Shoes for Basque Children
Repository: The Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick, Coventry, England
Creator: Taylor, Albert
Contributor: Rossendale Union of Boot, Shoe and Slipper Operatives
Fond or Collection
Archives of the Trades Union Congress, Spanish Conflict: Basque Children 1937-1938 Folder
Repository and Location
The Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick, Coventry, England.
Date Created: 1937-06-07
Extent: 1 item
Geographic Region: London, England
Dated 7 June 1937, this brief letter offering “a large quantity of shoes for the Basque children,” was sent by Albert Taylor of the Union of Boot, Shoe, and Slipper Operatives of Rossendale, a town in Lancashire, to Walter Citrine, the Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, the large union federation associated with the Labour Party.
The Basque children Mr. Taylor referred to were the 3,840 between the ages of five and sixteen who had arrived at Southampton two weeks earlier on board the SS Habana, a ship that normally carried 800 passengers. Their voyage had been organized by the National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief, a non-partisan civil-society organization that coordinated aid to Spain. First, however, it had had to persuade a reluctant government to lift its ban on accepting refugees from Spain, which the government claimed was a violation of the Non-Intervention Agreement. Then it had to agree to guarantee to pay 10 shillings – more than 30 pounds today – per child per week to cover the costs for housing, food, and education. This task was undertaken by the newly-created Basque Children’s Committee.
On arrival, the children were taken to a camp at North Stoneham, just outside Southampton, that had been built from scratch by volunteers in only two weeks. They remained there until they were sent on to almost one hundred colonies around the UK. The Salvation Army, which took 400 children, and the Catholic Church, which took 1200, both played an important role in settling them. So too did unions, businesses, and a large number of voluntary organizations across the country. The North Stoneham camp itself was dismantled in September 1937.
The children who arrived in Great Britain on board the Habana were only a fraction of the 34,000 who were evacuated to a number of countries starting in the spring of 1937 as the Francoists were advancing across the north. With the help of the Committee to Receive Spanish Children organized by the French trade union CGT, the first group of 450 were sent to France by the government of the Basque Country on March 20. France would take in some 20,000 children in all, the largest number of any country. Belgium would take 5,000, the Soviet Union 2,895, Switzerland 430, and Denmark 100. Four hundred and fifty-six went to Mexico.
The British government had agreed to accept Spanish children only as a one-time, humanitarian measure, and only on the condition that they would be returned once the situation in Spain had become less threatening. The Francoists considered that these children had been stolen, and worked hard to have them repatriated, creating the Special Delegation for the Repatriation of Minors in July 1938. More than 20,000 had been returned by 1949. The only countries that refused to cooperate with Francoist demands were the Soviet Union and Mexico, although the Soviets did allow children to return after 1956.
Dealing with repatriated children was part of the Franco regime’s “politics of Victory.” Not all children were returned to their parents. Those whose parents were deemed politically suspect usually wound up in institutions run by the state or the Church.