Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Manel Cabanes Fernandez

Photo Copyright: Carmen Cabanes

The 70th anniversary of the March bombings
of Barcelona in 1938 seems a fitting time to get
back to the story of Air Raid Shelter 307.

Manel, to whom this blog is partly dedicated,
died on the night of the 17th March when a section
of the shelter collapsed. He was 5 years old.

He had always been terrified of the narrow, winding
tunnels of the shelter and never wanted to go
inside. But the intensity of the air raids which had
started the previous day was so frightening for his
mother, her sister and their four other children
that he was forcibly taken inside

There is no record of a direct hit on the shelter.
Lack of foresight, materials and manpower meant
that many shelters were being used while work was
still in progress. A section collapsed just where the
children were sleeping.

Manel's eight-year-old cousin Dolores died instantly.
Manel was still alive but bleeding from the eyes and
ears. There were no ambulances or cars available in the
chaos. So his mother ran, with her son in her arms, to the
central hospital.

It's about 40 minutes´walk, uphill, on a normal day.

They couldn't save him.

His mother, Angela, never really forgave herself for
making him go inside the shelter. She washed and kept
the jacket he was wearing the night he was killed. She
died in 1998 and was buried, as she had requested, with
the jacket in her arms.

I can think of others to blame.

Manel's sister Carmen, who was born after the war so never
knew him, told me the story. We cried, for the pity and the
horror of it all.

I look at his photo and imagine losing a child in this way.

I look at the photo.

Strange premonition, the doll's striped suit.

It looks so much like the ones issued to inmates of the
Nazi concentration camps.

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