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Love and death on the front line Doves of War Four Women of Spain Paul Preston 471pp HarperCollins Little has been written about the role of women in the Spanish civil war If quizzed about it most of us would probably have exhausted our knowledge after invoking the name of La Pasionaria Dolores Ibrruri Certainly she eclipsed her sisters whether as the Republics Joan of Arc or as the Amazon who according to nationalist mythology bit a monk to death in a Madrid street But in any case the sisterhood was not powerful The last great cause was largely a male affair with women acting as bit-part players Yet they also served and suffered with the men and their distinctive achievement merits the recognition Paul Preston gives it in this scholarly and sometimes moving book He resurrects four women who were caught up in the Spanish struggle which even then was visualised as the dress rehearsal for the second world war They are well chosen two Spaniards and two Britons one of each pair on opposing sides All possessed rare courage compassion and determination All became victims of misogyny these intruders into a mans world were denounced as whores or lesbians or both All were born around the beginning of the 20th century and all had their lives blasted by the war Priscilla Scott-Ellis was probably the least intelligent and idealistic of the quartet She was the daughter of Lord Howard de Walden a Blimpish magnifico who occasionally read the Times dressed in a full suit of armour Pip as she was called left Benenden interested in little but hairdressers young men and cream buns Aged 20 though she fell in love with a Spanish prince named Alfonso de Orlans Borbn known as Touffles Lamenting her attraction to this begoggled mother-ridden poop who was apparently homosexual Scott-Ellis nevertheless followed him to Spain and enlisted under the nationalist banner She worked as a nurse
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