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Anger at plan to build rubbish site over unmarked grave of Virginia Woolf's nephew

Julian Bell
Julian Bell, Virgina Woolf's nephew, was killed in the Spanish Civil War

A plan to build a refuse collection facility over the unmarked grave of Virginia Woolf’s nephew has been met with opposition in Madrid.

Residents have begged authorities to back down in a row about what is thought to be the final resting place of Civil War volunteers.

Julian Bell, an English poet, was part of the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War – military units filled by foreign nationals who fought to defend Spain’s Second Republic against General Franco’s fascist forces.

He was one of 424 of the volunteers said to have been buried in Fuencarral cemetery in northern Madrid after being killed in a 1937 bombing carried out by nationalist troops.

But in 1941, two years after Franco’s victory, local authorities ordered that the “brigadistas” be removed from the cemetery because they were “reds” and “enemies of Spain”.

The exact site of the unmarked grave they were moved to was never recorded but historians suspect it is the same zone now earmarked by Madrid City Hall for the refuse collection depot.

The Association of Friends of the International Brigades (AABI) has sent letters of protest to the Spanish embassies of more than 20 countries whose former nationals were among those removed from the Fuencarral cemetery, including the UK.

Spanish government called to act

“If these volunteers are under where there are plans to build the depot, I can think of no more disrespectful way to treat the dead bodies,” Ashley Aarons, a British national who lives in the Montecarmelo neighbourhood adjoining the cemetery, told the Telegraph.

“I would suggest that the Spanish government looks into this more and tries to find and properly bury the bodies of these foreigners whose corpses were thrown out of their resting ground in the cemetery,” he added.

Severiano Montero, a historian who collaborates with the AABI, said that it is very likely the brigadistas were buried on the site of the planned refuse collection depot, because it was common practice in Franco’s Spain to shift the bodies of enemies to the other side of cemetery walls.

The areas around the other sides of the cemetery have been developed in recent decades without any remains being found.

Bell – the son of Clive and Vanessa Bell, the elder sister of Virginia Woolf – was originally a pacifist but in 1937 he enlisted in the International Brigades to help the Spanish Republican government resist fascism.

He was persuaded not to fight by his family, including his illustrious aunt, so instead served as an ambulance driver.

Bell was killed on July 18 1937 after being hit by bomb fragments during the Battle of Brunete, west of Madrid.

Before his death, he was reported to be a close friend of the so-called Cambridge Five ring of spies who passed key information to the Soviet Union for years from the 1930s onwards, up to and during the early years of the Cold War.

Bell is said to have been the lover of Anthony Blunt, one of the most notorious double agents from the spy ring.