Henley-on-Thames Archaeological and Historical Group
Lecture Details and Reviews
Oxfordshire and the Spanish Civil War, 1936-39
3rd October, 2017Liz Woolley This talk tells the story of how the people of Oxfordshire responded to the Spanish Civil War. More than thirty went to Spain to fight or as doctors and nurses, whilst thousands more joined in fundraising and awareness-raising campaigns at home. Still others welcomed and housed hundreds of Basque refugees who had fled to Britain to escape the fighting. These events accompanied profound political changes, in Oxford in particular, and the uniting of â€˜townâ€™ and â€˜gownâ€™ in a popular front never seen before (and perhaps since) in the city.
Reviewed by Tonylynch on 2nd May, 2018On Tuesday 3rd October members and others enjoyed a talk by Liz Woolley on the involvement of people with Oxfordshire connections with the Civil War in Spain in the 1930s. Remarkably, this war brought together people from all sections of society – even uniting Town and Gown in Oxford!
The War was precipitated by a failed coup by the military in 1936 against the democratically-elected government. Britain and France responded quickly by promoting a non-intervention pact signed by many countries, including Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union. However, following an appeal by General Franco of the Nationalists, this side was supported by Germany and Italy. Britain was determined to remain neutral and all aid given (almost entirely to the Republicans) was on a voluntary basis.
Of the 35000 international volunteers, 2500 were from the UK and Ireland; 31 of these were from Oxfordshire and in turn, six of these were killed during the conflict. Many of these actually participated in the fighting, others provided medical services as doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers – an especially dangerous task, as ambulances were singled out for attack by the fascists. Yet others who remained behind were active in organising collections of food and equipment; Arthur Exell of Morris Motors made medical splints and adapted American motorcycles to carry stretchers. Following the bombing of the Basque region, notably Guernica, many refugee children were housed in ‘colonies’; in Oxfordshire, these were located at Thame, Shipton-under-Wychwood, Aston near Witney and at Buscot Park.
While these events in Spain were to be overshadowed by the outbreak of the Second World War, the spirit of these volunteers must have served as a foundation for those involved in the wider, later conflict.