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Spanish Civil War: Sources at the Modern Records Centre

Archive collections at the Modern Records Centre include many documents about the Spanish Civil War. They deal, in particular, with the British political and humanitarian response to the conflict, and with Republican factionalism. Collections which contain significant quantities of material relating to the conflict are summarised below. Other items can be identified by either searching for keywords in our online catalogue or by trying our 'ready-made search' on the Spanish Civil War.

Over 14,000 pages of archives on the Spanish Civil War have been digitised and are available online. This includes files from the archives of the Trades Union Congress and publications from the archive of Henry Sara and Frank Maitland.

Papers of Henry Sara, Trotskyist; and Frank Maitland, friend and executor of Sara (MSS.15)

Henry Sara (1886-1953) joined the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1923. He became a popular speaker of some standing within the Party, but his criticism of its leaders and association with other "dissidents", including Reg Groves and Harry Wicks, led to his being expelled from the CPGB in 1932. Sara aligned himself with the Trotskyist Balham Group, working actively with them. During this time, Sara also worked as a lecturer-organiser with the National Council of Labour Colleges.

The collection includes news sheets, publications and press cuttings on Spain and the Spanish Civil War, mostly dating from 1936-1938. These include English language publications of the Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM), Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) / Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI) and United Socialist Party of Catalonia, together with pamphlets and articles on the situation in Spain.

Records of the International Transport Workers' Federation (MSS.159)

The International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) was founded in 1896 as the International Federation of Ship, Dock and River Workers, adopting its current name in 1898 when it expanded to include transport workers in non-maritime industries. The organisation had its roots in various special conferences and federations of European seamen and railwaymen in the early 1890s, and in the international co-operation of European transport unionists during the 1896-7 dock strikes in Rotterdam and Hamburg.

The records of the ITF contain a series of files relating to the organisation's involvement with the Spanish Civil War, including correspondence (uncoded and coded), propaganda material, newsletters, circulars and reports on subjects such as financial aid, blockade of shipping, assistance to refugees and moral support for the Republican cause. The ITF archive also contains many documents relating to its anti-fascist propaganda campaign and underground operations in the rest of Europe during the 1920s-1940s.

Papers of Hugo Dewar, Trotskyist (MSS.206)

Hugo Dewar (1908-1980) was a life-long proponent of revolutionary socialism. He joined the Independent Labour Party in 1928, and subsequently co-founded, with F.A. Ridley, the Marxist League. After briefly joining (and being expelled from) the Communist Party, he took part in the founding of the Communist League, the first Trotskyist group in Britain, and continued to be active in 'Left Opposition' groups until he was drafted into the army in 1943. On his discharge, he became a tutor in adult education, and wrote many books and articles exposing Stalinism.

The collection includes over 50 news sheets and journals relating to the Civil War, the majority of which were published in Spain and France during 1936-1938. Most are connected with Trotskyist groups, including the Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM), and are in Spanish, French or English. It also includes a small collection of pamphlets, circulars, etc., relating to the war, particularly regarding the fighting between the Republican factions.

Records of the Trades Union Congress (MSS.292 and MSS.292C)

The TUC collection includes dozens of files relating to the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath. Mostly they describe the support for the Republicans against Franco in the form of aid (medical, financial, etc.), attempts to persuade the British Government to help when other countries (Germany, Italy) were openly breaking the policy of non-intervention, and the boycott on Spanish exports and imports after the Second World War. The series also looks at the refugee problem - Basque children, seamen stranded in Britain - and describes fund-raising attempts, camps, clothing, etc. There are also files on both the International Brigade and the International Solidarity Fund. Lastly the files show support for the Spanish trade unionists, both in exile and still in Spain; there is much correspondence with the Foreign Office regarding support for and protests concerning workers, trade unionists imprisoned and on trial in Spain. The series includes a variety of posters, leaflets, and pamphlets used for fund-raising and propaganda purposes. Much of the correspondence from Spanish organisations and individuals is in Spanish, but not all has been translated. These files have been digitised in full and are available online.

There is a separate series of reports of TUC deputations to government departments (some of which also appear in the relevant subject files). This includes a report relating to the policy of non-intervention in the war, 27 Mar 1937 (MSS.292/712.5/1/225-232)

Papers of Wilfrid Roberts MP, Liberal politician (MSS.308)

Wilfrid Roberts (1900-1991) was the Liberal Member of Parliament for North Cumberland between 1935-50, and a leading figure in the Basque Children's Committee and other Spanish relief bodies. The Modern Records Centre holds 30 files relating to his work as Secretary to the National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief and involvement with other organisations between 1937-40, including files regarding the Basque Children's Committee, treatment of refugees and prisoners, and delegations to France and Spain.

Correspondence of Herbert Douglas Fisher, member of the International Brigade (817)

Transcriptions of letters written by Herbert Fisher between 1932-1938. The correspondence (to various correspondents) was transcribed by Fisher's mother, Janie Fisher, after his death. Some transcriptions appear to be extracts, rather than whole letters. The Spanish correspondence was mostly written from Socorro Rojo 270, Albacete, between December 1937 - February 1938. Subjects include: availability of food and other supplies, life in Spain, and conditions in the army.

Correspondence of Ernest Bevin, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union (MSS.126/EB)

Letter from Konni Zilliacus, 15 Dec 1936: enclosing copy of his note sent to Clement Attlee and Hugh Dalton on Spanish situation following failure of Anglo-French demarche and extraordinary session of League of Nations Council (attached) (MSS.126/EB/X/16/35-41 in file MSS.126/EB/X/16).

Letters from and to N Nathans and Edo Fimmen, International Transportworkers' Federation, Clement Attlee, James Middleton and Sir Walter Citrine, 22 Feb-8 Mar 1937: possibility of Spanish government accepting outside mediation to end the war (MSS.126/EB/X/17/87-96 in file MSS.126/EB/X/17).

Miscellaneous series of documents (MSS.21)

Items received individually and in small deposits by the Modern Records Centre.

This series includes items of ephemera regarding Mrs Olga Yvonne McCleland (1914-1995), Assistant Secretary, National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief (Basque Children's Committee): an address book, 1937-1938; a photograph of Mrs McCleland in Women's Royal Naval Service uniform; and two phonograph records of traditional Basque songs recorded by a Basque Children's Choir [document reference: MSS.21/3535]. It also includes a transcript of a detailed letter from "Ken", a member of the Major Attlee Company, International Brigade, Albacete, Spain, to "Ted" about his experiences in Spanish Civil War (original dated 26 December 1937) [document reference: MSS.21/1449]