Wales and Spain

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.

The International Brigade Memorial in Alexandra Gardens, Cardiff. The memorial contains the words that will preface my Spanish Civil War Saga, The Olive Tree. 

“You are history. You are legend. You are the heroic example of democracy’s solidarity and universality. We shall not forget you; and when the olive tree of peace is in flower, entwined with the victory laurels of the Republic of Spain, come back.” – Dolores Ibárruri, La Pasionaria.

In the 1930s in Wales unemployment was rife, wages were low and there was a great feeling that the working people were being exploited by the Conservative government. This explains why there was an outpouring of solidarity with the working class people of Spain. Food and fundraising collections were made throughout the coalfields and limestone quarry mining communities. Occasionally, auctions of basic Spanish items, hats and scarves, were held and it’s recorded that some Welsh workers, who were existing on the breadline, would hand over their weekly pay packets unopened as a gesture of support for the working class people of Spain.

Quarry workers at Gaen’s quarry where my ancestor William was foreman.

In the spring of 1937 four sea captains from Wales attempted to break the blockade at Bilbao and deliver much needed food and supplies to the Republicans. These supplies included fuel, medicines, guns and ammunition.

The most famous of these sea captains was David John ‘Potato’ Jones, captain of the cargo steamer Marie Llewellyn. ‘Potato’ Jones also ferried 800 refugees to safety. In total the Welsh sea captains ferried 25,000 refugees on their return journeys.

Cardiff International Brigade veteran Tom Williams described the pitiful scene at the port of Cartagena. “I have seen women and children begging for crusts on the quays by the ships. The fight for democracy in Europe is carried on by the British ships carrying predominantly Welsh crews, and we are known on the continent as the ‘Welsh Navy’.”

Pictured: Captain David John ‘Potato’ Jones and his ship the Marie Llewellyn

In Spain, Loyalist doctors and nurses would often scrape the mould off stale bread and jam to create a meal. However, despite mass unemployment and wages below the breadline, the people of Wales rallied to the Loyalist cause and through the Spanish Aid Committee made numerous collections for the beleaguered communities in Spain. Here the people of Bedwas proudly pose with an assortment of tea, corned beef, cocoa, potted meat, jam, cheese, beans, custard, coffee, soap and socks. 

A group of Welsh volunteers, members of the International Brigade, pictured at the bloody battle of Brunete, August 1937: Back row from left: Alwyn Skinner*, Fred Morris, Ben Davies C. E. Palmer. Middle row from left: Archie Cook, Hector Manning, Harry Dobson*, Arthur Williams. Front row from left: Jack Roberts, Ted Edwards, Morris Davies. *Killed in Spain.

l am fortunate in that many people over the years have helped me with my research for my books. For The Olive Tree, I would like to thank Simon Martinez and Gail Giles who have gone out of their way to search for and provide documents relevant to my research. Their help has enabled me to add detail to my books and gain insight into the lives of the remarkable people who did so much to fight fascism and help their fellow man in the 1930s.

A grainy, but poignant image – Basque children carrying sandbags, helping the British people as they prepare for war in 1939.