Franco’s Sussex Friends

In February 1936 General Franco had been posted to the Canary Islands to isolate him from other army officers suspected of plotting a military coup against the legally elected Republican Government. The Republic’s enemies realised they needed to get Franco out of the Canaries to Spanish Morocco to take command of the Army of North Africa and launch a mainland invasion.

Major Hugh Bertie Campbell Pollard was a MI6 agent and gentleman farmer from Hoewick Farm, near Fernhurst in West Sussex, and was at the heart of a conspiracy to smuggle Franco from the Canary Islands to Spanish Morocco.

Pollard, a product of the public school system had a lifelong interest in firearms and hunting. Seconded to the Intelligence Corps during World War One Pollard’s career as a British undercover agent began in Ireland during the War of Independence (1919-21).

MI6 agent Pollard was an acknowledged small arms expert.

The 1936 conspirators first met over lunch in London at Simpson’s in the Strand, and Pollard was brought on board as a fixer by British publisher and journalist Douglas Jerrold, a vociferous supporter of Europe’s Fascist dictators. The Spanish connection was Louis Bolin, London correspondent of a Nationalist newspaper who later became Franco’s senior press advisor. The plot was bankrolled by Juan March reputed to be Spain’s richest man who had a reputation for shady dealings.

L to R: Hugh Pollard, Dorothy Watson and Diana Pollard, fox hunting in the 1930s.

On 11 July 1936 a Dragon Rapide bi-plane left Croydon Airport piloted by Cecil Bebb an ex-RAF officer recruited by Pollard. The Canary Islands was its secret destination.

On board were Louis Bolin and Hugh Pollard plus Pollard’s teenage daughter Diana and farmhand Dorothy Watson. The two women were recruited to support the cover story of a party of rich and carefree English tourists on a jaunt around Europe. Had a Spanish aircraft flown to the Canaries the Government would have been alerted but a British plane would attract less attention.

The Dragon Rapide that flew Franco to Spanish Morocco is on display at the Madrid Aviation Museum

After refueling and overnight stops the conspirators reached Las Palmas on 14 July. Contact was made with Franco and two days later Cecil Bebb flew him via Casablanca to Tetuan in Spanish Morocco. The day after Franco touched down in Tetuan the revolt against the Republican Government was launched.

Such was the fundamental importance of the assistance given by Franco’s Sussex Friends the grateful dictator awarded Major Pollard, his Daughter Diana, Dorothy Watson and Cecil Bebb the Order of the Yoke and Arrows, Fascist Spain’s highest award to foreign citizens.

The Order of the Yoke and Arrows awarded to Franco’s Sussex Friends

Pollard served as MI6 Madrid Office Chief in 1940 but the following year his secret service career ended. Both Pollard and the British Intelligence Services have always denied that his pivotal role in spiriting Franco out of the Canary Islands was officially sanctioned by his Whitehall masters.

Pollard died in March 1966 at his cottage in the village of West Lavington near Midhurst in West Sussex. His will stipulated that his estate was to be held in trust and the income divided equally between his widow and his long-term mistress. In a final twist to the tale relatives reported that some of Pollard’s personal papers disappeared in a burglary while his family were at his funeral.