On Bank Holiday Monday, 29th May at 18.00 in the afternoon BBC Radio Oxford will broadcast The Ulitimate Sacrifice: Oxfordshire and the Spanish Civil War. Marcos takes a journey exploring Oxfordshire’s aid for Spain as the county tried to save the Second Republic
Friday June 9, 7.30pm for 8pm – Fighting Franco – Speaking event (£4/5 admission) at Friends Meeting House, St Giles, Oxford (see flyer below)
Saturday, June 10 At noon, the Deputy Lord Mayor of Oxford, Councillor Christine Simm, will perform the unveiling next to South Park, at the junction of Headington Road and Morrell Avenue
Saturday 10 June, 7.45pm to 11.30pm – A tribute concert – Music and dancing to Cuban-style Oxford group, Ran Kan Kan, Camino del Flamenco and Na-Mara. West Oxfordshire Community Centre, Botley Road, Oxford (see flyer below)
Tribute to Those Who Fought Against Franco
On Saturday, June 10, the long campaign for a memorial to the 31 men and women from Oxfordshire who fought against fascism and for democracy in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 comes to a successful conclusion. At noon, the Deputy Lord Mayor of Oxford, Councillor Christine Simm, will perform the unveiling next to South Park, at the junction of Headington Road and Morrell Avenue. Six of the 31 were killed in action and their names appear on the memorial.
The campaign was launched in 2014 by a small committee made up of local members of the International Brigade Memorial Trust (IBMT), the charity which keeps alive the memory and spirit of the 2,726 volunteers from the British Isles who went to Spain. Of these, 543 never returned. There are more than 100 memorials in towns and cities throughout the country, but Oxford has been notably absent from the list. That was something we were determined to put right.
Buying a suitable block of granite and commissioning a highly regarded and sympathetic sculptor (Charlie Carter) didn’t come cheap and our first priority was raising the necessary funds. Many individuals and organisations – including Banbury and Bicester Labour Party – answered our appeal. The trade union movement was particularly generous and three of our largest donations came from Unison, the Oxford and district branch of the National Union of Journalists and the southeast regional committee of Unite.
We also published a book, No Other Way: Oxfordshire and the Spanish Civil War 1936-39, by three local historians (myself included), which features biographies of the 31 volunteers and describes the Aid for Spain movement in Oxford and the surrounding area. The book has had excellent reviews and we’re already on to a second printing. If you’d like a copy, let me know.
But raising money wasn’t the only problem. We also had to find a suitable site somewhere in Oxford, which was far from easy in such a crowded city. Our first choice was Bonn Square, but we were unable go ahead with this for planning reasons. Our second choice was St Giles, close to the present memorial to those killed in the two world wars. But this had to be abandoned because of objections by local residents.
Some disliked our design of a clenched fist crushing a fascist scorpion. The clenched fist symbolises hope and defiance and was widely used as a greeting in Republican Spain, but the objectors condemned it as being too aggressive and ‘neo-Stalinist’. Some even disliked the idea of our memorial being close to the War Memorial, seemingly unaware that those who served in Spain had begun the fight against fascism three years before the outbreak of the Second World War.
We felt sure that our third choice of site, on a triangle of open land opposite South Park, and well away from any houses, would go through smoothly. But again we encountered a hornet’s nest of opposition. In the forefront, was the Oxford Preservation Trust (OPT), which claimed that our memorial would detract from a ‘monolith’ by the renowned sculptor, Eric Gill, which has stood in South Park since 1951. Ironically, Gill was himself an ardent supporter of the Spanish Republic and would almost certainly have been in favour of the memorial. The OPT also claimed that the memorial – no taller than the average man – would impact views within the local conservation area.
We even faced opposition on religious grounds, with some Catholics citing the atrocities supposedly carried out by Republican forces against Catholic priests, religious and lay people in the Spanish Civil War. In fact, most of these atrocities were committed in areas outside the control of the Republican authorities, and they were ended as soon the authorities gained control.
Franco’s forces, on the other hand, encouraged by their German and Italian backers, used terror as a weapon of war, deliberately killing thousands of civilians. Perhaps the most notorious example of this policy occurred 80 years last month, when the small Basque town of Guernica was destroyed in one afternoon of sustained aerial bombardment.
Our application to use the site near South Park finally came before the West Area Planning Committee of Oxford City Council in February. The objectors were there in force, but our case was convincingly put by the Chair of our small group, Colin Carritt, a former Mayor of Woodstock, who has a very personal stake in the project. Both his father and uncle served with the International Brigades in Spain. His father survived, but his uncle was killed at the devastating Battle of Brunete in July 1937. He was just 23.
The Council’s own planners comprehensively demolished the objections by the OPT and our application was approved by five votes to three, with one abstention. Those in favour were all Labour councillors; those against were all LibDebs. The abstainer was the Labour Chair of the committee. The vote in favour would have been greater but for the unavoidable absence of two Labour councillors.
It has been a long and sometimes frustrating campaign, but we are delighted that the 31 Oxfordshire volunteers are finally to receive the honour they deserve. As part of the commemoration weekend, we’re also holding a public meeting on the evening of June 9 and a concert on the evening of June 10. The meeting, at the Friends’ Meeting House in St Giles, Oxford, on the theme of Fighting Franco, has a star line-up of speakers, including Professor Paul Preston, the leading historian of the Spanish Civil War, Richard Baxell, Chair of the IBMT, Professor Valentine Cunningham, editor of The Penguin Book of Spanish Civil War Verse, and Carmen Negrin, granddaughter of Juan Negrin, the last Prime Minister of the Spanish Republic. Carmen is travelling from her home in Spain specially to be with us and will also be speaking at the unveiling the following day.
Tickets for the meeting are £5 on the door or £4 pre-booked. Doors open at 7.30pm for an 8pm start. Please send a cheque (plus sae) made out to the IBMT to John Haywood, 1 Queens Road, Banbury OX16 OEB.
The concert, which includes the Cuban-style Oxford group, Ran Kan Kan, Camino del Flamenco and Na-Mara, is at West Oxford Community Centre, Botley Road, just 5 minutes from the railway station. There is also a car park. A high point of the evening will La Pasionaria’s famous farewell speech to the International Brigades, spoken in both English and Spanish. The bar opens at 7pm and the music continues from 7.45 to 11.30pm.
Advance tickets are £15 by June 5 or £20 on the door. Again, cheques (plus sae) should be made out to the IBMT and sent to John Haywood.
All profits will go towards the cost of the memorial. Like the unveiling itself, both events will be unique and unforgettable experiences. And it could just be that we’ll all looking for something to boost our spirits in the aftermath of the election.
Chris Farman 2017