Sunday, March 04, 2007

Basque Refugee Children in Leeds

On an effort to provide safe haven for the children due to the imminent danger created by the genocidal war unleashed by the Spaniards with the support of Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini, a number of countries decided to aid the Basques. Thanks to the Yorkshire Evening Post we learned about one of the many stories of how some Basque children were spared from the ethnic cleansing campaign led by Francisco Franco:

Children of war at work and play

John Thorpe

It was Eric Drummond of Syke Lane in Scarcroft who urged us not to forget how Leeds helped to house 30 Basque children during the Spanish Civil War.

They were given a home on Hill End Road, Armley, and their home was also their school.

Eric, then a 12-year-old who had a newspaper round that included the street on which they lived, remembers them being slightly mischievous. And Eric's wife's grandmother was caretaker at the house of the Basque children.

The Basque children would "take" Eric's bike for a ride while he delivered newspapers to the houses but it was always returned.

Raymond Hardcastle of Langton Green in West Leeds was an eight-year-old when the Basque children were evacuated to Leeds. He is another who remembers them.

"We used to walk up the long fields from the Green Thorpe Estate passing all the tusky fields," Raymond tells me.

"The path then ran along the railway to a bridge over the tracks which led to the path that ran alongside West Leeds High School playing fields.

"The house where the children stayed was a mansion-type place with a big courtyard. There was a small wall dividing the path and the courtyard where the Basque children played. We'd climb on to the wall and throw a ball down in to the courtyard and the children would throw it back.

"Sometimes we'd throw down sweets but not very often because these were in short supply.

"A lady used to come out of the house and into the yard and 'shoo' all the children inside and tell us to go away but we used to go back just the same. Then one day when we went there were no children playing in the yard and we were told they'd all moved. I've often wondered what happened to the Basque children and if life got better for them.

"And after reading Eric's account of the children I now wonder if the lady who told us to go away was indeed Eric's wife's grandmother?"

Now the snap of the Basque children were taken by Sydney Long's father. Says Sydney from his Harrogate home: "I presume the 'lads' are working on their allotment.

"I believe they were housed in the building with the tall chimney stack at the back. I would be about the same age as the Basque children when my father took these pictures."

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