Stockton unveils memorial to local Brigaders

Post date: 23/09/2022

On 16 September, a memorial and plaque commemorating the eight International Brigaders from Stockton-on-Tees was unveiled in Wasps Nests Yard, Stockton.

It was the result of a successful fundraising campaign led by local publican and IBMT member John Christie, who offered for the memorial to be placed adjacent to the beer garden of his establishment, The Wasps Nest. He was supported in the campaign by many friends, pub regulars, local businesses, relatives of the volunteers and IBMT members. The crowdfund closed with £6,683 raised.

Christie was inspired to start the campaign after seeing a performance of ‘The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff’ by the Teesside folk trio The Young’uns in April 2018. Until that point he had never known that there were volunteers from the area who served in the International Brigades. Speaking to The Northern Echo, Christie said: ‘We were never taught about it at school. So I had no idea that men from Stockton and Thornaby fought in Spain. When I asked other Stockton people about it and they didn't know either. I thought that was a shame for the town’.

The memorial features a reproduction of Picasso’s ‘Guernica’, with the names of local volunteers stamped in a metal frame around it. Beneath the memorial, at eye level, is a plaque with a dedication and a quote: ‘Our open eyes could see no other way’. These words are a variation of a line from Cecil Day Lewis’ 1938 ode to the volunteers, which is also engraved in the International Brigade memorial in London’s Jubilee Gardens. However, the specific quote used on the Stockton plaque comes from Mike Wild, IBMT member and son of Sam Wild – last commander of the British Battalion, from a song he wrote titled ‘Our Open Eyes’, which ends with the lyrics:

So if they ask you why we came
What brought us here to fight for Spain
The only answer we would say
Our open eyes could see no other way.

The volunteers listed on the memorial are: George Bright (?-1937), William Carson (1905-?), Wilfred Cowan (1917-?), Otto Estensen (1910-1979), Myles Harding (1909-1938), Johnny Longstaff (1919-2000), Patrick Maroney (1906-?) and Bert Overton (1904-1937). A total of 22 volunteers from the wider Teesside area went to Spain to fight fascism, with eight losing their lives.

The campaign has also been accompanied by a research project by history teacher and IBMT activist Tony Fox. He published a book on the Stockton volunteers titled ‘I Sing Of My Comrades’ in March 2022 and proceeds from its sales went towards the crowdfunding effort. The work is available to order online here.

Near the end of the fundraising campaign Christie expressed why he thought the International Brigades were worth commemorating today: ‘The men who volunteered to go to Spain had nothing to gain, financially or materially. They travelled in very difficult circumstances, fought in a terrible war and many paid with their lives. But they did so for honourable reasons, which is why it's important to remember them.’

A list of all International Brigade memorials in Britain and Ireland can be found here.

Posted on 23 September 2022.

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