It cannot be said that, in 1928, Francisco Franco was a stranger. General at that time, one of the youngest in Europe when he was promoted two years earlier, his mustache, his incipient bald head, and his slight double chin were already beginning to appear inside and outside the Iberian Peninsula. The exploits of war in Morocco preceded him, and he knew it. For this reason, he used to boast of the wound he had suffered in El Biutz (the one for which the doctors evicted him and predicted his grave) and of having helped fight the Riff in Melilla with the Legion after the Annual Disaster.
During those years, when the Primo de Rivera dictatorship ruled the country, Franco could take pride in directing the General Military Academy of Zaragoza. Considerable honor for an officer who did not reach quarantine. However, the reality is that he was not a public figure of the stature, for example, of his brother Ramón, a national hero who had covered the covers of national and international newspapers in 1926 when he took off from Palos de la Frontera and traveled 10,000 kilometers to Buenos Aires. Francisco was known and somewhat popular, that’s undeniable, but not a great media star.
Perhaps for this reason, on May 29 of that same year the cultural magazine Estampa, with a weekly circulation, did not dedicate its cover to him despite having interviewed him with his wife, Carmen Polo. The front page was obtained by a report on “The sons of great men” (Ayala, Baroja, Ortega y Gasset ). The Francs were relegated to page 19, where, under the headline The woman in the home of the famous men. Love and War, General Franco’s Wife ”, the Baron de Mora recounted an encounter as intimate as it was striking with the couple.
The result was a unique document due to the sincerity with which Francisco Franco, but especially Carmen Polo, responded to the questions raised by an incisive journalist. Throughout the interview, the general’s wife narrated the details of their courtship, how they met, the misadventures they experienced, or intimacies such as the fact that the future dictator was known by the young women as “Comandantín.” The officer, for his part, preferred to focus on explaining his great military feats and showing, with almost childish pride, his letters of recommendation and the personal congratulations that Alfonso XIII himself had sent him after one of his toughest battles.
The expert on the Franco regime, Jose Maria Zavala, narrates in his work “Franco with frankness” that Carmen was not the dictator’s first girlfriend. This curious honor fell on Sofía Subirán. The two met in Africa, when the soldier, then in his twenties, was called the soldier of the “three emes” (without fear, without women, and with mass). Before, however, he had already longed for other girls like Paquita Maristany or Sofía Mille. Their refusal made him focus his eyes, according to Paul Preston in “Franco”, on the young Polo, whom he had seen for the first time in 1917. Although she was only a teenager, Francisco became infatuated and sent an infinite number of letters to the school where he lived, Las Salesas, during a leave in Oviedo.
Historians define Carmen Polo as a “slender, dark schoolgirl” who, curiously, bore a strong resemblance to Sofía Subirán. Daughter of a wealthy family, although in decline, she was soon captivated by the flattery of a military man who had almost a decade more to life than she and who, already in those years, had a certain reputation after being promoted to commander. This is how he recalled those moments in the magazine: Franco, a 23-year-old officer who recently arrived from Africa after fighting against the Riff with the Regulars of Tetouan, put his efforts into winning the affection of Carmen. And when he wanted, he could be very insistent In the end, the young woman agreed. How were your first years of dating? Why did you decide to start a relationship? All these questions were discussed by Baron de Mora in the interview for “Estampa.
Six years of courtship and three after the ordeal that, Carmen said, she lived while waiting for Franco’s return, both were married. The link took place in October 1923, according to the newspaper ABC on Sunday 28: “The ceremony was held in the parish of San Juan, in the Asturian capital, with the military chaplain blessing the union.” The newspaper, which called the already lieutenant colonel “heroic head of the Tercio”, subscribed that the church was that day “crowded with the public” and that, on the way back to their home, thousands of people came to pay tribute to the new marriage deafening ovations. In “Estampa”, Polo corroborated these words: The way he pronounced these last words moved the interviewer himself. «It would seem that all the morrinoso poetry of Asturias has come to blur with a veil of emotion her beautiful woman’s eyes! In return, the general, as he is a man, to hide his own, knows how to smile. The moment was broken by some more topical questions that Carmen answered briefly.
Among them, what was the most and least liked about this world. To the first question, he confirmed that the music; to the second, that “the Moors” due to the number of lives and families that they destroyed in Spain. During the interview, Franco preferred to explain to the journalist the details of his fighting in Africa. The Butz (where – he said proudly – his Regulars surrounded him to prevent the enemy from attacking), the Xauen campaign (in which a Legion company was reduced to just 70 men after being harassed by the Riff)
And, more than blushing, like Carmen, he enjoyed displaying with pride the one in which Alfonso XIII called him “a very high friend” and hugged him. He also had a few words for his new assignment at the General Military Academy of Zaragoza, whose command was taken from him years later, during the Second Republic, by the scourge of the Africanists, Manuel Azana.