The Library’s monthly volunteers’ lunch on 30 January was the occasion for a talk by myself, Stuart Walsh, a long time volunteer at the Library, and Pippa Sherriff, who came up for the day from Church Aston in Shropshire. Both of us are members of National Clarion Cycle Club, and the talk concerned our cycle ride from Bilbao to Barcelona between 17 and 25 October 2013, which commemorated the 75th anniversary of the withdrawal of the International Brigades.
The title of the talk was Cycling for the Memories: to honour those who fought against fascism, and to remember those who died. Eight members of the club started the ride, myself, Pippa, Terry Lynch, Charles Jepson, Manuel Moreno, Ruth Coates, Martin Perfect, and Lyn Hurst, and we were joined near Caspe in Aragon by our Catalan member Anna Marti, who lives just north of Barcelona. Maite de Paul Otoxtorena, who hails from San Sebastian in the Basque country, but now lives in Ammanford near Swansea, was our liaison with all of the people we met in Spain, and she joined us at Calafell in Catalonia. And we shouldn’t forget Margaret Jepson, who was the driver of our support bus.
National Clarion has a long standing involvement with the Spanish Civil War, and three of our members, Ray Cox, Roy Watts, and Tom Oldershaw, died fighting in the International Brigades. One of the purposes of the ride was to honour their memory, and one of the most moving moments of the whole trip was when we leaned three bikes against a memorial plaque at Parque de la Memoria in Sartaguda, in Navarre, and chalked their names onto the monument. As well as this involvement with the International Brigades, two of our members, Ted Ward and Geoff Jackson, cycled from Glasgow to Barcelona in 1938, raising money for Aid to Spain, and we recreated that ride in 2008, during which we met many of the cyclists and other contacts whose acquaintance we would renew in 2013, not least our friends in Gernika Cycle Club, who as in 2008 joined us for the first four days of our ride. [For anyone interested in that earlier ride, the blog is at http://1938glasgow2barcelona2008.wordpress.com]
Although this was a cycle ride the main purpose of the trip was an educational and publicity one, but something should be said about the actual ride however brief. We had some very hard days in the saddle, not least because we had a timetable where we had to be present for civic receptions, and other meetings with memorial groups and other associations. In nine days we cycled a total of 500 miles, and thanks to Terry, who has a state of the art Garmin computer on his bike, can break that down a little by saying that we spent a total of 36 hours in the saddle, with the longest day being 80 miles, our average speed over the 500 miles was 13mph, and top speed was 46mph on a mountainous descent on the second day. During the ride, as in 2008, we had daily exposure in the print, TV, and radio media, and one of the tasks at the end of the day was reviewing press and other reports from the previous day. I would like to concentrate on two of the events of the trip, the exhibition on the 1936 Barcelona Workers Olympiad, and our reception at the Parque de la Memoria in Sartaguda.
After the cycling was over on 25 October we were invited to the opening of an exhibition on the 1936 Barcelona Workers Olympiad, in Sant Feliu de Llobregat which is about 15 miles or so east of Barcelona. The organiser of the exhibition, Carles Vellejo, is the son of one of the organisers of the 1936 Olympiad, and Carles particularly wanted Clarion to officially open the exhibition because of our club’s history, in that many of our members went to participate. The event of course never took place because of the launch of the military coup, and some of the Clarion members, including Roy Watts, stayed on to fight against the fascists in the International Brigade. At the exhibition, I presented to Carles a framed letter of support from the Library, signed by Lynette, Jane, Sam, and 16 volunteers, as well as a framed illustration from the library archives of ribbons of the 1937 Workers’ Olympiad in Antwerp, from the Bolton Clarion scrapbook. These were well received by Carles, as his father had participated at Antwerp, and everyone present, but unfortunately, all the pictures from the night, except this one were wiped from our camera!
The exhibition itself was most interesting, and Carles said that in future venues he would be sure to include the letter and the Bolton Clarion prints from the library. As a poignant postscript to this episode, we learned after we were back home that Carles, a lifelong republican and trade unionist, had been tortured over ten days in a large police station in Barcelona, said police station is now the home of the CCOO socialist trade union, and a visit there, with Carles, was our first civic reception in Barcelona. A fitting coda I feel of the unfinished business still left over from Spain’s years of civil war and the subsequent dictatorship.
Without doubt the visit on Sunday 20 October to the Parque de la Memoria in Sartaguda was the most moving of the whole trip. Setting out early from Logrono, we reached the town of Lodossa where we were met by cyclists from all over Navarre and the Basque country, and we set out together about 50 strong for a ride of about 5 kilometres to Sartaguda. Carrying various flags and banners, including the one that adorned the table during the talk at the Library (see photo above), we arrived at the park at about noon where we were met by the mayor and members of the Association of the Widows of Sartaguda. It is known as the town of widows because when the fascists took over the town in 1936, they murdered almost 100 of the male inhabitants, which was 8% of the total population. As one of the speakers said at the inauguration of the park in 2008, this was ” Truly a massacre. Those murdered were the elected officials of the town, as well as other civic leaders such as teachers, lawyers, indeed anyone who was suspected of being supporters of the democratically elected Second Republic”.
The park itself was opened in May 2008, after years of fundraising, with the support of other associations of historical memory, that had mushroomed since a famous case in 2000 in which a Madrid journalist had discovered and opened the grave of his grandfather and 12 others who were murdered in the wake of the fascist victory. While there I spoke with a lady named Maria del Carmea Moreno Galetxl, who told us her story of the long years of humiliation that her mother, and the other widows, had to endure in the years of the dictatorship, including having to parade around the town with insulting signs tied around their necks, and others who had their hair shaved, like the collaborators in France in 1944. In their case though, no crime was committed, these, and other petty humiliations were inflicted not because of what they had done, but for who they were.
While there we were presented with red bandanas with the Parque’s logo, by relatives of those who were murdered, the flag we brought to adorn the table as we gave the talk, and with soil of the Parque, wrapped in one of the red bandanas, which was given to us by Julio Sesma, President of the Village Association of Widows. This soil has now been formally presented to the Library, and accepted by Maggie Cohen on behalf of the trustees, and will stay in the Library wrapped in its red park bandana as a symbol of friendship between the Library and the Parque. In the inaugural speech for the Parque in 2008, the President of the Association of Widows, Julio Martinez, said, ” from today on we wish our village to be known as the village of memory and hope”. In this lovely park in Navarre this hope is given solid form, and I urge anyone who visits this part of Spain to visit it and ponder on its message.
Since coming back from the ride we have kept in touch with our friends, and were especially thrilled with notice we received on 14 November that the Parliament at Pamplona had passed a new law for the Reparation of Victims of 1936. Many of those who we met at Sartaguda were also at the Parliament that day, and afterwards sent us photographs of their celebration of “our great victory” in the Parliament. Thus the struggle for justice in Spain for the Widows of Sartaguda, and the countless others who were murdered and mistreated during the long and bitter years of Franco’s dictatorship goes on.
And work goes on in the Library as well concerning the struggle in Spain. My own project at the moment is cataloguing two folders of Spanish Civil War photographs, one of which is this one.
It is a hitherto unknown picture of Australian interpreter Aileen Palmer, and the English nurse Thora Silverthorne, while on the Aragon front. Aileen Palmer had been in Spain at the time of the coup, and in fact had been working as translator for the Workers’ Olympiad when the coup broke out. When I found this out it seemed an apt illustration of the ongoing links that this great Library has with Spain, past and present, and I hope in the future that these links, both with the Parque and the wider progressive elements in Spain, can be strengthened and extended.
I will end this blog contribution as Pippa and I ended our talk: Viva la República!!!!!
PS More information about the event at the Parque de la Memoria is at http://www.parquedelamemoria.org/noticias/la-biblioteca-working-class-de-manchester-lucir%C3%A1-un-pa%C3%B1uelo-y-tierra-del-parque-de-la-memor