The Spanish Civil War was a bitter conflict, which divided the nation. Even now, the Spanish people are still learning to come to terms with their past which saw tens of thousands of deaths and millions uprooted and destitute. The plight of the Basque people was particularly tragic following the bombing of the town of Guernica in April 1937 by the planes of the Nazi Condor Legion.
The destruction of Guernica, which inspired Pablo Picasso to paint his masterpiece of the same name, also brought nearly 4,000 children to Britain as refugees from the Spanish Civil War. They sailed on the steamship the 'Habana' on 21 May 1937.
Permission was reluctantly granted to accept the Basque children but the government refused to be responsible financially for the children. It demanded that the newly-formed Basque Children's Committee guarantee 10 shillings per week from non-government sources for the care and education of each child.
One hundred Basque refugee children arrived at Ipswich railway station on 23 June 1937 and were taken to Wherstead Park, then an empty mansion owned by local businessman Stuart Paul. The Ipswich Industrial Co-operative Society played an important part in their care and it was a happy coincidence that an event to mark eighty years since their arrival took place at the mansion on Saturday 10 June 2017. Wherstead Park today is home to the offices of the East of England Co-op, who hosted the gathering; a commemorative plaque was unveiled by one of the original inmates, Paco Robles, on his first return to the venue in eighty years. He is wearing the pale grey suit in the photograph.
There were camps set up all over Britain and the children were moved a number of times. The last Basque children left Suffolk in 1939. Some returned to Spain just as World War II started; others, like Paco, were lucky enough to remain in Britain and make a life here.
See Diary dates on page 23 for our January 2018 Winter Illustrated Talk on this subject by Dr Edward Packard.