By Colin Carritt
Across the world, 50,000 men and women from all walks of life responded to the call from the Popular Front government of Spain and joined the International Brigade and its partner organisations to defend democracy against the fascist insurgency of General Franco. Some 2500 were from the British Isles and. of these, 526 paid the ultimate price and were killed in action against a far better equipped and resourced enemy.
The IBMT has over 100 memorials across the British Isles but the city of Oxford has been notably absent from the list. This is despite a significant number of volunteers either living, working or studying in the city. In 2013 a group of Oxford IBMT members got together to put forward a proposal to the national committee to redress this omission. As a result, a local committee of four members, with additional support and liaison from the national Executive Committee began work.
We wanted to make it part of Oxford’s heritage and not to be just “names on a monument”. To that end we commissioned three local historians to research the biographies of all those known to have connections with Oxford and Oxfordshire at the time they went to Spain. Thirty-one volunteers were identified, their lives researched and the results published in a 120-page professionally finished book, “No Other Way: Oxfordshire and the Spanish Civil War 1936-39”, available from IBMT (and some bookshops) priced £8.99 (ISBN 978 1 910448 05 2).
Several of the volunteers were from the city’s world famous university. Others were from the burgeoning Morris motor works at Cowley on the edge of the city. Others were agricultural workers from the rural hinterland. Some were politically active as anti-fascists, others had pacifist leanings or were from religious backgrounds and many of these volunteered in non-combat roles as medics, ambulance drivers and stretcher bearers.
All came together in common cause to defend democracy. And many others, too numerous to mention here, gave time and effort and money whilst remaining in the Oxford area. They raised funds, for the Dependants Aid Committee; they campaigned for a reversal to the iniquitous non-intervention policy; and they sheltered some of the 4000 refugee children who had fled the carpet bombing of the Guernica and the Basque region in the spring of 1937, at homes around the county.
The university was particularly active and following the well reported delegation by Eleanor Rathbone and the Duchess of Atholl in 1937 a group of students similarly set out for Spain in July 1938 in support of Spanish students. The group included Edward Heath. later Prime Minster of Great Britain.
All of this, and more, is documented in the book “No Other Way”. As the book neared its publication date we continued to work up memorial designs and we took a preliminary planning application to Oxford City Council in October 2014. The council’s planning committee greeted our project with unanimous support but wanted us to be more ambitious in our memorial design and they had some reservations regarding our chosen location in the city centre.
As a result we commissioned a design competition and the successful sculptor/designer was Charlie Carter Artworks Ltd (www.charliecarter.co.uk/index.htm} a visualisation of whose design is shown here. The front face provides an image of a clenched fist gripping a scorpion symbolising the struggle for freedom and democracy against the tyranny of fascism and lists the names of the six fallen volunteers. At the base (or possibly on the reverse side - this yet to be decided) will be a bronze resin plaque identifying the conflict and memorialising the volunteers.
In parallel we researched other locations in Oxford city centre and eventually agreed upon a site that was satisfactory to all parties at the northern end of St Giles between the Second World War memorial and the attractive St Giles churchyard. [Please note that the memorial visualisation is shown against a backdrop of its original intended location and not the later approved location.] A photograph of the proposed new location is shown here. This small park is owned and managed by Oxford City Council and it is intended that the IBMT and the city council will assume joint responsibility for its care once installed.
As well as commissioning the sculptor and sourcing and procuring the stone we have obtained professional advice for the foundation design and have obtained quotations from civil engineering contractors who have the required skills for the installation work.
Throughout the planning stages we have been busy raising funds for the project through social events and concerts, book sales and donations from individuals and organisations. Our funding (as at 1 November 2015) now stands at £14,500 against a total project cost anticipated to be £22,500. We anticipate a shortfall in funding of approximately £8000 although we have been promised funding of half the shortfall from the IBMT headquarters central funds.
We have consulted the Oxford Civic Society, The Oxford Preservation Trust, and the Oxfordshire Archaeological and Historical Society. The revised plans will come before the Oxford City Council in November 2015 and we hope to receive the green light to proceed. Given the planning approval we anticipate installation and unveiling of the memorial in June 2016 on the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.
We believe this project will add significantly to Oxford’s already rich history. The memorial will fill a gap in the general knowledge and understanding of the Spanish Civil War and the part played by local people. The memorial will include a small QR code on the side that will allow visitors to access the International Brigade’s website where further details will be available.
To make a donation towards the memorial appeal:
Send cheques made out to the IBMT to: IBMT, 37a Clerkenwell Green, London EC1R 0DU