Category: Basques in World War II

The Incredible Story of Margot Duhalde: World War II Veteran and Combat Pilot

Continuing with our celebration of Women’s History Month, today we bring you a quite amazing story in many respects; certainly an untold story for us here at the Center. It concerns Margot Duhalde, a Chilean-born woman of Basque descent who saw active service in both the British Royal Air Force and the French Air Force.

Margot Duhalde (c. 1944). Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Margot Duhalde Sotomayor was born in Chile in 1920. Her paternal family originally came from Luhuso (Louhossoa), Lapurdi, in Iparralde or the Northern Basque Country. In her own words (all citations from the wonderful article by Palmira Oyanguren cited below): “When my grandfather died, I would have been nine years old. He was an imposing Basque who used to sport some tremendous mustaches and who loved to recount his stories in song.” Growing up in a farming family in Río Bueno in southern Chile, her destiny appeared to be that of a rural life. However, she became fascinated at an early age with the planes that would fly over the family ranch to take the mail to the far corners of Chile.  When the family relocated to Santiago de Chile so that their children could receive the best education possible, she implored her parents to be able to take flying lessons; and, at age sixteen, she began to learn to fly at the Club Aéreo de Chile. As she recalled, “It was tough finding someone who was willing to teach a young half-farm girl to fly.” But she succeeded in her dream and by the late 1930s was a qualified pilot.

When World War II broke out in 1939, she went to the French Consulate in Santiago to volunteer, on the basis of her paternal family connections with France, for the Free French Forces led by Charles De Gaulle, who was based in London. She was not yet twenty-one and therefore not of legal age, so to get around this she had to invent a story for her parents (who would undoubtedly have refused any permission for her to take part in the war). She told them she would be going to Canada as an instructor, which they accepted. She subsequently sailed from the port of Valparaíso for Liverpool, in the company of thirteen other volunteers, including two young Basques with whom she made great friends, Juan Cotano and “some Ibarra”: “Because I was quite useless and knew nothing about any kind of domestic chores, they ironed my clothes, did my laundry … they affectionately nicknamed me ‘blockhead’.”

On arriving in the UK, she was immediately arrested on suspicion of being a spy and spent five days in a London jail. When she was finally released she ran into yet more obstacles when it came time to presenting herself at the headquarters of the Free French Forces: “The truth is that the French … didn’t know what to do with me. They’d mixed up my name with that of Marcel, in other words, they thought I was a man.” She waited three long months without hearing any word and then a post was assigned her helping out with domestic chores at a recovery center for injured pilots. While there, she unexpectedly received a letter from a French second lieutenant who had lived in southern Chile and had seen interviews with her in the press there. He told her to forget about the French ever allowing her to fly and try her luck elsewhere. This led to her decision to apply to the British Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), an organization that helped ferry aircraft to different destinations. Despite having practically no English, she was accepted for the ATA, initially working as a mechanic while she learned English. Soon after, however, she began a tough training schedule learning to fly both single and twin-engine aircraft, and both British and American machines. This eventually led to her flying over a hundred different types of planes (including both fighter planes and bombers) throughout the war for the ATA from bases in England to combat zones in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. She eventually rose in rank to become a first officer in the Women’s Section of the ATA.

Margot Duhalde in retirement.

At the end of the war, she was finally accepted into the French Air Force, in which she now flew warplanes officially, becoming France’s first woman combat pilot.  She also completed a public relations tour of Latin America for the French Air Force, demonstrating French aircraft in Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. Having eventually served her time and achieved her goal of becoming a combat pilot, she then returned to Chile in 1947, where she remained for the rest of her life and worked as a commercial pilot, instructor, and even air traffic controller, retiring at age eighty-one.

She married three times, and had one son. In the 2003 interview cited here she states: “Nowadays I live in an apartment accompanied by my dog Maite, who is as old as me, and by my young cat. Whenever I can, I get in gear and go to the land of my ancestors, Luhuso; or to Baiona, where I still have family with whom I maintain excellent relations.”

In 1946 Duhalde was made a Knight of France’s Legion of Honor and in 2007 she was made a Commander of the National Order of the Legion of Honor; in 2009 she was awarded the Veteran’s Badge from the British Ambassador in Santiago for her work with the ATA during World War II; and she has also been honored officially by the Chilean Air Force, which bestowed the rank of colonel on her.

Further Reading

Palmira Oyanguren M., “Margot Duhalde: Confesiones de una aviadora,”  Eusko News & Media (2003).

 

Fall 2016 Basque Multidisciplinary Seminar Series

We would like to invite you to attend the Center for Basque Studies’ Fall 2016 Basque Multidisciplinary Seminar Series. It is usually held every Wednesday at 5:00 PM at the Basque Studies Conference Room (MIKC 305), located at UNR’s Knowledge Center. We are delighted to present graduate student and faculty research interests, recent publications, and upcoming graduate dissertations.

The first two lectures were held on October 10 and 12, kicking off the series with Edurne Arostegui’s presentation on “The Creation of Basque-American Identity,” which is part of her dissertation topic. Dr. Louis Forline, professor of Anthropology at UNR, then gave a talk on “Anthropological Perspectives on Race and Identity in Brazil and the U.S.” As you can see, the topics are varied in content, giving graduate students and faculty the chance to present on research in progress. It’s a great way to get to know what we’re up to at the CBS and in UNR’s community more broadly.

Tomorrow, October 19 at 4:30, Dr. Pedro J. Oiarzabal will be giving a talk entitled “The Fighting Basques Project: Basques of Nevada in W.W.II,” based on research by Guillermo Tabernilla, a military historian from the Sancho de Beurko Association. It deals with Basque participation in the U.S. armed forces during World War II, and has  recently been published in Saibigain, available at the following website: http://www.fightingbasques.net/en-us/Saibigain-Magazine

Dr. Oiarzabal is a researcher at the Pedro Arrupe Human Rights Institute at the University of Deusto and holds the Jon Bilbao Research Fellowship on the Basque Diaspora at UNR. He also coordinates, alongside Nerea Mujika, the director of the Institute for Basque Studies at Deusto, the “Ondare Bizia” or Living Heritage Project. For more information visit:  http://dkh.deusto.es/en/community/ondarebizia

Check out the poster for upcoming lectures. We look forward to seeing you there!

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Irun and Hendaia commemorate bridges linking the two towns

A series of acts were held over the weekend of September 2 to 4 on and around the Avenida and Santiago/Saint-Jacques bridges that link Irun (Gipuzkoa) to Hendaia (Lapurdi). The acts were held in commemoration of both the people that used these bridges to flee the horrors of war, but also in celebration of these vital points of connection between the two towns.

On September 2 the two mayors of the respective towns took part, on the Avenida bridge (also known as the International bridge) and on the occasion of its hundredth anniversary, in an act remembering all the people who had crossed the bridge–in both directions–to flee war and save their lives.

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American prisoners who had fought as volunteers on the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War released by Franco’s forces via the Avenida bridge, walking from Irun to Hendaia (1938). Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On September 4, meanwhile, another act was held to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the burning of Irun at the outset of he Spanish Civil War, a specific occasion on which people used the bridges en masse to escape the conflict.

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The Santiago/Saint-Jacques bridge today.

A plaque will be installed at some point this year on the Avenida bridge to remember all the people who crossed the bridge to save their lives.

The impact of war on ordinary people’s lives, and particularly in the intense period between the Spanish Civil War and World War II, is explored in War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life 1936-1946, edited by Sandra Ott.

July 29, 1940: British government agrees to back Basque independence in event of Spanish support for Hitler

The tumultuous period between the end of the Spanish Civil War in April 1939 and the outbreak of World War II in September that same year marked a critical time in Basque history. Basques exiles who had fled into France and beyond during and after the Spanish Civil War suddenly found themselves once more prey to the advance of Fascism.

Following the fall of Poland in 1939,  Hitler’s forces swept north and westward in the spring of 1940, taking Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and, finally, France, with Paris falling to the Germans on June 14. In the less than a year most of Western Europe had fallen to the Nazis. Only the United Kingdom held out.

The charismatic leader of the Basque government-in-exile, Jose Antonio Agirre, had gotten caught up in these events and had been forced underground–ultimately in of all places, Berlin–into an incognito existence as he sought an escape from the Fascist clutches (on this, if you haven’t already done so, check out his riveting memoir Escape via Berlin: Eluding Franco in Hitler’s Europe). In his absence, the Basque government-in-exile was replaced by a Basque National Council, headed by Manuel Irujo and based in London.

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Manuel Irujo, Jose Antonio Agirre, and Jose Ignacio Lizaso, London, 1945.

It is during that time, in the interesting period before Agirre’s reappearance in October 1941, that the Basque National Council carried out a series of negotiations, most notably with both the British government and the representatives of Free France (effectively the exiled democratic French government) led by Charles de Gaulle. Most famously, perhaps, these negotiations resulted in the creation of the Gernika Battalion, made up of Basque exiles, which fought with distinction with the French army in defeating the Germans in 1945 (the story of which we covered in a previous post here).

Less well known, certainly, was a fascinating agreement brokered by the Basque National Council in London. Xabier Irujo picks up the story in his Expelled from the Motherland (p. 17):

In less than a month the Basque National Council and the British government had made their first agreement on military collaboration. Robert J. G. Boothby, representing the British government, and Jose Ignacio Lizaso, representing the Basque National Council, signed the first agreement on July 29, 1940, which spelled out that the British government was committed to defending the independence of the Basque Country if the Spanish government went to war on the side of the Axis powers.

Ultimately, and despite plenty of willing on the part of Franco, Spain did not enter the war on the side of Hitler and this agreement was never implemented; yet another example of one of those twists of fate around which history revolves.

If you’re interested in this topic, as well as the abovementioned works, see also War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life 1936-1946, edited by Sandra Ott, available free to download here; and, for more general background, Modern Basque History, by Cameron Watson, available free to download here.

 

William A. Douglass Center for Basque Studies hosts start of major International Congress on Jose Antonio Agirre

Agirre Congress

On the occasion of the seventy-fifth anniversary of Lehendakari (Basque president)Jose Antonio Agirre’s passing through Berlin on his odyssey to flee fascism in Europe,  the Center is proud to announce its participation in a major new congress on his legacy that starts here this weekend.  This is the first step in a three-part congress, “The International Legacy of Lehendakari Jose Antonio Agirre’s Government,” running through March and June, to be held successively at UNR, Humboldt University in Berlin, and Columbia University in New York.

The congress has been jointly organized by the Center and the Etxepare Basque Institute, with the help and participation of  the Agirre Lehendakaria Center for Social and Political Studies and the Basque Government’s General Secretariat for Foreign Affairs, with the collaboration of the Mikel Laboa Chair at the University of the Basque Country.

The Center will host the first part of the congress, March 26-28, which will focus on the international contribution of Agirre, with talks by faculty members Xabier Irujo, Joseba Zulaika, and Sandra Ott, together with visiting guest speakers Ángel Viñas (Complutense University, Madrid) and Julián Casanova (University of Zaragoza). Details of the Reno gathering are as follows:

March 26, Sparks Heritage Museum, 2 pm: Xabier Irujo, “The Bombing of Gernika.”

March 28, Basque Conference Room, 305, third floor, Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, University of Nevada, Reno, 4 pm: Ángel Viñas, “The English Gold: British Payment of Multi-million Pound Bribes to Franco’s Top Generals.”

March 28, Basque Conference Room, Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, University of Nevada, Reno, 5 pm: Julián Casanova, “Francoist repression.”

March 29, Basque Conference Room, Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, University of Nevada, Reno, 4 pm: Joseba Zulaika, “From Gernika to Bilbao.”

March 29, Basque Conference Room, Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, University of Nevada, Reno, 5 pm: Sandra Ott, “Occupation of Iparralde (1940-1944).”

Then on June 1, Humboldt University in Berlin will host the second installment, addressing the exile of Agirre and other Basques as well as the formation of a united Europe, with talks by Paul Preston (London School of Economics), Carlos Collado Seidel (Phillips University Marburg), Joan Villarroya (University of Barcelona), the writer and journalist Nicholas Rankin, historian Hilari Raguer i Suñer, and Xabier Irujo.

Finally, on June 9 Columbia University will host the third and final part of the Congress, with talks by former lehendakari Juan José Ibarretxe, Ludger Mees, Mari Jose Olaziregi, Jose Ramon Bengoetxea, Izaro Arroita, and Amaia Agirre of the University of the Basque Country, as well as Leyre Arrieta of the University of Deusto.

Besides the academic gathering, the Basque Club or Euskal Etxea of Berlin will also organize a program of cultural events through May and June to commemorate Agirre’s legacy. Titled “Agirre in Berlín 1941-2016. Das Baskenland mitten in Europa” (Agirre in Berlin 1941-2016: The Basque Country in the heart of Europe), this program will pay specific attention to the effects of the civil war and Basque exile from different artistic perspectives, including publications, lectures, concerts, and other diverse events.

See the full program of the Agirre Congress here.

Dr. Sandra Ott’s Presentation of Living with the Enemy at University of San Francisco

Wednesday, March 23rd, Professor Sandra Ott from the  Center will be presenting her new book Living with the Enemy, from 2:00-4:00 pm in McLaren Conference Center at the University of San Francisco.  Professor Ott has spent significant time in Pau, France, performing research and as one of her students, I have learned much more about the Nazi occupation of France during World War II and the various roles that the Basques performed during this time period.

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We congratulate Sandy on her publication and all the work that goes into it! So please attend if in the area, enjoy some refreshments, and enjoy learning about this particular time in Basque history.

 

 

 

A Tale of Basque-Americans in World War II

Many Basque-Americans took part in World War II, serving with distinction in the US Armed Forces. This Veterans Day, in honor of these people, we’d like to share a couple of their stories with you.

Captain Frank D. Carranza, the son of Basque immigrants, conceived of the idea of using Basque code talkers during World War II.  Code talkers used their knowledge of lesser-known languages to transmit coded messages in wartime.  Carranza had realized that there were approximately 60 Basque-Americans at a US Marines Corps training center with a good knowledge of both Basque and English. Basque was subsequently used–in conjunction with several Native American languages like Navajo–to throw off the Japanese in the Asian Theater. Famously, on August 1, 1942, Admiral Chester Nimitz was informed about the upcoming Operation Apple to remove the Japanese from the Solomon Islands with the words “Sagarra Eragintza zazpi” (Operation Apple at seven). And the Guadalcanal Campaign (Operation Watchtower), the first major offensive by the Allies on Japan, was announced on August 7, 1942, with the words “”Egon arretaz egunari” (Heed the day).

 

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Lieutenant Manuel Aldecoa

Lieutenant Manuel Aldecoa, the son of Basque immigrants from Mutriku, Gipuzkoa, and Ea, Bizkaia, respectively,  served as a pilot with the US Eighth Air Force, whose mission was to support a future invasion of continental Europe from the United Kingdom by means of strategic bombing operations in Western Europe. On November 25, 1943,  his unit, the 55th Fighter Group (“the Fightin’ Fifty-Fifth”), carried out an operation over the Hazebrouck-Lille region of Northern France, a key strategic area that included the airbase for the Jagdgruppe 26 (Fighter Group 26), one of the elite German flying units. During the operation, Aldecoa became embroiled in direct combat with Johannes Seifert,  a famed Luftwaffe ace and commandant (Gruppenkommandeur) of the Jagdgruppe 26. During the combat, the two planes collided and crashed to the ground near Merville, killing both pilots. On receving the terrible news of his death, Aldecoa’s sister, Maurina, enlisted in the US Secret Services and also served her country with distinction.

Sources and further reading

Xabier García Arguello, “Egon arretaz egunari” (in Basque).

Iratxe Gomez, “The Secret Language.”

Mikel Rodríguez, “Los vascos y la II Guerra Mundial” (in Spanish).

See also (in Spanish)  Memoria de los vascos en la Segunda Guerra Mundial. De la brigada Vasca al Batallón Gernika (Pamplona: Pamiela, 2002), by Mikel Rodríguez, for a full account of the multiple ways in which Basques took part in World War II.

And if you’re interested in this topic, check out the account of Joe Eiguren’s wartime experiences in Kashpar: The Saga of Basque Immigrants to North America, in which the author recounts how, as a GI in World War II, he was “eager to meet the Germans, because it was always so strong in my mind what the Legion Condor [sic] had done in the Basque Country” during the Spanish Civil War.

See, too, War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life, 1936-1946, edited by Sandra Ott, a broad exploration of how different kinds of wars impacted on the Basque Country and beyond during this crucial period in the twentieth century.

Weekend Workshop for Boise State’s Basque Studies Program

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On October 17-18th, I reconnected with colleagues in Boise and taught a two-day workshop on “War, Occupation, and Justice in Iparralde” with 38 students. Great fun! And on Saturday night the Basque Studies team invited me to join them for dinner at the Basque Center on Boise’s Basque Block. As I watched the local crowd I was so struck by the camaraderie and pride in being Basque American. Special thanks to Nere Lete and John Ysursa for their hospitality and warm welcome!

Basques in the News

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Donibane Garazi, in Iparralde, recently featured in the New York Times travel section, is among the subjects of recent articles appearing in major outlets on the Basques.

Three articles were recently published on Basque topics in American and British online media.

On May 25, as part of H.D. Miller’s Eccentric Culinary History, there was a charming article titled “Basque-American: The Authentic Cuisine of the Intermountain West.”  Actually, this is far more than just a culinary guide, and Miller offers a fine summary of both Basque and Basque-American history, before getting to the all-important focus of the article: food, and in particular specific reports on several Basque restaurants in the American West.

For a wonderfully evocative history of the Basque boardinghouses that were the bases for today’s restaurants, see Home Away from Home: A History of Basque Boardinghouses by Jeronima Echeverria.

 

Meanwhile, on May 30, the Independent included a report by Alasdair Fotheringham on the shooting of a new movie titled Gernika, directed by Koldo Serra. The movie, filmed in English, seeks to portray the events associated with the bombing of Gernika, Bizkaia, in April 1937, and has an international cast.

Click here to read the article.  For more information about the movie, click here.

The Center’s professor Xabier Irujo has written extensively on the bombing of Gernika in Spanish, especially his El Gernika de Richthofen, read more about it (in Spanish) here. In English, readers might be interested in his history of the exile government of Agirre in Expelled from the Motherland. The Spanish Civil War is looked at from a dazzling variety of perspectives in our wide-ranging collection of short stories Our Wars: Short Fiction on Basque Conflicts. There are stories on the Civil War from Bernardo Atxaga, Ramon Saizarbitoria, Iban Zaldua, and Inazio Mujika Iraola!

 

Finally, on June 5, in an article for the Travel Section of the New York Times, Christian L. Wright offered an extensive travel guide to Iparralde or the Northern Basque Country.  According to Wright, “In recent years, a younger generation has emerged, opening design shops, rejiggering the food scene and sprucing up classic red-and-white farmhouses that dot the countryside.”

Read the full article here.

The specific case of identity in the Northern Basque Country, which is touched on in the New York Times piece, is addressed by Igor Ahedo Gurrutxaga in his ambitious survey of changing attitudes during the last two hundred years: The Transformation of National Identity in the Basque Country of France, 1789-2006. On a lighter note, Iparralde is also the subject of Oui Oui Oui of the Pyrenees, our beautiful children’s book by Mary Jean Etcheberry-Morton

Commemorations Mark Basque Participation in Key World War Two Battle

Euskalkultura.com recently reported on a moving recent commemoration of the seventieth anniversary of the Battle of Pointe de Grave, at the mouth of the Gironde Estuary in Western France, and the Basque participation in this battle.

In 1945, during the closing stages of World War II, Basque exiles from the Franco dictatorship making up the Gernika Battalion were instrumental in the Allied victory at the Battle of Point-de-Grave, one of the last outposts of Nazi resistance.

Gernika Battalion marching through Bordeaux

Members of the Gernika Battalion being honored by France in a victory parade

For their part in the battle, the Basques were awarded the Croix de Guerre, the highest French military honor, and were accorded an official reception in Baiona (Bayonne) for their efforts. Charles de Gaulle himself commented: “France will never forget the sacrifice of the Basques for the liberation of their territory.”

Gernika Battalion with De Gaulle

Charles de Gaulle salutes members of the Gernika Battalion holding the ikurriña or Basque flag

The battle and the wider context in which it took place–the dictatorship in Spain that led to many Basques fleeing Hegoalde (the Southern Basque Country) and the Nazi occupation of Iparralde (the Northern Basque Country)–are discussed in the CBS publication Modern Basque History:  Eighteenth Century to the Present, by Cameron Watson.

On the effects of the Spanish Civil War and World War II on Basques from both sides of the Pyrenees, see War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life, 1936-1946, edited by Sandra Ott. This work explores the multiple dimensions of the effects of war such as displacement, occupation, and resistance, and demonstrates the extent to which the Basque Country was at the center of European events during this key time in European history.