70 years after the event, and in time for his centenary on 30 October this year, the Spanish Government have ruled that socialist poet Miguel Hernandez’ death sentence, issued by a military court in the first year of Franco’s forty-year dictatorship, was unjust. Wow! What insight! And ‘only’ 30-odd years after establishing democracy in modern post-Franco Spain. The Government has duly offered an official apology to his family and its belated recognition of his innocence.

In January 1940 Hernandez was charged with being a traitor to the regime (Franco’s) and a poet of the people. Hernandez certainly was not innocent of either of these charges. Indeed, in his declaration to the court, he proudly admitted that he was an antifascist poet who wrote to serve the people of Spain, calling on them defiantly to resist Franco’s nationalist uprising.

Hernandez, born 1910, left school at 14 and worked as a shepherd before realising his vocation as a poet. It was his closeness to the beauty of the natural world that soon inspired him to start writing poetry. His instinctive solidarity with the oppressed was radicalised during the period of the Republic in the 1930s and on the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War he joined the Republican Army to fight against Franco’s rebellion on several Fronts, finding, nevertheless, some time to dedicate himself to cultural-political issues as a creative writer. ‘While other poets wrote without conviction and paraded their left politics through Madrid in their carefully-ironed boiler suits, Hernandez was the only one who fought and wrote on the battlefield.’ This was the harsh but fair judgement of Juan Ramón Jiménez, alter ego and father figure of the brilliant contemporary generation of Spanish poets.

At the time of his trial, unsuccessful attempts were made to get Hernandez to renounce his political ideas in exchange for his life and make a public confession that he had been led astray by ‘the enemies of Spain’. Then, prompted no doubt by the international repercussions that had followed the disappearing of the more widely acclaimed Republican poet Garcia Lorca some years before, Franco commuted Hernandez’ death sentence to 30 years in prison. The regime did not want another martyr. But the condemned poet held out for little more than two years of his prison spell before succumbing to the effects of an untreated lung infection in March 1942.