Friday, January 25, 2008

Franco's Welsh Pilot

Given Wales's proud record in fighting fascism in the Spanish Civil War (1936), it's kind of ironic that the pilot who flew General Franco to Morocco to start the conflict was a bloke from Pontypridd.

In 1936 Cecil Bebb, from Church Village, was hired by a group of exiled Spanish monarchists to fly to the Canary Islands. There he was to pick up an arab leader, or at least, that's what he was told. In fact he would be picking up General Franco.

For the trip Bebb would be accompanied by a navigator; ultra right-wing Spanish journalist Luis Bolin; Hugh Pollard (an MI6 agent); his daughter Diana Pollard; and Dorothy Watson. The girls, both glamorous blondes who kept their cigarettes in the elastic of their knickers, were to be used as a distraction at the various stop off points on the journey. The plot was bankrolled by millionaire Juan March who hated the Republic.

In July Bebb and his passengers set off from Croydon airport in a luxury De Havilland Dragon Rapide aeroplane. The aircraft eventually arrived at Las Palmas in the Canaries via Bordeaux, Oporto, Lisbon, and Casablanca. Bebb must surely have guessed something was up when Franco, who had shaven off his moustache and was posing as a tourist, boarded his plane.

Nevertheless he continued his journey eventually arriving at Tetuan in Spanish Morocco via Agadir and Casablanca. Franco, reunited with the army who were garrisoned there, was now in a strong position to lead them against the Republic and the Spanish people. Luis Bolan (who would go on to become Franco's propaganda advisor) thanked Bebb for the part he had just played in world history. The bemused Welshman then flew back to Britain.

Bebb turned up on a Granada television series in the early Eighties called The Spanish Civil War where he recounted the part he had unwittingly played in starting the conflict. In 1986 a film was released in Spain called Dragon Rapide (see pic) which colourfully retold the story.

*For more information on this historical curiosity check out Rob Stradling's book Cardiff and the Spanish Civil War (1996).