Teesside rallies to remember the Brigaders

Post date: 31/10/2022

On Friday 21 October Middlesbrough Town Hall hosted a talk by IBMT member Tony Fox on the history of the Teesside International Brigade memorial. The wooden plaque, produced in 1939 by Middlesbrough YCL, is currently held and displayed in the Town Hall. This was the first time since the IBMT’s 2009 AGM that the memorial was made accessible to the public.

Attendees gathered with flags and wreaths at Middlesbrough’s Dorman Museum.

Speaking in Middlesbrough’s Council Chamber, Fox presented his latest research, filling in any gaps in the history of the memorial. The audience heard about the lives of the ten men named on the plaque and were able to listen to recordings of some of the people central to its production. The talk was part of the council-run Discover Middlesbrough series of events.

The talk served as a prelude to the annual Volunteers for Liberty event, held on 23 October, which serves to remember the International Brigades – particularly those from Teesside.

A dozen supporters and relatives braved heavy rain to gather under the trees at Middlesbrough’s Dorman Museum. Julio Romero Johnson – representing the Communist Party of Spain – talked about the legacy of the International Brigade in Spain and the efforts undertaken to recover the remains of those killed during the conflict and the subsequent fascist repression.

Betham Blake then spoke on behalf of the Communist Party of Britain, telling of her pride that men from her home-town fought to defend the Spanish Republic. Before reading the names, Tony Fox revealed his latest research, telling the story of Edward Petrie from Middlesbrough who travelled to Spain with the ILP group before joining the British Battalion – he was killed at the Battle of Brunete. With the inclusion of Petrie, eight names were read out before the minute’s silence. Then Bob Beagrie read, as he has done at previous Volunteers for Liberty events, a few of his compositions about the Spanish Civil War.

Julio Romero Johnson and Bethan Blake by the River Tees.

The gathering then cast a symbolic wreath into the waters of the River Tees, symbolising the link between Teesside and Spain. Afterwards, attendees retired to The Wasps Nest; the pub which is home to the recently unveiled Stockton International Brigade Memorial. There they were joined by George Short, the son of the Teesside Communist Party District Secretary of the same name who mobilised many of the volunteers from the area.

From left: Tony Fox, George, Norma, Alan, Erica and Judy Short, and Julio Romero Johnson.

After a few photographs with the new memorial George spoke of the Brigaders he had met: especially Tommy Chilvers and Otto Estensen, the latter being named on the memorial. Later the Short family paid a visit to John Christie, the publican who led the campaign to fund and install the Stockton memorial, to personally thank him for his commemorative work.

Posted on 31 October 2022.

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