Esperanza Careaga

I’m researching the life story of Esperanza Careaga, a six year old Spanish refugee who arrived in Wales in 1937. Rather than write Espe’s story as one piece, I present my findings as I discovered them so that you can see how my research and the picture of Espe’s life developed.

During the Spanish Civil War, Wales welcomed many refugees, including Esperanza Careaga, pictured here in 1939. Espe, her name means hope, left Spain in April 1937, eight days before her sixth birthday. Her brother, Alberto, was transported to Russia and it took 50 years before Espe saw him again. Meanwhile, Espe settled in Barry, Wales.

At the end of the war, most of the refugees returned to Spain. However, 35 children remained in Wales, including Espe. She married in 1958, had two sons and four granddaughters. 

From tragic beginnings, Espe lived up to her name, and through her courage we can draw belief, strength and hope.

I’ve been following the life story of Esperanza Careaga, a six year old Spanish refugee who arrived in Wales in 1937. 

Two days before Christmas 1939 Esperanza went to live with George and Gertrude Harris of Barry, South Wales. She changed her name to Espe Harris and lived with her adoptive parents until she married Alan James in May 1958. Espe and Alan had two sons and four granddaughters. 

Pictured: a record of Espe’s marriage to Alan James.

More details about Esperanza Careaga, the six year old Spanish refugee who arrived in Wales in 1937.

I have discovered that Espe was adopted by George and Gertrude Harris of Barry, South Wales. George was born in 1906 while Gertrude was born in 1905. This record, complied in September 1939, three months before Espe joined the family, suggests that George and Gertrude already had two children. Due to privacy laws their details have been blanked out.

George was an assurance agent, which suggests a steady career and regular income, while Gertrude was a housewife.

Espe escaped the bombs of Spain only to witness the Cardiff Blitz, a fascist reign of terror as brutal as that carried out on the towns and cities of Spain. For the first fourteen years of her life, Espe must have thought that war was the norm.

However, Espe survived and at home with her new family and new country she thrived, married, and had children of her own.

More details about the life of Espe, a six year old Spanish refugee.

In 1937 the Basque Government appealed to foreign governments to accept child refugees. Many governments agreed. However, the British government, led by the Conservatives, a party famous for its cold-hearted, soulless approach, refused to help the children. Therefore, it fell upon individuals and organisations to offer aid.

On the 21st May 1937, 4,000 children left Bilbao for Britain on the ageing SS Habana, a ship built to carry 800 passengers. Each child was tagged with a cardboard hexagonal disk. Espe was listed under her full name, Esperanza Careaga Galindez, passenger 2661. Her age was incorrectly recorded as seven.

The children disembarked at Southampton on 23rd May 1937. This remarkable film shows the SS Habana arriving at Southampton harbour. Waving, the children boarded double decker buses, a new sight to them, and travelled to a makeshift camp. There, they received food and toys.

The prevailing atmosphere was one of organisation, togetherness and relief. Amongst all the waving arms and smiling faces it’s amazing to realise that Espe was amongst them, about to embark upon a new phase of her life.

More about the remarkable life story of Esperanza Careaga. On 10th July 1937, aged six, Espe arrived in Britain from war-torn Spain. At first, along with 4,000 other children, she stayed in a tented camp at Southampton. Then she was moved to Caerleon, one of four ‘colonies’ established in Wales to support the children.

The children of Cambria House. I believe Espe is in the front row, third from the right as you look.

It must be remembered that the Conservative government refused to help the children. Therefore, for their survival they depended on the generosity and support of volunteers and community organisations. In Wales, the South Wales Union of Mineworkers provided most of this support. While government ministers turned their backs and enjoyed lifestyles few could aspire to, people who were living on the breadline gave everything they had to support the children of Spain.

In May 1937, Espe arrived in Caerleon. She stayed first at Cambria House then Pendragon House until Christmas 1939 when she joined the family of George and Gertrude Harris, in time adopting their surname.

At Cambria House in Caerleon, Espe and her fellow Basque refugees raised funds for their upkeep. They held concerts, which included traditional Basque dances and songs. The boys organised themselves into a football team. They were so talented the locals nicknamed them ‘The Wonder Team’.

The children were educated to a high level and many went on to higher education and university in Britain. Their diet was good with jelly, known as ‘glass pudding’ by the Basque children, a particular favourite.

Cambria House

Cambria House also produced its own monthly journal, which sold for tuppence (1p) a copy. The children wrote for the journal. This entry dates from January 1939:

If you come one day to visit Cambria House, you will see us very happy.

If you come in the morning, you will see Mrs. Sancho holding a bell and making it ring; then we get up and we make our beds, and after we get ready to eat our breakfast and clean the house; after, Mrs. Sancho rings the bell again and we go to school; after, Mrs. Sancho rings the bell again and we go out of school; after we enter school again and after school we have our dinner ready and we eat it.

We spend the afternoon in the same way, and we are really happy.