POSTCARDS FROM SPAIN (13)

BASQUE REFUGEES IN THE NORTH EAST

Another report in the Postcards from Spain series comes from Don Watson. Don is an author and independent historian based in North Shields.

In 2005 he gave a talk to the North East Labour History Society that was based on an article he wrote, ‘Politics and Humanitarian Aid: Basque refugees in the North East and Cumbria during the Spanish Civil War’.

Don explained…‘It came from my long-standing interest in the Spanish Civil War and how the North East participated in the international solidarity against fascism and in support of the Spanish Republic. The issues of fascism, the treatment of refugees, and international solidarity are as pressing now as they were in the 1930s.

In an edited version of Don’s article, he writes….Around 400 Basque children were looked after in the North East of England and Cumbria, most of them for up to two years. Some stayed at Brampton near Carlisle, others in Hexham, Northumberland and some at 40 Percy Park in Tynemouth. Another colony was at Hutton Hall near Guisborough in Cleveland. About half of them were taken care of by the Catholic Church in children’s homes and convents in Newcastle, Carlisle, Spennymoor and Darlington.

Basque children arriving in Newcastle. Picture courtesy of Tyne & Wear Archives.

The biggest single colony was at Brampton, within the constituency of Wilfred Roberts M.P. – a prominent member of the Basque Children’s Committee and committed supporter of the Spanish Republic. The children were put up in an old workhouse converted by local trades unions and church members. It accommodated up to 60 children, who must have had an impact on the small town. Elsewhere sympathisers let out properties to the local Basque Children’s Committees: large houses in residential areas in Hexham and Tynemouth.

The hostel at Hexham had to close after a few months due to lack of local financial support. There was some political opposition to the Basque evacuation in the prosperous town. This was in marked contrast to the hostel at Percy Park, Tynemouth. Here Nell Badsey, the hostel manager, countered initial opposition from some local residents by using the local press to describe what the children had gone through at home and the amount of local support she was getting for them.

The boys took full part in local football and sports events through the Scouts and the YMCA, so that after a year a newspaper described them as having settled in so well they were ‘as much a part of the area as Percy Park itself’.

Len Edmondson, a member of the Independent Labour Party in 1937 and involved with the hostel in Tynemouth, recalls the Basque children’s supporters often had a hard job to convince the public that the children were not getting a penny from the British Government.

All food, coal, clothing, and everything else had to be raised through the efforts of the local volunteers. Apart from Hexham these efforts were successful. In North Shields for example, the Methodist Ladies Sisterhood performed plays to raise funds, and Nell Badsey, Tynemouth hostel manager, was always full of praise for the consistent funding she received from the Northumberland and Durham miners’ lodges.

Supporters in the local committees included local clergy, trades unionists, and political activists from the Liberals to the Communists, frequently people involved in other areas of Republican solidarity work. They also included humanitarian people with no background in any political causes.

The colony committees encouraged the children to exhibit their traditional music, song and dance, frequently in national costume, at fund raising concerts and meetings or simply at village occasions and other local events.

Some of the children were present at political meetings too. They were on the platform at the Newcastle May Day rally in 1938, supporting Labour and Communist speakers at an International Brigade memorial meeting in Blyth Miners Welfare Hall, and on the platform in Bedlington, where Labour MP’s attacked the British Government for supporting non-intervention.

In this way, true to the trades union and Republican sympathies of their parents, the presence of the children was part of the political campaign for the Republic and against Franco’s war on the civilian population.

In the North East, as in the rest of the country, joint work with the Catholic Church did not last long. The refugee children were a propaganda setback for Franco’s supporters and, through the Vatican Secretariat, pressure was exerted to repatriate them as soon as possible.

In the North East, children from the Catholic colonies had returned to Spain by May 1938 but most of those looked after by the local Basque Children’s Committee remained.

The North East committees were intent on ensuring that when children were repatriated, it would be to conditions of safety and at the genuine request of their families. Some harsh exchanges between Catholic spokesmen and Basque Children’s Committee members took place in the local newspapers, and showed in fact that they represented the two sides in the civil war.

At the start of the Second World War most of the ninos in the North East had been repatriated to Spain, but a few remained here permanently. They included a señorita, Carmen Gil, who married one of the Labour Party activists on the hostel committee. Nell Badsey adopted one of the boys, Angel Perez Martinez – as Angel Badsey he worked until his retirement in the Sunderland shipyards.

Don would be delighted to hear from former refugees who were looked after in any of these colonies, or from their own children and families.

Contact:

dfwatson35@gmail.com

or  

Basque Children of ’37 Association:UK.

This article was published in North East History vol. 36 in 2005, an amended version is available on the Basque Children of ’37 Association website.

Don Watson is the author of two books:

‘No Justice Without A Struggle:

The National Unemployed Workers’ Movement in the North East of England 1920-1940’ (Merlin Press 2014).

‘Squatting in Britain 1945-1955: Housing, Politics, and Direct Action’  (Merlin Press 2016). 

 Gary Alikivi  June 2020

POSTCARDS FROM SPAIN (12)

Based in Discovery Museum in the heart of Newcastle, Tyne & Wear Archives is home to thousands of documents relating to the five local districts of Newcastle, Sunderland, Gateshead, North and South Tyneside.

The documents range from 12th to 21st centuries and include building plans, school, hospital and church records as well as business records, especially those of important local industries such as shipbuilding, engineering and mining.

Recently I contacted Tyne & Wear Archive about a photo they have in their collection.

’This photo was taken on 29th July 1937, the Basque children are being welcomed to Newcastle by the Lord Mayor, Alderman John Grantham – it’s from a photograph album documenting his period in office.

We also know from a diary in the Archive collection that a group of Basque refugee children were staying in Tynemouth in the autumn of 1937, but it isn’t clear whether these were the same group or another contingent.

It is a sad foreshadowing of the evacuation of British children from the cities at the start of World War 2. And these kids were arriving in a foreign country where few if any of them probably even spoke the language’.

Independent Historian Don Watson has been in touch with further information about the Spanish refugee’s. His article will be posted soon.

For more information about Tyne & Wear Archives contact: https://twarchives.org.uk/

If you have any information about the photograph or the North East men and women who were involved in the Spanish Civil War please get in touch at garyalikivi@yahoo.com

Gary Alikivi  June 2020.

 

TALL STORIES

Painting with L.S.Lowry (1887- 1976)

Hanging on my wall is a fairly large (27 x 22inch) painting printed on wood – Industrial Landscape, Ashton under Lyme 1952 by L. S. Lowry. The original is in Bradford Art Gallery and Museum. I bought it in a charity shop a couple of years ago, the colours are faded as the previous owner must have placed it in direct sunlight, but still a bargain at £7.

When I first saw it I recognised the style as a Lowry – I like how he stretches everything – chimneys, buildings and people, the flat look with no shadows and how the factories fade in the background – capturing the heart and scale of industry.

Industrial Landscape by L.S. Lowry (1952).

During the ‘60s Lowry visited Sunderland and surrounding areas where he produced a number of oil paintings and sketches. In South Shields he produced The Ferry in 1967. After his visit the painting went on display in the art gallery in Sunderland.

Bill Clark, owner of the Clark Art gallery in Cheshire, bought the painting in 2010. He said: ‘Lowry was entranced by the North East and particularly by South Shields. ’The Ferry’ is one of the stand-out pieces he produced of the area in the 1960s’.

The Ferry by L.S. Lowry (1967).

Lowry used to spend short breaks at the Seaburn Hotel near Sunderland, painting and sketching scenes of the beach and nearby ports. The river Wear would be the closest to his hotel but in one sketch Tanker Entering the Tyne is a ship sailing around what could be the view from Comical Corner on the riverside near the boat builders yards on Wapping Street, South Shields. If Lowry was in Shields, is there a record of his visit ?

Born on 1st November 1887 Lawrence Stephen Lowry is on the 1911 census living at 119a Station Road, Pendlebury, Lancashire with his parents Robert, an estate agents clerk, and Elizabeth.

Lucy England, and a few year later 23 year old Alice Powell were employed by the family as domestic servants to help around the house as his mother Elizabeth had become bed ridden and dependent on her son. His father Robert died in 1932.

Lawrence worked through the day as a rent collector, then when he got home cared for his mother, only leaving time to paint through the night.

Lowry painted everyday scenes that he saw around him in England’s industrial North. ‘I never worked in a mill, it wasn’t a job I would of liked. Starting at 6 in the morning and finishing half past 5 at night. But I wanted to put the industrial scene on the map’ he said in a BBC interview in 1975.

He spent about 10 years in Art schools in Salford learning classical techniques, and though he focused on industrial scenes he produced a number of seascapes and portraits using simple materials and colours.

He had small exhibitions and his work was being noticed, but it wasn’t until aged 52 that his work was acclaimed. His mother never saw his success as she died in 1939, it deeply affected him and his work. The scenes he painted where full of people haunted with anger and pain.

Due to class snobbery his work wasn’t recognised by the self-appointed art elite in the south. The Tate Gallery held some of his work in their basement for decades, but it wasn’t until 2013 when they eventually held a Lowry exhibition.

Lowry turned down honours, O.B.E, C.B.E and a knighthood – ‘meaningless in the absence of mother’. He retired from being a rent collector at 65 and during this time visited the North East still making sketches of what he could see around him.

On 23rd February 1976 Lowry died of pneumonia at the age of 88. He had produced over 1,000 paintings and drawings and today there is an art gallery in Salford named after him housing the largest collection of his work. The world record sale for one of his paintings was for over £5 million paid for The Football Match.

Sources: Ancestry family search.

BBC News 2012 & 2013.

L.S.Lowry BBC film The Industrial Artist 1975.

 Gary Alikivi  May 2020.

 

LETTERS FROM JARROW (3) – Who Were the Marchers ?

‘We are fighting the Party of the Rich, the Party of the powerful, the Party of big business, the Party that controls the industries, the cartels and the Press. These are our enemies’….(Red Ellen Wilkinson, Jarrow MP 1935-47)

In 2016 I made a film to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Jarrow Crusade. (link below) The film highlights the importance of the Crusade within the town, and opened with a powerful speech by Jarrow MP, Ellen Wilkinson.

‘As I marched down that road with those men, all of whom I knew well, as I marched with them hour after hour, just talking, that I began to understand something of what it meant, day after day after day, to get up and not know what you were going to do, never having a copper in your pocket’.

Who Were the Marchers featured interviews with relatives of the marchers and those involved with an education project which included Historian Matt Perry, author of Jarrow Cusade: Protest & Legend, and Red Ellen Wilkinson MP…

We might think that everyone in the North East of England knows about the Jarrow Crusade. Two hundred unemployed men marched 300 miles to London in October 1936 against the plight their town found itself in. It is rightly a source of local pride and a symbol of the fight of ordinary people for justice. We cannot assume that everyone does know about it’.  

The schools project also featured Jarrow playwright, Tom Kelly ‘It’s really important that the children today know something about what it meant to Jarrow to walk to London, and why. Through creative writing the children write what it would be like if your Dad was leaving for the Crusade and how you’d feel’.

Also working with the school children was Communities Librarian Catrin Galt ‘We’re looking at the 1911 Census to find out where the Crusaders lived and their family backgrounds. How many people lived in the house and how many rooms there were, so you build up a picture of who the marchers were and what Jarrow was like’.

The marchers relatives also contributed to the film, Iris Walls had two members of her family on the march… ‘They were doing it for a cause and very brave for doing so. They weren’t asking for anything free they wanted paid employment to feed their families’.

Joan Lewis added…‘My grandfather was on the march. We were all very proud, cos they went on this march just for the right to have a decent job. Yes, very proud of him and the 200 men that went’.

What did the march achieve ? This report was in The Shields Gazette, November 1936…

Laughter, cheers, sobs and screams of fainting women when the town welcomed home the 200 marchers. Miss Wilkinson near being trampled, men seized her hands, women smothered her with kisses, children hugged her.

‘This march has put Jarrow on the map, do not think this is the end. It is only the beginning.

The beginning of the fight for our right to work. This is a great night for Jarrow’.

Next day the Unemployment Assistance Board reduced the marchers payments because they had not been available for work.

Link to ‘Who Were the Marchers ?’ (11mins, 2016): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GIi3pAEECfs

Gary Alikivi  May 2020

LETTERS FROM JARROW (2) – Red Ellen & the ’36 Marchers

A significant event in Jarrow’s and my family and history research, was the Jarrow Crusade of 1936. This was the march to London to protest about mass unemployment and extreme poverty in the town.

Off the back of the 2009 documentary Little Ireland, Tom Kelly (Jarrow playwright) and I put together Jarrow Voices, a short film highlighting the involvement of Ellen Wilkinson MP and the Jarrow Crusade. The film also featured the story of William Jobling who lived in the town. (Link at the bottom of the page)

The film was premiered on 10th December 2009 at the Human Rights Day in Newcastle City Library, and in October 2011 screened at the Films for Justice in the Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle. Here is the script that Tom prepared for the film.

START:

Jarrow Voices looks at two iconic events associated with the town, the gibbeting of William Jobling in 1832 and the Jarrow Crusade of 1936. Voices that need to be heard.

It was in June 1832, that Jarrow pitmen William Jobling and Ralph Armstrong, attacked South Shields magistrate Nicholas Fairles. Jobling was arrested on South Shields beach, tried and found guilty at Durham Assizes and sentenced to be hung and publically displayed upon a gibbet on Jarrow Slake.

Jobling being placed upon a seventeen foot high gibbet underlined the power of authority and sent a powerful message to the unions, their voice was virtually silenced.

Fairles, prior to his death, acknowledged that Jobling was with Armstrong but did not carry out the attack.

Isabella, Jobling’s wife, could see her husband clearly from their cottage near Jarrow Slake. Sadly she had no memory of her husband when she died in Harton Workhouse in 1891.

William Jobling was displayed on a gibbet that became known as ‘Jobling’s Post.’ He hung for three weeks until his friends stole the body. To this day we don’t know where his body lies.

The gibbet remained on Jarrow Slake until 1856 when it was taken down during the development of Tyne Dock. Today you can find the gibbet in South Shields Museum.

Jobling worked at Jarrow’s Alfred Colliery which closed in 1852. In that same year Palmers shipyard was opened by Charles Mark Palmer and his brother George. Palmers became one of the greatest shipyards in Europe. However when Palmers closed in 1933 the town’s fate was sealed. Jarrow was reliant on Palmers for work and almost 80% of the town became unemployed.

Jarrow’s Council decided to organise a Crusade and walk to London to make the government aware of the town’s plight. On Monday October 5th 1936 two hundred men left Jarrow and walked into immortality.

The Jarrow ‘March,’ as it’s known in the town, had leaders with Irish and Scottish connections: Symonds, Scullion, Hanlon and Riley. A trawl through the list of marchers underlines this: Connolly, Flynn, Flannery, Joyce, and my uncle Johnny, reflecting the immigration into the town.

Sadly none of the original marchers are alive today but one direct connection we do have are the letters written between Con Shields and his late father who was one of the cook’s on the march. The letters are one of the most heart- warming stories of the March and the late Con Shields re-tells his tale with passion and enthusiasm.

Matt Perry, writer and historian in his book, ‘The Jarrow Crusade: Protest and Legend’ gives a clear account of the Crusade and its impact at the time and to this day. He also looks at Ellen Wilkinson’s contribution to the crusade and her life and times.

The name we associate more than any other with the Crusade is that of the town’s MP, Ellen Wilkinson. ‘Fiery’, ‘firebrand’, ‘Wee Ellen’, all have been used to describe one of the twentieth century’s most charismatic female politicians.

Sometimes it seems that the past never leaves Jarrow but what I do know is that we need to remember two Jarrow voices: William Jobling and the Jarrow Crusade.

END

In the next ‘Letters from Jarrow’ post we look at the background of the people involved in the march and how it is still important to the town today.

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAc4jiF4ReI

Gary Alikivi  May 2020

LETTERS FROM JARROW (1) – The IRA on Tyneside

 

Recently I completed a DNA ancestry test which came back 88% Irish, a bigger percentage than I thought but not a surprise as in 2008 I had already researched my family tree using census’, birth, marriage, death records, and visiting the country a few times searching the family and local history archive.  My Irish family came to Tyneside in the North East of England in the late 1880’s, and settled here – a long way from Galway and Derry.

Amongst old certificates, photo’s and letters, my Grandfather wrote down his memories describing where he used to live and play as a kid in Jarrow at the time of the First World War. He also talked about his mother and that the family were members of Sinn Fein and the IRA.

‘My mother’s family originated in Galway in the west of Ireland. She came from a big family, her brothers, uncles and cousins were all fishermen. I remember my mother as being a very hard working woman. She worked as a Stoker in the chemical works over the bridge in East Jarrow.  She worked there all through the 1914-18 war.

She was a very kind woman, strict but fair, and was very religious. The family were also involved with the IRA and Sinn Fein’.

These last remarks were very interesting because when researching my family history I came across Donmouth, a North East local history website by Patrick Brennan (link at the bottom of the page). In one of the sections he covers the IRA in Jarrow which I have condensed here.

After being cruelly treated by England over the centuries – for example the Great Famine 1845-50 – Irish people were looking to create an Independent Irish Republic.

Politically there was a massive growth in support for Sinn Fein who established a new assembly in Dublin and on the first day proposed a Declaration of Independence. The British Government wouldn’t support this and Sinn Fein would settle for nothing less. Battle lines had been drawn.

A Volunteer force, known as ‘Black and Tans’ landed in Dublin. The IRA operated a guerrilla campaign attacking small groups of Black and Tans and murdering informers. Reprisals on an innocent Irish population, involved out of control Tans on an orgy of looting and arson.

(If you are interested in this time of history why not check out the 2006 film ‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’ by Ken Loach, or ‘Michael Collins’ starring Liam Neeson released in 1996).

By 1919 the Irish Self Determination League (ISDL) was formed, the purpose was to raise funds for Sinn Fein but some members decided to take direct action. Mainland Britain had its first arson attack in Liverpool Docks, days later, a large explosion and fire near London Bridge.

On Tyneside, many men and women of Irish birth gave support to the Irish republican cause through membership of the ISDL or Irish Volunteers – better known as the IRA.

Since the 1880’s Jarrow had an active political organisation in the Irish National League, and held an important role in the ISDL. They held political meetings, fund raisers and ceilidhs in Lockharts Cocoa Rooms and the Co Op Guild Hall in Jarrow. 

More direct action was called for resulting in more volunteers being recruited and by the end of 1920 six companies with a total of 160 men had been established:

A Company – Jarrow. B Company – Hebburn. C Company – Newcastle.

D Company – Wallsend. E Company – Bedlington. F – Company – Consett.

Within a few month a further four companies were set up: Stockton, Chester-le-Street, Thornley and Sunderland bringing the total to 480 men.

Arms, guns and explosives were either stolen from Army Drill Halls or obtained from foreign sailors. In Jarrow, babies prams were used as cover to transport weapons to and from an arms dump in St Pauls Road in East Jarrow.

March 1921 saw the first incendiary attack at a Newcastle warehouse and oil refinery, plus a timber yard at Tyne Dock. Largely unsuccessful, the second attack was more ambitious, 38 fires at 20 different farms were co-ordinated to be lit at 8pm throughout Durham and Northumberland. This demonstrated the extent of the I.R.A throughout the region. (Reports from the Evening Chronicle 1921).

A number of operations were planned and executed around Tyneside. Farm fires and attacks on oil works in Kenton, Wallsend, South Shields, and an aircraft shed in Gosforth was destroyed.

Also the daring attack in Jarrow – a gas main blown up on the old Don Bridge. This story was featured in my documentary ‘Little Ireland’ (link at the bottom of the page).

Report from the Evening Chronicle 23rd May 1921.

THE SINN FEIN OUTRAGES: GAS MAIN BLOWN UP

At 11.15pm on Saturday night there was a heavy explosion at the west end of the town, and it was discovered that a hole 18 inches by 18 had been made in the lower of two gas mains carried across the Don bridge at East Jarrow. The gas company’s workmen were soon on the spot, and the main was temporarily repaired.

‘They were just trying to make a point, that’s all they were trying to do. Not harm anybody, just trying to make a point that they wanted home rule for Ireland’.

(Con Sheils speaking in the film ‘Little Ireland’ 2009).

The IRA on Tyneside were severely damaged when two of their top men were arrested in connection with the theft of explosives from a colliery in Blyth on the Northumberland coast. They were sentenced to prison but released in 1922 as part of Truce arrangements made a year earlier.

But more trouble was on the horizon with pit strikes, extreme poverty and mass unemployment meant the Irish had another fight on their hands – by 1936 Jarrow was about to march onto London.

For further information:

https://garyalikivi.com/2018/08/22/little-ireland-documentary-on-irish-immigration-into-jarrow-uk/

http://www.donmouth.co.uk/

 Gary Alikivi   May 2020 

POSTCARDS FROM SPAIN (9)

International Brigade Committee. David Marshall sitting at the front.

While researching for the Teesside International Brigades memorial, Tony Fox repeatedly came across one name – David Marshall. David was one of the first British volunteers to fight in Spain. Tony takes up the story… On the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, in September 1936, David had travelled to Spain to join the International Brigades in Barcelona. He joined one of the first groups, the German-speaking Thaelmann Battalion, with whom he fought to defend Madrid.

On 12th November 1936, a sniper’s bullet hit him just above his ankle. He was removed by stretcher under heavy fire, then transported on a lorry for more than two hours to a field hospital. After treatment in Alicante he was repatriated to England at the end of 1936 where he began campaigning for aid to be sent to the Spanish Government.

However his significant contribution on Teesside has not been been looked at. On his return from Spain he actively campaigned for aid to Spain. In 1939 he was instrumental in the production of the memorial. He was guest of honour with Frank Graham and John Longstaff when it was dedicated in 1991 and again at the 1996 rededication in Middlesbrough Town Hall.

When the Second World War broke out he, like many other Brigaders, was at first barred from entry into the armed forces. Working in the Civil Service he uncovered and published the directive barring Brigaders from serving, and worked to overturn the policy. The policy was overturned when Churchill formed his National Government.

David volunteered and served in the engineers, however when he was interviewed about his background in Spain, the Captain wrote on his records that David ‘was Communistic or fascist’, and even as a corporal he was never placed on guard duty when abroad. He fought in the Normandy campaign, liberating Belsen and serving in the occupying forces until 1947.

Marshall returned to Teesside after demobilization, returning to the ministry for Labour once again. He maintained his links with Brigaders. It seems likely that Tommy Chilvers, who painted the Teesside International Brigades memorial introduced him to Ruth Pennyman. Ruth had formed her Basque refugee children into a concert party, and Tommy played the guitar.

David worked as a carpenter on the sets until joining the Joan Littlewood Who’s Theatre Workshop which began life at Ruth Pennyman’s home in Ormesby Hall. In 1975 his wife Joyce died, afterwards he bought a sailing barge which he refurbished.

Marshall was instrumental in the formation of the International Brigades Memorial Trust in 2000, serving on the executive committee, with fellow North East Brigaders, Dave Goodman, Frank Graham and John Longstaff.

Sadly, David died on 19th October 2005, his partner Marlene Sideaway is currently President of the IBMT, she led the 2009 IBMT AGM in the North East, in which the Teesside International Brigades memorial was rededicated and relocated within Middlesbrough Town Hall.

She also donated some of David’s materials to The Dorman Museum. David was a superb poet, I am honoured that Marlene has signed a copy of his 2005 book The Tilting Planet, which includes the wonderful I sing of my comrades.

Sources:

Richard Baxell, Unlikely Warriors (Aurum Press 2012), page 119

 David Goodman, From the Tees to the Ebro (London: CPGB, 1986), page 12

 http://www.international-brigades.org.uk/

https://www.gazettelive.co.uk/news/local-news/service-honours-teesside-spanish-war-3713541

If you have any information about the North East men and women who were involved in the Spanish Civil War please get in touch at garyalikivi@yahoo.com

Gary Alikivi  April 2020.

 

POSTCARDS FROM SPAIN (8)

Another article came in from International Brigades Memorial member Tony Fox. He talks about the campaign for a Stockton Memorial to volunteers who fought during the Spanish Civil War 1936-39…..John Christie, the landlord of the award-winning pub, The Golden Smog, is leading a campaign to raise money for a memorial commemorating the Stockton Brigaders. It will be erected just off Stockton High Street. The memorial will include names of the eight Stockton volunteers who were employed when they left for Spain.

When researching about the volunteers the picture that emerges is that of conscientious activists, with experience in a number of campaigns for justice, and anti-fascist activity. There was John Longstaff who had fought the British Union of Fascists at Cable Street, London. I found William Carson, Joe Harding, John Longstaff, Wilfred Cowan and Bert Overton, who had been in the Welsh Guards and was put in command of No.4 Company at Jarama.

Otto Estensen was commissar and commanded the Anti-Tank Battery in 1938. There was Patrick Maroney who was a member of the Irish Republican Congress, a pro-communist grouping of the IRA.

Described as ‘an uncompromising fighter for Trade Unionism’, George Bright was a NUWM activist and Communist Party member. At 60 he was the oldest Brigader in the British Battalion. George and Phyllis Short, Bert Overton, and George Bright had organised the September 1933 anti-fascist protest known as the Battle of Stockton.

Sadly, George Bright was killed at Jarama, Bert Overton was killed at Brunete and Joe Harding was killed on 23rd September 1938 at the Ebro River. This on the same day Juan Negrin, head of the Republican government, announced that the International Brigades would be unilaterally withdrawn from Spain.

If you would like to know more I will be producing a booklet to accompany the memorial, or have any information you can contact me at foxy.foxburg@gmail.com

More research will be done when the Local History libraries open, but for now in Postcards from Spain, the search goes on for North East stories from the Spanish Civil War. If you have any information please get in touch at garyalikivi@yahoo.com

Gary Alikivi  April 2020.

POSTCARDS FROM SPAIN (7)

Another story to be added to Postcards from Spain comes from local and family history researcher Linda Gowans from Sunderland. Linda was involved in a project researching the World War 2 memorial board at St Gabriels Church in Sunderland, when she came across two men who were involved in the Spanish Civil War….Both men also received O.B.E awards in the New Year Honours list of January 1946. The first was Captain Frederick Robinson of 14 Hawarden Cresent, Sunderland who was Master of SS Garesfield. He was at sea a total of 30 years, served in both World Wars and brought food supplies to the people of Spain fighting General Franco.

I searched for some background on Frederick and found on the 1939 register taken just before the Second World War he was employed as Master Mariner on SS.Knitsley. He lived with his wife Elizabeth and had one son Frederick who was 5 year old.

Linda added….The second is Captain William Gould, Master of S.S. Monkleigh, he had been at sea for a total of 42 years. During World War One and Two he was torpedoed four times, twice in each war. He also ran the blockade to bring supplies to Spain during the Spanish Civil War.

Also searched for some background on William and found that on the 1891 census he was 4 year old and lived at 9 Princes Street, Sunderland with his father Thomas, who was a mariner, his mother Jane and brother George. Ten year later William was an apprentice steam engineer.

In 1910 he married Maggie Graham, they had two daughters Irene and Kathleen, and a son, William junior. Not long afterwards his wife Maggie died, aged 32. William remarried to Ada Moore in 1922, and three more children were born, Thomas, James and Poppy.

Linda also mentioned William and Ada’s son Thomas who joined the British Armed Forces but only for a short time as it ended in tragic circumstances….. Thomas decided not to follow his father to sea and in 1942 joined the RAF, gaining his wings in South Africa in 1943.

On April 29th 1945 he was part of 3 man Advanced Flying Unit out on a training flight. Joining Pilot Officer Thomas Gould on board were Flying Officer Gordon Aubrey from the Royal Canadian Air Force, and Sergeant Howard Montgomery of the Royal Australian Air Force.

They took off from RAF South Cerney, Gloucestershire but ran into poor weather and visibility was very low due to a snowstorm. While flying at low altitude the aircraft hit tree tops and crashed in a wooded area at New Barn Farm, Temple Guiting. All three men on board were killed. Thomas was only 21.

His body was brought home for burial at Bishopwearmouth, Sunderland and his grave bears the inscription, ‘His life, a noble sacrifice’.

A tragic end to a young man’s life, and sad that he went before his father William who died 7th April 1950.

 If you have any information about the North East men and women who were in any way involved in the Spanish Civil War please get in touch at garyalikivi@yahoo.com

 Gary Alikivi  April 2020.

POSTCARDS FROM SPAIN (6)

Here’s another interesting article for the series about the Spanish Civil War, International Brigades Memorial Trust member, Tony Fox, looks at representation from North East men during the conflict…….I discovered that volunteers travelled to Spain together, Frank Graham left Sunderland on 15th December 1936 with friends, Tommy Dolan and Bill Lower. In London the groups were sent to the Communist Party offices at 16 King Street to meet the formidable ‘Robby’ Robson who would assess their suitability, in military and political terms. Robson explained in detail the dangers to be faced.

On acceptance volunteers were told to purchase weekend return rail-tickets from Victoria Railway Station to Paris, as this did not require a passport. In France volunteers had to act with discretion as groups of volunteers would occasionally be arrested and repatriated. The recruitment of the International Brigades was coordinated by the Communist Party in Paris.

On arrival in Paris the volunteers would meet the liaison, Charlotte Haldane. It was in the red-light district of Paris they underwent medical examination and checks on their political reliability. From Paris they would travel to the Spanish border by train on what became known as ‘The Red Express’, then travel across the frontier by bus or train.

After February they would be smuggled in groups past non-intervention patrols, over the top of the Pyrenees. Some volunteers were smuggled onto ships which attempted to break through the naval blockade of patrolling Royal Navy warships and Italian submarines.

Bill Lower, Frank Graham’s companion from Sunderland, died along with 54 volunteers and about 100 passengers and crew when the SS Ciudad de Barcelona was torpedoed by an Italian submarine in May 1937.

Once across the frontier, they would be taken to the International Brigade headquarters at Albacete, where volunteers would be vetted again, processed and divided up by nationality to be placed into the different linguistic battalions of the International Brigades. British speakers were placed in the XVI Battalion of the XV Brigade.

Frank Graham and Bert Overton, from Stockton arrived at the Madrigueras training base on 1st January, four of the seven Stockton men I am studying arrived in Spain the following week. At Madrigueras the Brigaders with military training instructed the others. Bert Overton had been in the Welsh Guards, therefore he was made an officer in No.4 Company.

Officers, commissars and specialists received separate instruction, leading activists from the North East took key positions in the British Battalion: George Aitken would be the first Political Commissar for the British Battalion, Frank Graham would command 3rd section of No.1 Company until later becoming a scout.

Bill Meredith, a well know activist from Tyneside, would later command No.2 Company. Bob Elliott would be the Political Commissar for No.2 Company with Wilf Jobling his deputy commissar.

The North East continued to be overly represented as officers and Commissars throughout the conflict; later in the war Sunderland born Bob Cooney became Battalion Commissar, Stockton’s Otto Estensen was Commissar and commanded the anti-tank Battery. Dave Goodman from Middlesbrough became the No. 4 Company Commissar on his arrival in Spain in January 1938.

More stories soon from the front line of the Spanish Civil War in Postcards from Spain.

If you have any information about North East men and women who were in any way involved in the Spanish Civil War please get in touch at garyalikivi@yahoo.com

Sources:

The Battle of Jarama 1937 by Frank Graham. Published 1987

Unlikely Warriors by Richard Baxell. Publisher Aurum Press 2012

Fred Thomas diaries currently being transcribed for the Imperial War Museum by Alan Warren.

http://www.international-brigades.org.uk/

Gary Alikivi  April 2020.