Unveiling of memorial to Basque refugees included tribute to Southampton Brigaders

Post date: 27/10/2022

On Saturday 22 October a memorial plaque was unveiled at Southampton’s Town Quay Park to mark the 85th anniversary of the successful evacuation, organised by ordinary people, of almost 4,000 Basque refugees to Britain.

The event was attended by Josephina Stubbs, aged 95, one of the Basque children who had arrived in Southampton on 21 May 1937. Also in attendance were the Spanish Ambassador to the UK, José Pascual Marco, the Lord Mayor of Southampton, Councillor Jacqui Rayment and Simon Maritinez, representing the Basque Children of ‘37 Association UK.

Alan Lloyd, IBMT Trustee and researcher, represented the Trust at the unveiling. He spoke about the connection between the Basque refugee children and the cause of the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War. It is reproduced below.

Josephina Stubbs at the ceremony. (Photo: Newsquest)

I am very proud to be speaking here today for two particular reasons. The first is that I speak to you as a Trustee of the International Brigade Memorial Trust. The IBMT was founded to remember and celebrate the lives of the 2,500 men and women volunteers from Britain and Ireland who went to fight fascism in Spain and support the democratically elected Republican government. Of the 2,500 around 256 men remain in Spain, lying in unmarked graves having given their all in the fight, including four Brigaders connected with Southampton who are named on the memorial close to the cenotaph in the centre of the city.

However, if they were alive today they would say the IBMT is not simply about them as individual volunteers but more importantly to remind people of the reason they went, and I offer you the first two verses of Cecil Day Lewis’s poem ‘The Volunteer’:

Tell them in England, if they ask
What brought us to these wars,
To this plateau beneath the night’s
Grave manifold of stars –

It was not fraud or foolishness,
Glory, revenge, or pay:
We came because our open eyes
Could see no other way.

The very reason those volunteers died and the children we remember today had to leave Spain was because the so called great democracies of Britain, France and the United States turned their backs on the fascist threat to Spain, with the eventual outcome being that the very same planes and pilots who practiced their deadly trade over the Basque region and the rest of Spain would soon set about destroying towns and cities like Southampton and Portsmouth. So please do not read about the recent political changes in Italy, France, Hungary and even Sweden, and think this is nothing to do with us.

Several of Brigaders here in Hampshire were also involved with the Basque children. AC Williams from Portsmouth was taken prisoner at the Battle of Jarama but released in an exchange with Italian fascist prisoners just in time to return to be reunited with his wife and offer a home to two children.

IBMT Trustee Alan Lloyd at the Southampton memorial.

John Charles lived all his life in the Woolston area of Southampton just across the other side of the river from here. Unlike most of the Brigaders he was not particularly political, but after helping out at the camp in Stoneham, and hearing the children’s stories he made his way to Spain and enlisted with British Battalion. He was taken prisoner during the retreats through Aragon but was eventually released and returned home. Finally, Juliet Hickman was busy helping out at the colony for the children which was established in Cambridge, at the same time that her husband Ivor, the Chief of the British Observers, was out in Spain. Sadly Ivor was probably the last British Brigader to lose his life on a Spanish battlefield and he is remembered on the Southampton plaque.

Finally, my other reason for being so glad to stand here today is that I also do it as a lifelong resident of Southampton, and I am intensely proud that my city, or town as it was then, along with Eastleigh was at the very centre of the operation to bring these children to safety. Whilst the Government of the day put every obstacle in their way and refused to contribute even a penny to towards their welfare, again sadly an area where little has changed, but the determination, compassion and sheer humanity of ordinary people would not be denied and a proud chapter in our history was written.

Posted on 27 October 2022.

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