Fleeing Franco

Hywell Davies Fleeing Franco delivers an interesting perspective on the Spanish Civil War, showing the tight relationship between Wales and the Basques. Davies does an excellent job communicating the children’s viewpoint in addition to that of the Welsh, but due to his background, it is possible that there is a bias. Davies was born and raised in Wales and teaches there. In addition, Fleeing Franco was published by the University of Wales Press. He relies on interviews and newspapers to get a sizable amount of information and uses his secondary sources to frame that information and create a narrative. His book, although credible, does not criticize the Welsh nearly enough to make it seem as if he is “unbiased”.

The interesting part I took away from Davies was the differences in responses to the plight of the Basques versus the plight of the Jews then shortly thereafter. Davies describes how unemployed workers would spare anything they had in order to support the Basques and Republicans versus the support for the Jews. Davies briefly mentions this, but he does not compare or contrast it enough for the reader to understand the differences in the support for the two groups. I felt as if not only religion, but working class had an important part to play in this decision. But why? Why do the people of Wales take in 4,000 Basque children yet they ignore the plight of the Jewish children shortly thereafter?

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?

Fleeing Franco

Fleeing Franco is a book written by Welsh historian Hywel Davies in 2011. It deals with the Welsh repatriation of Basque children during the Spanish Civil War. While the book is well researched, and presents an uplifting thesis about the largely uniform acceptance of the Spanish children in an already poverty-stricken nation, Davies does seem to present a slightly biased view on the matter. For example, he makes a point of vilifying the leading Welsh politicians, by stating their pro-Fascist attitudes, in favor of returning the children to Spain after the War, while stressing his opinion that those working with the children were following a humanitarian call rather than a political opportunity. However, Davies’ hero Maria Fernandez, an extraordinary warden at a childrens home, quotes that her political support of the Spanish Republic played a large role in her decision to join the cause (140). While this does not mean that she would have turned her back on the orphans had the Spanish government not been socialist, Davies’ lack of analysis and research into this statement raises questions about his own objectiveness.

Additionally, in my opinion Davies’ structure is not very good. He starts coherently with a description of the similarities of Wales and the Basque region, but seemingly continues neither thematically nor chronologically. He describes the good sentiment of the Welsh, a few examples of bad behavior by the Spanish children, then continues with the good sentiment of the Welsh. All the while his chronology floats between before and after the fall of Bilbao. While his thesis is fairly clear, I found his structure to be slightly confusing.