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Norman Allan
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Ted                                                 ©

Chapter Two: Gerda



"Written July 22, 1969. Putney, London. I sit here waiting for interruptions..." Looking out at the river Thames. Ted's third story flat overlooked the grey river, through a north facing studio window that reached from the ceiling almost to the floor, after Martie raised the floor. No interuptions came, so Ted continued. "... Hot sun. Madrid. July 22, 1937, Thirty-two years to the day. She was twenty-seven and looked younger. I thought she was my age. I was twenty-one and looked older. She was pretty. I wasn't sure about me. She was a photographer for the Parisian newspaper, Ce Soir, and her work had been featured in Life Magazine. The man she was with was also a photographer, already famous: black-eyed, handsome Robert Capa. His photograph of a loyalist soldier- just hit, falling, caught in the act of dying, his dropped rifle still in the air - was already a symbol of war. Gerda, Capa and myself had become good friends. When Capa returned to Paris on business he said to me in his heavy Hungarian accent, "I leave Gerda in your charge, Teddie. Take good care of her." I was flattered.
     For three to four weeks Gerda and I spent mornings, afternoons and evenings together chasing stories of interest - battlefields, orphanages, women lining up for bread. Driving to or from the front we would sing - she taught me many songs; "die Moorsoldatan", "Freihejt!". Her favourite song was "Los Quatros Generalis" in which we laughed at the four insurgent generals and praised the spirit of Madrid's resistance. Gerda was always joyful, always laughing. For three or four weeks, we were constant companions. And finally, one afternoon, we ended up in her hotel room.
     An afternoon in late July. The twenty-second. A Tuesday. I had brought Gerda my short stories to read. I sat on a chair trying to look unconcerned. She read slowly. Finally she looked up. "You're good," she said. I felt dizzy.
     She walked to the bathroom, slipped off her shirt and skirt, undressing to her underwear. She returned to the room brushing her teeth, seemingly unaware of her state of undress. She wandered back to the bathroom to rinse her mouth, and ambled back into the room again.
     "Your very good," she repeated, staring at me. I tried not to look at her bra or panties.
     She lay down on the bed. I sat in my chair.
     "Do you feel like taking a nap before we go to dinner?" she asked.
     I moved to the bed, removed my shoes, and lay beside her, making sure our bodies did not touch. I lay there stiffly and watched the ceiling. She turned and touched my right eye-lid with her finger tip. "A man shouldn't have such eyes."

     I thought she meant I had woman's eyes.
     She touched my cheek, then lay back and burst out, "I'm not going to fall in love again! It's too painful." She sounded irritated.
     "What do you mean?"
     "I loved someone. A boy in Prague. Killed by the Nazi. It's too painful." She took a deep breath.

     "You don't love Capa?" I asked, puzzled.
     "I do love Capa, but not the way I loved Georg. I don't want to love anybody like I loved Georg. Capa is my friend, my copain."
     She looked at the ceiling. I studied her small nose and perfect mouth, her golden-red hair. Our bodies still were not touching. I moved away from her quickly when my hip touched hers. I tried not to move or make a sound. I hadn't understood what she was saying. I didn't understand anything that afternoon. We lay like that for many long seconds. Then she placed her hand on my stomach, looked at me with a serious expression, and moved her hand to my thigh, near my groin.
     "Do you like being touched here?"
     I nodded, quickly, twice. I held my breath. She took my hand and placed it in her groin. "I like to be touched there too."
     I caressed her gently, carefully, hardly moving. Then I withdrew my hand and stared at the ceiling again.
     We lay there, neither of us moving. "She's Capa's girl," I thought. "He placed her in my charge." We had been dear friends for a month now, she and I. I wondered if it might be alright to turn and gently kiss her on the cheek like a friend, but I didn't dare.
     She turned on her side and studied me. "You're incredible," she said. She sat up. "I'd better dress." She looked at me, touched my cheek, bent down and kissed my forehead, smiling a smile I did not understand. She kept glancing at me.
     "Why is she looking so sad?" I asked myself
     She got out of bed and started dressing. I lay still on the bed, numb.
     She finished dressing. I put on my shoes, and sat there. "Are you going to marry Capa?"
     She shook her head. "I told you, he's my copain, not my lover. He still wants us to marry, but I don't want to."
     I sat on the edge of the bed unable to move. She stood in front of me. I felt like crying, and smiled to hide it. She touched my head. I said, "He acts like you are lovers. He put you in my charge. He asked me to take care of you."
     She sighed. "Yes. He was clever. He saw how I looked at you."
     I heard myself saying, "My mother will love you."
     "I don't want to live in Montreal," she answered. "We'll live in New York."
     We said no more, but went to dinner.
     I think I was in shock.

Capa wired from Paris that he might have to travel to China. Gerda thought she might visit him in Paris before he left. Maybe she would go to China with him. Maybe I would join her in Paris before she left or when she got back. Nothing was settled. Everything was possible.

Sunday morning, July 27, 1937, the sun burst through my window and woke me up before Gerda phoned. I could hear the Madrilenos going to work. Women carrying baskets hurried to get a good place in the food queues. The morning papers lay on my bed and I read that there had been heavy fighting yesterday near Brunete. The village of Brunete had been entered twice by the fascists and retaken twice by our troops. The situation was in flux.
     The telephone rang. Gerda had arranged to have a car take her to the front at Brunete. Did I want to come?

Gerda was waiting beside the car. She wore khaki overalls and her reddish hair was all over the place.
     The driver was French. He could speak American, not English. "Okeedokee" was the word he knew. The sun became stronger and the car became hotter. "Let's sing," sang Gerda. "Okeedokee," sang our chauffeur.
     We sang songs in many languages till we got tired of singing.
     Gerda stretched her arms and yawned happily. "Well, I must get some good pictures to take to Paris. If they are still fighting near Brunete it will be my chance to get some action pictures."
     "Let's not go too close," I said.
     "How do you want me to take pictures? Long distance?"
     "That's an idea."
     "Are you frightened?"
     "Yes. Aren't you?"
     She laughed. "Yes."

The chauffeur brought the car to a stop near Brunete. "Okay, there!" he said pointing towards the village.
     We walked though a rolling wheat field. Everything was strangely quite.
     "Where are the lines?" I asked.
     "Right in front. In the back of the hill," Gerda answered. She had an instinct for such matters.
     "That's close," I said.
     "That's good," said she.
     The General, with a few of his adjutants in tow, was walking towards his dugout. General Walters: we had interviewed him the week before. He did not seem glad to see us now. "Of all days to come," he groaned. "You must go away immediately. Go back. Go right back!" He stepped forward right into my face. "Get her away from here."
     "What!" she complained. "I am going to Paris tomorrow. This is my last chance. I must stay!"
     "No!" the General yelled. "Take her away from here. Go immediately. I can't be responsible for you. In five minutes there will be hell!" Then General Walker dismissed us from his attention, and marched off to his headquarters.
     "Come," I said.
     "You can go. I'm staying."
     "But the General said..."
     "To hell with the General." She was adamant.
     "Okay," I conceded, "okay. You're crazy. Let's find some cover. There are some dugouts on the hillside there."
     We snuggled into a hole barely big enough to hide our two asses. We waited, looked around. Other soldiers were precariously dug in around us. Then we heard the drone of planes. We could see a flight, like geese, perhaps twelve bombers in formation. You could see the tiny pursuit planes flying like flies around the bombers. Their drone became louder, became a roar. They moved so slowly, one felt they might stop in mid-air. They didn't stop. They disgorged their shit on us. The bombs fell so quickly. Then it thundered, black clouds billowing, about a hundred yards in front of us. It thundered again and again.
     Gerda was busy taking pictures. I was trying to see what I could use to dig the hole deeper, while the thunder roared and the earth showered around us.
     "Put your head down!" she yelled at me.
     "Where'll I put it? I can't put it into my chest."
     "Put it down! Put it down!"
     I don't think I can find words to fit the confusion and the fear, dirt, dust, the acrid smoke. And then the air cleared. The stuttering drone of the planes became dimmer.
     "Are you all right?" I asked.
     "Who me? Sure. You?"
     Heads began to appear from the foxholes, soldiers, some grinning, some grim. But all to soon the planes returned. Their drone grew again to a roar. In relays they bombed the government lines, bombed us for an hour or more. Meanwhile the artillery shell came too without interruption. It was three o'clock when the bombardment had started. Now, an eternity later, it was suddenly quiet. Gerda asked me the time. "Four."
     We must have looked ludicrous trying to hide in that shallow hole. I'm sure my head and ass showed above the ground. Gerda somehow managed to get her feet underneath mine, but that was little protection.
     "If they come again you had better watch your head," she said. "Shrapnel, you know."
     "I know. But you're taking pictures and your head is above the ground."
     "Yes, but I must take pictures and you don't have to."
     Again we heard the drone of aircraft, this time, though, with a different timbre. A flight of bi-planes flying low swung towards the road not far behind us. Gerda clicked her Leica.
      The first plane turned on its side and bellied in low. We heard the rat-tat-tat of machine gun fire. One by one the bi-planes strafed us, nine planes in all, and with barely an interruption the first came back to make a second pass. Then the bombers came and bombed the lines again, and still the artillery shells fell round us. "It must end sometime," I said to break out of my shock. Gerda didn't answer. She took pictures of the smoke and black earth which heaved with each bomb. She took pictures of the dust and white smoke which came from the shells. She took picture after picture, and I crouched there.
     Suddenly she said with urgency, "Scheise! Put your head down." The planes swung right at us. They must have seen her camera flashing in the sun. It had become personal. We were their specific target. The lead plane came gently towards us. There was a surge to the sound of its engine, and a stuttering flashing through the propellers, and the earth in front of our foxhole jumped in spurts. Gerda, unshaken, took pictures of the planes as they came down on and over us.
     "Yesus, the roll is finished." She rolled on to her back, and started to change films. The planes roared over just a few yards above us. Gerda's movie camera, in its leather case, lay just beside the foxhole I grabbed for the movie camera and held it above her head to protect her from the machine gun bullets. "Don't be silly," she hissed. "I may lose my film." But the earth from the strafing flew all over us, splattering us, and she allowed me to continue holding the camera over her head..
     I wanted something to protect my face. I grabbed a clod of earth and held it on my head. I heard a suppressed giggle. Gerda's body was shaking. "If you could only see yourself," she laughed.
     The nightmare continued: bombs, machine-guns, shells. Cacophony. At about half past five, suddenly on the slope in front of us we saw men running back towards us. They were retreating all up and down the line. If that were possible, it seemed the bombardment intensified. We saw men blown into the air, just like in the movies, but real, just there in front of us. You could touch it. Gerda put another roll into her Leica and rolled over to shoot the onrushing retreat. I felt desperate. I didn't know what was more maddening then, the planes or her camera.
     One section of the lines was orderly and the retreat went comparatively smoothly. But a retreat is a retreat, and even though it was not a rout, there was confusion.Men got panicky and ran anywhere as long as they ran. In front of us a few took position with there guns pointed back towards the enemy, and seemed to dare anyone to pass them. This stopped the panic. The lines reformed.
     "Come, for godsakes," I pleaded.
     "Not now while the planes are still strafing. It would be silly to go now. It will be quiet soon. And anyways, I have one roll left."
     It was quiet. Very quiet. Here and there a figure moved. A cool breeze came down from the mountains. The wheat swayed gently.Above the hills clouds puffed and drifted by in a azure sky. The countryside looked serene.
     "Come, lets go," she said abruptly.
     "Yes, I'm tired."
     We got out of our rut, our foxhole. We walked back through a meadow away from the front. The division's doctor, a blond haired man in a bloodied uniform, overtook us. He looked worn out. All his equipment had been lost in the retreat. We spoke in English, he with a Scottish accent, as we walked through the fields towards Villanueva de la Canada. The lines had reformed between the two villages, Brunete and Villanueva. We joined and followed the road. Beside the road lay the dead and wounded. Some groaned and begged for water. Some lay silent. Gerda had no more film.
     The planes came again. We flung ourselves underneath an overturned truck. But the planes passed over. They weren't looking for us.
     We reached Villanueva de la Canada. It stank.Two men were sitting beside a wounded comrade.
     "Please come. Our friend is badly hurt."
     The doctor was tired. "I've got nothing. Nothing. No bandages. Nothing."
     "Please look at him."
     The doctor went over to the wounded soldier and lifted the blanket. The legs looked as if they had gone through a meat-grinder. The man made no sound.
     A tank passed - one of ours, of course - we stopped it, and put the wounded man on it, and then jumped on ourselves. There were four tanks behind us. Clumsy looking animals. Some planes came flying over again. They dived. Tat-tat-tat-tat.
     "Silly getting killed now after going through what we did."
     "Bah, they can't hit a thing," said Gerda.
     The tank was hot. It snorted and wheezed, made lots of noises, and swung from side to side. We held on tightly.
     A white house beyond Villanueva served as a dressing station. We took the wounded man off the tank. The doctor found a car, and rushed away to get ambulances. Not rational, that. Anyone could have gone on that errand, and he could have stayed with the wounded. The wounded were dragging themselves, or being carried, to the dressing station. The five tanks we had come with had stopped right beside the medical station. That was silly. A marvellous target for planes.
     "Got the camera?" Gerda asked.
     A large black touring car came down the road. We stopped it and asked for a lift as far as El Escorial.
     "Sure, get on."
     We jumped on the running board.
     "Gerda, you go on the other side."
     "Why? It is big enough. We can both stay here."
     She put her cameras on the front seat of the car. There were three wounded men inside.      "Salud."
     She took a deep breath. "Boy, that was a day. I feel good. The lines reformed. I got wonderful pictures. And you? You have a good story, yes?" she shouted above the wind.
     "Yes, but next time I cover the war from the press office. I can describe it better in comfort."
     "Tonight we'll have a farewell party in Madrid. I've bought some champaigne. Then perhaps we'll see each other in Paris. In any event, I am going to China with Capa soon."
     "I'd like to go to China too," I said.
     There was some confusion ahead of us. A tank was approaching. It had been strafed by a Nationalist plane and was driving irratically weaving across the road. Our car swung to the left to avoid it. "Hold on," Gerda laughed.
     The car went out of control; began to roll. Then I was on the road. Then I knew that both my legs were off. Then I knew they weren't. I saw blood on my right leg. And the pants torn on my left. There was no pain.
     Two soldiers ran towards me and dragged me towards a ditch.
     "Donde esta mujere! Mujere! Mujere!"
     Then I saw her. I saw her face. Just her face. The rest of her body was hidden by the overturned car. She was screaming. Her eyes looked at me and asked me to help her. But I could not move. There was no pain, but I could not move.
     The tank was quiet now. It had swung around and now it was quiet. The young Spanish driver looked at us. He was frightened.
     The planes came. The man beside me dropped down to huddle in the ditch. The other pulled me into the ditch. Everyone ran for the fields.
     "Gerda! Where are you? Gerda."
     The planes went by.
     "Donde esta mujere?"
     "She's been put into an ambulance," someone told me.
     "Are you sure? Es Verdad?"
     "Si si."
     "And her camera? Where is her camera?"
     "Yo no sai."
     Someone brought me a brown cloth belt. It was crumpled and the wooden buckle was broken into little pieces. "It is hers," said the someone.
     "Where is the car?" I asked.
     "Yo no sai."
     Then I began to feel the pain. "Agua. Water, I need water." But no one had water.
     They put me on a stretcher and placed me in an ambulance.
     There was no water.
     The pain became heavier. I held the brown belt in my hands.
     We stopped at a dressing station. "Did they bring a woman here, a small pretty woman with reddish hair?"
     "Woman? There was no woman."
     They gave me water. I looked at my watch. It read six-thirty. I put it to my ear, but it did not tick. It had stopped. "Six-thirty. That's when we were hit."
     "What?" said the man beside me.
     "Nada. Como esta?" How are you?
     "Just a machine-gun bullet in the thigh," he said.
     It was growing dark. I still held the belt in my hand. It was becoming wet from sweat. At some point I fainted or slept. I remember someone slapping me awake. Then the hospital at El Escorial. It was an English run hospital. I asked if they had seen a woman, a red haired...
     "Yes. Gerda Taro. Yes. She's here. They brought her here some hours ago."
     "How is she?"
     "She's all right."
     "Can I see her?"
     "No. She's just had an operation. You can't see her."
     They injected anti-tetanus into my arm and marked a cross on my forehead.
     "Will I be able to see her in the morning?"
     "How is she?"
     The English nurse smiled at me. "She's all right. She's suffering from shock but I believe she'll be all right."
     "She needed an operation?"
     "Naturally. Why do you think we gave her one?"
     "I don't know."
     A Dr. Caldwell came over to my stretcher. "How do you feel?" he asked.
     "Good. Can I see Gerda?"
     "No, I'm afraid not. She's suffering from shock. It would be bad for her if you saw her."
     "But I might be good for her. I love her. I want to marry her."
     "It would not be good for her," he said, his mouth tightening. He told me that when she had been brought in she had asked to send a cable to Paris, to Ce Soir and to Capa. He had done that.

The wounded lay on the floor of the hospital. All the beds were taken. The ambulances kept unloading.
     My pain became worse. Dr. Caldwell gave me a shot of morphine. "There. Now you'll go to sleep."
     "Does she say anything?"
     "Well, she asked for her camera and I told her I hadn't seen it. When I told her you were here and were all right, she told me to give you her regards."

My watch still showed six-thirty. I asked the time. Three-thirty. I couldn't sleep.
     All night the wounded came. The doctors worked smoothly, quickly in their triage. Here, this one, cut free the clothes. Fracture? Abdomen? Bullet wound. Bring him to the theatre. This one's dead? Take him away. All through the night.

"What time is it?"
     "Five a.m. Why don't you sleep?"
     "I can't sleep. Can I see her now?"
     Well I would see her soon. We would joke about the fact that we had been hit by our own tank after missing all those shells and bombs. And she would probably raise a fuss about losing her camera. She'd probably insist we go back to look for it. It might still be in the car. No, we probably couldn't go ourselves. We'd have to send someone.

At five-thirty Dr. Caldwell came to my stretcher. "Well, I think everything looks much better. We just gave her a blood transfusion and she said 'Whee, I feel good.' She asked about her camera again, and when I told her it was lost she said 'C'est la querre.' She's swell."
     "Can I see her now?"
     "For godsakes, man, not now. She must sleep now. If she sleeps everything will be all right. You'll see her later."
     I drank some coffee. I was still holding the cloth-woven belt in my hand, fingering the remnants of the fractured wooden buckle. It was crushed, shattered. I tried not to think what that might mean. "I'll try and sleep now," I said to myself. "I suppose this is a good story."

Dr. Caldwell walked towards me. "I'm afraid I have bad news for you." I knew what he was going to tell me. "Gerda just died."
     "Give me a cigarette," I said.
     He lit and handed me a cigarette. He turned and came back with a hypodermic needle.
     "No. I don't need it. For Chrissake, I don't need it. When I need it I'll ask for it. I feel no pain."
     "You're going to need it." He jabbed the needle into my upper arm.
     I wanted to ask if he was sure she was dead, but I didn't. I wanted to go to sleep and forget. I could not.
     A nurse came over and told the doctor about another case, and he had to leave. "Would you like to be taken into my room?" he asked me.
     "Please, if you can."
     An antiaircraft gun began to fire. The shutters rattled. Caldwell came back. "You'll never know how sorry I am I didn't let you see her. But I didn't know. I really thought she would recover."
     "Oh, hell. That's all right."
     "If you want," he paused. "If you want you can see her now."
     "Hell, I don't want to see her now." But I did. I didn't believe she was dead.
     They brought me upstairs on a stretcher, and I looked at her, and her face was not quite the same.
     Then they carried me down and I kept slipping on the stretcher, and the boys carrying me told me to hold on or I might fall. They put me in Dr. Caldwell's room.
     Someone had an English cigarette and gave it to me. The smoke curled. Then a nurse brought me Gerda's cigarette case. There was one cigarette left. I put out the English cigarette and smoked the one in Gerda's case. It was a Spanish cigarette, and I never liked Spanish cigarettes. The doctor asked what I wanted to do with her body and I wanted to tell him to go to hell, but he meant well, and I asked if he could arrange to get it to Paris. He said he would.
     Then the nurse came over and said that she was sorry.

chapter 3