FAMILIES of volunteers and refugees of the Spanish Civil War have come together for a special ceremony dedicated to remembering the efforts in fighting fascism.

Men from Teesside who volunteered to fight fascism and defend democracy during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 were honoured at a memorial event in Middlesbrough and later with a symbolic ceremony at the River Tees.

People who attended included relatives of International Brigade volunteers from Teesside and relatives of a Spanish refugee who fled from Bilbao and later settled in the North East.

There were also representatives of historical and political groups.

Twenty one men from the Teesside region volunteered for the International Brigade and seven of them lost their lives in Spain, supporting the democratically-elected Spanish government against a coup led by General Franco.

The event was held outside the Dorman Museum in Middlesbrough, which holds an International Brigade banner given to David Marshall.

He was one of the earliest volunteers from the Teesside area to go to Spain. Later a wreath was symbolically cast into the River Tees near the Newport Bridge in memory of the men who came from towns on all sides of Teesside.

The Northern Echo: Left: Tony Fox at the River Tees with a wreath to Teesside volunteers in the International Brigade colours of red, yellow and purple.
Right: Teresa Sutton, Julie Lee and Sharon Hardy, relatives of Bilbao refugee Fermin Magdalena, who escaped to England.

Speakers include historian Tony Fox, who talked about the volunteers and a Teesside International Brigades memorial plaque from 1939 now held in Middlesbrough Town Hall.

The unique plaque went missing for some years but was later found and re-dedicated at an event in 2009 at Middlesbrough Town Hall by the then Mayor Ray Mallon.

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Mr Fox then read a message from the Communist Party of Spain to the Teesside event before reading out the names of the seven Teesside men who gave their lives.

The Northern Echo: Tony Fox chatting to relatives at the Dorman Museum

After a minute's reflection, Bob Beagrie, a senior lecturer at Teesside University read a poem by David Marshall and two of his own poems about the International Brigades.

Mr Fox, a member of the International Brigade Memorial Trust, which keeps alive the memory and spirit of the International Brigades and looks after memorials.

He said: "I was particularly pleased to finally meet the relatives of some of the volunteers who attended today. As an historian I think it is important to remember the men from our community who volunteered to defend democracy and fight fascism in Spain."

Phil Saint, a nephew of Myles Harding, was one of the relatives who attended the ceremony.

Also, there was Joan Harkin, a niece of Martin Durkin, along with her were her sister, three great-nieces, a great-nephew and a great-great-nephew of Mr Durkin.

They were Barbara Christie, Mary-Lou Bell, Anna Guest; and Edel Christie and David Byrne.

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Both Myles Harding and Martin Durkin were killed in Spain in 1938.

Also attending were daughters of a Basque refugee called Fermin Magdalena, whose family fled Bilbao and who settled in the North East.

Mr Magdalena was a teenager when he fled Spain and was one of a number of Basque children refugees who came to the UK.

His daughters are Julia Lee from Stockton, Teresa Sutton from Cramlington and Sharon Hardy from East Harlsey in North Yorkshire.

They brought with them newspaper cuttings from The Northern Echo and Evening Gazette about the North East's connections with Spanish Civil War refugees.

The Northern Echo: L-R: Teresa Sutton, Julie Lee and Sharon Hardy, relatives of Bilbao refugee Fermin Magdalena, who escaped to England as a youngster and settled in the north-east.

Mrs Hardy said: "My dad could not return to Bilbao because my grandad was a politician in that era.

"They had been quite a wealthy family in Bilbao but they had to leave their home to escape Franco. My grandfather and grandmother fled across the Pyrenees mountains into France.

"My grandfather had a false leg and apparently hid some of the family's valuables inside his false leg. He made the journey a few times over the Pyrenees.

"My grandmother eventually went back to Bilbao with her sisters and lived in an apartment opposite her old home."

Mr Fox will speak more about the story behind the Teesside International Brigades Memorial at an event on Saturday, November 27.

Details can be found on the MIMA website with free booking via Eventbrite.

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