Nan Green: ‘Women came straight to the fore’

Nan Green (1904-1984)

Born in Beeston, Nottingham, in 1904, Nan Green led an extraordinary life dedicated to progressive causes. She followed her husband George to Spain, where he was killed at the Ebro, and helped organise the Valdeganga convalescent home. She served as a medical administrator at Huete, Valdeganga and Uclés, then on the Ebro front. At the end of the war Nan accompanied a boatload of Republican children to safety in Mexico and was Secretary of the International Brigade Association from 1943-50, before embarking on work that took her to Eastern Europe and China. Her full story can be found in her memoir, ‘A Chronicle of Small Beer: The Memoirs of Nan Green’ (2005).


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On the actions of women in the Spanish Republic

They were building socialism at the same time as they were fighting the war, insofar as they could. And they were very careful about these things. About teaching – right in the trenches, in the hospitals, and everywhere else – people to read and write and bringing up the children in the right way.

This you couldn’t help being impressed by, all over the place, especially the women. I think the women were marvellous. They didn’t have experience but they nevertheless did it. They nevertheless managed, with tremendous efficiency to organise meetings and to organise collections of goods and material. Anything that had to be done was done and very often done by the women too [...]

I think everywhere, especially in the cities, women came straight to the fore. With a sort of cheerful confidence and efficiency, I must say, which had to be seen to be believed.

I met it again when I went over to the Asturias in 1962, as an interpreter to a miners’ delegation which was taking money to the striking Asturian miners. Those women were just the same as the women I remembered in 1936… they were miners’ wives and they grasped immediately what we had come to do and organised the distribution of the money we had brought, while we sat there, in the most efficient way. You couldn't have done it better in a government office in London – well you could have done it a lot worse in a government office in London! They were quite terrific, they had this sort of instant recognition of a job to be done and the instant determination to do it, and it just gets done.

I would like to tell you about another woman though, who went right through until the fall of Madrid, I think. I don’t know because I didn’t see her at the end. But every time I was in Madrid I went to see her and she was living within sight of the Casa de Campo, in other words she was living at the end of the tram lines. And the enemy was just across a couple of fields in the University City. And she had her baby there and she stayed, she went on staying. She felt strong enough and confident enough to go on living in the house, in the Casa de Campo, and to have a baby. I remember the baby was just a few days old when I went to see her and she lifted up the baby’s little fist and said ‘no pasarán!’. It was tremendously moving, to see this kind of courage they had all the way through.

Posted on 8 March 2023.
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