Fleeing Spain

In 1937 4,000 children fled the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and arrived on British shores. This was the largest single influx of child refugees in British history. Marking Refugee Week 2019, we have created an online exhibition showcasing items from our Spanish Collection documenting the children's journey, their experiences and the support they received from the British people, with a unique scrapbook on the 'colony' in Worthing as its centre piece.

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In July 1936 the Spanish Civil War was sparked by a military coup led by General Franco against Spain’s elected government.

It was a brutal conflict between the Republicans, those who backed the centre-left popular front government responsible for radical land and education reform, and the Rebels, supported by the military, the catholic church and the far-right falangists.

Fascism was on the march in Europe. Britain and other Western countries decided on a policy of ‘non-intervention’ in the Spanish war. But Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy broke this agreement, providing the Rebels with arms and troops. 

The Rebels and their German allies used war planes to bomb Spanish cities. Ordinary men, women and children were targeted in this campaign of terror. Spain was used as a testing ground by the fascists in preparation for the Second World War.

Most famously, the town of Guernica was razed by the German Condor Legion on 26 April 1937. It was market day and over 1,000 were killed.

This was immortalised in Picasso’s painting ‘Guernica’. He was one of many artists internationally who highlighted the plight of Spain.

Many Spaniards fled the country. In addition to political exiles, thousands of children were evacuated. As the Rebels advanced northwards in 1937, the Republic appealed to countries across the world to take the refugee children.

A co-ordinating committee was established in the UK. It lobbied the Conservative government, which eventually agreed to take 4,000, on the condition that they receive no public money.

These images show the destruction of Guernica.