Spanish Civil War 1936-39
The Spanish Civil War (18 July 1936 – 1 April 1939) was a war in which the Spanish General Francisco Franco and his troops successfully took control of Spain. A lot of different groups worked together with the Spanish Republic (the government of the time) to stop him, including socialists, communists
and other leftist groups.
The fascist governments of Germany and Italy provided troops and supplies for Franco. Lots of people from other countries volunteered to fight against Franco (sometimes against the orders of their own countries), including people from the United States, Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, and many other countries. These groups were known as the International Brigades. The war ended on 1 April 1939 when the last of the Republican troops gave up. Franco became the ruler of Spain until he died in 1975.
Half a million people died in the war, and many atrocities were committed by both sides. The most famous was the bombing of Guernica. On April 26, 1937, Guernica was bombed by Legion Condor, supported by Hitler's Nazi regime. It was the first time that large civilian casualties resulted and the destruction received wide media coverage.
As the Spanish Civil War proceeded on the Northern front (from 1937 onwards), the Spanish Republican authorities arranged the evacuation of children. These Spanish War children were shipped to Britain, Belgium, the Soviet Union, other European countries and Mexico. These children were referred to as "Basque refugees", but included also non-Basques. They were embarked in Bilbao on boats chartered by the Basque government, loyal to the Republic. Those in Western European countries were able to return to their families after the war, but those in the Soviet Union were forbidden to return.
Just under 4,000 children arrived at Southampton Docks in England on 23 May 1937. They travelled to Britain on the steamship Habana. The ship had been equipped to accommodate 800 passengers, but this voyage consisted of 3,886 children, 96 teachers, 118 assistants and 16 Catholic priests. All the children and accompanying adults were housed in a single, large refugee camp in North Stoneham, Eastleigh, near Southampton. The construction of the camp at North Stoneham had been finished only two days prior to their arrival. A local farmer, Mr Brown, had provided three of his fields to be used for the Basque children's camp. The camp and the sleeping tents were overcrowded.
As the war in Spain progressed and areas became safer, the children started to be repatriated; the first few after barely a month. The Spanish Civil War ended on 1 April 1939, to be followed rapidly by the beginning of the Second World War in September. By this time only some 400 children remained in Britain, and by 1948 only 280 remained. Throughout their stay and the subsequent repatriations, those aged 16 and above were allowed to decide whether or not they wanted to leave the country. Some had to stay because their parents had been killed or imprisoned, others stayed by choice and made their lives in Britain.