Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Basque children in Britain

Basque children

In May 1937 just under four thousand refugee children sailed from the Basque Country to Britain on the ship 'Habana'. The children, and the small number of adults accompanying them, were fleeing the Spanish Civil War's 'War in the North' - the advance of Nationalist troops on the Republican Basque Country, backed by airstrikes by German and Italian forces (most notoriously on the town of Guernica). No British government support was available for the refugees, the maintenance of the children was funded by voluntary public donations and managed by the Basque Children's Committee, a specially formed offshoot of the National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief.

When the children arrived they were initially housed in a temporary camp at North Stoneham, near Southampton, which had been swiftly constructed by volunteers. The children were then divided into small groups and sent to hostels or 'colonies' across the UK. After the fall of Bilbao in June 1937, discussions began about the repatriation of the children to what was now a Nationalist-controlled area of Spain. By the time repatriation was halted by the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, just over 1000 of the children who had sailed on the 'Habana' remained in Britain.

The Trades Union Congress was represented on the Basque Children's Committee and the TUC's archive contains a significant quantity of administrative material relating to the maintenance of the children. A selection of documents have been highlighted below, some additional material can be found in four files of documents relating to the Basque children, all of which have been digitised - two files of minutes and other documents dating from 1937-1938 and 1938-1939, and two correspondence files dating from 1937-1938 and 1938-1949.

Planning the evacuation

Telegram appealing for rapid action, 2 May 1937

The telegram message was sent to Clement Attlee, leader of the Labour Party, and various other prominent labour movement figures by Leah Manning, then in Bilbao. It calls for the evacuation of children to "stop repetition [of] Guernica". A memorandum by Walter Citrine, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, written partly in response to the telegram, is also available.

Interview with Senor Lizaso, 4-6 May 1937

Notes of a series of meetings between representatives of the British labour movement and Jose I. de Lizaso, representative of the Basque government in Britain. They discuss plans for the evacuation and maintenance of the children and record the formation of the Basque Children's Committee. A report of a preliminary meeting on 3 May 1937 is also available.

'Evacuation work: 22,000 children ready to leave', 4 May 1937

Newspaper extract from the Manchester Guardian. It reproduces Leah Manning's telegram and provides general information about the planned evacuation of 800 women and children on the transatlantic liner Habana.

Copy letter to the Prime Minister, 6 May 1937

Copy of a letter sent by Wilfrid Roberts, a Liberal MP and leading figure in the National Joint Committee (NJC) for Spanish Relief and Basque Children's Committee, to the Prime Minister. Roberts summaries the work so far done by the NJC regarding the proposed evacuation of Basque children and appeals for government assistance.

Minutes of the Committee for the Evacuation of the Basque Children, [May 1937]

The minutes summarise some of the initial discussions around transport, the numbers of the children to be evacuated, the initial 'clearing' camp, healthcare, food and finance.

Arrival and the North Stoneham Camp

Report on the "Basque Camp, Eastleigh", 25 May 1937

Report by E.P. Harries, representative of the Trades Union Congress, on preparations for the camp and the initial chaotic conditions. He strongly recommends changing the individuals in charge of the management of the camp. Follow-up memoranda from 28 May 1937 and 31 May 1937 are also available.

Supplementary report on the "Basque children's camp, Stoneham, Eastleigh", 28 May 1937

Information supplied by Mary E. Sutherland, Chief Woman Officer of the Labour Party, in addition to the report submitted by E.P. Harries.

'Expenses of camp at Southampton', 10 July 1937

Summary of 'establishment costs' and 'current expenses' between 21 May - 30 June 1937.

Minutes of the Joint Council of Southampton Trades Council, Labour Party and Co-operative Society, 4 June 1937

The minutes record the council's work on the 'Spanish campaign', including a section on the establishment of the North Stoneham camp and discussions about fundraising to maintain children in a more permanent "duration" home at Moorhill House, Southampton.

'Heart of Humanity Camp', 5 June 1937

Newspaper article on the North Stoneham camp from 'John Bull', including a photograph of the children.

'Child refugees from Bilbao and Basque camp at North Stoneham, near Southampton', 9 June 1937

Report by L. Witt of the Joint Council of Southampton Trades Council, Labour Party and Co-operative Society. He talks about arrangements for the evacuation of the children, the establishment and early administration of the camp, and the initial local aid effort.

'Administration of the camp', 14 June 1937

Confidential report by Wilfrid Roberts MP on the administration of the camp, including comments on some of the initial difficulties.

Evacuation of North Stoneham camp: statistical data about the numbers of children sent to different locations on particular dates:

Planned evacuation to various British towns between 11-21 June 1937, 10 June 1937

Position on evacuation up to 18 June 1937

Evacuations from camp up to the evening of 30 June 1937

Number of children in 'approved centres' and 'negotiations pending', 16 July 1937

Number of children in 'approved centres' and 'negotiations proceeding', 27 July 1937

List of goods sent to the Basque children's camps, 19 January 1938

Account for clothing, blankets and food ordered by the Trades Union Congress and supplied by the Co-operative Wholesale Society to the children's camps in Southampton and New Barnet (plus a delivery to Derby) between May-November 1937.


'Save the Basque children', May 1937

Joint appeal by the Labour Party and Trades Union Congress for funds to pay for the evacuation of children from the Basque country, following the bombing of Guernica. The leaflet also refers to other National Council of Labour schemes of aid, including foodships and the International Solidarity Fund hospital at Ontinyent.

'4,000 children saved', [c.1937]

Illustrated leaflet issued by the Basque Children's Committee, appealing for help to 'adopt' the children (by sending money to help support them).

'Your shillings will saved lives', 1937

Illustrated leaflet issued by the National Council of Labour. It appeals for funds for the Basque children in Britain and for food, clothing and medical supplies in Spain.

Dundee Spanish Medical Aid Committee, June 1937

This leaflet outlines the work of the newly formed Dundee Spanish Medical Aid Committee. It refers to Committee member Miss Wilson's work in North Stoneham camp as a translator and provides advice on 'how to adopt a refugee child' (by sending money to help support them).

'Spain and culture', June 1937

Leaflet for a fundraising event "in aid of the Basque refugee children" to be held at the Royal Albert Hall. Picasso, Heinrich Mann and Paul Robeson were listed amongst the contributors.

'Publicity and propaganda: Notes for local committees', undated [c. November 1937]

Guidelines issued by the National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief, including advice on fundraising for the Basque children.

Spanish concert, London, December 1937

Leaflet for a fundraising concert jointly arranged by the Spanish Women's Committee for Help to Spain and Holborn & W.C. London Spanish Medical Aid Committee. The concert included performances by Basque Children and by Paul Robeson.

Advertisement for gramophone records, undated [c.1937]

This leaflet refers to the exodus of refugees after the bombing of Guernica and advertises two records - one containing songs by a choir of Basque children, the other songs by Paul Robeson.

'Mil gracias! Christmas greetings and thanks from the Basque children', [December 1937]

Christmas fundraising leaflet issued by the Basque Children's Committee. It includes reference to "people who have made a lot of propaganda about us being here" and the repatriation scheme.

Basque children's concert, January 1938

Circular and leaflet relating to a concert to be held at Rudolf Steiner Hall, London. The circular also includes a reference to a proposed BBC TV appearance by the children.

Appeal sent to previous supporters, 4 February 1938

The circular provides an outline of the work of the Basque Children's Committee, from the initial evacuation to the start of repatriation, and asks for financial help to allow the committee to continue to support the children still in Britain.

'First grand cabaret dance', March 1938

Leaflet to promote a cabaret and dance in aid of the Basque children, to be held at New Burlington Galleries, London. A circular promoting the event is also available.

Film premiere and concert, March 1938

Leaflet advertising the premiere of the film 'The New Spain', together with a concert by the Basque children, to be held at the Phoenix Theatre, London. The leaflet includes a photograph of children at a theatre.

Fundraising for the International Solidarity Fund, 30 March 1938

Information about the work of the International Solidarity Fund, circulated by the National Council of Labour. It includes a section on the Basque children and an appeal that money should still be forthcoming to maintain the children even though repatriation had started, as "more than 2,200 still remain to be cared for".

'A Basque children's concert', April 1938

Circular and leaflet promoting a concert held at Wyndham's Theatre, London.

'Help the Spanish child refugees', c.1938

Illustrated fundraising leaflet issued by the Basque Children's Committee, appealing for funds for the "remaining 1,700".

Plan for winter fundraising campaign, 10 September 1938

Outline of the National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief's fundraising plan, which identifies maintenance of the Basque children as "the chief drain upon the Committee's resources". It suggests a focus on the 'adoption' scheme and trying to build closer contacts with British schools and certain other organisations.

'Labour raises £500,000 for Spain', 1939

National Council of Labour leaflet which promotes the fundraising work done by the British labour movement during the Spanish Civil War. It includes information and photographs relating to the Basque children. An alternative version of the leaflet is also available.

The Basque Children's Committee and its administration

'A statement of policy', 1937

One page outline of the aims and objectives of the Basque Children's Committee.

Minutes of the Basque Children's Committee

We have minutes of 49 meetings of the BCC (including some for the Executive Committee and Administration Sub-Committee) dating from May 1937 - October 1939. The minutes are the most detailed records that we have relating to the BCC's work and include information about the establishment and administration of local hostels, fundraising and discussions over repatriation.

Report of meeting of the National Committee for Basque Children, 22 June 1937

The report includes information about finance, North Stoneham camp, the Salvation Army home at Clapton, and conditions for children still in Spain.

'Basque children report', August 1937

Published report issued to counter "alarmist, mischievous and untrue" reporting on misbehaviour by Basque children in Britain.

'Spanish Relief', 1937

The bulletin of the National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief included reports on the fundraising and charitable work of the organisation, including references to the arrival and maintenance of the Basque children in Britain.

Bulletin no.7, June 1937

Bulletin no.8, July 1937

Bulletin no.9, October 1937

Bulletin no.10, December 1937

Bulletin no.11, March 1938

'Basque Children's Bulletin', no.2, August 1938

The bulletin includes information about publicity, fundraising, administration and the location of regional centres, and short articles on the education of the Basque children by Clemente Hernando Balmori and Dr. Margarita Camps.

Annual report of the work of the National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief, the British Committee for Refugees from Spain and the Basque Children's Committee, 1938-9

The publication includes a short report on the Basque children, focusing on repatriation, and a form which volunteers could complete to "offer free hospitality to a Basque child until it can be restored to its parents".

Annual reports of the National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief and the Basque Children's Committee:

Annual report, 1941

Annual report, 1942

Annual report, 1944

Annual report, 1945

Letter about the financial problems of the Basque Children's Committee, 30 March 1940

Letter from the Duchess of Atholl to Vincent Tewson of the Trades Union Congress. She asks for additional funds, refers to the continuing expenses of the committee and comments that the repatriation fund currently doesn't contain enough money to pay for the repatriations made to that date. An account of some of the expenditure on train fares during repatriation is also available.

"Our responsibility as a Relief Committee has really come to an end", 4 April 1949

Letter from Lady Dorothea Layton, reporting on the work of the National Joint Committee over the past four years. It includes a reference to the end of the committee's formal responsibility for the remaining 298 Basque children, "the youngest 17 and the majority over 21 and in jobs".

Homes and hostels

Letter to proposed adopter, [1937]

Example of a standard letter sent by the Trades Union Congress, which politely turns down offers to adopt individual children.

'Homes for groups of Basque children', 9 June 1937

Guidelines issued by the National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief. They include advice on accommodation, language, finance and inspection.

'Memorandum for the guidance of local committees desiring to assist the National Committee for the Care of Basque Children', 1937

Guidelines for local committees on establishing and financing homes for the Basque children.

Statistical information regarding the placement of the children, 31 May 1937

Information about some of the initial offers from local committees to look after groups of children.

Bristol, June 1937

Article from the 'Bristol Evening World', reporting on '50 Basque girls coming to Bristol'. A letter relating to preliminary arrangements in Bristol is also available.

Salvation Army Home, Clapton, 1937

Letter from a local resident expressing concern about the treatment of boys at the Clapton home. A comment on the Clapton allegations from the Trades Union Congress is also available.

Divisions in Dundee, 1937

Correspondence relating to fundraising in Dundee and the attempts of Caroline Chapman to get support for the Dundee Basque Children's Committee from the local labour movement. The secretary of Dundee Trades and Labour Council opposed collaboration with the committee as it "would be fatal" electorally, due to support amongst many local Catholics for Franco (citing £750 collected from "the poor of Dundee" for the Nationalists). Additional correspondence and ephemera relating to the Dundee committee is also available.

Huddersfield, August 1937

Short report from Huddersfield Trades Council. It refers to the formation of a local Spanish Aid Committee, a residential home for twenty children and two adults, and fundraising activities.

Report on individual centres, September 1937

Brief report on each home for Basque children made by Leah Manning to the Basque Children's Committee. Financial information about individual centres is also included in the document.

Carshalton and District, March 1938

Letter appealing for gifts of paint to help improve the home at Carshalton.

Wickham Market, Camberley and Barnet, June 1938

Order for goods supplied by the London Wholesale Co-operative Society to three of the homes for Basque children. An additional earlier order for Wickham Market and Camberley is also available.

'Report on activities during the crisis', 5 October 1938

Short report on plans for evacuation made by individual homes in case of the declaration of war between Britain and Germany.

Plymouth, September 1940

Appeal for funds from the Secretary of the Trades Council Committee of the Plymouth and District Spanish Refugee Fund. An additional appeal was received in 1941.

Banstead, November 1941

Letter from a representative of Epsom Constituency Labour Party about the financing of the home for Basque children at Banstead.

Repatriation and remaining

Foreign Office views on the repatriation of Basque children, July 1937

Copy of a letter from Anthony Eden, Foreign Secretary, sent to Wilfrid Roberts MP. It includes the reported views of Sir Henry Chilton, British Ambassador in Spain, on the return of refugees to Spain.

Foreign Office response to Basque Children's Committee proposals to send a delegation to Spain before the children are repatriated, 30 September 1937

The copy letter communicates the critical views of Sir Henry Chilton, British Ambassador in Spain.

'Alternatives before the Committee tomorrow', 30 September 1937

Summary of the arguments for and against recognising Father Gabana, Representative of the Apostolic Delegate in Bilbao, as someone that the Basque Children's Committee can negotiate with.

Report on Father Gabana's repatriation list, 1937

The report, compiled by the Basque Children's Committee, provides an analysis and critique of the list of the list of children to be repatriated provided by Father Gabana.

Report of Repatriation Committee, 26 October 1937

Report of the committee formed by the National Joint Committee and Basque Children's Committee to advise on "(1) the question of repatriation of Basque children now in England (2) the applications which had been made for the return of the Children to Spain and (3) to consult all concerned and in particular Father Gabana." Two outlines of a meeting called to discuss the report's conclusions are also included - a draft version and a formal set of minutes. The formal statement of the NJC and BCC issued after the meeting is also available.

'Report on the visit to Bilbao', 23 November 1937

Minutes of a joint meeting of National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief and Basque Children's Committee, including a formal report submitted by four delegates who had gone to Spain with the first group of children to be repatriated.

Letter of protest, 30 January 1938

Copy of a letter from Nell Badsey, Hon. Secretary at the Basque Children's Hostel at Tynemouth, protesting against the existing arrangements for repatriation of the children and the prevention of committee representatives (including herself) from crossing the Spanish border with the children.

'Summary of replies from centres to the circular on repatriation sent out from Head Office on October 11th, 1938'

The report summarises replies from individual hostels about whether letters have been received from repatriated children or their parents. It also includes information about the number of children repatriated from each centre.

Statistical information about the number of children, Senoritas and priests repatriated, 1939

The data covers the period up to May 1939 and includes some information about where they were repatriated to (Bilbao, Barcelona and France).

Brief information about the remaining homes, 1939

List of remaining homes and homes likely to close, with the numbers of children resident in each. Statistical information about the transfer of children between homes is also included.

Analysis showing total number of Basque children in England with full particulars of their parents' circumstances, c. October 1939

Statistical information about the 1054 children still in Britain, including data about the number who had a parent or parents in Spain, in exile or deceased.

Guidance issued after the outbreak of the Second World War, October 1939

The circular includes references to repatriation, fundraising, evacuation and employment of the children.

Basque Boys Training Committee, 1939

Short report on the work of the committee set up to provide training in industry or agriculture for the boys who were unable to return to Spain.