Spanish Civil War reports

Belfast Weekly News Thursday, 10th February 1938



Forty-six Dublin men, many of whom are said to have been members of Mr. O'Duffy's "Irish Brigade" in the Spanish Civil War, came to Belfast on Sunday night in the hope of joining two Spanish vessels now under arrest, but on Monday night they returned home disappointed.

In the Ulster High Court on Monday Mr. Justice Megaw adjourned until next Tuesday an application for a warrant releasing the two ships - and also two others detained in Londonderry.

The Spanish government claims that it commandeered the vessels by decree, and the owners dispute that action. Many Spanish ships are under arrest in Great Britain, and next Monday the House of Lords will decide their fate.

Mr. Justice Megaw proposes to wait until that decision is given before he considers the application for release of the ships detained in Ulster.


The arrival in Belfast of the large party of Dubliners aroused a great deal of interest, and led to the authorities strengthening the guard on the ships, and keeping the strictest watch on the docks.

The Harbour Police were assisted on Monday morning by members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and detectives, as it was feared that an effort might be made to board the vessels by force, and take them out of the port.

Nothing untoward, however, occurred, and on Monday night it was reported that the men had returned to Dublin.

A local representative of one of the companies claiming ownership of the vessels states that the majority of the Dublin men were unemployed and were hopeful of joining the crews of the ships when they were released. Some of them would doubtless have the opportunity of securing permanent employment.

Many Spanish ship's officers and seamen also reached Belfast and Londonderry during the weekend and are remaining in the hope of joining the detained vessels.

The Commissioner of the Belfast police stated on Monday that the Constabulary took the ordinary precautions that might be deemed necessary in such circumstances, but there was certainly no rush of police to the docks. No incident of any kind occurred, he said.


Considerable crowds gathered at the Londonderry quays on Monday in consequences of rumours that there might be trouble between former members of Mr. O'Duffy's Brigade and Spanish seaman who were ready to take possession of the two Spanish ships - the Serentes and the Atalaza - in the event of the vessels being released by the Admiralty Court. The O'Duffyites were present on behalf of the Salamanca authorities, while the Spanish seamen had been sent by the Spanish Republican government.

No disorder occurred. The police are guarding the ships.

Belfast Weekly News 24th March 1938



A harrowing story of the privations of women and children in the Spanish civil war was told by Miss Kathleen McColgan, BA (Oxon.), of the national Joint Committee for Spanish relief, addressing a meeting of the Belfast branch of the League of Nations Union at the Presbyterian War memorial Hostel, Belfast, on Tuesday.

Miss McColgan spoke about her experiences in Spain and the problem of Spanish refugees. Mr. R.N. McNeill presided.

Miss McColgan emphasised the horrors of the Spanish war by referring to the blockade of Government territory, and explaining that Franco had the food-producing parts of the country. Observing that Catalonia had played its part magnificently, she said that the Province, in addition to looking after its own huge population, had absorbed 3,000,000 refugees. A great sacrifice was being made, and would continue to be made to the end of the war.

Alluding to the evacuation of Malaga and the journey of the civilian population to Almeria, she said that thousands died on the way. As the people fled along the road they were followed by Insurgent planes. From machine-guns death was rained on a stream of people entirely defenceless. On arrival at Almeria the National Joint Committee established a colony and hospital, and collected children who had been separated from their mothers. Many of the children were claimed, but it was most heartbreaking to tell mothers that their children were not in the colony; some of them were probably killed, and others might have gone inland and been lost. Day after day the women came back in the hope that their children were there unknown to us.

"It is our duty," she said, "whatever view we hold - whether for Franco or against - to see that women and children sufferers are looked after, and to do all we can for the innocent victims of a completely barbarous war."

She appealed for support for funds being raised to lend help to the stricken Spanish population.

Belfast Weekly News Thursday 14th April 1938


Duchess of Atholl's Visit to Belfast


A Committee for the relief of Spanish refugees was formed in Belfast on Saturday, at a meeting held in the Presbyterian hostel, Howard Street, under the chairmanship of the Earl of Antrim, and at which her Grace the Duchess of Atholl, MP, was the principal speaker. There were present leading representatives of the Church, welfare organisations and the trade unions, and the point was stressed that the effort to raise money for the relief of Spanish refugees was of a non-political nature.

The Chairman said that if they were to be successful in their undertaking they must forget their own opinions about the contest in Spain, and concentrate upon the humanitarian side.

The Duchess of Atholl said that it was a thrill to her to come to Northern Ireland, a part of the united Kingdom, with which she had one or two links that she treasured very much. It was a special pleasure to meet people who were interested in a work in which she had been absorbed for 18 months. She was chairman of the National Joint committee for Spanish relief, and hon. President of a similar committee in Scotland. The original committee in England and Wales was formed after a visit to Madrid by 6 members of the British Parliament. They had been seized by the need to help the suffering women and children of Spain. Speaking on relief work, she recalled that when children were embarking at Bilbao for England they were bombed. The Committee had repatriated between 1,700 and 1,800 children, but before they send children back they had to make enquiries as to whether their parents were alive or dead.

They still had some 2,000 children in England, and the Committee had a heavier financial responsibility today than at any time during the past year. Some people who had taken upon themselves the responsibility of keeping children were now finding the financial burden too heavy, and the Committee had to find extra money. A request that they should take 2,000 children from Barcelona after the recent terrible bombardments had to be refused because of lack of funds. England was not the only country that had child refugees. France had 18,000, and Belgium 4,000, while Denmark had some hundreds.


There had, said her Grace, been lamentable destruction and murder in the early days of the war, but that was done by irresponsible young people. When a government was faced with a rising by three-fourths of its military and half of its police its difficulty was formidable. The burning of the churches and the murder of priests took place only in the first few weeks of the civil war. They were a feature of the first few excited days. She had Roman Catholic friends who would hardly believe that there was a priest left in Spain, whereas the Spanish Government had announced that they had 14,500 priests living in their territory. Not one single Protestant church in Spain had been interfered with. People who spoke about a campaign against religion in Government territory were misinformed.

The war had brought about suffering on the civilian population in far greater measure than any previous civil war. The distress was increasing as towns in Catalonia fell before the aerial bombardment, and any relief they could send to these towns would be greatly appreciated.

Answering a question as to why the Spanish Government had closed Roman Catholic churches, the Duchess said it was to protect them. The Spanish Government protected Roman Catholic clergymen.


The Archdeacon of Dromore (the Ven. Gordon Hannon), who represented the Bishop of Down and Connor and Dromore, said the catchword today where Spain was concerned was non-intervention. They were not concerned with any political issue, and non-intervention might easily be classed as "passing by on the other side." In Ulster there was a tremendous wealth of human kindness and goodwill, and he believed there were thousands of people ready to help. If that conference were ready to take on responsibility a great deal could be done. He felt there was a real opportunity for teamwork by the people of the whole province.

Professor Corkey, MP, said the appeal was one that should have a very ready ear. Some responsibility attached to them all for the state of the world today, and for the tragedy of the unfortunate Spanish children and refugees. The appeal was one that should commend itself to the people of Ulster.

Very Rev. Dr. William Corkey (representing the Moderator of the General Assembly) said one of the most dangerous things in the world at present was the growing callousness of spirit that was creeping over the people and paralysing the better feelings even of Christian people. Those of them who had any humanitarian feelings whatever should do what in them lay to relieve suffering. Dr. Corkey added that although they had keen divisions at times in Ulster, they had all united to help one another when any disaster occurred. He recalled the tragedies which befell families of Achill Island and Arranmore Island, and the fact that appeals had been issued on their behalf by Moderators of the Presbyterian Church.

Mr. Geoffrey Hurwitz also spoke.

Miss Kathleen McColgan, Northern Ireland organiser of the Joint Committee, made a strong appeal for financial aid.

Mr. H Todd, representing the Belfast Trades' Council, complained of the lack of co-ordination by the various sections interested in Spanish relief. He suggested the issue of collection sheets, a flag day, a demonstration in the Ulster Hall, and church collections.

Mr. J Macgougan, secretary of the Socialist Party of Northern Ireland, assured the committee of the support of his organisation. He suggested that industrial workers should be levied at the rate of 6d per week.

A representative committee was then formed.

The collection at the meeting amounted to 29.3s.7d.

Belfast Weekly News Editorial 21st April 1938


A "nation-wide broadcast" by General Franco on Tuesday contained the declaration: "We have win the war," and so confident is the Spanish insurgents' leader that he has outlined part of his programme for creating "a new Spain." For example, the Army and Navy are to be made so strong that Spain will become once more a Great Power. It is not the first time General Franco has announced an ending of the civil war in his favour to be in sight, only to find the Republicans striking back with unexpected vigour; but the military situation seems to justify the claim which he is now makes. Although Republican forces will probably continue to offer a desperate resistance for some time yet, in doing so they cannot hope to be doing more than staving off the inevitable. In the circumstances in which they are placed their attempt to raise at Geneva the question of foreign intervention is mere futility for the League has no means of doing anything of practical value. If General Franco should establish his authority over the whole of Spain, he will rule, apparently, as a dictator the Fascist order, though he may deem it impolitic openly to avow attachment to the Rome-Berlin axis. At all events, the prospects of a new Spain settling down quietly under a Fascist dictatorship cannot be regarded as bright. In their political outlook the people are divided much too acutely, and the civil war has stirred up too much ill feeling to permit of letting bygones be bygones. Spain's history within the last two decades suggests that the path of a new Administration will be beset with difficulties and anxieties. In September, 1923, Primo de Rivera overthrew the Constitution and established a dictatorship, but in April 1931, when King Alfonso left the country, a republic was declared, and now, it seems, popular government is to be replaced by a dictatorship.

But whereas previous changes were carried through without much turmoil or bloodshed, the attempt to build another "new Spain" has rent the people in twain and left legacies of hatred and memories of wrongs that will not die easily. It may be that the people as a whole could be appeased and induced to assist in building a new and happier Spain if an Administration were promised which would guarantee full freedom and abjure threats of drastic measures against those who fought in the belief that they were defending a popular cause. But General Franco, accusing the Republicans of having murdered 400, 000 people, tells them that they are to be called to strict account for their crimes. If his own forces had waged a war with chivalry and were wholly guiltless of excesses, General Franco, would be in a better position to call his opponents to account. They have, however slaughtered many thousands of non-combatants - men, women and children - and if he should carry out the threat he now makes he will inflame still further the passions of republicans and their sympathisers and invite an attempt to bring about another revolution at no distant date. After so much expenditure of blood and treasure Spain needs most of all a period of tranquillity in which to recover, and that need will not be satisfied if General Franco should act on the principle of "Woe to the vanquished."

Belfast Weekly News Editorial 16th June 1938

The Spanish Dilemma

As Mr. Chamberlain intimated at Westminster on Tuesday, the Cabinet has given earnest consideration to the question: What action, if any, would be likely to give protection to British ships in Spanish ports without reversing the non-intervention policy? Various proposals were examined, but as the adoption of any of these would mean abandonment, in some measure, of the Government's policy of taking every precaution lest the Spanish conflict develop into a European war, Ministers have decided, in effect, to do nothing at all, at least for the present. That is a decision which, doubtless, will have a mixed reception in the country. Since the middle of April last 22 British ships in Spanish ports have been attacked from the air, and in several cases, as Mr. Chamberlain asserts, deliberately attacked, and eleven of the vessels have been sunk or damaged seriously. Ministers, it may be assumed, share to the full the nation's indignation at these attacks, but they have to deal with a situation of extreme difficulty and delicacy. They will continue the country's traditional policy of affording protection to British shipping on the high seas, but they feel that they cannot afford that protection to vessels which enter Spanish territorial waters, even though belligerent rights have not been conceded to either of the combatant forces. Mr. Chamberlain draws a clear distinction between submarine attacks on shipping on the high seas and aeroplane bombing of vessels in Spanish ports, and recalls that British vessels have been warned that they enter Spanish territorial waters at their own risk. Protection of such vessels could not well be given, he holds, without violating the non-intervention policy, and in any case it would be difficult to afford. Anti-aircraft guns would need to be manned on land, or warships stationed, in every port at which a British ship was likely to be attacked. If such defences were to be effective, every aeroplane approaching the ports would need to be fired upon; consequently action of that kind would constitute participation in defence of Spanish territory and amount to direct intervention.

Ministers are considering proposals by the insurgent authorities for the provision of safety zones in some harbours, or the use of ports outside the area of military operation under certain conditions, but there are obvious difficulties in giving practical effect to either proposal. As the Government is not prepared at present to order retaliatory action for attacks on British shipping and cannot guarantee effective protection of vessels in Spanish territorial waters without taking an active part in the hostilities, a policy to which it is opposed, British vessels must continue to enter those waters at their own risk. In some quarters that will be regarded as a triumph for General Franco, justification of his ruthlessness in waging war, and an encouragement to continue that ruthlessness. Further it may have awkward repercussions in the Far East. There the Japanese authorities have virtually ordered foreign shipping and vessels of war not to remain in waters which are declared to be within the zone of military operations, and they cannot be slow to recognise that if the British government cannot afford adequate protection to British shipping in Spanish waters without engaging in war, adoption of a different policy in Chinese waters in unlikely. It will be easy for critics of the Government to denounce this policy as weak and dangerous, and a surrender of British interests, but if adoption of a strong line of action would, in the considered opinion of Ministers, mean committal of the country to war, their decision, although it cannot be called "courageous", can be justified on many scores.

Other local newspaper reports here.

Extracts from the Left press of the period

Home Page