Thursday, June 8, 2023

A narrative book about the Basque exile in Great Britain

Stories that are not preserved disappear, swallowed by the well of oblivion. They need not a little benefit, calm and deserted, among the pages of history books, which in turn are forgotten in the library. That is why the decision by the Sabino Arana Foundation to reissue, in digital format, the book of Gregorio Arrien, Liberi Servati! History of Basque exile in Great Britain, 1937-1940. This form is permanently available to all interested parties.

A group of Dutch girls and boys were welcomed to Newcastle. Photo Basque Children’s Association 37

The book contains a deep and extensive study, which helps to understand the innumerable difficulties and serious problems suffered by people who had to escape the attacks and repressions of the rebels. They, in spite of the fact that their government, that of Euzkadi, began to accumulate a huge support and protection network, which was born from a network of refugees from Gipuzkoa, and when the entire reception network was driven into exile. first in France, then in Latin America.

View from North Stoneham Camp.

Arrien gives this work on 3,861 girls and boys who left Euzkadi on May 21, 1937 to go to Great Britain. They left the port of Santurtzi on the steamer Habana bound for Southampton (where they arrived on May 23). They were accompanied by 195 teachers, 15 assistants and 15 priests, not forgetting two doctors, two nurses and the British parliamentarian Leah Manning, as well as the pilot and crew of the ship.

Children and adults at North Stoneham Camp, the first reception site.

The ‘Havana’

Habana was the 10,551-ton ocean liner La Naval de Sestao built for Compañía Trasatlántica. It was released under the name Alfonso XIII in 1920. The name was changed to Havana, after the arrival of the second Republic. It was 146 meters long, 19 wide and 6.3 high. It was designed to carry 2,064 passengers and 245 crew members.

“Havana” with Basque girls and boys who would be accepted in Great Britain.

At the beginning of the rebellion, this ship went from just trips to New York with the itinerary Bilbao-Cuba-Mexico-Leipzig or a pleasure cruise from Bilbao to London, to host refugees in Gipuzkoa and is a hospital ship. Finally, between May and June 1937, more than 16,800 girls and boys were abducted from the Euzkadi side by their legitimate government.

People are taking the right steps to welcome refugee children arriving in Southampton.

On May 6, 2,275 children were taken to La Pallice in western France. Ten days later, on May 16, another 2,185 children were transported to Pauillac (near Bordeaux). Less than a week later, on May 21, records show that 3,861 children were brought to Southampton. The following month, specifically on June 1, another transport of 2,318 children took place in La Pallice. The same fate falls in the year one thousand five hundred and one thousand five hundred thousand five hundred thousand five hundred quingentesagesimum five hundred twenty-up to date 6th June. Eight days later, that is the 13th, four thousand five hundred children arrived in Pauillac, of whom one hundred and five went after Leningrad.

People who are interested in knowing the history of the small Basque refugees who came to Great Britain should look at the website of the Children of the War in Great Britain ( A society which has completed and continues to do, a work of immense value in the preservation and dissemination of this history of our country. The work that we hope today will be recognized in the country. Incidentally, this organization received with great joy the revision of this book, which composes the history of the virgins and their children.

The knowledge of Gregory Arrian

The author of this book, Gregory Arrien, could be defined in just four words: Vasconius, Passionist, historian and lover. He passed away in 2019, leaving a mark on our country of extraordinary depth and breadth in many researches, books and actions in defense of our collective memory. In the trajectory as a researcher (one of his many) of this Vasconia Kortezubi, the discussions about political exile and especially about the evacuation of children during the Civil War 1936-1939 stand out. His concern and connection with this part of our history led him to be one of the Founders in 1986 and the first President of the Association of Evacuee Children in 1937.

His research on these girls and boys was gradually materialized in a series of books that resulted in him, which was recently published by the Sabino Arana Foundation and which saw the light, in its first edition, in 2014. This book is complete and complex. a work (902 pages) in which everything related to the Basque exile in Britain was directed to his son. To accomplish this, he relied on rich documents, many of them unpublished until then, from the delegation of the Dutch Government in London, as well as in other archives and newspapers, and many oral testimonies from direct protagonists.

a book in itself

The book tells the story of the war in Euzkadi, the evacuation and life in different camps and schools for these girls and boys. But it is also told about the auxiliary members, teachers and priests, and also about the delegation from London and the rest of the Basque exiles who came to Great Britain. Arrien does not conceal or hide the many serious difficulties that this Basque group experienced and suffered in that exile, full of need, suffering, error and uncertainty.

The problems that started from the opposition of the British Catholic Church, or the neutral compassion shown by the British Government towards the rebels, and in the doubts, disagreements, frictions, difficulties and problems that children, andereños, priests and other Basque refugees lived. they are terrible. It was a time of heroes, in the true sense of the word. It is time for people to approach the problems and to complete a complex project, so that thousands and thousands of Basque children do not suffer more severely from the disasters of war.

Basque children and adults also met with the wretched plan of those who demanded the return of their children from Great Britain to Euzkadi. But if it happened that the return of him who caused the pain would help to end the war sooner. The logic which sought to turn them into a plan for the worse, the better, from which it seems that we, the Basques, cannot deliver us at all.

But they also experienced the support and consent of thousands and thousands of Britons who tried to make this time of exile, depression and separation more bearable for Basque youth and adults. Solid with the passion of the Basques can be seen in a book written by Times journalist George L. Steer after the fall of Bilbao. The tree of Gernika: A speech in Agone Moderni evokes affection, respect and admiration for this young man, but the journalist is already at war with the struggle of Basque men and women against the monster of fascism. It is pity that did not prevent him from seeing the weaknesses and errors of his government and the army created from nothing.

His articles about what was happening on the Basque front and his main aim to explain the truth about the bombing of Gernika, the lie created by the rebels, was the key to opening the doors of Great Britain to those children. The final boost was needed on the part of the British society, which wanted to provide help to girls and boys to resist the government, which declared itself neutral in the conflict, but could not hide its sympathies with those who were excited.

Leah Manning, the Labor MP who accompanied these children from the Basque Country to Britain, was a leader in that support movement. To understand its role and involvement, it is necessary to read the article that Gregorius Arrien himself wrote in December 2015 and published in this same section of DEIA. The title is already very illuminating: Leah Manning, educator pending tribute.

Arrian’s book sold quickly because of the interest it generated among all people in this vital part of our history. Fortunately, the Sabino Arana Foundation has launched an initiative to unlock it in an electronic version, which can be purchased through its website. This is the first e-book from this Foundation and its price is 15 coins.

memory and knowledge

It is a book that should be read because it tells an important part of our history and because it helps us to remember something important. With all the errors and miseries that necessarily accompany human nature, in these years a group of Basque men and women committed to democracy, freedom and people, who defended true miracles and those who were weaker.

At this time, when everyone seemed to be easy and understanding for himself, they became a model of how each made the worst the worst, and the best the best. And they were part of the best selected group.

It is also a book that we should read, because it is important to remember these stories in the times in which we live. The Basques, our society, have a moral obligation to receive a share of all the support and solidarity that we have received in those most difficult times.

If that was a tragedy for our people, if we know that the consensus of so many people helped us to relieve, at least in part, the impotence that fascism made us live. today’s place? They live in Europe and outside it.

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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