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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Southampton

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Immigration and Emigration
Stoneham camp
© Manuel Moreno - Basque Children of '37 Association
Britain's Basque bastion

The children had been taken to the Bilbao quayside in trainloads of 600 amid emotional scenes of family distress. Throughout Thursday 20 May, the ship was loaded with its young cargo and made ready to sail on the next early morning tide. Before she left the port of Bilbao the Basque President Senor Aguirre went on board to bid them farewell and safe passage.

The SS Habana was accompanied by a Spanish naval destroyer until she met up with the British convoy lead by HMS Royal Oak and HMS Forester a few miles off shore.
Passengers on the SS Habana
There was little room left on departure
© Manuel Moreno - Basque Children of '37 Association
The voyage proved to be rough and the young passengers' spirits were low. During the following 48 hours, there were many cases of sea-sickness and diarrhoea.

Viva Inglaterra

Captain Ricardo Fernandez, Master of the SS Habana, had already taken two shiploads of refugees to France, and was exhausted. When they arrived in Southampton, he told the Southampton Echo newspaper: "Six children slept in my cabin and five in the chief officer's cabin.

Wherever they saw a door they opened it, and, of course, we would not have thought of turning them out. There has been a great deal of sea-sickness on the voyage - it was very rough in the Bay of Biscay - but, as you can see, the children have quite recovered their good spirits."

On the sighting of England, the excited youngsters were shouting "Viva Inglaterra". By the Saturday evening, the SS Habana was lying off Fawley awaiting the appropriate permissions from the English health authorities. On the next day, Sunday, all the children were medically examined and labelled, before being brought ashore for a hot bath and a change of clothing.

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