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Commemorations to show how Suffolk village helped Basque child refugees evacuated in Spanish Civil War

PUBLISHED: 10:37 11 March 2018 | UPDATED: 10:37 11 March 2018

Some of the Basque child refugees pictured during their stay in Wickham Market. Picture:  BCA’37

Some of the Basque child refugees pictured during their stay in Wickham Market. Picture: BCA’37

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A Suffolk village’s little-known role as a safe haven for refugee children displaced during the Spanish Civil War is to be commemorated this month with the unveiling of a plaque.

Edward Packard, a history lecturer at the University of Suffolk has been researching the 100 Basque children who came to Suffolk in 1937 as a contingent of around 4,000 youngsters on board the SS Habana, following the relentless bombing of Guernica.

He has been working with the Basque Children of ‘37 Association UK and Wickham Market Area Archives Centre to commemorate the role of local people in caring for the young refugees.

Basque Government officials evacuated around 25,000 children during the war as food shortages worsened and the bombing intensified.

The Suffolk “colony” of refugees first stayed at Wherstead Park in Ipswich before moving to the old workhouse in Wickham Market in early 1938.

A plaque unveiling at Wherstead Park last summer saw the East of England Co-operative mark the 80th anniversary of the refugees’ arrival in Ipswich, in recognition of the role played by the Ipswich Co-operative Society and the community in supporting the 100 children.

Mr Packard said: “The children relied on local support, as the Government provided no public funds for their care.

“This year, I wanted to ensure Wickham Market is also remembered 80 years on”.

The commemorative event will be held in the village on Saturday, March 24. It will feature an exhibition in the village hall telling the refugees’ “remarkable story” and a plaque unveiling at the former workhouse, which has been used as housing since the 1940s and was refurbished by Flagship in 2014. The plaque will be unveiled by relatives of Chloe Vulliamy, who is said to have been the driving force behind the Basque “colony” in Suffolk.

Efforts to commemorating the Basque refugees’ story have increased in recent months, as various anniversaries approach. Last month, Paco Robles, who was one of the children who spent time in Suffolk and attended the commemoration at Wherstead Park, visited Jeremy Corbyn with Carmen Kilner Sanchez from the Basque Children of ‘37 Association UK.

The free events in Wickham Market run from 11am-5pm.

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