Chief Political Commissar of the International
Brigade, and Ted was reporting to him about Bethune. Ted suggested to Gallo that
he might broadcast reports from Madrid to North America. Gallo approved. This
took Ted to the Telefonica building, that landmark and target, every night in
the midnight hours so that his broadcasts would reach the East Coast of America
in the evenings.
this period Herbert Kline and Geza Karpathi were making a documentary of Bethune's
work, "The Heart of Spain". Meanwhile that other "publicity hound",
Hemingway, was making his documentary, "Spanish Earth." Photographers
Robert Capa and Gerda Taro (Capa's beautiful companion, whom Hemingway is reported
to have called a "femme fatale") were involved in this project. We'll
meet them later.
Back at the Blood Transfusion Unit, tension continued
to grow. Two more Spanish doctors, a haematologist, and a bacteriologist, joined
the unit. With this Culebras gained some success in his campaign to "democratise"
the Institute, to achieve more Spanish control. In practice what this amounts
to was a bureaucrification, a proliferation of rules and paper, restrictions on
Bethune's freedom of action.
Bethune responded stormily.
Ted had already seen him slam a door so hard its glass window shattered. Now he
watched Bethune hurl a heavy glass ashtray across the room at Culebras. When the
innocuous Dr. Gonzales inadvertently spilled a bottle of blood, Bethune growled,
"Idiot". That's a word the Spaniard recognise, and it had a chilling
effect. Gonzales was mortified. All possibility of professional cooperation seemed
ruptured. By this time everyone else had already turned against Bethune. Now,
even for the young Ted Allan, his hero had lost most of his luster. Ted wrote:
"Beth and Culebras' antagonism was becoming impossible. After a few more
drunken tantrums, broken windows, thrown chairs, flung ashtrays, another episode
absconding in the night with an ambulance, I began to find myself allied with
those Bethune called "the misfits and the shits". I saw him, not as
a loving mentor, but as a drunkard and a publicity seeker. I agreed now that he
must leave the Unit, and wrote a full report, copies to the Brigade in Madrid
and to the Party in Canada, suggesting Bethune be sent back to Canada. In Spain
he was a liability. At home he could be of service speaking and raising money
for the Spanish Aid Committee.
A.A. MacLeod and William
Kashtan of the Canadian Communist Party traveled to Madrid to investigate. The
day that they arrived and phoned me, Bethune, sober for a change, was planning
to leave for Valencia to buy, he said, some medical supplies. An excuse to get
away, because we all knew there were no medical supplies in Valencia. I suggested
MacLeod and Kashton come to the Unit the following morning and be present at a
meeting of the Unit's personnel to hear it all for themselves first hand.
The meeting next morning went its inevitable way, one
speaker after the other telling MacLeod and Kashton how impossible a man Bethune
had become with his drinking and whoring. Admittedly he had done wonderful work
at the beginning, but he seemed to have degenerated into an incurable and unpleasant
Finally I took the floor. "We all
know he's a son of a bitch..." I began. I didn't get much further. Some drapes
that walled off an alcove parted and, from their folds, out stepped Bethune. He
had not gone to Valencia as he had said he intended, but had hidden that morning
behind these curtains in the room where we held our meeting. He glared at me.
"Thank you comrades for your expressions of trust
and loyalty. I appreciate it. Especially from you." His countenance was withering.
Beneath the steal of his stare, hurt and humiliation were too painful to conceal.
My shock and embarrassment left me speechless.
turned to MacLeod and Kashton. "I am happy to resign from the Blood Transfusion
Service, but I see no advantage in returning to Canada. I can be used here as
a surgeon. I will join one of the Brigades medical units."
said they could discuss all this in private. I persuaded MacLeod and Kashton that
it appeared that Bethune could not handle himself at this time in Spain; that
he should be ordered home where he could be of more use. Eventually Kashton and
MacLeod persuaded, or ordered, or in any event prevailed upon Bethune. Bethune
returned to Canada to tour and lecture promoting the Spanish cause.
Betrayal is a major theme for Ted. Betrayal of his sister, Sadie; betrayal of
At about this time an acquaintance from Montreal, a Harry Muscowitz,
was accused in Spain of being a "Trotskyite" and a spy for the fascists.
Harry had heard that Ted Allan was in Madrid and he appealed to Ted to act as
a character reference. To Ted, Muscowitz was simply a Trotskyite, and therefore
not to be trusted. Besides, what did Ted know of this Trotskyite, a mere acquaintance?
Ted said as much.
Muscowitz was not shot, but was
deported. I am not clear that Ted knew this at the time. Certainly Ted felt that
he had as good as abandoned Muscowitz to his death. In several versions of his
fictional writings Ted recounts the story of a denounced Trotskyite being shot.
It is one of the themes of Ted's great work, "The Secret of the World".
Many years later Ted would run into Harry Muscowitz on 6th Avenue in New York.
"You son of a bitch," said Muscowitz. "You bastard. They could
have killed me. And you and I are Jews!" and with that he spat on Ted.
From Bethune's letter of May 5th, 1937: "To my friends in Canada: This is
an attempt at an explanation why I, who think of you often with love and affection,
have not written - or so briefly - since my arrival in Spain..." Bethune
continued by saying that an attempt to describe or explain his experiences in
Spain is a foray into the world of art, and he then went on to discuss art for
many pages... Of the artist Bethune wrote: "The environment in which he has
his being are those dark, sunless, yet strangely illuminated depths of the world's
subconscious - the warm, pulsating yet quite depths of the other-world. He comes
up into the light of everyday like a great leviathan of the deep, breaking the
smooth surface of accepted things, gay, serious, sportive and destructive. In
the bright banal glare of day he enjoys the purification of violence, the catharsis
"The function of the artist
is to disturb. His duty is to arouse the sleeper, to shake the complacent pillars
of the world. He reminds the world of its dark ancestry, shows the world its present,
and points the way to its new birth. He is at once the product and the preceptor
of his time. After his passage we are troubled and made unsure of our too easily
accepted realities. He makes uneasy the static, the set, and the still. In a world
terrified of change, he preaches revolution - the principle of life. He is an
agitator, restless and disquieting. He is the creative spirit of life working
in the soul of man.
"But enough. Perhaps the
true reason I can not write is that I'm too tired - another 150 miles on the road
"Our first job is to defeat fascism -
the enemy of the creative artist, the enemy of man. After that we can write about
"Goodbye. I do think of you with love and
affection. Forgive me when I do not write.
as we shall see, wrote the first biography of Bethune: "The Scalpel, The
Sword", published in 1952. It was a eulogy - that seemed to Ted and his collaborator
to be politically appropriate at that time - but the book troubled me. Bethune
is portrayed as a man of exceptional energy, drive, ambition, talent, intellect,
and charisma, and the moral of the biography seemed to be - seemed to me when
I first read it at the age of twenty - that if you had that exceptional talent,
energy, et cetera, why then you could make a contribution. But if you're black,
get back... I didn't like this Bethune. I felt he had nothing for me, nothing
of help to me.
Over the years, talking to my father,
listening to my father, I got a different picture of Bethune. I learned the details
of my father's relationship with Beth, which were not then in print. My father
was, in some sense, a protégé of Bethune's. They were almost like
father and son. "He turned into
my father, crazy Harry" said Ted, "I
felt that he had betrayed me." Listening to my father tell the stories
on memorable nights in his apartment in Putney above the river, looking down through
the grey to the Thames, I met another Bethune: a man whose passion and foibles
constantly had him falling on his ass, but a man who every time he fell, wiped
off the dust and insisted on trying again. The best, or at least the biggest example
of this was the model hospital in China. Bethune insisted that the Mao's guerrilla
army build a model hospital. He insisted that this was the only way he could train
the Chinese in modern medical methods. And so the guerrilla army pored enormous
energy and effort into the construction of a model hospital. The partisans took
a tremendous pride in this accomplishment. However, within three week of it completion,
just as the Chinese had predicted, it was destroyed by the Japanese. Now this
was a catastrophe that Bethune did not cast off lightly. He was devastated. But
he learned from it, and used it as a spring board for his great accomplishments
in China, and not least for remolding himself. I believe Bethune developed a receptivity
and sensitivity out of this passage. This man, a man wrestling with his weaknesses,
is a man that I can try to use as a mode.
At the end of May, 1937, Bethune was sent home from Spain, publicly a hero, privately
"Spain is a scar on my heart!"
Bethune wrote to his ex-wife, Frances.
Ted sometimes wondered whether he had betrayed Beth, but I think Ted just played
in earnest the part Bethune had given him: he was Bethune's Political Commisar
and, ultimately, Beth's return to Canada was in Beth's best interest and the best
interest of the antifascist cause.