Humberside

Play remembers eight Hull men who fought in Spanish Civil War

A group of socialists in 1930s Hull Image copyright Family photo
Image caption A group including some of the volunteers who fought in Spain pictured in Hull's Pickering Park

The story of eight men from Hull who joined the International Brigade to fight in the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s is to be told in a new play.

Ocho stars students from Archbishop Sentamu Academy and is to be performed in East Yorkshire and Barcelona.

An estimated 4,000 people from Britain and Ireland fought against General Franco's forces between 1936 and 1939.

Liam Foster, a musician in the play, said: "It's a massive piece of local history none of us knew about."

The production, starring students aged 15-18, was written by Jane Thornton and features music by Dave Rotheray, lead guitarist for The Beautiful South.

Image copyright Ocho
Image caption Ocho (Spanish for eight) is to bring Hull history to life
Image caption The colours of the International Brigade on the Spanish hill where Morris Miller died

'Life on the line'

Andrew Young, of Hull International Brigades Memorial Group, said: "It is incredible to think eight ordinary working class guys put their life on the line to take a principled stand against fascism."

Four of the Hull men, Jack Atkinson, Jim Bentley, Morris Miller and Robert Wardle, died.

Joe Latus, Richard Mortimer, Sam Walters and Bert Wilson all returned.

All are commemorated on a plaque in the city's Guildhall.

Mr Wilson is recorded wrongly on the plaque as Leslie, because he was only 17 years old and used the passport of his older brother, Leslie, to get to Spain.

Image caption Robert Wardle, 28, and Jim Bentley, 24 are commemorated on a memorial plaque

'Long way from Hull'

Although full details of the men's service in Spain are unclear, Jack Atkinson died on 21 February 1937 in Jarama.

Robert Wardle, aged 28, left his wife and two children to go to Spain and both he and Jim Bentley, 24, died near Calaceite on 31 March 1938 less than a month after they had arrived.

Morris Miller, 22, who had written articles for the International Brigade newspaper, was the last of the four to be killed during a battle on Hill 666, near Gandesa in the Ebro offensive of 1938.

He is remembered on a concrete memorial on the hill. His cousin Jonathan Miller previously told the BBC: "It's a long way from Hull and it looks a lot different but there's a big connection, and Morris is the connection."

Some of the Hull men went from London to Paris before going south to the Spanish border, followed by a tough climb on foot across the Pyrenees mountain range to join the war.

Image caption Joe Latus as pictured for his International Brigade card

Joe Latus arrived on an unknown beach carried by a fishing trawler, according to his daughter Dilys Porter.

She has a box of her father's mementoes including his identity card and one with the motto "It is better to die on our feet as a free man than live on our knees as slaves".

He returned to a career in the Merchant Navy, took part in the Dunkirk evacuation in World War Two, and later became a director of rugby league team Hull FC.

Mrs Porter said: "They are real heroes I think and ought to be celebrated as such."

Image copyright AFP/Getty
Image caption The civil war started after a military coup

Spanish Civil War

  • In July 1936, the Spanish military - supported by right-wing nationalists - staged a coup against the elected Republican government backed by most of the left
  • General Francisco Franco emerged as the main Nationalist leader, as the civil war became a proxy war among European powers
  • The National Archives files have shown MI5 recorded the names of people suspected of joining the war
  • Those files included Eric Blair who, as George Orwell, documented his war experiences in Homage to Catalonia
  • Hundreds of thousands of people died before Franco's Nationalists triumphed in spring 1939.

Sources: National Archives/Britannica

The play opens at Archbishop Sentamu Academy on 27 June and is to be performed in various venues before going to Barcelona in July.

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