Habana - The Children Of The Spanish Civil War


20120618This year marks the 75th anniversary of the evacuation by sea of 4,000 child refugees from the port of Bilbao during the Spanish Civil War.

A great and heart-warming story of how British people welcomed the Spanish children, and strived to make a difference during that conflict, told through the experiences of the refugees and their own children living in the UK today.

On May 21st 1937, 4,000 child refugees were evacuated to the UK on the ship Habana to escape the bombs and fighting around Bilbao. After much shameful prevarication by a British Government keen to appease burgeoning fascist powers in Europe, action was secured by pressure from British Socialists and other groups following the criminal carpet bombing of Guernica by the German Condor Legion.

However, parents were not allowed to travel with their children and in consoling their departing children, mothers on the quayside told them it was 'solo por tres meses' - 'only for three months'. For some it was actually ten years; others never returned to Spain. Around 400 remained in the UK, largely because the authorities could find no trace of any living relatives back home.

The refugees who stayed in the UK, and their families, remain a tightly knit group. Many married within their own community or married other Spaniards. The way they brought their children up was heavily influenced by their own trauma of being sent away at such a young age. Through continuing close contact, they kept their identity and memories of the Spanish Civil War very much alive.

Producer: Amanda Bruckshaw

Exec Producer: Clive Brill

A Pacificus production for BBC Radio 4.