IBMT Film Coordinator Marshall Mateer reports on a summer of activity in Hull…
The Hull International Brigades Memorial Group has commissioned sculptor Dan Jones to work with the group to develop a new memorial in Hull. The design will be based on the group’s original conception of carved stone and metal placed in a public area in the city centre. A site has been designated by the local authority close to County Hall, where the existing plaque to the local International Brigaders is on display. The proposed site is beside Queen’s Gardens, a central meeting place in the city. With over £10,000 in the fund, an unveiling is now targeted to take place during the IBMT Annual General Meeting in October 2018.
Eight men from Hull went to Spain: Jack Atkinson, James Bentley, Morris Miller and Robert Wardle died; Joe Latus, Richard Mortimer, Sam Walters and Bert Wilson returned. Historians in the group have been collecting further data and working with the families of the men, who are very active in the group. Andrew Young is writing the story of the ‘Battle of Corporation Fields’, when Mosley’s rally of fascist Blackshirts in Hull in July 1936 was broken up.
In August the IBMT had a stall at Hull Trades Council’s 'Collective Youth Festival' and IBMT President Marlene Sidaway (pictured) spoke about the International Brigades and their relevance today. Laura Calderon Garcia, a leader of the Spanish School Students’ Union, also addressed the rally. Speaking in Spanish, with on-the-fly interpretation by Danny Bryne (NUJ), it provided a rallying call against attacks on education and the aspirations of young people. Music came from bands such as Joe Solo and the Hillbilly Troupe.
The memorial group has engaged the support of trade union branches throughout Hull and the East Riding and Unison’s recently unfurled banner shows the Spanish Republic’s flag amongst those representing Hull's radical history.
On 28 August a big crowd gathered in Pearson Park outside ‘Hazeldene’, a house which had been used as a Basque children’s ‘colony’. Manuel Moreno (IBMT Treasurer) and Simon Martinez of the Association for UK Basque Children spoke and laid wreaths, along with the Lord Mayor, John Hewitt, and Hull Labour MP Diana Johnson. After the ceremony Simon and Manuel gave a talk about the experience of the Basque children and the relevance for Britain today. During the open forum, 87-year-old Vera Mattier recalled: ‘I used to play ring-a-rosies with the children from the Basque House’. She told how in later in life she worked with one of the children's carers or ‘maestras’, Maria Coupland, and then, as she spoke, there was a stifled cry of recognition from Carmen Coupland, the carer’s daughter, who was also present – a sudden moment of common memory between strangers that everyone present was able to share.
'Ocho', the story of the eight men from Hull and their wives and families back home, is the project of playwright and director Jane Thornton and staff and students of Archbishop Sentamu Academy in Hull. The play has supported the memorial group throughout its highly successful run, handing over a cheque for £700 to the group’s appeal fund in September. Seeing rehearsals as well as performances, it becomes clear a that the whole show is carried forward by a remarkable collective effort and focussed determination – in itself a metaphor of the spirit of the Brigaders. Further performances of ‘Ocho’ are being considered.
The summer began with a concert in Kardomah45 headlined by the legendary Bruce Barthol. Bruce, of Country Joe and the Fish, gave a scintillating set from the off with ‘I Feel Like I'm a Fixin' to Die Rag’, moving on with the help of John Roberts on spoons to his own composition ‘Cakewalk to Baghdad’. An activist for 40 years, Bruce is also a commensurate raconteur between songs. Joe Solo summoned up the past that lives on with ‘The Ballad of Jack Atkinson’ (aka ‘No Pasarán’) and confronted the here and future now of ‘austerity’ with ‘One Life at a Time’. ‘Crooked Weather’ completed the line-up, letting down their hair with some invigorating alt-folk-indie music. The concert was set up and managed for the memorial group by Eddy Bewsher.
The evening finished with Bruce singing ‘Ay Carmela’ in Spanish, with Joe Solo doing harmonies: heart-rending, heart-warming and uplifting – a truly memorable evening.
It has been a busy summer for the Hull group and they look forward to another successful year and an unveiling in October, though as Joe Francis, the group's chair noted: ‘There's still a lot more work to do on all fronts.’
The IBMT is filming the progress of the memorial group's work – from the formation of the project, the group’s first meeting, through initial ideas and fundraising to the finished memorial – as a documentary of a memorialisation process for the IBMT archive.
A slide show of 40 images with notes of ‘Summer in the City – Hull 2017’ is on IBMT Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/ibmt/23575780328
Posted on 3 October 2017.