Short biographies of Greville Texidor and Werner Droescher who both fought with the Spanish anarchist militias.
Greville Texidor was born in 1902 at Wolverhampton, the daughter of William Arthur Foster and Editha Greville Prideaux. Her father, a barrister, committed suicide in 1920 due to a scandal. Her mother was an artist who had originally moved from Auckland in New Zealand to study art in London in 1895.
Greville grew up around many famous artists and writers including DH Lawrence, Mark Gertler, Stanley Spencer, and Augustus John who used her as a painting model as a young girl.
She joined a Bluebell Girls chorus line as a dancer, along with her sister Kate, and travelled around the world. At one point she travelled with a German who did a contortionist act.
In the USA she danced at New York Winter Garden for 2 years. She then moved down to Buenos Aires. Here in 1929 she married the person she referred to as the "Spaniard”, Manuel Maria Texidor i Catasus who was in Buenos Aires to start up a cork factory. He later became Manuel Jose Texidor when he took UK citizenship whilst married to Greville. Their daughter Cristina was born in that year.
The family moved back to Barcelona and on to the village of Tossa de Mar on the Costa Brava in 1933. Tossa was one of the first Spanish resorts to attract foreign visitors and a small colony of painters and writers began to settle there. The painter Marc Chagall named Tossa the “Blue Paradise”. Here Greville met Werner Droescher and had a passionate affair with him.
Werner Otto Droescher was born at Karlsruhe in Germany on 5th January 1911, the son of Friedrich Droescher and Anna Marie nee Bentz. He had an elder brother and sister. With the rise of Hitler, Werner moved to Spain in 1933. Here he worked as a tutor. One of his students was Greville. They began an affair in 1934. In 1935 Greville separated from Manuel.
Werner was about to go to Barcelona to be a full time student but with the outbreak of the Revolution Werner enlisted with a POUM column in that city. With the new divorce laws promulgated by the Republic Greville divorced Manuel on 24 November 1936. When some of the POUM unit visited the Durruti Column nearby, they were impressed by its efficiency and discipline and decided to join it.
Greville had meanwhile enrolled in the militia, and had joined Werner after tremendous difficulties. They became 'part of one of the Anarchist Centurias in La Zaida after the other members of the original POUM group left. The Centuria was called "Aguiluchos de las Corts", "Eagles of las Corts", which consisted mainly of workers, tram drivers and conductors of the tram depot of Las Corts, a suburb of Barcelona, who had formed the two centurias spontaneously when the streetfighting in Barcelona was over. They had set out towards Zaragoza to liberate comrades there' (recollections of Droescher). With other centurias they engaged in military action and constructed defensive trenches. In the evenings they tried to persuade the peasants of the village to form an agricultural collective.
Here Emma Goldman visited them and they were impressed by her dynamic personality. Later on, they met her in Barcelona, and later still in London where “she endeavoured to rescue as many comrades from the concentration camps in France as she could, and to bring them to England. We were very impressed by her personality, her untiring work for the cause” (Droescher).
Later they moved back to Barcelona to be part of a larger militia unit organised by the Rosselli brothers, noted Italian anti-fascists, and by Italian anarchists like Camillo Berneri. They then moved in the direction of Huesca on the Aragon Front.
They took part in the invasion of Almudeva in August 1936. At one point with their centuria, Texidor and Werner moved forward until almost to the barbed wire entanglement belonging to the fascists, and came under rifle, machine gun and artillery fire. The Communists had moved forward and not backed their action. Luckily the bombs missed their position. They camped over for the winter with new weapons.
They now decided to set relief work in motion. Droescher travelled to England as ‘Texidor’s fiancé’. In around August 1937 the Droeschers helped with the propaganda for the Help for Spain committees. In December they returned to Spain to function as liaison officers for the English Aid Committee, which had association with the Quakers’ relief scheme.
In 1938 they worked in a new sphere of refugee aid. Droescher’s first job was with the Quaker relief scheme office, helping with the distribution of provisions for youth groups. Then he was asked to prepare the first refugee centre for children from Madrid who were relocated in Gerona province in Catalonia. The organisation in charge was now a Paris-based Communist front.
Droescher and Texidor supervised 120 children from Madrid aged from three to fifteen years of age. The youngest group were taken under Texidor’s wing. They organised the provisions which were delivered in large quantities by lorry directly from France. They performed the duties of house-father and house-mother from morning to evening. Near the end of 1938 a Communist delegate came from Paris to inspect the group. He did not approve of their anarchist politics and Werner and Texidor were dismissed.
They moved to Barcelona, which was under constant bomb attacks. They no longer felt safe there and could no longer rely on the protection of the anarcho-syndicalist union the CNT. Texidor was exhausted by the defeat of the Revolution. She was evacuated to England by warship and regained her British nationality.
She was reunited with her daughter, Cristina, who had been staying with Mrs. Foster, Texidor’s mother. Later in 1938 Droescher was to follow Texidor, but when he reached France he was returned to Germany, because of his German nationality. He taught language in Hamburg at a Berlitz school, and did military service in Hanover, specialising in intelligence and communication. He was finally allowed to proceed to London just before the outbreak of WWII.
Droescher used the false offer from New York to teach at a Berlitz school as a pretext to leave Germany. In early 1939 the Droeschers worked as helpers in the reception camp for The Movement for the Care of Jewish Children from Germany, which Quakers set up in Ipswich and Margate. They had to learn all the rules for the kosher preparation of food.
With the outbreak of the World War Droescher became a suspect in British eyes; he had fought in Spain, worked for the Communist organisation at Can-Toni Gros and he had done military training in Germany. He was interned at Seaton in Devon. Texidor had become a German national as a consequence of marrying a German. She was interned in Holloway prison.
Greville’s mother, with the help of Augustus John, got them released and they were allowed to move to New Zealand, where they arrived in May 1940. Like all immigrants they were housed on farms in the countryside. However, once again Droescher's movements were restricted. It was soon after his arrival here that Droescher met Ian Hamilton.
Hamilton, a conscientious objector, wrote Till Human Voices Wake Us, which includes an account of his experiences in prison and an outline of his anarchist beliefs. The two men had plans to set up an alternative school in Kerikeri, but the plans were scuttled when Hamilton was sent to prison. Not long after Greville and Werner were officially declared aliens and deported to Paparoa in the North. They moved to an inland farm owned by an 85 year-old Quaker, Josiah Hames, who became their sponsor.
They lived at first with the Hames family. Then they found a very primitive cottage which had no electricity and only a scanty provision for water. The living conditions improved when Mrs Foster leased another cottage with electricity and lived with them. In a stream nearby they could bathe, wash clothes and catch eels. In late December 1941, after seven months in Northland, authorities granted permission to the Droeschers to return to urban life on the North Shore.
Droescher and Texidor became friendly with the writer Frank Sargeson and other members of the North Shore intelligentsia. Sargeson claims that he inspired Texidor to start writing. Texidor wrote a series of short stories, which were eventually published in 1987 (long after her death) by Victoria University Press. She also translated Spanish literature into English, including poetry by Garcia Lorca. When the poet and obnoxious drunk Dennis Glover, part of the North Shore group, began to taunt her about the triumph of Franco, Texidor took a steak knife and held it to his throat until bystanders could overpower her.
The couple had a daughter, Rosamund. Greville, Werner and Rosamund left New Zealand in 1948, moving to Australia. Greville was glad to leave. She had always seen New Zealand as a large prison. Sargeson was to write about Texidor’s attitude to New Zealand in ‘Greville Texidor 1902 – 1964’ and that she ‘was unable to establish with this country relations which in any way resembled a love-affair, she substituted literary endeavour for the many-sided involvement in living which had characterised her in a more congenial environment”.
Greville and Werner had a tempestuous relationship and in the sixties they separated. Greville moved back to Spain and spent the last years of her life in Europe, moving to Australia shortly before her death in 1964.
Droescher returned to New Zealand, went on to study German at the University of Auckland, and later joined the teaching staff there in the 60s in the German Department. He remained a committed anarchist until his death in 1978.
In 1976 he attended meetings organised by an anarchist group in Auckland, and the group had plans to publish a pamphlet he wrote called The Little Red and Black Book of Anarchy. Unfortunately, some of the group's members objected to the pacifist outlook that Werner had now taken on and which was expressed in the pamphlet, and it was never published. The only original copy was lost.
Werner wrote Towards an Alternative Society, his memories of the anarchist militias, during the last years of his life. He had just retired from the University of Auckland and was living part-time outside Wilderland, a commune on the Coromandel Peninsula, which he thought was similar to communes established in France in the 1930s.
A German language version of the book was published in 1976 under the title Odyssee eines Lehrers (Odyssey of a teacher). Unfortunately, the English version was never published, although a typed manuscript was deposited in the Auckland University library, along with Droescher's papers.
(Albert Meltzer in his memoirs has rather a confused recollection of Werner, and dismisses Werner’s “girlfriend” as a member of the “Carrington set”, which bearing in mind Greville’s readiness to fight on the frontline in anarchist militias seems like a poor description)