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Decorated Carabinero

A soldier’s story that starts in the 19th century and finishes in the stormy days of 1935 just prior to the start of the Spanish Civil war. Taken from a collection of army records and personal documents.
Don Antonio Salanova de Pablo was born in Castejon de Sos, Huesca in 1875. On 8th December 1894, aged 19 he enlisted in the Spanish Infanteria as an ordinary recruit. Bearing in mind promotion & rank in the Spanish army was then based on patronage and wealth it would seem he came from a modest background.  However it would also appear he was very capable and rose quickly through the ranks, becoming Cabo (corporal) February 1896, Sargento in June the same year.


In the detail of the army records it is clear he played a part in the Spanish – American war of 1898. In the mid 1880’s much of Spain’s remaining Empire including the Philippines and Cuba were in dispute with Madrid. There were dissidents in Cuba who were fighting the Spanish army and in the Philippines the Propaganda Movement actively pushed for social & political reform. In 1896 the Philippine nationalist leader José Rizal was arrested and then executed in December. In the background the USA were watching very carefully, supporting Cuban exiles and looking for an opportunity to further their own interests.


Don Antonio Salanova de Pablo volunteered for the Batallon Cazadores Expediaonaro a Filipinas in August 1896 and took part in the battle of Toleray. On the 1st of February 1897 he was promoted to second lieutenant (teniente) for merit shown at the battle of Silang. He was awarded the ‘Cruz del Merito Militar’ – see the award signed by King Alfonso XIII. During the whole of 1897 he is in Manila or taking part in operations in the interior. The revolution was declared over in May by the Governor Fernando Primo de Rivera (great uncle of José Antonio ). This was a little premature as there was still some sporadic fighting. March 1898 operations finish in Manila and the Volunteers are disbanded and the soldiers put into new units. In August the commanding officer surrenders – Antonio is taken prisoner!

The Philippines is declared independent in June 1898 and Spanish authority in the whole region collapses. In quick succession they lose Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico & Guam. The army is defeated, the navy is destroyed and in disgrace and Spain is reeling back in surprise and horror. The USA is supreme and swiftly stamps down the Filipinos hope of being an independent state.

Antonio is held prisoner for the whole of 1899 and is only released in January 1900. He is repatriated back to Spain and spends the year on leave, in reserve or in military training school. The Spanish Army is under intense public scrutiny. Antonio is sent to the Academia de Infanteria where he studies or is allowed extended leave through to early 1903. He is given another award. In November 1903 he serves in several regiments but finally settles for the Carabineros where he is a second lieutenant. (Maybe there was a purge on the officers who served in the Philippines – this looks like sideways movement?)


The following years he serves in the province of Huesca during peacetime and is made Captain in 1916 based on years served. He is made commanding officer of Estapona and in 1918 Bilbao. By 1931 he is a Comandante and Jefe de Servicio of Valencia. He retired in 1935 while still in command due to acute arthritis.

What the records do not say is how he felt about the events that surrounded his military service. "El Desastre" – ‘the disaster’ of the Spanish – American war certainly affected the position of the military. Furthermore the 1921’s produced serious defeats in the Rif wars in north Africa. Then we have the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera who was principally an army man but even his own officers turned against him. Finally Alfonso XIII abdicated and we have the Second Spanish Republic of 1931.

Reading between the lines we have an officer who served in a disastrous campaign but was decorated for bravery. It looks to me if the army didn’t know what to do with him. He attains senior rank in the Carabineros – para-military mounted police originally formed by royalty with close links to the infantry and in control of policing the frontiers.
In 1935 he retires aged 60 on medical grounds. We know that the Republic purged officers with royalist sympathies or with the wrong politics around this time. In fact it’s worth mentioning that some of Franco’s Nationalist rebel generals were early supporters of the Republic – they were later to turn against the ‘Popular Front’ not necessarily the idea of Republican Spain. It could be the case he was an Alfonso supporter or too right wing (in fact there are some Falange documents in the collection) and was retired with a pension.