Halliday Sutherland

"A born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better." G.K. Chesterton.

General Franco 1

HGS and Franco

Dr Sutherland was invited to Spain by the Spanish government in 1946. He accepted on condition that he would be free to (1) go where he liked and (2) talk to anyone he chose to meet. In Spanish Journey Dr Sutherland wrote:

These conditions were faithfully observed, and I visited ten prisons, one at a moment’s notice. I chose my itinerary; the Government provided a car; and I motored two thousand miles throughout the length and breadth of Spain. I went there as a friend, and was treated as an honoured guest. At the end of my visit, National Radio, Madrid allowed me to broadcast to Britain, and the script of that broadcast, which contained criticisms of the régime, had not been read by anyone except myself. The B.B.C. are more careful.

During the twelve week visit, he met the head of state, General Franco on two occasions. This is Dr Sutherland’s account of the second meeting.

On the eve of leaving Spain I was received in audience by the Head of the State at El Pardo, a small palace built by Philip III in the country 10 kilometres from Madrid. Small but beautiful, it has ceilings painted in fresco by Galvez and Ribera, magnificent chandeliers, tapestry from the time of Charles V, rich carpets, and Louis Quatorze furniture. Franco’s desk was at the end of an oblong salon, and he received me in front of the desk where two chairs faced each other. In these we sat with a interpreter in a third alongside. Franco wore uniform—tunic and slacks—and on the left breast the Cross of Maria Cristina, which is of diamonds.

Franco (to interpreter): Does he understand Castilian?

Interpreter: He understands it but speaks it badly.

Franco: Then you had better translate what he says, and also translate anything I say that he does not understand. (To me) You understand?

Myself: Clearly, Your Excellency.

Franco: Have you seen all you wanted to see in Spain?

Myself: I think I have seen the best and the worst.

Franco: What are your impressions of our anti-tuberculosis campaign?

Myself: I covet your new sanatioria. Most of ours are old and out of date. As regards design, my only criticism is that in none which I saw was the dark room next to the X-ray room as it ought to be. Another criticism if that the distribution of sanatorium beds is unequal. In the Province of Huelva you have the third highest death-rate from tuberculosis in Spain, and only one sanatorium with 100 beds. In Navarra, where there is a low death-rate, half that of Huelva, you have 500 beds. The population of these provinces is approximately the same. In Navarra there are five beds for every four deaths; and in Huelva five deaths for one bed. Another point, which also applies to Britain, is that by admitting advanced or chronic cases to sanatoriums, early cases on a long waiting list may lose their chance of recovery. In both countries there is a  need for small hospitals for advanced and chronic cases. In such hospitals rules and regulations would be reduced to a minimum. Medical treatment would be palliative only. If advanced and chronic cases, especially from overcrowded homes, could be induced to go to such hospitals, the spread of infection at home would be reduced, and sanatorium beds would be available for early curable cases. But I know it is a difficult problem. And that, your Excellency, is all I have to say about it.

Franco (who had listened attentively): I am grateful for your criticisms and for the time you have spent in visiting our sanatoria. As regards the dark room in the X-ray department, I can only say as a layman that in designing the sanatoria the Government also took the advice of our five leading specialists on tuberculosis; but I also know (here he smiled) that doctors differ. The distribution of beds is unequal. But we have made a start. In 1941 there were less than 6,000 beds. This year there are 12,000. We have planned for 20,000. You will agree that tuberculosis is related to poor nutrition and bad housing. As the resources of the state are limited, we had to try to make a fair allocation between measures that will eventually prevent tuberculosis, and provision for the treatment of those now suffering from the disease. I think the allocation has been fair between sanatoria and new houses. In Spain it is necessary to raise the standard of culture among the working-classes. For that new houses are needed. As a boy in Ferrol, I was impressed by something that happened when Vickers-Armstrong send out some workmen to the Dockyard. They were there for many months. Inside the Dockyard they worked with the Spanish workmen. But outside, in the town, they made friends not with our working-class but with our middle-class. From that I realised that the standard of culture in your working-class was higher than ours. I want to see our working-class raised to the level of yours. About hospitals for advanced cases, you know how the Spaniard loves his home and wants to die at home I would say it was useless to attempt to alter that. Recently I learnt something else. Many Spaniards go to South America and there contract tuberculosis. The return to Spain to die. They want to be with their relations; and as they usually have made money in South America their relations are glad to have them, and would not wish them to go to hospital to die.

I then mentioned some of the misconceptions now prevalent in England, and Franco said: All that confirms my belief that what is needed is reciprocal visits between the people of both countries. In the past it has mostly been your wealthier classes who visited Spain; and our wealthier class who visited Britain. I would like to see reciprocal visits between all classes from both countries—including the working-classes. I hope that you yourself have enjoyed your visit?

Myself: Immensely; and before I go I would like your Excellency to read this letter. I call it “The Voice of Spain.”

Franco got his spectacles, read the letter, folded it, and handed it back to me. And now before you go I have a little present for you (and he handed me a photograph).

Myself: Motricio! This is most kind of you. I had no idea there was a photograph. (It was a snapshot of our first meeting. And an amusing snapshot because I appear to be laying down the law.)

Franco (smiling): It will remind you of—the Moors. I hope you will soon come back to Spain, where you will be welcomed. And in those fogs of London you will remember our sunny skies.

We shook hands. The interpreter walked backwards towards the door. Being unused to the etiquette of courts I walked sideways, but kept looking at Franco. He stood watching our departure from the corner of his desk.  Thinking of the loneliness of sovereignty I muttered, “My God help you in your task.” Franco called, “What did he say?” and the interpreter answered: “Your excellency, he has prayed that God may help you in your work.”

With right hand outstretched, Franco took three long paces towards me. Not a word was said; but we looked each other in the eyes; and the hands that clasped and pressed were the hands of friends.

Dr Sutherland was not afraid of controversy and the draft manuscript for Spanish Journey show that Sutherland knew his views would draw criticism. The original draft included a final sentence, later deleted: “My blood is Highland and the jeers of the intelligensia will be music in my ears.”

Music to my ears

In a later galley-proof, Sutherland added that his view of Franco accorded with that of the American ambassador: “On my return to England I read Wartime Mission in Spain; and was well pleased to find that my estimate of General Franco coincided with that of the American Ambassador, Carlton J.H. Hayes, who knew him during the dangerous years 1942-1945. Franco is not vain, stupid, obstinate, or cunning. He is serene, courteous, alert, determined and cautious. He is neither aloof nor theatrical. His conversation is natural. He talks to you, not at you. He has a spontaneous sense of humour; and the Faith of St John of the Cross.”


The addition was excluded from the final draft.

“No honest man may whisper against Franco without shouting from the house-tops against Stalin.”

—Halliday Sutherland, Spanish Journey

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This entry was posted on 1 November 2018 by in Meetings with leaders, Spain, Spanish Journey, Tuberculosis.

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