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The Scottish Ambulance Unit in Spain

The Scottish Ambulance Unit in Spain

The Scottish Ambulance Unit was formed by the wealthy Glasgow-based businessman Sir Daniel Stevenson (a supporter of the Liberal Party) and by the end of the war had sent £21,436 worth of equipment, food and medical supplies to Spain. The first convoy of six ambulances and a lorry left Scotland for Madrid in September 1936, and served during the siege of the Spanish capital. During the first few months in Spain, the unit suffered from a series of problems with its personnel: five members of unit were sent home for "disciplinary reasons" immediately after their arrival at the front; two members were captured by Nationalist forces (Boyd and MacMahon); and three members of the unit (Leonard Crome, Roderick McFarquhar and Morris Linden) resigned in March 1937 over political differences. The Scottish Ambulance Unit initially operated separately from the Spanish Medical Aid Committee, with which it had an uneasy relationship.

The documents linked to below provide information about the frontline work of the Unit and the attempts of the Unit's founder to raise funds. More documents (particularly about Sir Daniel Stevenson's attempts to get additional money from the Trades Union Congress) are included in our digital collection on the Spanish Civil War.

The Unit in Spain:

Report on the Scottish Ambulance Unit, drafted at the request of the English Unit in Barcelona, 20 October 1936

Report by Hugh Slater of his meeting in Madrid with Donald Perfect, a member of the Scottish Ambulance Unit (SAU). It includes information about the arrest of SAU members by the Republican authorities and looting by members of the Unit.

The relationship between the Scottish Ambulance Unit and other aid agencies, 5 November 1936

Letter from Charles Brook, Honorary Secretary of the Spanish Medical Aid Committee (SMAC), to Walter Citrine, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress. Brook describes the sometimes uneasy relationship between the Scottish Ambulance Unit and SMAC and refers to some of the problems encountered by the SAU.

Letter regarding the capture of two members of the Scottish Ambulance Unit by Nationalist forces, 9 November 1936

Brief letter from Antony Eden, Foreign Secretary, to Walter Citrine, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, regarding British government enquiries following the capture of Boyd and MacMahon by Nationalist forces, 9 November 1936. A follow-up letter was sent by Eden on 16 November 1936.

Summary information about the personnel in Spain, 2 January 1937

The information is included in a letter sent to the Trades Union Congress by Sir Daniel Stevenson and refers to personnel problems that the Scottish Ambulance Unit had encountered in Spain, including departure of the Unit's one qualified doctor, disciplinary problems and shell shock. A copy of a letter from Stevenson published in the Glasgow Herald, 1 January 1937, was also enclosed.

'Starvation in Madrid: women go frantic when ambulance food supply ends', 21 February 1937

Copy of an article by SAU member Morris Linden, published in the Sunday Post, Glasgow. It described the Unit's distribution of food supplies and includes a photo of Fernanda Jacobsen handing out food in Madrid from the back of an ambulance.

The Scottish ambulances in Spain, 27 February 1937

Report by Fernanda Jacobsen, "the Lady Comandante", on the Unit's distribution of food in Madrid and the resulting "pandemonium", when the SAU had to be saved from a starving "howling hysterical mob" by Assault Guards and some fast driving.

Resignation letter from members of the Scottish Ambulance Unit, with covering letter to the Trades Union Congress, 30 March 1937

The letter accuses members of the Unit of spreading propaganda against the Spanish government and criticises Fernanda Jacobsen for her actions in providing food from the back of an ambulance rather than collaborating with the Spanish authorities. A letter of response from Sir Daniel Stevenson is also available.

Illustrated article about the Scottish Ambulance Unit, 1 June 1937 

The two page article was published in the Spanish magazine El Obrero Sanitario, and is illustrated with photographs of Sir Daniel Stevenson, members of the Unit in Spain, and the SAU ambulances. An English translation is also available.

Trades Union Congress memorandum of interview with Fernanda Jacobsen, 7 January 1938.

Jacobsen responds to rumours spread by three former members of the Unit that she was a fascist sympathiser. The interview refers to political tensions between the Unit's leadership (Liberal) and certain members (Communist), and differing views on whether political propaganda should be part of medical aid (e.g. whether the ambulance should display a portrait of Lenin).

Telegrams sent by Fernanda Jacobsen to the Trades Union Congress:

22 March 1938: appeal for Britain to take in refugees following the bombing of Barcelona

15 April 1938: appeal for immediate shipment of food to Madrid

Illustrated article about the Scottish Ambulance Unit, May 1938 

Article published in the Spanish magazine Después. It includes photographs of Sir Daniel Stevenson and key members of the Unit.

With the Scottish Ambulance Unit in Spain, 17 August 1938

Descriptive letter from Fernanda Jacobsen, published in the Manchester Guardian, with copy of the accompanying editorial and letter from Sir Daniel Stevenson on the Unit's financial difficulties and relationship with the National Joint Committee.

Letter from Sir Daniel Stevenson to Walter Citrine, 4 September 1938

Stevenson provided information about the Unit's work, appealed for more money, and enclosed 'Congratulations from Spain' (congratulatory messages sent to Stevenson on his 87th birthday and a published tribute to the work of the Unit).

Arrangements for a Scottish food ship to Spain, 13 September 1938

Memorandum of a telephone message from Vincent Tewson (of the Trades Union Congress) regarding arrangements for a Scottish food ship.

Report on the Unit's work and "distress in Spain", 30 September 1938

Description of conditions in Spain and the work of the SAU by Fernanda Jacobsen, intended for public or press information.

Summary of telephone conversation with Fernanda Jacobson, 15 October 1938 

It includes information about arrangements for supplies to be sent on the Scottish foodship to Spain.

Press statements by Sir Daniel Stevenson:

27 January 1937: the Unit's return to Spain with new vehicles and the changing attitude of the French authorities to travellers to the Spanish border

15 February 1937: the Unit's return to Spain and an appeal for funds

19 March 1937: the Unit's new method of working in Spain

9 April 1937: response to allegations that the Unit was breaking up

16 April 1937: quoting a report on the Unit's distribution of food

5 June 1937: including reference to the Unit's work under fire in Toledo

3 July 1937: including reference to Fernanda Jacobsen's meeting with the Spanish President

6 September 1937: regarding the Unit's return to Spain following a short break to rest and resupply

13 October 1937: regarding the Unit's return to Spain and its previous experiences of aerial bombardment

December 1937: regarding the Unit's work in Spain, including receipt of a bus and evacuation of refugees

14 January 1938: regarding the Unit's work in Spain and "starvation in Madrid"

17 May 1938: regarding the Unit's work and "distress in Spain"

4 November 1938: regarding the Unit's work and "distress in Spain" (it includes quotes from Unit member Elsie Brook on the effect of the conflict on civilians)

December 1938: regarding the Unit's work and "relief of Spanish distress"

24 February 1939: regarding the Unit's work and appealing for funds

Fundraising:

Request for financial aid from the International Solidarity Fund, 30 October 1936

Letter from William Stott, General Secretary of the Railway Clerks' Association, asking for the Trades Union Congress to support the Unit with a grant from the international trade union movement's International Solidarity Fund.

International aid for the Unit, 2 November 1936

Letter between Walter Citrine, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, and Walter Schevenels, General Secretary of the International Federation of Trade Unions, regarding financial support of the SAU through the International Solidarity Fund.

Appeal for a new ambulance, 2 November 1936

Cutting from the Daily Herald which reports the SAU's appeal for a new ambulance, after one of their vehicles was bombed near Madrid. The Daily Herald newspaper was partly funded by the Trades Union Congress.

Correspondence regarding the SAU's attempts to raise money from trade unions, particularly in Scotland, September-November 1936.

"Strictly private and confidential" letter enquiring about the Unit's background, 7 November 1936

The letter was from Walter Citrine, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, to William Elger, head of the Scottish Trades Union Congress. Citrine asks for clarification on several points (including the political affiliation of the Unit's founder, the disciplinary proceedings against the Unit's members, and the Unit's relationship with the Spanish Medical Aid Committee) before a decision on funding can be made. A report of William Elger's reply (by telephone) provides further information about the funding and operations of the Unit.

Letter of thanks for financial support, 17 November 1936

Letter from Sir Daniel Stevenson to Walter Citrine, thanking him for the donation of £1000 from the International Solidarity Fund.

Appeal for funds, 29 December 1936

The letter from Sir Daniel Stevenson to Walter Citrine includes information about the recent return of Unit members to Scotland, due to fears of psychological breakdowns, and the loss of two ambulances due to bombardment and confiscation by the Nationalists.

Leaflet for Ambulance Unit flag day, 15 May 1937, with related correspondence

The leaflet is illustrated with a photograph of orphaned child refugees in Madrid.

Financial problems and "calumny", July 1937

Letter from Sir Daniel Stevenson to Walter Citrine on the financial problems of the SAU and Stevenson's concern that the resignation letter from the "deserters" had discouraged Citrine from continuing to support the Unit, 29 July 1937, with reply from Citrine, 30 July 1937.

Scottish Ambulance Unit financial statement as at 20 August 1937.

Leaflet for Spanish market to be held in Glasgow, October 1937

The publicity leaflet for a fundraising event to support the Scottish Ambulance Unit and Basque child refugees includes a list of all the market stallholders. It was sent with a letter from Sir Daniel Stevenson about the Unit's work in Spain and financial problems.

Letter regarding the Unit's financial problems, 26 January 1938 

Letter from Sir Daniel Stevenson to Walter Citrine. The public's increasing tendency to support charities in support of China rather than Spain is referred to.

Summary accounts outlining TUC aid, 1 February 1938

A summary of the amount of money given by the Trades Union Congress to the Scottish Ambulance Unit and the Spanish Medical Aid Committee, with related correspondence.

Letter regarding the Unit's financial problems, 4 February 1938

Letter from Sir Daniel Stevenson to Walter Citrine. Stevenson also expresses concern about the Joint National Committee's expanding role in Scotland.

Financial arrangements for a Scottish food ship to Spain, 13 September 1938

Letter from Glasgow Trades Council, including some information about the quantities of food so far paid for.

Letter regarding starvation in Barcelona and the Unit's financial problems, 19 December 1938

Letter from Sir Daniel Stevenson to Walter Citrine. It includes a quote from Fernanda Jacobsen on the "harrowing" situation in Catalonia.

Letters regarding funding of the Unit, April-May 1939

Correspondence between Sir Daniel Stevenson and Walter Citrine, including a summary of the total costs of the Unit since 1936.

Appeal for funds from Sir Daniel Stevenson, 18 May 1939

The additional funding was intended to allow the Unit to do "clearing up" in Spain following the end of the war and to pay off the SAU's debts.