A plaque for the East Kent volunteers

Post date: 17/12/2023

Local history schoolteacher Tom Millard was the project coordinator for the new plaque to the International Brigade volunteers from the Dover area. Here he describes the aims and success of the project.

Over 90 years ago, hundreds of volunteers left from Dover to join the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39. Around 20 volunteers, from nurses to soldiers, left from East Kent. 

A blue plaque looking out towards the port of Dover was unveiled on 13 December at the RMT offices on Snargate Street to pay respects to the memory of three volunteers who would not return and died in the conflict. 

The ceremony was marked with the playing of The Internationale by students from Simon Langton Girls’ Grammar School, whilst speeches were made by the local trade union representatives, Mike Sargent and Eric Segal, John Bulaitis, senior lecturer in history at Canterbury Christ Church University, and IBMT Chair Jim Jump.

The most moving speech for many came from Trinity Buckley, grand-daughter of Harry Addley, one to the three men who died in Spain and are listed on the plaque. 

Harry was a veteran of the First World War and the Battle of the Somme. He ran popular restaurants in both Folkestone and Dover, including one nearby to the site of the plaque on the former Northampton Street. 

At the outbreak of the civil war, Harry was joined by his friend Arthur Ovenden in being one of the first of the International Brigades to reach Spain. He successfully participated in the defence of Madrid against the Fascist forces of Francisco Franco. On 20 December 1936 he died fighting Italian and German tanks and weaponry at the Battle of Boadilla. 

Harry left behind a wife and two children, one of whom became the father of Trinity Buckley. 

The two other comrades who came from Dover and Folkestone and who would die in the conflict are John ‘Jack’ Black and George Gorman. 

Black was a miner from Betteshanger in the Kent coalfield. When news broke of his death in the Battle of Brunete in the summer of 1937 over 400 mourned in Dover at a public meeting. 

Tom Millard and the brass trio from Simon Langton Girls’ Grammar School.

George Gorman had moved to Folkestone from the Longtower district of Derry and would fight and ultimately die in September 1938 in the final climatic battle of the war, the Battle of the Ebro. Just a few weeks later In 1938 the International Brigades would be repatriated and with that the contribution of the local Brigaders had spanned the entire conflict.

The plan to create a lasting memorial plaque began as a school project in 2020 at Dover Grammar School for Girls. In 2021 students organised an exhibition at the Urban Room in Folkestone and finally, with trade union donations, a lasting memorial has been able to be established. 

These three volunteers and many other Brigaders have no known resting place. Indeed Harry Addley’s grave in the north of Madrid was destroyed at the end of the war by the Nationalists and this made the case for a permanent memorial all the more compelling. 

Trinity Buckley (centre) at the plaque unveiling ceremony.

This memorial would not have been possible without the support of the Dover Girls Grammar School Past Students Association, the IBMT and Jim Jump for support with educational resources, John Bulaitis, historian Richard Baxell and, most importantly, Mike Sargent and Eric Segal of the South East Kent Trade Union Council. 

Members of trade unions made up the bulk of the 2,500-strong British and Irish contingents in the International Brigades and their comradely spirit and active promotion of working-class history was what made this project such a success. 

The unveiling was carried out by members of the Harry Addley family from as far afield as Spain and Miles Pitcher, a leading member of the student group who researched the background and life of local International Brigadiers. 

For further enquiries, contact project coordinator Tom Millard.

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