dilluns, 30 de juliol de 2007

Joaquim Baldrich in the British evasion networks

By Claude Benet

Joaquim Baldrich (Quimet) was born in Pla de Cabra (Tarragona, Catalonia), in Salas house, on 2nd February 1916, now this village is named Pla de Santa Maria. His parents were farmers. Quimet had two brothers and a sister. He was the eldest. When he was young he was a cycling fan.
Before the Spanish Civil War, he was a militant of the CNT syndicate like his friends in his village. He took part in several meetings organized in Barcelona. When the Civil War started he enlisted as a volunteer; he went to Aragón and he was a member of the “Tierra y Libertad” column. They were moved to Madrid and he belonged to the 77 Brigade of Cipriano Mera. On March 1937, he took part in the Battle of Guadalajara: Quimet remembers they were fighting for five days. Guadalajara was one of the most important republican victories. After, he was moved to the Train-Brigade because he had a driving licence.
On 1st April 1939, the day when the Civil War finished, Quimet and a friend went from Aranjuez (Madrid) to Tarragona on foot. The following three months he was hidden in the Poblet forest (Baix Camp, Catalonia); then he decided to exile to Andorra. He arrived in Andorra on 15th August 1939, entering through Setúria (Pal, La Massana). He was met by Pep from Colat house, who was doing agricultural works. Quimet worked as a farmer, for a long while, in Cremat house in Anyós (La Massana, Andorra), but he left this work to become a smuggler. With the smuggling activities he could earn more money to sustain his family.
The smuggling paths went to Vallcebollera (Alta Cerdanya, França). They carried all kinds of products: “crucifixes, burner stones, tulle to make women dresses, bishop cassocks and hats, perfumery articles (it was very expensive), tobacco, truck pneumatics…”

Before smuggling products and after smuggling escapees
Once when Quimet was smuggling, he found a group of lost people in the Toses Mountains (Baixa Cerdanya, Catalonia). He went with the group to Brau house in Guardiola de Berguedà (Berguedà, Catalonia) and he bought them 25 train tickets to go to Barcelona. Then he visited a Catalan refugee named Josep who lived in Ussat les Bains (Arieja, França). This man was a helper, he smuggled evaders into Spain. From this day Quimet became a passeur in a new escape line.
The members of the line were Antoni Forné, he was informed for the evaders arrival. Josep Mompel and Antoni Conejos guided the evaders from Luzenac (Arieja, França) to el Serrat or to Llorts (Ordino, Andorra). There they were picked up by the organization of Forné and Molnés brothers from Palanque Hotel in la Massana. Later, Quimet or Salvador Calvet guided the escaping groups to Barcelona.
They used different paths to arrive to Barcelona but all of these joined in the Manresa’s Railway Station. Sometimes they went from Mas d’Alins (Sant Julià, Andorra), to Sant Joan Fumat (l’Alt Urgell, Catalonia), Castellciutat, Lavansa and Tuixén; then they arrived to the river Llobregat and went to Manresa. They avoided passing through the villages and they stopped in several country houses where they were fed and lodged. Another path started in Portella de Joan Antoni and els Pessons (Encamp, Andorra) and went to Ger (Cerdanya, Catalonia) and Alp, where at times they took the train. Sometimes they went to Toses and Guardiola de Berguedà, they slept and ate in Brau house. At the end they arrived at Manresa (Bages, Catalonia) where they passed near the Pirelli’s factory to go to the Railway Station. They arrived to Barcelona by train; there they walked to the British Consulate situated in Urquinaona square.
In the British Consulate Quim received 3.000 pesetas for each person. With this money he had to pay the travel costs: train tickets, maintenance in the country houses, clothes and bribes; the rest was distributed between the line members. From what Joaquim says he passed about 340 people from Andorra to Barcelona without losing anybody.

After the Second World War
He finished the passeur work when the war finished but he continued with the smuggling for twenty four years more. He bought a truck with a partner so they introduced themselves in the transport business. They came to have nine trucks.
He was a member of Passeurs et Filièristes Pyrénéens et Andorrans, a society nowadays disappeared. He never has received neither decoration nor recognition by the British Government. There is only a monument and an inscription, inaugurated in 2006 in la Massana, in front of the Palanques Hotel, that remembers the important work done by Joaquim Baldrich and his friends in the escape line.