The latest community exhibition is about the link between the Spanish Civil War and the West Country. The exhibition was initially funded by Arts Council England and put together by Malcolm Cuthbertson and Melanie Hamer, who curated it at the Curzon Cinema, Clevedon. The exhibition has been adapted to fit the community space in Weston Museum with the addition of the Touch Screen interactive put together by volunteer Chris Fisher. The exhibition includes powerful art work by Melanie Hamer and includes Spanish costume, books, video and photographs of the child refugees who were housed at the Grange in Street. Below is an account of the war by volunteer Margaret Stewart Fisher.
When King Alfonso XIII left & the dictator de RIVERA was overthrown in 1931, the newly-elected Socialist Party created the Second Republic, giving both sexes equal rights and promising education for all. This was opposed by the Church and members of the wealthy Conservative Party, as it reduced their influence.
In 1933, violence erupted, led by starving, jobless people: the government sent in the Civil Guard, who burned down buildings & shot many of the anarchists. Accused of barbarism, the Republicans lost the election to the Conservatives, who threatened the Republican party’s reforms and clamped down on those who did not conform, such as homosexuals, gypsies & subversives. This led to more strikes & protests: the Conservatives bombed & shelled towns; the Republicans burned down churches, which alienated the Pope; the Conservatives hired foreign troops who executed the leaders, killed women & children, bombed & burned towns. Torture became commonplace.
The Republicans won the 1936 elections, but the violence continued. In July, General Franco led a coup d’état & formed the new Nationalist Party, which opposed the Republicans and arrested intellectuals, artists & workers: being known to be left-wing or a trade union member put life in danger. Many middle-class people and the Catholic Church saw this as a holy crusade against the Republicans. Although the government was still officially Republican, the Fascists simply took power and executed Republican supporters: by the end of August, many Spanish people began to feel that the struggle was futile & that they should give in to General Franco.
On the other hand, the Internationale had begun with Germans, Poles, Italians & Britons travelling to Spain to take the Republican side, while the Nationalists were reinforced by troops from Germany. Even the Pope aligned himself with Franco.
1937 began with Mussolini sending troops to support Franco, while help arrived for the Republicans from the Soviet Union & other anti-Fascist countries throughout the world. There were horrific battles at Malaga, Almeria & Jarama where Nationalist troops, supported by German and Italian tanks & planes, killed thousands as they fled. In March, at Guadaljara, the Republicans counter-attacked & eventually won: they became known as the Popular Party. However, the Popular Party’s mix of communists, anarchists and Marxists, led to in-fighting & disagreements.
Franco then turned his attention towards the industrial north, bombing the towns of Durango and Guernica, at times when the streets were full of defenceless people. People began to despair, and on 21 MAY, the first of the emigrant ships carrying children out of the danger area, left Bilbao.
However, divisions within the Republican camp caused problems: the Communists were determined to take charge & did not allow weapons to be issued to Marxists or Trade Unionists. The civil war continued for two long years, with battles at Teruel and Valencia: in July 1938, 80,000 Republicans, from 16-year-old boys to middle-aged men, crossed the river Ebro & attacked the Nationalists. At first they held their advantage, then Franco ordered in reinforcements & opened the dams in the Pyrenees, leading to another massacre.
The civil war continued until the end of November, when the Republicans finally withdrew the remains of their army.
On 26 January 1939, Barcelona, the Popular Party’s last stronghold, fell and 500,000 people began their journey into exile.
On April 1, General Franco entered Madrid, announced his victory and received a telegram of congratulations from the Pope. The Spanish Civil War was over.