Refuge for Basque children (1937–1939)
Aston, near Bampton
After the bombing of Guernica by Franco and his allies in 1937, the British Government, although they had adopted a policy of non-intervention for pragmatic reasons, agreed to allow voluntary groups to arrange the evacuation of children to Britain. The Times journalist George Steer and the MP Leah Manning were instrumental in bringing this about. The blockade of Bilbao and other ports was penetrated and on 23 May 1937 the ship Habana docked in Southampton with nearly 4000 children accompanied by teachers, helpers and priests. They were then relocated to residential homes throughout Britain. About 3000 had been repatriated by the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 but about 400 still remained by 1945 and many of those settled here.
There were four residential homes in Oxfordshire, at Buscot Park (the largest), Thame, Shipton-under-Wychwood, and Westfield House at Aston which took about 30 children. The Aid Spain movement in Oxford gave support and there were many acts of individual kindness. Scarlet blankets were provided for every child by the Early family from their Witney blanket mills. One of those who volunteered help was Cora Blyth, a modern languages undergraduate at St Hilda’s. She later married Luis Portillo, the republican representative sent to Britain to look after the children’s interests and based at Buscot.
Westfield House, formerly St Joseph’s, is now a private nursery school.
- Sources: papers provided by Colin Carritt of the International Brigades Trust; www.spanishrefugees-basquechildren.org
- Picture: Westfield House with plaque
The plaque was unveiled at Westfield House, Aston on 17 July 2003 by Cora Blyth de Portillo and was sponsored by the Basque Children of ’37 Association UK.
Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board
(formerly St Joseph’s)
From 1937 to 1939 during the
Spanish Civil War this building was
home to 30 refugee children from the
Basque region of northern Spain
who were cared for by
Basque Children of ’37 Association: UK