On September 28th, 1937 was killed Marcial Villamor Varela. A crime that was never investigated and was covered up since the begining with a false diagnose of “death by stroke”. A terrible lie that his family had to accept as the oficial truth for the fear of retaliation, a very common practice on Franco's regime, a repressive dictatorial system that tampered evidences and distorted the truth about the life and death of thousands of people
Marcial Villamor was born in 1899 in the town of Vilouriz (Toques, Galicia, Spain), but when he was still very young his family moved to Santiago de Compostela, where he will become a skilled cabinet-maker and an active unionist. Marcial was crearly a son of his time, and was part of one of the best generations that the country ever had, a generation with idealism and dreams of freedom that will be violently repressed and abolished by Franco's military regime.
As a young men he went to Africa to serve as an army member in the Spanish colonies, where he became aware for the first time of the opposition of the locals to the military occupation by Spain, a fact that triggered his curiosity and interest to learn. Ashamed of his lack of knowledge he became a self-taught and a very good customer of the book stores in Santiago de Compostela, building from scratch one of the best personal libraries in the city on that time, so good that will become famous among intelectuals and members of the local upper middle-class.
His passion for reading was rewarded with the opportunity to meet the well-known philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset. This highly unusual event on that time happened during one of Ortega y Gasset's visits to Santiago de Compostela: Mr. Arturo Cuadrado Moure member of the committee that approved in 1936 the “Estatuto de Autonomia” (Galician Autonomous Government Legislation), and the owner of “Niké Bookstore” (a famous bookstore in the city in which customers were asked to pay the price they thought books were worth), told Ortega y Gasset “one of my customers, the famous anarquist Marcial Villamor, paid 10 cents for one of your books...and he came back the following day and paid another 10 cents because he got very excited with the book”. Later the librarian would recall that when he told Ortega y Gasset this, he wanted to meet Marcial, so the great philosopher went to the carpenter's home, who would be “taken for a walk” by members of Franco's regime in 1936(1).
The pursue of personal fulfillment through culture and study will be one of Marcial's deepest beliefs and one of the principles guiding his public action. He was one of the promoters and prominent member of the “Ateneo Libertario Compostelano”, of which the oficial address was at the 18th of Olvido street, Marcial's home address.
Marcial was a member of the Galician Regional Confederation of the CNT union (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo. English: National Confederation of Labour) prior to the proclamation of the 2nd Republic in Spain; In fact, he represented the “Carpenters and others” group in the union's Regional Conference celebrated in La Coruña in 1930. The Galician Regional Conference was characterized for its moderation and collaborated with the republican political parties during the municipal elections of 1931, that concluded with the establishment of the 2nd Republic on April 2nd 1931. The moderate nature of Marcial will progressively distance him from the CNT, which was becoming radicalized on its views, primarely due to the increased presence in the union of members of the FAI (Federacion Anarquista Iberica. English: Iberian Anarquist Federation). Even when Marcial was a member of the FAI during the first 2 years of the Republic, his moderate views will distance him both from the FAI and the CNT, although he keeps involved on the fight for the rights of the working class. The breaking point emerged with the resignation from the CNT's executive office of his friend José Villaverde, that followed the failure of a general strike organized in december 1933 after the right wing political forces won the National Elections.
In february 1934 two different events make more evident his separation from the CNT. At the same time that he participates in the regional convention of the CNT he also has a meeting with Angel Pestaña, founder of the PS (Partido Sindicalista. English: Sindicalist Party), a party that favored the participation in the elections and the cooperation with other left wing political parties. This meeting will put him in a central role in the organization of the PS in Santiago de Compostela, a political party that will group many unhappy unionists, specially after the position taken by the CNT during the events of October 1934.
On October 10th 1934 Marcial is arrested having on his hands some pamphlets favoring the amnesty for left wing political prisoners and that also criticized the release of members of the military involved in a coupe d'état against the Republican government. Marcial was taken before a military court and was charged with “attempt to produce a military rebelion” and he was sentenced to 6 months in prison.
In the report requested by the military court to the General Directorate of Security, the Police Chief of the city reports that “Marcial Villamor is considered one of the prominent leaders of the workers movement; he was the founder of the currently clandestine Ateneo Libertario, and he participated in all the social movements taken place in this city, as he always has done”. Concerning his participation in the revolutionary events of October 1934 the reports states that “even when there is no proof of his participation in these events, on the days before the events he behaved as a leader and among the workers of this city he is considered as one of the leaders of the workers movement”.
Despite the lack of real value of the report from the police to implicate him on any of these events, this report also makes evident the prominent role of Marcial as a public figure in the city's workers movement of 1934, a fact that will determine later on his tragical end. During his monts in jail, he begins a collaboration with the leftist magazine SER together with his friends Suárez Picallo and Arturo Cuadrado. At the end of 1935, after being released from jail, Marcial gets involved in the organization of the elections of 1936. For this election the PS participates as part of the Frente Popular (Popular Front). In july 1936 he participates on a rally in favor of the Estatuto de Autonomia de Galicia celebrated in Pontevedra.
After the military revolt of July 17th 1936 and the official coupe d'état of july 18th 1936, Marcial is asked to become part of the Defense Committee of the city. This is another example of his prominent position as a leader of the working class in Santiago de Compostela, and another reason that will trigger his later assassination.
In meetings held at the Obradoiro square as well as in meetings of the Defense Committee, the strategy to follow after the military coupe d'état was openly discussed among the different idelogy groups. The historian Luis Lamela states that “Marcial's intervention together with that of Fernando Barcia (a socialist, and president of the Defense Committee) and that of German Fernández prevented the arson of several churches as well as the assault of the house of the businessman Olimpio Pérez (who happens to be also Marcial's father in law's boss).
As it is stated by witnesses of martial courts and also by oral testimonies, it appears to be proven that Marcial Villamor interceded also to avoid damage to the city's cathedral. As it was expressed among others by the businessman and member of the CNT, the late Manuel Ceruelo, Marcial was aware of the plans of some leftist extremists to dynamite the cathedral. For this reason, on July 18-19th he organized a protection patrol (in which Manuel Ceruelo participated) that had to confront and fight the people that was trying to damage the cathedral. Thanks to the success of this patrol the cathedral was protected against damage like the one inflicted to other temples across Spain during the Civil War.
The city of Santiago de Compostela remained loyal to the Republic even on July 20th when a group of volunteers supported by the Lousame miners went to protect the Civil government from the military sublevation in A Coruña.
The military commander of Santiago de Compostela, José Bermúdez de Castro, took advantage of the momentary unprotection of the city to impose the military control over the city. At midnight the military troops took control of the strategic points and the city streets. The major was forced to resign and give the command of the city to Bermúdez de Castro. As it is stated by Fernández del Riego, when the command of the city was given to the military, it was promised that there would be no bloodshed. Unfortunately, as revealed by history, this promise was not kept.
The same night, Marcial Villamor's house is stormed by armed falangists (fascists) and Marcial is forced to flee jumping backyard fences that today are part of Belvis Park. He is succesful in his escape, avoiding the bullets of the fascists and finding shelter for several days at a friend and unionist house at the Pexego street.
During those days, the assaults and searches of his house were constant, as was the suffering of his family. The searches occurred at anytime of the day or the night, destroying the furniture of the house as well as his valued library that was completely dismantled, being part of his books burned in the street and others taken by the assailants, to the point that none of the books remained in the family's house. The family was in constant anxiety due to the lack of information about Marcial's fate, and suffered all kinds of agressions, insults and even the kidnapping of Marcial's father in law (who's life was spared because of the intervention of his boss Olimpio Pérez). Marcial's family house at the 18th of Olvido street was inhabited by his father in law, his wife and their five children (the oldest a 12 year old girl and the youngest a few months old boy).
Marcial's scape is a success and after a sad goodbye to his family in San Lázaro (in which he only glances at his family), he looks for shelter in the house of his cousin in his birth town. On that location he spends the following months in which the pressure on the civil population increases and the house searches become more and more common. As many other refugees of that time, he is able to remain unnoticed thanks to some good luck as well as the effort of the ones that gave him shelter, being involved in several vicissitudes that in a context different of that time would appear incredible and dramatic.
The increasing pressure makes him aware of the great risk that him and the ones that are protecting him are taking, so he decides to flee to Asturias, the closest territory still controlled by the Republican Government. Thus, in september 1937 using borrowed documents, Marcial leaves his hiding place but he is intercepted in a checkpoint in Baralla. Even when at the first moment his documents allowed him to pass, he is recognized by a falangist from Santiago de Compostela that was at the entrance of the checkpoint.
Marcial was arrested immediately and his transfer to Santiago de Compostela was ordered. During his transfer to the city he is assassinated in the town of Guntín with a gunshot to his head.
His assassination was one more of many carried out by the repressive system impossed by the falangists against anyone involved in non-falangist social and political movements during the five years of the Republican Government. This repression will bury Spain in a dark age that will leave the country decades behind the progress and development of the rest of Europe. This delay was even worse due to the fact that the victims of this repression were the most brilliant, more prepared and more involved in the future of their country.
Marcial Villamor was one of the first targets of the fascists in Santiago de Compostela due to his prominent role as an unionist and leader of the workers movement. Because of this he was hated by those people against improvements for the working class. His claims were about many issues that nowadays we take for granted, such as a reduction of the abussive weekly work schedules, the improvement of working conditions, the right to weekly time off, or the right of education and access to culture for the working class.
His natural kindness, friendliness and calm personality made him reject the violence that affected a great part of the Galician and Spanish society of that time. He was always loyal to his moderation which sometimes took him to confrontation with his political comrades, but this moderation did not help him to avoid the hate of the ones that murdered him. His interest in education allowed him to acquire a high social and technical knowledge, something very unusual on that time for somebody of his social class. He was knowledgeable of many technical advances of his time and even some that are current now, something that he enjoyed to talk about, and he even participated in movements largely unknown on that time such as the vegetarianism (which he professed until he was discouraged by the food prejudices of his wife). Despite of his involvement in sindicalism and the workers movement, he was exquisitely tolerant, accepting others' believes and idelogies, begining with the respect for the deep religious believes of his family and the conservative ideology of his father in law.
(1) Expression meaning that somebody was arrested or kidnapped, loaded on a truck and taken to a solitary place such as a cemetery or a solitary road, where the person was executed.