Letter to Eileen Blair from hospital in Monflorite (April 1937)

Handwritten; undated.
[5? April 1937]
[Hospital, Monflorite]


British socialist politician John McNair (1887–1968)

John McNair served as an ILP representative during the Spanish Civil War.

You really are a wonderful wife. When I saw the cigars my heart melted away. They will solve all tobacco problems for a long time to come. McNair tells me you are all right for money, as you can borrow & then repay when B. E.1 brings some pesetas, but don’t go beggaring yourself, & above all don’t go short of food, tobacco etc. I hate to hear of your having a cold & feeling run down. Don’t let them overwork you either, & don’t worry about me, as I am much better & expect to go back to the lines tomorrow or the day after. Mercifully the poisoning in my hand didn’t spread, & it is now almost well, tho’ of course the wound is still open. I can use it fairly well & intend to have a shave today, for the first time in about 5 days. The weather is much better, real spring most of the time, & the look of the earth makes me think of our garden at home & wonder whether the wallflowers are coming out & whether old Hatchett is sowing the potatoes. Yes, Pollitt’s review2 was pretty bad, tho’ of course good as publicity. I suppose he must have heard I was serving in the POUM militia. I don’t pay much attention to the Sunday Times reviews3 as G4 advertises so much there that they daren’t down his books, but the Observer was an improvement on last time. I told McNair that when I came on leave I would do the New Leader an article, as they wanted one, but it will be such a come-down after B.E’s that I don’t expect they’ll print it. I’m afraid it is not much use expecting leave before about the 20th April. This is rather annoying in my own case as it comes about through my having exchanged from one unit to another—a lot of the men I came to the front with are now going on leave. If they suggested that I should go on leave earlier I don’t think I would say no, but they are not likely to & I am not going to press them. There are also some indications—I don’t know how much one can rely on these—that they expect an action hereabouts, & I am not going on leave just before that comes off if I can help it. Everyone has been very good to me while I have been in hospital, visiting me every day etc. I think now that the weather is getting better I can stick out another month without getting ill, & then what a rest we will have, & go fishing too if it is in any way possible.

As I write this Michael, Parker & Buttonshaw5 have just come in, & you should have seen their faces when they saw the margarine. As to the photos, of course there are lots of people who want copies, & I have written the numbers wanted on the backs, & perhaps you can get reproductions. I suppose it doesn’t cost too much—I shouldn’t like to disappoint the Spanish machine-gunners etc. Of course some of the photos were a mess. The one which has Buttonshaw looking very blurred in the foreground is a photo of a shell-burst, which you can see rather faintly on the left, just beyond the house.

I shall have to stop in a moment, as I am not certain when McNair is going back & I want to have this letter ready for him. Thanks ever so much for sending the things, dear, & do keep well & happy. I told McNair I would have a talk with him about the situation when I came on leave, & you might at some opportune moment say something to him about my wanting to go to Madrid etc. Goodbye, love. I’ll write again soon.

With all my love

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊


  1. Bob Edwards.
  2. Harry Pollitt (1890-1960), a Lancashire boiler-maker and founder-member of the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1920, became its general secretary in 1929. With Rajani Palme Dutt, he led the party until his death. He was, however, removed from leadership in the autumn of 1939 until Germany’s invasion of Russia in July 1941 for his temporary advocacy of a war of democracy against fascism. His review of The Road to Wigan Pier appeared in the Daily Worker, 17 March 1937.
  3. The Road to Wigan Pier was reviewed by Edward Shanks in the Sunday Times and by Hugh Massingham in The Observer, 14 March 1937.
  4. Victor Gollancz.
  5. Michael  Wilton (English), also given as Milton, Buck Parker (South  African), and Buttonshaw (American) were members of Orwell’s unit. Douglas Moyle, another member, told Ian Angus, 18 February 1970, that Buttonshaw was very sympathetic to the European left and regarded Orwell as ‘the typical Englishman—tall, carried himself well, well educated and well spoken.’

Source: CW11-364

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