Flowers for a Lincoln buried in Spain

January 5, 2012

Nelson's gravestone

Jeremy O. Simer sends a touching note:

A couple of months ago, my friend Lonnie Nelson called from Seattle to ask me to help her arrange for someone in Gandesa (Tarragona) to lay flowers there in memory of her uncle Kenneth Frederick Nelson, who died in combat there in 1938, at the age of 22. I gladly agreed and tracked down the phone number of Floristeria el Trèvol, where a woman named Teresa took my unusual order: a dozen red carnations, to be distributed at three sites. These were to be Nelson’s gravestone in the municipal cemetery, the monument to the Republic’s airplane pilots in the park, and a third location Teresa wasn’t as clear about – a monument in town Lonnie said was dedicated to all of the the Republic’s defenders. No matter, Teresa said, she would be glad to figure it out and deliver the flowers on the Day of the Dead. In a heartbeat, my sister Kate in Barcelona agreed to deposit the cost of the flowers in el Trèvol’s Caixa account.

Teresa made good on her promise, and then some. As she wrote soon after:

“On November 2, as we agreed, we went to the municipal cemetery and it was easy to find the plaque with the name of Frederick Nelson, and we left the bouquet there with emotion and gratitude for his struggle for freedom, then we left the second bunch at the memorial to the pilots in the city park, and the third we took to the Serra de Pàndols, where at the top there is a monument to all the Republicans who fought in the Battle of the Ebro, in particular in the ‘baby bottle draft,’ the youngest soldiers called to fight. I don’t know if you have noticed that I am writing ‘we’ in the plural, since my sister and my niece went with me, I told them the story of your phone call and they were very interested, and as you can imagine we feel closer to the Republican cause. You can tell your friend that every year will take flowers to the municipal cemetery in memory of Frederick Nelson. We will always remember them.”

Teresa and her family

A few days ago, Teresa’s 15-year-old niece, Ariadna, wrote to say she plans to write a paper in school about the Americans who volunteered to defend the Republic, and asking if Lonnie and I could lend a hand. I think you’ll understand why reading each of these emails brought tears to my eyes. (Attached is a photo of Teresa, Ariadna, and her mother.)

Later this week, Shelley and I will travel to San Francisco to spend Christmas with family. After the feasting, gift-giving, and listening to “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” read by Dylan Thomas, we plan to visit the Abraham Lincoln Brigade memorial near the Embarcadero. We haven’t been, and are looking forward to honoring those volunteers’ bravery and sacrifice, including one ALB vet I fondly remember, Abe Oscheroff; and celebrating this new friendship borne of historical memory and international solidarity.


3 Responses to “ Flowers for a Lincoln buried in Spain ”

  1. Alan Warren on January 9, 2012 at 5:41 am

    There is now another memorial to the Lincoln Washington battalion up on the Sierra Pandols. Placed there on July 2nd 2011, the 5th anniversary of the death of Welsh medic Alun Menai Williams, who served with the Washington battañion at Brunete and then the Lincoln Washington battalion through Belchite, Teruel, the Great Retreats and finally with the British battalion on the Ebro, His Catalan friends, who he made when he spent the last three months of his life living in Catalonia, placed a ceramic memorial to the XV International Brigade and the Lincoln Washington battalion on the Nationalist held Hill 666 (there are two Hill 666’s beside each other! If you have good eyesight and look to the right of the radio mast along the ridge below Hill 705 facing Gandesa, you will see a Republican flag fluttering on the skyline. That is where this memorial now stands.

  2. Vicky Palmer on July 4, 2013 at 4:53 am

    Hi. I was very interested to stumble across your story. We have a house just up the road from El Trevol and I know Teresa as I buy my flowers from her when we visit.( we lived in Gandesa for two years! ) She is a lovely lady and it does not surprise me that she was so helpful. Most years we visit the memorial to the International Brigade in the Pandols and lay flowers at the plaque there. I began to do this afte I met a British lady, Irene Stevens, at the Civil War museum in Gandesa whos Uncle, Joe Harkins, died in the battle of the Ebro. Unfortunately his body was never recovered. I know it was helpful for Irene and her family to feel that someone was visiting the site and leaving flowers in this way. I will be sure to look out for Kenneth Nelson’s name on the plaque when we visit in August. We usually just pick some wild flowers and say a word for the men and I take a ‘photo to send to Irene so she knows we have been. I’d be happy to do the same for you but it sounds as if Teresa has this all in hand! I’ll be sure to speak to her next month when I buy my basil plants! Best wishes. Vicky

  3. Gareth Barr on October 31, 2016 at 6:25 pm

    My great Uncle Philipp Harwitz was supposedly killed in this war, but i cannot find any information on his death.Was wondering if anyone could help me out in finding out something thanks

    Gareth Barr