On Tuesday 3 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.