10. In prison
The guides had learned that we were now well into Spain. We had made it! Freedom was ours! We would push on to the nearest village and ask an official to contact the nearest consulate for us.
We were in a gay, carefree mood as we walked down through the foothills.
Late in the forenoon we were walking on a good, though narrow, road. Suddenly two uniformed Spaniards, carrying rifles, sprung out from behind some bushes. They were members of the Guardia Civile. The guards demanded that we show our passport papers. Since we had none, they would escort us to the next village. There, the formalities of papers could be taken care of. With one guard leading the way and one following, our party walked on to the village. There, we were placed in a large jail cell and the doors were locked until an official could be summoned.
No one in authority seemed to be in the village. We could not have permission to telephone the consulate. We sat on the rough benches or slept on the stone floor the rest of the day and that night.
The man and woman who had joined us when we jumped the bus back in France secluded themselves in one corner of the cell. We speculated on what their exact status was. One of the guides was now convinced that they were spies who had been planted by the Germans to expose the underground route. I never learned the answer to that riddle.
During the night, I began to experience the discomfort of stomach cramps and dysentery. I had, apparently, gotten the dysentery bacteria by drinking water from the mountains streams.
The next morning we were herded out of the cell and loaded on an old bus. Two guards accompanied us. We learned that the bus was taking us to Pamplona.
After a hot, dusty ride the bus stopped in front of a complex of buildings surrounded by high wall. It was the first week of August. Pamplona seemed to be a lazy, relaxed city in the hot noon-day sun. The guards marched us inside the compound. It was the most modern and imposing building I had seen in Spain. Here was a modern, secure prison.
We were herded into a room where prison officials went through the formalities of registering and searching us. The officials did not seem impressed with the fact that I was a United States citizen. The three other Americans and I were assigned to the same cell. It measured about fourteen by twenty feet. There was one small barred window and a door of iron bars. The furnishings consisted of four rough, straw mattresses, a wash basin, and a non-flush toilet in one corner.
I became well acquainted with the corner where the toilet was located. My dysentery became worse each day. There was no toilet tissue or paper and I resorted to tearing pieces of cloth from my shirt as a substitute. When I finally left the prison, not much of the shirt remained.
The next morning we were escorted to the prison barber shop. There our heads were clipped close and we were shaved by trusty barbers. I began to think that my stay there was going to be longer than a few days.
Later we were summoned before the prison commandant and his staff. There was more questioning concerning our units and why we had entered Spain. We declined to answer questions and gave only our name, rank and service numbers. We requested the commandant to notify American or British authorities that we were in his prison.
When I had been searched, on entering the prison, a hacksaw blade, which was moulded in a piece of black rubber had been taken from me. The commandant wanted to know what it was. I told him I had no idea what it was. He was still puzzling this object when I left his office.
Most of the cells in the prison were filled. The inmates were mostly Spaniards whose crime had been being on the losing side when the Spanish Civil War ended. Trusties ladled our food from a kettle which they carried down the cell block from door to door. A guard would unlock the door and our wooden bowls and spoons would be handed in. The food was always the same -a watery, barley soup with some olive oil floating on top and a piece of bread. Sometimes the soup contained potatoes but I never found a piece of meat in it.
Part of the prison routine consisted of a half hour in the courtyard each day. We looked forward to this time when we could exercise in the sun and talk to our French friends. Once each week, prisoners were allowed to bathe under crude, cold water showers. Each prisoner also received a shave and haircut once a week.
One day a Red Cross official arrived to interview new prisoners. He wanted to know a great deal about us but again, we gave name, rank and service number only. We asked him to contact the United States authorities for us.
The days and nights in the cell became more monotonous. There were no reading materials or playing cards. There was nothing to do but talk or look at the walls. Sometimes I looked through the barred window trying to figure a way to escape. But, escape from this well-designed institution appeared to be hopeless. Tobacco and cigarettes were scarce and the luxury of a smoke several times each day became a ritual. By saving the short cigarette butts, I was able to accumulate a pipe full of rather terrible tasting tobacco every two or three days.
We had been in prison about a week, when an American official arrived. He interviewed each of us and recorded details of our conversation. He said arrangements would have to be made for our release and three or four days would be necessary to make them. Before leaving, he gave us some American cigarettes and advised us not to attempt to escape from the prison.