Report from the Len Crome Memorial Conference

Post date: 13/03/2015

By Pauline Fraser (IBMT Trustee)

A record audience of more than 180 people attended  this year’s Len Crome Memorial Conference, gaining new insights into many aspects of Guernica, from the terror bombing of the little Basque town to Picasso’s famous painting. 

Professor Paul Preston, Founding Chair of the IBMT, chaired the conference, titled, ‘Guernica: the destruction of a town and the creation of a masterpiece’. His relaxed manner and characteristic humour put everyone at their ease and encouraged contributions from the floor. 

Nick Rankin, author of ‘Telegram from Guernica’, gave a gripping account of the central part played  by journalist George Steer and the light that he shone on the terror rained down on Guernica on Monday,  20 April 1937. It was due to Steer’s audacity and persistence that the world learnt of this war crime against a defenceless civilian population.

Nick was followed by art historian Gijs Van Hensbergen (pictured), whose presentation, part-sleuth and part-archaeologist, peeled away the layers of meaning from Picasso’s masterpiece ‘Guernica’. We learnt, for example, that the artist had been commissioned to paint a picture to fit a specific ‘slot’ at the International Exhibition in Paris, and was looking for a subject when Guernica was bombed.

A textile replica of Guernica, designed by a Brighton-based group of artists and activists, but sewn by people throughout Britain and also in India, was displayed in front of the speakers’ table throughout the day. Maud Casey and a co-worker explained the modern relevance of the re-creation of ‘Guernica’.

Dr Xabier Irujo Ametzaga told us in meticulous detail how the German and Italian high command in Spain had agreed tactics for the terror bombing of Guernica. The town was the ‘required size’ for the number of aircraft they had available, a high density of civilians would be in Guernica for market day, and it was an open town, with no anti-aircraft batteries. 

Xabier exposed the sheer evil behind this pre-meditated slaughter, which killed more than 2,000 civilians. This crime against humanity was compounded by years of ‘negationism’ – denial by Franco and his supporters that it ever happened – followed by ‘reductionism’, where attempts continue to be made to minimise the destruction.

Our final speaker was IBMT member Manuel Moreno, whose mother came from the Basque country and whose father served in the Spanish Republican and Free French armies before settling in London. It must have been painful for Manuel to share the story of the killing of his uncles at the hands of the Franco regime, and the audience listened respectfully to his horrifying account.  

The day ended with well deserved thanks going to the organising team behind the success of the conference, which was led by Dolores Long, IBMT Chair, Trustees Hilary Jones and Chris Hall and Treasurer Charles Jepson. 

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