East Sussex plaque commemorates Basque refugee children
- 16 May 2012
- From the section Sussex
A plaque has been unveiled in Sussex to commemorate the 4,000 Basque children brought to the county 75 years ago.
The children were escaping the Spanish Civil War, and arrived on a ship from Bilbao.
The ceremony took place in Blackboys, near Uckfield, where 20 children and their teachers lived in a chalet provided by the local community.
Speaking at the ceremony, former refugee, Miren Alsono said: "It's like a dream - now I can die happy."
After the bombing of Guernica in the Basque region of northern Spain in April 1937, a decision was made to evacuate the children to safety.
On 23rd May 1937, the SS Habana docked in Southampton with 3,861 children, 95 women teachers and 15 Catholic priests on board.
The children were housed in a temporary camp on the outskirts of the city and eventually moved into residential homes around the country.
The Basque government insisted the children should not be adopted by families, but stay in groups so as not to lose their national identity.
Former refugee Venancio Zornosa said: "I find it unbelievable to think that 4,000 children between the ages of five and 14 with a number of teachers and senoritas to look after us, we managed to survive with voluntary contributions and that's due to the British people."
Eventually, most of the children were repatriated to Spain but others had no home to go to because their parents had been killed or were in prison, so they made Britain their home.