In 1937 the city of Southampton offered a safe haven for thousands of children from the Basque region of Spain who were evacuated during the Spanish Civil War. Around 250 children stayed on and made Britain their home. Thanks to a University project, the stories of the last surviving refugees have been preserved and shared with a new generation of children.
The project was perhaps the last opportunity to record the memories of those involved in this unique event - the first mass evacuation of child refugees to Britain following the first ever mass bombings of a civilian population.
Referred to as Los Niños (the little ones), the children were sent to England to escape attacks by fascist forces in the Basque region. Modern Languages lecturer Dr Alicia Pozo-Gutierrez explains: "They left their homes and sailed across the stormy Bay of Biscay from Bilbao to Southampton. Everyone thought they would only be away for three months. In the event, many had returned home by 1939, but around 250 were still in Britain in 1945 and most went on to make their lives here."
Many of the surviving evacuees are now in their eighties. "They have wonderful stories to tell and we have been recording their experiences for an oral history of the time," says Alicia. The recordings will be added to the archive for Los Niños, part of the University's special collections, for use by researchers in years to come.
The project, which was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, also produced a travelling exhibition to tell the story to the wider community, and, working with Hampshire County Council, an education pack was created to engage local schoolchildren.
Professor Chris Woolgar, Head of Special Collections at the University, says: "It was an important opportunity for us not only to record the life stories of some of the child refugees, but also to engage today's children in understanding how conflict and migration have an impact on everyday life."