Repository: Sociedad de Ciencias Aranzadi, San Sebastián, Spain
Fond or Collection
Iñaki Mezquita Aramburu and Alba Peña Muñoz, Municipality of Lemoa
Repository and Location
Sociedad de Ciencias Aranzadi, San Sebastián, Spain
Date Created: 1937
Extent: 1 item
Geographic Region: Pena Lemoa, Spain
Few things characterize war better than pain. Psychological pain, but also physical pain. During the nineteenth century, diverse analgesic treatments were developed to alleviate suffering: morphine, heroin and other opioids. Morphine was obtained from opium in 1803 and it was widely employed during the American Civil War (1861-1865), which led to hundreds of thousands of soldiers becoming addicted. Since then, western armies have used morphine to combat pain in the frontline, and soldiers have abused it.
In the case of the Spanish Civil War, it does not seem that this use was generalized, but some cases of drug addiction have been documented and alcoholism and other addictions grew exponentially, both during the conflict and afterwards. In the frontline, morphine was systematically administered to the wounded, both orally and by injection. It was also a way of facilitating the transit to death when there was no chance of saving a soldier’s life. In this case, the wounded received the drug on demand. British nurse Patience Darton remembered having injected several Spanish soldiers agonizing as a result of gangrene with morphine. Despite giving them high doses, it took them four days to die, which traumatized her. The scene surely repeated itself on many fronts.
The ampoules of the picture appeared during archaeological excavations in Pena Lemoa, a Republican position defending Bilbao that was captured by the Francoists during the offensive of the Basque Country in Spring 1937. The Republicans launched several counterattacks and the hill changed hands several times until it was definitely occupied by the rebels on June 5. The caused 1,600 casualties on both sides in a space of little over a hectare. Casualties were particularly high among Republicans. The hill was subjected to heavy artillery and aerial bombardment. The Francoists superior firepower and, in particular, the relentless aerial bombing left lasting psychological effects in the combatants of the Basque Army. The wounds provoked by the bombs were no less severe and morphine was surely crucial in alleviating the soldiers’ suffering.