La Nueve, The Forgotten Men of the 9th Company

History does not always recognise heroes...

As refugees from the Spanish Civil War flooded over the Spanish French border, many of the men were incarcerated in inhuman conditions in makeshift internment camps on the P-O beaches. They were  surrounded by barbed wire fences, and supervised by ’Gardes Mobiles’ (a special branch of the gendarmerie) and brutal Senegalese troops, sleeping in holes dug in the ground. There was no water, no sanitation and scarcely any food. .

Concentration camp for Retirada refugees
Others, (the lucky ones?) were conscripted into squads of unpaid Foreign Workers,  or the Foreign Legion; some, despite their treatment, volunteered to join the French Resistance and many Spanish servicemen joined the regular French army, in the Division Leclerc.

The Spanish republican soldiers of the 9th company in General Leclerc’s 2nd Armoured Division, nicknamed ‘La Nueve’, Spanish for ‘the nine’, fought Nazism on the side of the Allies, yet their contribution and sacrifice was not acknowledged until August 2004, when the City of Paris officially paid homage to the Spaniards of La Nueve . They stood for many years amongst  the forgotten heroes of WWII.

Many were former freedom fighters who had battled  relentlessly against fascism in Europe. For ten years, since the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, they’d fought, first in their own country, then in France, North Africa and elsewhere, in the hope of returning one day to a liberated Spain.

As one of them said: “We did not fight for a flag, we fought for our ideals, for freedom”.

La Nueve, The Forgotten Men of the 9th Company

On 24 August 1944, they were among the first soldiers of liberated France to enter occupied Paris.

Their hopes to bring freedom to Spain, however, were shattered by the realities of the Cold War: Franco was spared and became the ally of the free world…

In the following documentary ‘La Nueve ou les oubliés de la victoire’ produced by Albert Marquardt, Luis Royo and Manuel Fernandez, the last survivors of this epic tale, look back without a trace of bitterness or resentment.

They speak of those years with great calm and dignity, with realism and a touch of humour. The are secure in the knowledge that they did the right thing.

Credit : Wikipedia

And if they had to do it all over again? They wouldn’t hesitate a moment.

The last surviving member of La Nueve, Rafael Gómez Nieto, died in Strasbourg on March 31, 2020, at the age of 99, a victim of the COVID-19 pandemic.


La Nueve, ou les oubliés de la Victoire Les vrais héros sont souvent ceux que l’Histoire ne récompense pas… Comme ces soldats, des républicains espagnols de « la Nueve », la 9e compagnie de la 2e DB de l’armée Leclerc, qui sont les héros oubliés et trahis de la victoire alliée contre la barbarie nazie.

Véritables combattants de la liberté, depuis 1936, ils se sont battus sans relâche durant plus de 10 ans contre le fascisme en Europe – en Espagne, ensuite en France, en Afrique et même plus loin. « Nous ne nous sommes pas battus pour un drapeau, nous nous sommes battus pour nos idéaux, pour la liberté », disent-ils tout simplement.

Enfin victorieux, ils ont été les premiers soldats de la France libre à entrer dans Paris occupé le 24 août 1944. Mais ensuite, ils ont vu leur rêve de ramener la liberté en Espagne se briser contre la logique de la guerre froide : Franco épargné devient l’allié du monde libre.

Luis Royo et Manuel Fernandez sont les derniers survivants de cette passionnante épopée. Chez eux pas la moindre amertume ou récrimination. Avec une grande tranquillité, beaucoup de lucidité et d’humour, ils reviennent sur leur histoire, certains d’avoir fait ce qu’il fallait faire…
Et si c’était à refaire ? Ils n’hésiteraient pas une seule seconde.

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