Her Spanish father was executed by the fascists

Post date: 07/08/2023

Daisy Fernández Price, a keen supporter of the IBMT with a remarkable but tragic family past connected to the Spanish Civil War, passed away on 30 July, aged 88. In tribute to her life we reprint this article about her that appeared in the 1-2017 issue of the IBMT’s magazine. It was written by current IBMT Chair Jim Jump.

The lives of many thousands of people in Britain have been touched by the Spanish Civil War. Few more so perhaps than IBMT member Daisy Fernández, an artist and former silkscreen printer now living in Bristol. 

At the IBMT stall at the Tolpuddle Martys’ Festival last summer she told us her extraordinary story, a tragic family tale which meant she grew up without knowing her Spanish father and only receiving confirmation some five years ago from historian and IBMT Founding Chair Paul Preston that he had been executed by the fascist-backed military rebels soon after the start of the Spanish Civil War. 

Born in Liverpool in 1934, Daisy grew up gradually having to come to terms with the loss of her father. But her life – and that of her Scottish mother and younger sister – was indelibly marked by it, both emotionally and politically. Much of her artistic output has had pollical themes, whether anti-torture posters for Amnesty International or work inspired by the 1973 coup in Chile or the plight of prisoners held at Guantánamo.

Daisy visits the IBMT stall at the Tolpuddle Martyrs' Festival in 2016.

At Tolpuddle, she donated to the IBMT her replica of ‘Guernica’, measuring nearly two metres in length, her caption for which links the notorious bombing of the Basque town during the war in Spain to the agony of civilians bombed more recently in Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq.

When the civil war began, Daisy, aged just 20 months, was living in Lugo, in Spain’s north-west region of Galicia. Her father, José (‘Pepe’) Fernández, worked for a local radio station, hosting a programme giving English lessons every Saturday morning. He was also a strong supporter of the Spanish Republic.

Born in 1896 in Galicia’s La Coruña province, Pepe was married to Isabel Innes, originally from Fraserborough, in Aberdeenshire, though they met in Liverpool in about 1930 via a mutual friend. Pepe was on his way back from Cuba and the US, where he had spent several years. The couple fell in love and decided to start a new life in Galicia.

Isabel returned briefly to Liverpool in 1934 to give birth to Daisy – in order for her to qualify for a British passport – and then travelled back to Spain with her daughter. 

Soon the new family’s lives were to be shattered. Pepe was arrested immediately after the military coup in July 1936. With Daisy, aged 20 months, in her arms and seven months pregnant, Isabel was able to visit him in prison. Fearful for his family’s safety, Pepe implored her to leave Spain, which she did, arriving in Liverpool with Daisy in October of that year. Not long afterwards, Daisy’s sister Joyce was born, and though they heard reports suggesting that Pepe had been executed, this was never confirmed. Isabel always lived with the hope that he might still be alive.

Daisy’s mother died in 1990, sadly many years before Paul Preston, in 2011, was able to relay confirmation of Pepe’s fate to the family. Preston had asked his contacts in Galicia to investigate the case, and they told him they were 99 per cent certain that a José María Fernández Rodríguez, arrested in Lugo on 19 or 20 July 1936, was the same person as Daisy’s father. Pepe had then been tried by a military court on 23 August and accused of placing bombs in Lugo’s cathedral and episcopal palace.

‘The accusation was entirely fictitious,’ Paul wrote in a letter to Daisy’s son John, ‘and was used against many of the Republicans put on trial in Lugo at this time. Their real crime was to have remained loyal to the legitimate democratic government and the fantastical accusation was meant simply to smear them within the atmosphere of terror being generated by the military rebels.’

At this same time as he was approached for help by Daisy’s family, Preston was working on ‘The Spanish Holocaust’, his monumental survey, published in 2012, of the violence inflicted on civilians during the Spanish Civil War. According to the book, there were at least 4,265 summary executions of Republican supporters in Lugo province alone that were perpetrated by the military rebels.

Pepe was executed on 27 August in Lugo. He was referred to as a 43-year-old man born in Ares, a coastal town in La Coruña province and a resident of Lugo. Before execution he refused the last rites.

Three years before the family was told this story, Daisy’s sister Joyce, who now lives is Chester, wrote a letter to the IBMT Newsletter (issue 2-2008) telling what was then known about the family’s story. She described her mother’s account of that last time she saw Pepe in jail. Pepe gave his daughter a peseta and said he was in prison so that one day every child in Spain would have a peseta. 

‘At the time, this did nothing to calm the distress of a toddler who couldn’t understand why her daddy was not able to hold and cuddle her,’ Joyce continued. ‘However, when my mum told us about the peseta when we were old enough to understand, it became a very emotional consolation for not having a father. We thought of him – and still do – as the most heroic of men.’

Their mother was heroic too, insisted Joyce. ‘She was 40 years old, with a baby and a toddler, no money, no pension, but fortunately able to live with my grandmother and as soon as I was weaned she went back to work as a telephonist on full-time shifts at the Anfield exchange. I don’t think she ever really accepted that my father was dead and when she went to an International Brigades commemorative meeting in Liverpool on 1938 she must have hoped in some way for a sort of reunion with him.’

Daisy, who these days struggles with eye health problems, says she and Joyce have finally come to terms with the grief suffered by the family. ‘One big comfort,’ she says, ‘has been to know that historians such as Paul Preston and organisations such as the IBMT have done so much to keep alive the memory of those honourable people like my father who supported the Spanish Republic.’

With Pepe Fernández, the father she never knew.

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