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A complete history of the Teesside memorial plaque

IBMT member Tony Fox has produced a leaflet documenting the history of the Teesside International Brigades memorial installed in Middlesbrough Town Hall. It also explores the backgrounds and experiences of the Brigaders who left Teesside for Spain to fight fascism. An introductory excerpt from the leaflet is provided below.

The full document is available to download as a PDF
here. A list of all International Brigade memorials in Britain and Ireland, including the Teesside plaque, can be found here.

The Teesside International Brigades Memorial is an oak board with a triangular pediment top. The lettering and International Brigade crest are hand painted. It shows the International Brigades crest, the names of ten volunteers who fell, an inscription and a list of XV Brigade Battle Honours.

The text of the inscription reads:

TO DEFEND LIBERTY  . . . they typified the real Britons' hatred of the tyrant, they went to safeguard peace and the arts of peace that humanity might go forward. They went to help the defenceless Spanish people fight the invading armies. They went to save their loved ones and us from the horrors of fascism because they loved peace they went out to fight from . . . TEES-SIDE

The idea for a memorial arose during a 1939 meeting in the offices of the Young Communist League (YCL) in Middlesbrough, on Marton Road, it was to be a memorial to their friends and comrades who lost their lives fighting fascism with the International Brigades. 

We believe George Short chaired the meeting, the people attending included:  George’s wife Phyllis International Brigaders Tommy Chilvers, Otto Estensen, David Goodman and David Marshall.  Harold Bennet attended, but we have no records for the others who were also present. 

It is possible that the Teesside memorial is the first to be produced in the UK, it is certainly one of the earliest memorials to International Brigaders in Britain. Harold Bennet, from Kent, was visiting relatives. He was a carpenter and French polisher and he was asked to make this memorial especially; as he was aware he was losing his sight, sadly he lost his sight almost immediately after the completion of the memorial.

Born in Middlesbrough, Tommy Chilvers, who served in the Anti-Tank Battery of the XV International Brigade from May to August 1937 painted the lettering and crest on the Memorial. I have recently been told local communists call it ‘Tommy’s plaque.’

After the Second World War the Teesside memorial was on display in the Middlesbrough YCL Marton Road office; it was presented to George Short in 1956 and hung in his office for many years until its transfer to the Communist Party office on Grange Road, Middlesbrough. In 1967 the Communist Party sold their Grange Road premises and the building was cleared. YCL members Stuart Hill and David Wedlake went down to the offices to help with the clearance, David rescued the damaged memorial from a skip, he took it home as it had a crack in it, telling Stuart that he knew someone who could repair it. David went to Exeter University shortly after this and the two boys lost touch.

In 1983 the memorial was found by a teacher in a scrapyard in Acton, West London. Stuart relates that John Longstaff, an International Brigader originally from Stockton who was living in London, was absolutely furious when he spoke about its rediscovery. ‘How could anyone treat such an important memorial with such casual neglect?’ he said, we now believe John Longstaff brought the plaque back to Teesside.

 

Posted on 10 March 2021.