Basque and Wales during the Spanish Civil War

Wales and the Basque region of Spain have many similarities. When the Spanish Civil War broke out, bringing violence to the Basque lands, the Welsh felt a heighten sense of solidarity with the Basque people. In “Fleeing Franco” Hywel Davis examines how the Welsh showed their support for the Basque by sheltering Basque children during the war. He argues that many factors led to the Welsh taking in these children and that it was a result of the overall Welsh response to the Spanish Civil War.

Once the war began, children could no longer attend school and resources, like food and medicine, became scarce. Parents did not want to send their children away, but it was better than keeping them in a dangerous and possibly deadly environment. The Welsh welcomed these children as members of a fellow “ancient and honoured community” (p.9). When the Basque children arrived in Wales, it gave the Welsh a chance to “transform passive sympathy into a real opportunity to do something”(p.27). Also, there were already Spanish speaking communities in Wales, which made the transition somewhat easier for the children. These people had come as a result of trade between Wales and Basque, another factor that strengthened the feelings of camaraderie between the two communities.

The children were inspected upon arrival, and then shipped to different places. Once they settled in, they were always busy with school and other activities. They became healthier, putting on weight and becoming fit. “Little by little the sobbing died down and the daily rhythms of life were restored, but a dreadful numbness remained”(p.49). Even though the children were treated well, most were still in shock and could not easily recover.

To tell the story of the Basque children in Wales, Davies uses individuals’ stories. For example, he focuses on the stories a few children, such as Alvaro Velasco and Paula Felipe Gomez to explain what occurred (p.37).  His sources include primary sources, such as articles and speeches, as well as secondary sources, which are mainly books. His writing is clear and easy to understand. My only criticism is that the stories of the Basque children, the main focus of the book, do not begin until chapter five, on page 37. I understand the necessity of background information, but there seemed to be a little too much.

Even though Wales and Basque are in similar situations, their cultures are very different. So why was there such a sense of solidarity between them?

5 thoughts on “Basque and Wales during the Spanish Civil War

  1. I agree that I wish the focus on the Spanish children had been presented earlier in the book. I think that one of the main reasons that this happened was because Davies presented Wales as something of a saving grace for the Basques. He described in great detail the amount of aid that his country provided to Spanish orphans, before describing any of the experiences of these children. To answer the discussion question, Davies notes in chapter 3 that, “to be Welsh…is to be on the side of the oppressed against the oppressor” (Davies, 19). Because of this, the Welsh could sympathize with the feelings of the Basques, as it was somewhat clear from the beginning that they would be defeated.

  2. I believe that there is a sense of solidarity between the two people’s because of the similar way they have been treated. Both the Welsh and the Basque peoples were discriminated against because of there different cultures which are in contrast to both the more “common” English and Spanish culture. Although the Welsh and Basque peoples are different culturally the discrimination they faced made them feel united and it gave the Welsh and Basque a sense of solidarity.

  3. I agree with the other two comments. The relationship between a larger, more powerful empire and a smaller nation within its limits is complicated. Only those who have existed in similar situations can understand this type of tension filled relationship. I expect that the same sense of camaraderie would have been present in Scotland.

  4. I believe that the Welsh people faced similar obstacles to those of the Basque. They are both tightly knit groups that face oppression within their own country. The larger Spanish and English governments were unsympathetic to these peoples because from their perspectives they represented a fractured country. Since the people of Wales and the Basque each sought their own identities, do you believe that the rise of nationalism hampered their opportunities during this period?

  5. The Welsh and the Basques share a similar history in their relation as an ethnic national group inside a larger state. The different culture between the Basques and the Welsh are little different then the Basque and the Spanish. They have different languages, customs, dress. As do the Welsh in regards to the English, including different religions. The Welsh are also some of the only semi Catholic nation with enough wealth to save these children. While many go to France, Wales is able and willing to open to the Basques due to their shared differences and religious similarities.

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