Honouring Teesside's Spanish Civil War heroes

Post date: 30/09/2023

Sean Cooney will be among several performers who will take part in events on the weekend of 6-8 October to remember the Teessiders who fought in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39.

The award-winning singer-songwriter and member of The Young'uns will sing and speak on Saturday afternoon (7 October) at the Georgian Theatre in Stockton.

Earlier in the day there will be speeches and wreath-laying at the International Brigade memorial in the nearby Wasp Nest Yard.

The names of eight of the nine Stockton men who fought in Spain are inscribed on the memorial. One of them, Johnny Longstaff, inspired Cooney to write acclaimed album and show, ‘The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff’.

The International Brigade memorial in Wasp Nest Yard, Stockton.

Among the other speakers at the commemoration will be actress Liz Estensen, known for her role as Diane Sugden in Emmerdale. She is the daughter of Otto Estensen, a merchant seaman from Stockton who fought in Spain.

Twenty-four local men joined the International Brigades and battled General Franco and the forces sent by Hitler and Mussolini to help his army revolt. 

Nine of them died in the conflict, which many historians regard as a prelude to the Second World War.

The IBMT will be holding its annual general meeting in Stockton’s Georgian Theatre immediately before Sean Cooney and others perform.

Sean Cooney (left) with The Young'uns.

The AGM will be opened by actress, Thornaby-born Marlene Sidaway, who, among her many roles, played Maureen in the TV sitcom Mum. She is the IBMT President and was the partner of the late David Marshall, a civil servant from Middlesbrough who was an early volunteer in the fight against Franco. 

The late afternoon and evening are set aside for music and a social, with performances from Joe Solo and Dan Donnelly of The Levellers, as well as Sean Cooney.

Earlier on the Saturday in the Georgian Theatre there will be a talk by Sheila Gray and Pete Widlinski about the local International Brigade volunteers. 

Two of Gray’s uncles, Edward and William Tattam of Whitburn, near Sunderland, were killed while fighting in Spain.

On Sunday morning Teesside ‘Time Traveller’ Martin Peagam will lead a guided walk around sites in Stockton associated with the town’s anti-fascist history. 

The route will take in the plaque in Market Square commemorating the Battle of Stockton in 1933. This was when Oswald Mosley’s fascist Blackshirts were chased out of town by thousands of local protesters. Several of the men who took part subsequently went to Spain.

The plaque in Middlesbrough Town Hall.

The weekend will be launched on Friday evening at a reception in Middlesbrough Town Hall, where a plaque dating back to 1939 names ten men from Teesside and Durham who fell in Spain. 

This will be followed by a social in Middlesbrough hosted by the Unite trade union, which is organising the weekend’s events along with the IBMT.

IBMT Chair Jim Jump said the weekend is an opportunity for local people to celebrate an important part of Teesside’s heritage. ‘We hope lots of people can join us for these events.’ 

He added: ’Though the International Brigades suffered terrible casualties and lost the war in Spain, they helped check the rise of fascism for nearly three years and alerted the world to its dangers. Hitler’s defeat started on the battlefields of Spain.’

For more information about the IBMT's AGM, including reports and motions, see here.

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