refugee week 2020 1937

Refugee Week: Photos of 1930’s Spanish Child Refugees Recovered in East Anglia

Project in time for Refugee Week 2020 reveals their stories

Rarely-seen film footage and photographs have been put online for the first time, revealing the stories of child refugees from Basque, Spain, who fled to the UK during the Spanish Civil War in 1937.

The war, which broke out the year before, was left to unfold by both Britain and France, who supported a non-intervention policy. However, both Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy did not have qualms about getting involved in the situation in their neighbouring country.

child refugees basque
The children left the port of Santurce near Bilboa on May 21st, 1937. They arrived in Southampton to be greeted by a band of Salvation Army volunteers.
[Image: Southhampton University Achirves]

Rarely-seen film footage and photographs have been put online for the first time, revealing the stories of child refugees from Basque…

The children in the newly-released footage fled Basque after intervening German and Italian aircraft destroyed 80% of their home town Guernica a year after the war had broken out.

After this Britain decided to step in, assisting the evacuation of resident children and hosting them in parts of Britain – including East Anglia.

The images and film that have been recovered from the archives are now being used in an Anglia Ruskin University project, that is being directed by Dr Jeannette Baxter.

The children […] fled Basque after intervening German and Italian aircraft destroyed 80% of their home town Guernica

According to estimations by historians, including Baxter, a rapid evacuation was initiated by Britain, in which 3,881 children were saved by volunteers. They then travelled to Southampton.

Rarely-seen original news report, documenting the arrival of the Basque children in England, 1937. Original video recovered and released by www.havenseast.org

“The children, who were aged five to 15, thought they would only be gone three months”, Baxter said. “But after Bilbao fell, they were unable to go home”.

…3,881 children were saved by volunteers…

One of the volunteers who offered to house some of the children, now identified as Polly Vulliamy, established a 50-person colony at Oakley Park on the Norfolk/Suffolk border. This she ironically called the “bad boys” colony, based on inflammatory British press reports that implied the male children, in particular, were immoral and yobbish. This was lovingly dismissed by Vulliamy who, according to Baxter, “rubbished the idea that the boys were ‘bad’”.

“They were strongly political, hormonal adolescents who had been traumatised” Baxter added.

refugee children basque
Poppy Vuillamy (top right) set up the colony for “bad boys” close to Hoxne in Norfolk, and worked with the Basque refugees to help them feel safe and secure, as well as encourage them to participate in politics and sport.
[Image: Southhampton University Achirves]

Vulliamy galvanized many of the children to organise a parliament to run the colony. This structure was reenvisaged and contined when they later moved to Great Yarmouth.

The children also created their own Spanish magazine, which they called Ayuda. In this, they included poems and stories, and reported on outings they had attended, as well as the results of sports matches against other local teams. Thanks to a Heritage Lotter funded project, this has now been able to translated in English for the first time.

Vulliamy galvanized many of the children to organise a parliament to run the colony

Before the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939, Vulliamy invited around 20 of the boys back for Christmas after the Basque Boys football team beat the Yarmouth Boys 9-0 in a match.

The children also created their own Spanish magazine, which they called Ayuda

basque boys football
20 of the Basque ‘bad boys’ were invited back by Vulliamy for Christmas, following their move from her colony in November 1937. This came after their football team, ‘Basque Boys’, beat the opposing Great Yarmouth Boys 9-0 in a football match.
[Image: The Association for the UK Basque Children]
Written by
Luna Williams