Reply: Basque children Refugees. 1937

Susan Brown, on outlining her knowledge of certain children refugees from the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939, whom were taken care of in Colne, asked LHL how Basque children came to be taken care of in North East Lancs and how they were found homes?

Unfortunately, we have not unearthed much material that can help Susan specifically. To discover how children were placed in families will require extensive research and LHL warmly recommend that Susan contacts the Basque Children’s Association, who can be contacted at, secretary@basquechildren.org The only other possible lead I dug up was a letter in the Medico-Legal journal from February 1939, which inconclusively had the London Aid Spain Council addressed at 4, Great James St, W1 and the National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief at 4, Great Smith St, SW 1. JBS Haldane and GM Vevers were the signatures.

Nevertheless, we have managed to locate some general information that might throw light on ordinary Lancastrians and their warm hearts and erstwhile efforts. A Basque ‘survivor’ of the period, Manuel Moreno, wrote to LHL and informed that of the approx. 4,000 children who came to the UK in May 1937, ‘only a few were actually adopted’ but that the women and mothers who made up these volunteers were, ‘amazingly diligent, caring and attentive’. Stuart Walsh writing in the online version of the magazine of the Lancashire Association of Trades Union Councils, in November 2016, noted that many of the Basque evacuees returned home but a significant minority remained. In addition, Walsh also informed that very young Basque children may have been adopted, in the normal legal interpretation of the word, but that many or most children were kept in ‘camp colonies’ and ‘adopted’ in a very different less legally binding manner. In this sense, Walsh informs that many/most Basque children remained based in colonies but would travel out to local Lancastrian houses for meals and trips and general entertainment. Walsh concluded his story of the children guardedly by stating, ‘then, as now, some sections of society needed convincing when it came to taking refugees from war torn-nations’.

Charles Jepson, a surviving volunteer from the International Brigades, has also written at length on the Lancastrian involvement in the Spanish Civil war and provides us with another account of the effects of the war. This time Jepson focussed movingly on the brave Lancashire lads who volunteered and died for socialism in Spain. The Lancashire Telegraph ran a similar report in July 2019 noting how; Frank Drinkwater, George Buck, Len Chrome, John Jolly and Frank Welsby, to name but a few, gave themselves and sometimes their lives, to the socialist cause in Spain. It is hardly any wonder on reading these stories that some activists like Chris Keene et al, are still lobbying Lancashire councils today to erect war memorials in memory of these honourable men who died in Spain.

Interestingly enough, the recent addition of the North West Labour History magazine, No 45, also ran an article by our very own LHL volunteer John Morrison. The article tells a story of a pair of Nelson pacifists and the help that ordinary Lancastrian weavers gave to German political prisoners during the Weimar Republic, circa 1920. Martha Hartley and Wilfred Wellock, both originally weavers and later members of the Independent Labour Party, were committed socialists and the article suggests that Martha may well have donated £50 to help German prisoners only two years after the Great War had killed her own brother and during a period when Nelson weavers earned approximately £1.50 a week

Though Susan may well have to dig further herself to find out more information about Basque adoption processes, it would appear once again, that early modern NE Lancs history contains a steady source of socialist actions and a selection of colourful characters and individuals who are most deserving of further investigation and recognition. Well done all those Lancastrians of yesteryear and present who still hold out the Christian hand of friendship to friend and foe alike.

A special thank you goes out on this occasion to; Charles Jepson, Chris Keene, Stuart Walsh, Lynette at WCML and Manuel Moreno, for helping LHL in attempting to help Susan.


Peter John Fyles


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