This article was translated by John R. Bopp

We’re convinced that our regular readers will find this headline surprising.  The close followers of what we post on these pages know our interest in finding out information about those boys and girls who had to abandon their homeland to escape the barbarism of fascism.

That’s why we’ve been bringing together all the interesting information about the adventures and misadventures of those kids all these years, especially focusing on info related to those who sought refuge in Great Britain.

If we go over the list of information that we’ve collected on the matter, you’ll see it’s not at all short.  Plus, that’s not everything we’ve found, just what we’ve considered the most interesting and meaningful.

And that’s why we’ve decided on this headline, as we’re going to be summarizing all the information we’ve found recently, because we recently found an article by Rachel Pistol, Associate Researcher at the University of Exeter (the first on the list of collected articles) which we believe needs a few clarifications.

Firstly, as we’ve commented on several occasions (most especially in this entry), the government of the United Kingdom only begrudgingly accepted the arrival of these refugees.  That government that maintained a policy of sympathetic neutrality towards the insurgents didn’t want to upset the uprisers, nor give any impression that they had any sympathy with “the Reds”.  The protagonists of that wave of solidarity was in fact British society.  It was the labor unions, political parties, associations, Christian group…people from the right and the left who understood that solidarity for those who suffer injustice is much more important that realpolitik.

There was a strong opposition from all those who sided with the rebels and their idea of “order and anti-communism”, and it was they who did all they could to undermine that movement of good people.

They were accused of “misbehaving”, of being “bad Basque boys”.  It’s not hard to understand that those boys and girls, separated from their families, isolated in a foreign country without knowing what was of their parents, could cause some problems, especially when certain people, allied with the fascists’ morals, did whatever they could to make their lives a living hell.

Such was the case, as we blogged, of the events of North Stoneham, Hampshire, where the friends of the fascists had the wonderful idea of going to where those kids were refuged to tell them, via megaphone, that Bilbao had fallen to the insurgents.  We can’t imagine the rage, the fear, the wrath, and the desperation of those kids.

Our second clarification is based on the insinuation that that mudslinging campaign, or the misbehavior of those refugee kids, moved forward their return to their land of origin.  The truth is that the war in the Basque Country ended in June of 1937, and by 1938, it was quite obvious that the war was going to be won by the insurgents.  The Spanish fascists pressured European governments to return the kids to their homes, which is also something that, logically, their parents also wanted.

The third reflection is regarding the claim that the “The evacuated Basque children are rarely mentioned these days”.  We understand that it’s hard to determine what is “much” or “little”, but we find “rarely” excessive.

We’ve already included a long list of references in British media that have discussed this matter in the past few years (this list is far from exhaustive).  It’s a list that we’re making significantly longer with this article, by referencing the articles that have been published in the past few months.

Without a doubt, there was an intense and well-organized campaign in Great Britain against the Spanish Republic and in favor of the insurgents.  It was a campaign that was led by the right and by economic powers, and, of course, the media that defended their interests and ideology.  It was an “anti-communist” campaign that influenced the arrival and stay of those children.

Nowadays, when time makes acts of contrition easier and less painful, some self-criticism would certainly do good to the British media.

But that’s one thing.  Another quite different one is to omit that, with time, the perspective on those events has changed.  What was then seen by a large part of society as “helping Communist enemies “ is now seen as an act of solidarity and humaneness.

It’s also true that those same reasons used by the friends of the fascists in the 1930s, updated and adapted, are still used today by their heirs to oppose helping those in need.  We, in that debate, are clear on where we stand.

We, as children of refugees, thank those good people who were able to be humane in times of inhumanity.  As we usually say here, war makes bad people worse, but allows normal people, good, normal people, to shine.

The Conversation -10/3/2017 -Gran Bretaña

British media suspicion of child refugees goes back to the 1930s

Basque War Children taken in at Newcastle
Basque War Children taken in at Newcastle

The UK government has squashed an attempt by MPs to restart a scheme which offered hope and protection to unaccompanied child refugees, that was shut down in February. Despite the fact that some local councils have said they would be willing to take in more refugee children if the government were to offer funding, the Conservatives decided to close the Dubs scheme – named after Alf Dubs whose amendment in the Lords introduced the commitment in 2016. A large number of MPs have protested the decision.

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The Guardian – 22/5/2017 – Gran Bretaña

The reception of Basque refugees in 1937 showed Britain at its best and worst

On this day 80 years ago, after German planes had bombed the north of Spain, particularly around Bilbao and Guernica, an old cruise liner, the Habana, docked at Southampton. On board were almost 4,000 refugee children from both sides of the conflict plus 230 teachers, helpers and Catholic priests. The children were accommodated for some weeks in tents, with latrines and kitchens rapidly built by local trade union branches and others, before being moved to houses all over the country, financed by churches, councils, trade unions, generous local benefactors and thousands of volunteers.

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INews – 23/5/2017 – Gran Bretaña

Britain saved this former child refugee from the Spanish civil war. Eighty years on, if only we responded so well to Syria…

To this day, Herminio Martinez can remember seeing the bomber planes of Hitler’s Condor Legion flying over the hills of northern Spain. He can recall the militias, who attempted to resist General Franco’s advance, carrying out gun practice in the valleys. Only six years old at the time, he helped by searching his village for any guns kept for hunting that could be used in the war. His father, a miner, played his part by making hand bombs out of tomato tins and dynamite.
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The Courier – 20/5/2017 – Gran Bretaña

Eighty years since children refugees of the Spanish Civil War were welcomed to Tayside

Basque War Children, refugees in Great Britain
Basque War Children, refugees in Great Britain

The destruction of the town of Guernica by Nazi planes under the direction of Francisco Franco in April 1937 saw the Basque government appeal to foreign nations to give temporary asylum to children. Although the British government adhered to its policy of non-intervention, an old steamship designed to carry 800 passengers was loaded with 3,840 children, 80 teachers, 120 helpers, 15 Catholic priests and two doctors and set sail for Southampton Docks.

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South Wales Argus – 19/5/2017 – Gran Bretaña

The child refugees who escaped the Spanish civil war and found safety in Newport

NO action of this horrific war equals the bombing of the town of Guernica. The Basque town was all but destroyed in a deliberate aerial bombardment by Italian and German Nazi aircraft. The attack, on April 26 was carried out following Franco’s request that his German and Italian allies destroy the town they claimed was being used as a communications centre. More than 1,000 people are said to have died in the raid.

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Daily Echo – 15/5/2017 – Gran Bretaña

An exhibition to commemorate an incredible act of kindness

Child refugees find solace in Hampshire Basque children in Eastleigh
Child refugees find solace in Hampshire Basque children in Eastleigh

IT WAS an incredible act of kindness that saved the lives of thousands of children. Hundreds of Hampshire volunteers set up a camp in Eastleigh in 1937 to look after nearly 4,000 young victims of the Spanish civil war. Now this community effort is to be commemorated with an exhibition at Eastleigh Library, which will be run until May 23. After the bombing of Guernica in the Basque region of northern Spain in April 1937, churches, cooperatives and members of the Communist Party helped to evacuate children.

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Archive Hub – 2/5/2017 – Gran Bretaña

The Basque child refugee archive

ID card of children evacuated to Great Britain
ID card of children evacuated to Great Britain

In May 1937 approximately 4,000 children, with labels pinned to their clothes, came to Southampton on board the Habana from Santurzi/Santurce, the port of Bilbo/Bilbão, fleeing the Spanish Civil War and its consequences.

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Kirriemuir Herald – 22/3/2017 – Gran Bretaña

Guernica – when the Basque child refugees arrived in Montrose

Commemorative plaque at Montrose, Scotland
Commemorative plaque at Montrose, Scotland

Under General Franco’s colours, the Luftwaffe bombed the quiet Basque town on its market day – killing hundreds of civilians, many of whom were women and children.

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Last Updated on Dec 20, 2020 by About Basque Country

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