Pérez Navarro, Joaquín, 1907-2006

A short biography of Spanish anarchist and last surviving member of the Friends of Durruti, Joaquín Pérez Navarro.

Submitted by Steven. on December 22, 2006

In the late 1980s I attended a film in London about the achievements of anarchism and the Spanish civil war. At one point the elderly man sitting next to me began weeping quietly. Suddenly, the passion and the conviction of those events and commitments became manifest.

Later I learned that the weeping man was Joaquín Pérez Navarro, who has died aged 99 and was the last survivor of Los Amigos de Durruti (the Friends of Durruti). This was a group of anarchists pledged to fight militarisation and the betrayals of the Communist party, and named after the militia commander Buenaventura Durruti, who had died in November 1936 defending republican Madrid against Franco's uprising.

Earlier in 1936 Joaquín took part in the initial fighting in Barcelona against the Francoists and was then on the Aragon front in an anarchist militia. The following year he joined Los Amigos and fought with them during the 1937 "May Days" in Barcelona. These events - when street battles broke out between anarchists and independent socialists on one side, and, with the backing of the Stalinist Communist party, the republican Guardia Civil and army on the other - feature in George Orwell's book Homage to Catalonia and are depicted at the end of Ken Loach's 1995 film, Land and Freedom. Later he fought with the Iron Column, an anarchist militia that had initially been constituted from prisoners released from the jails of the republic.

In late 1938 Joaquín was tortured and condemned to death by the Stalinists, who put him in Montjuic prison. But he escaped to France with the fall of Barcelona to the Francoists. There he was imprisoned in camps at Argeles and Barcares, and joined a work gang building docks at Brest. With the fall of France in 1940, he escaped to England.

Born the eldest of three children in a peasant family at Calpes de Arenso, near Castillon, Joaquín was 11 when he lost his father and moved with his mother to Barcelona. He was a hodcarrier's mate before becoming a waiter. In 1919, aged 12, he joined the anarcho-syndicalist union, the CNT.

After his escape to London in 1940, he was involved with a Spanish anarchist group. Between 1969 and 1974 he was on CNT liaison commission in Britain. After a spell in the building trade he transferred to catering and was employed at the Berkeley hotel in Mayfair for several years. He then worked at the George & Dragon public house in South Kensington (which was privately owned but eventually bought out by Wheeler's restaurant) until his retirement.

Joaquín wrote three books in Spanish. The first, Relato Poetico (1995), was about his experiences. Totally committed to the anarchist movement, he maintained a fervour about the injustices committed during the civil war that never faded. He could recall every detail and emotion as if it had happened yesterday. He was quite a ladies' man, but in 1953 he met Carmen, his best friend's sister-in-law, on her arrival at London airport. Immediately they fell in love; they were married for 50 years. Carmen died two years ago.

Joaquín is survived by their daughter, Violet.

Nick Heath
First published in The Guardian, Tuesday September 19, 2006