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.

 

POSTCARDS FROM SPAIN (11)

UNLIKELY WARRIORS BY AUTHOR & HISTORIAN , RICHARD BAXELL

In the series Postcards from Spain we look at the stories surrounding the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39, and particularly the International Brigade who fought against the fascists.

In this post we ask why travel thousands of miles to a foreign country to fight a war ? A new book by Author, researcher and historian Richard Baxell looks for the answer. The book provides a detailed account of the British volunteers who traveled to Spain as part of the International Brigade.

Baxhill also includes fascinating stories from the volunteers and Spanish villagers. Over a 2 hour drive from the capital Madrid, is Madrigueras, where the church priest ‘Had been a Franco supporter, he got up to the bell tower with a machine gun and fired on anyone who went to the fountain for water. The priest was killed and hung on a hook in the butcher’s front window’.

Volunteer stories are just as graphicThe first ten minutes of the attack were worst. I was just plain scared – I’m not ashamed to admit it. The zip, zip, zip got louder then suddenly the air was thick with machine gun bullets’.

Where did the idea of an international force to fight against fascism originate ? Baxell confirms that ‘The role of the national Communist parties provided the network for recruiting large numbers of anti-fascists to fight for the Spanish Republic. The idea of raising an International Brigade of volunteers was first mooted at a meeting in Moscow in August 1936 after Soviet military intelligence had reported the dire position in Spain. Communist International provided the crucial mechanism that made it possible to recruit thousands of men and women from around the world and transport them into Spain’.

Baxhill adds that the decision to fight was not an easy one as expressed by volunteer, Fred Thomas… ‘Nobody cajoled, coerced, or bullied me, certainly not the Communist Party, even though they provided the means’.

Russian involvement was cemented by Stalin on ‘6 September he gave preliminary instructions to sell 50 bombers to Spain, supported by 20 pilots who would train the Spanish pilots’.

Fascism was sweeping across Europe and now attempts were made by Sir Oswald Mosely to bring a similar situation in Britain, leaving no doubt from this volunteer from AberdeenIt is my duty to go and help the people of Spain. And the fight, whether it be here in Aberdeen against the British Union of Fascists or against Mussolini and Hitler, was exactly the same fight to me’.

Baxell add’s ‘The final decision to create the International Brigades was taken by the Comintern Secretariat on 16 September 1936. Many of the volunteers saw themselves as anti-fascists, not Comintern warriors’.

But who would lead these unlikely warriors of the International Brigades ? Baxell makes note of a ‘Manfred Lazar Stern, a former captain in the Austrian army who had fought with the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution. Under the assumed combat name General Emilio Kleber, he arrived in Spain to become the first military commander’.

In over 500 pages Baxell draws out some fascinating and inspiring stories in a book about the Britons who took up arms against General Franco and the fascist leaders.

Unlikely Warriors is out now on Aurum Press.

 Gary Alikivi  June 2020.

 

POSTCARDS FROM SPAIN (10)

TYNESIDE VOLUNTEERS IN THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR.

The International Brigade Memorial Trust keeps the spirit alive of men and women from around the world, who volunteered to fight fascism in Spain from 1936 to 1939.

But who were the volunteers ? Over 20 years, Archivist Jim Carmody and historian Richard Baxell worked on putting together a list of their names.

A list of over 2,000 volunteers are available from the International Brigades on the link at the bottom of the article.

For some young men it was more than a shock to the system to see the brutality of war. On arrival in Spain 19 year old American Frank Neary was shot in the head on the first day and died in a Madrid hospital. German Artist Stephen Pollock, born 1914, was badly wounded at Brunete. From New Zealand came Doctor Douglas Jolly who was in charge of a mobile surgical team.

Angus MacLean travelled from Scotland but was ordered home after one month as ‘Since leaving Britain he spent most nights in brothels’.

There was a miner from Wales, Tim Harrington, who was withdrawn from battle as ‘he suffered with old lung injury after being gassed in WW1’.

Irishman Thomas Delaney volunteered in December 1936 but by February ’37 was ‘sent home, too young’.

Volunteers from the North East of England included Francesca Wilson born in Newcastle 1881. She was a Teacher who left England in 1939 and worked with refugees in Murcia where she founded a children’s hospital.

From Sunderland was NUWM officer Frank Graham, in Spain he served as a scout and intelligence officer, also Broadcaster on Radio Barcelona.

Included here is a detailed list of volunteers from Tyneside:

Name: Thomas Atherton. Place of birth: Jarrow 1903

Political organisation: None. Occupation: Seaman

Date of arrival: 27 September 1937. Brigade ID: 1312

Date of departure: October 1938

Comments: Captured in Aragon. POW San Pedro de Cardea. Accused of being Russian for having a bushy beard and almost shot.

Name: John Corby. Place of birth: North Shields 1902

Political organisation: None. Occupation: Painter

Date of arrival: 16 January 1938. Brigade ID: 1576

Date of departure: December 1938

Comments: Assessment: ‘Disrupter and deserter’.

First name: William Z Morrison. Birth: Wallsend on Tyne 1908

Political organisation: Communist Party. Occupation: Radio Expert

Date of arrival: 5 November 1937. Brigade ID: 1421

Date of departure: April 1938

Comments: In transmissions unit of the XV IB at Teruel. In Hospital in Barcelona with suspected appendicitis from 25 March 1938. ‘Deserted? Former Comintern radio operator in house in Wimbledon?’ 

Name: William Tattam. Place of birth: Whitburn 1907

Political organisation: Communist Party. Occupation: Miner

Date of arrival: 21 December 1936. Brigade ID: 339

Date of death: 17 July 1937. Where killed: Brunete

Comments: Believed to have died when the lorry he was riding in overturned on the way to Brunete.

‘When the British Battalion was moving up to the front at Brunete, William Tattam was sitting at the back of one of the trucks. The truck hit an obstacle in the road and William was thrown out of the truck and fell under the wheels of the following truck, he died instantly. His body was probably buried near the roadside where he was killed’.

Name: Eileen O’Shaughnessy. Place of birth: South Shields 1905

Date of arrival: 17 February 1937. Date of departure: June 1937

Comments: Worked in Independent Labour Party Office in Barcelona.

Name: Stephen Codling. Place of birth: South Shields 1907

Political organisation: Communist Party. Occupation: Lorry Driver

Date of arrival: 13 May 1937. Brigade ID: 1028

Date of death: 31 March 1938. Where killed: Calaceite

Comments: Acting commander of the British Battalion’s Communications Company. Captured at Calaceite on 31 March 1938. ‘Rumoured to have been seen in Barcelona in civilian clothes’.

 Name: Frank Antrim. Place of birth: South Shields 1904

Political organisation: Communist Party. Occupation: Auto-electrician

Date of arrival: 2 October 1937. Brigade ID: 1351

Date of departure: December 1938

Comments: Worked in Auto-Park. Believed to have trained Lewis Clive’s company in shooting and was asked to be a political commissar (information from conversation with his son).

Name: Arthur C P Teasdale. Place of birth: South Shields 1913

Political organisation: Communist Party. Occupation: Bricklayer

Date of arrival: 24 February 1937. Brigade ID: 872

Date of departure: 23 July 1938

Comments: Hands damaged by shrapnel. Deserted from 20th Battalion of mixed Brigade citing family difficulties. ‘Been in and out of jail in Spain. He was last arrested in Barcelona in May 1938. While in jail managed to get a bomb and set it off in the cell. He has become an enemy of the working class. He should be kept in mind as he was once a secretary of a branch in Communist Party Great Britain’. Repatriated.

Name: Samuel Thompson. Place of birth: South Shields 1916

Political organisation: Communist Party. Occupation: Miner

Date of arrival: 13 May 1937. Brigade ID: 1052

Date of departure: October 1938

Comments: A good report. ‘He was a good steady comrade, though not a brilliant brain.’ Originally believed killed, but actually taken prisoner. POW at San Pedro de Cardea

Name: John Palzeard. Place of birth: South Shields 1916

Date of arrival: 14 December 1936. Brigade ID: 625

Date of death: February 1937. Where killed: Jarama

Comments: Company runner at Las Rozas in No 1 Company.

This information was collated by IBMT archivist Jim Carmody and historian Richard Baxell between 1996 and 2016. The list drew upon a wide range of sources held in Britain, Spain and Russia, though principally those held in the International Brigade Archive in the Marx Memorial Library in London and the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History in Moscow.

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

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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.

POSTCARDS FROM SPAIN (5)

After recent posts about the Spanish Civil War, I asked for any information relating to the North East men and women who were involved. Tony Fox from Stockton immediately made contact…..I am a member of the International Brigades Memorial Trust which has been very supportive to my work, especially the President Marlene Sidaway and the Historian Richard Baxell.

I’m currently working on two projects about men and women from the North East who traveled to Spain during the civil war.

Middlesbrough Mayor Ray Mallon, Marlene Sidaway and Duncan Longstaff (son of Johnny Longstaff).

The first project is with Middlesbrough Council on the memorial plaque in place at Middlesbrough Town Hall. The plaque is for ten men from Teesside who served in the International Brigades, and was produced in 1939. It is thought to be the first Brigades memorial produced in the UK.

I am also working on a memorial to Stockton’s International Brigaders which I will write about in another post.

Reading your previous post Postcards from Spain (1) I can add information about the two men from Whitburn who didn’t have any dates or locations when they were killed in Spain.

Edward Tattam listed as ‘Missing/killed in action 17/3/1938 at Belchite-Caspe, Aragon.

William Tattam is listed as ‘date of death 17th July 1937, believed to have died when the lorry he was riding in overturned on the way to Brunete’.

Harry Reynolds is listed as ‘date of death February 1937 at Jarama. With a very interesting footnote – ‘Left for Spain in a group led by Wilf Jobling’.

This confirms one of my assumptions. I knew that the volunteers traveled in groups to Spain but thought they were led by ‘responsibles’ – leading activists who cared for the volunteers and provided political guidance.

As Harry Reynolds, led by Wilf Jobling, arrived in Spain at the same time as the men I am studying, the Teesside Brigaders, it is reasonable to assume that the North East volunteers traveled together as a group.

Tony added more detail to the story about the men behind the North East recruitment…..

North East recruitment of volunteers was organised by a small group of close friends who were graduates of the International Lenin School in Moscow.

George Aitken was the North East Coast District Secretary, covering Northumberland and Durham. George Short was a Communist Party Central Committee member and Teesside Secretary of the NUWM, he originated from Chopwell, locally known as ‘Little Moscow’ as it had a Communist club.

Wilf Jobling, a NUWM executive committee member also from Chopwell who I mentioned earlier.

South Shields men were recruited by a guy called Charlie Woods. Finally a Sunderland branch activist, Frank Graham, in recruiting twenty volunteers, it was the largest individual town contingent in the North East.

Posting soon another addition to Postcards from Spain from Tony Fox. 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.

Sources: No Justice Without a Struggle:The National Unemployed Workers Movement in the North East 1920-40 by Don Watson. Merlin Press 2014.

North Eastern Daily Gazette, 2 May 1935

From the Tees to the Ebro David Goodman CPGB, 1986.

 Interview of Charlie Wood https://www.amber-online.com/collection/no-pasaran/

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

 https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/stocktonbrigaders

 Gary Alikivi  April 2020

POSTCARDS FROM SPAIN (4)

Following on from the previous posts focusing on the Spanish Civil War, in this one we find out how a South Shields man was involved.

Firstly, an important note, if relatives of Norman Leathley Ramsey can add any information to this post, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

So who was Norman ?

He was born in South Shields in 1894 and at 6 year old lived at 175 South Frederick Street in the Tyne Dock area of the town. His father Thomas was a coal trimmer, his mother Isabella, had four more children. A few year later the family moved to 49 Eleanor Street, although Norman wasn’t registered at this address as he had started his career at sea.

After the First World War Norman was awarded a Mercantile Marine British Medal, was married to Minnie Legross and the couple were living at 51 Broughton Road, South Shields. By 1922 he was employed as a ship’s butcher at 154 Laygate Lane.

With the coronavirus pandemic shutting down the local library I have been unable to search for Norman in South Shields after 1922, but his name did pop up 15 years later in a story printed in the Hartlepool Mail on April 22nd 1937 about the Spanish Civil War.

Blockade Runners Challenged: Bilbao Position:

‘General Franco has taken up the challenge of the British vessels who are awaiting opportunities to run the blockade of the insurgent warships to Bilbao and other Basque Government ports. His Government at Burgos has announced over the wireless to foreign Governments that the Nationalists in future will lay mines in front of all the ports in Government hands’, reports Reuter.

A St Jean de Lux message says that a ‘Mr Norman Leatherly Ramsey of South Shields, says he is representing the owners of a British cargo steamer, is willing to run the insurgent blockade if the Basque Government will guarantee the value of the vessel’.

This was the statement he made after he had been detained by local police yesterday on the instructions of a Belgian control officer, taken to the police station and charged with not having proper papers. On the production of his passport, which was in order, he was released.

The report went on to say…Shore batteries have shelled three insurgent trawlers which attempted to seize a number of fishing vessels anchored off Lequeitio, North East of Bilbao’.

For some background to the story, in 1936 Spain elected a government committed to change. The army under General Franco rebelled and what followed were three years of a Civil War. Franco was helped by the Italian dictator Mussolini and Hitler in Germany.

This led to a food shortage in the Republican Basque region of Northern Spain, as the Nationalists had set up a blockade and threatened to sink British food aid ships who approached ports.

George Orwell, in his book Homage to Catalonia, gave an account of his personal experiences and observations in the war. ‘Bread was scarce and the cheaper sorts were being adulterated with rice. Milk and sugar were very scarce and tobacco almost non-existent. The queues of women waiting to buy olive oil were controlled by mounted Civil Guards’.

Further research from various sources revealed that the Newcastle steamer ship, Hamsterley, was at the head of a small convoy of three British food aid ships who made a run on the blockade. On board the Hamsterley, was our man Norman Ramsey, a Merchant Seaman from South Shields.

He gave the North Mail newspaper a dramatic account of how the British flagship Hood and destroyer Firedrake went into action to protect the convoy against the Nationalist cruiser, Almirante Cervera and the armed trawler Galerna….

The Almirante Cervera signalled to us to stop. When we failed to do so, she showed her disapproval by sending a shell across our bows. Firedrake darted in between us and the Nationalist cruiser.

We carried on again towards Bilbao and were at the head of the convoy when another shell burst in the sea. Firedrake swung out her torpedo tubes and Hood cleared her decks for action. Her mighty guns looked terrifying. Firedrake signalled to the trawler Galerna that she must not meddle with British ships.

The trawler tried to get in between us and the three-mile limit but Firedrake headed her off until we had passed inside the limit. Then the Galerna tried to reach us again, but the shore batteries at Bilbao opened fire’.

On April 23rd 1937 the three British food aid ships docked at Bilbao. 35 km’s away was the ancient city of Guernica, where late in the afternoon of the 26th April German aircraft appeared above the city. In support of the Nationalists, the Nazi’s dropped their bombs on purely a civilian target. The destruction swung British public opinion towards the Republican cause.

 

The authorities took the opportunity to show the British crews the devastation, this photograph (above) of refugees on the road from Guernica was taken by Norman Ramsey shortly after the city was bombed.

Ramsey also photographed the ruins at the centre of the city. His pictures were published in the North Mail and Newcastle Chronicle after he returned home in May.

On it’s next voyage to Bilbao carrying coal, the Hamsterley took part in evacuating refugees to French ports, along with the Newcastle steamer Backworth. Like other North East ships trading with Bilbao, the Hamsterley brought back iron ore, arriving with its cargo at Tyne Dock.

Where did Norman go next ?

On the 1939 Second World War register Norman was employed as a Water Clerk living with his family at 118 & 120 Broughton Road, South Shields. His wife Minnie, worked in the Off Licence at 120. The family lived here until 1962 before moving to another house in the town.

After living a full life, Norman sadly passed away in 1967, but the story of his work in helping the Spanish people in 1937 and the powerful photographs he took in Guernica, will live on.

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

Research: Ancestry, The Word, South Shields, Discovery Museum and 

Local Studies collection, Newcastle City Library.

 Gary Alikivi  April 2020.