Basque refugees

A talk and an exhibition to mark the 80th Anniversary of the arrival of child refugees from the Basque region of Northern Spain is to be held at Keighley Library.

The talk will be given by two experts on the period, Simon Martinez and John Birkbeck, on Saturday 28 October at 2.00pm.

The children had been evacuated at the height of the Spanish Civil War to avoid the bombing and hunger following the destruction of the Basque town Guernica forever immortalised in the painting of the same name by Pablo Picasso.

The aerial bombardment of the town in 1937 shocked people from around the world.

Almost 4,000 children came to Britain on the SS Habana in May 1937. The boat docked in Southampton where the children stayed before being moved across the country.

On the 13 September 1937, the Morton Banks Sanatorium in East Riddlesden and the Dr Barnardo children’s home on Manningham Lane, Bradford were turned over to voluntary groups to house the children.

Keighley welcomed 100 of these child refugees (some pictured smiling at Keighley Railway Station) and a few adults who accompanied them.

They were very happy in Keighley. One later recalled 'it was a town of twenty to twenty five thousand people, not pretty, not ugly, without a coastline but with swimming pools, a big park, and three cinemas (later there was one more, The Ritz) The Picture House, The Regent, and The Cosey Corner, and a lake which in winter froze over.'

This is a rare opportunity to hear two experts on this often forgotten period in history speak together.

Basque Ruperta Martinez

Simon Martinez is the son of one of the refugee children Ruperta Martinez (see picture) who came to Britain on the SS Habana, and he is a leading figure in the Basque Children of 37 Association.

John Birkbeck is the grandson of Rev John Nicholson Balmer, a significant figure in the lives of the Basque children who came to Keighley in 1937, and he has gathered a wealth of knowledge about the experiences of local refugees.

Coun Sarah Ferriby, Bradford Council’s Executive Member for Environment, Sport and Culture, said: “Bradford is a City of Sanctuary and has a history of welcoming people who are in need. This will be a fascinating exhibition and a moving talk by two people who are not only experts but whose lives have been affected by this period in history.”

The event is free and all are welcome. For more information visit

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