Reg Little looks at the ongoing fight for a Spanish Civil War memorial in Bonn Square

It still remains to be seen whether a memorial will be erected in Bonn Square to honour the 31 Oxfordshire men and women who volunteered to defend the Spanish Republic against the forces of Fascism almost 80 years ago.

But it has always been abundantly clear that the group of local historians behind the memorial cause were never going to give up without a real fight.

The initiative ran into trouble last autumn when Oxford City Council planning officers judged that the monument would clutter the area.

But local members of the International Brigade Memorial Trust have regrouped and are working on a new memorial that promises to be altogether more dramatic.

Eight sculptors, mostly local, have been invited to come up with designs and submit them by the end of the month.

The best of them will later go to the council in the hope that a memorial for the local men and women who joined the fight against General Franco might yet be in place before the end of the year.

But perhaps their strongest weapon in its favour is a newly- published book, No Other Way: Oxfordshire and the Spanish Civil War 1936-39.

Money from book sales will go towards the cost of the memorial. But most crucially the book tells the story for the first time of all the 31 individuals who fought in the International Brigades or who, like Peter Harrisson, educated at The Dragon School and Trinity College, Oxford, served in its medical units.

The book is the work of three Oxfordshire historians — Chris Farman, Valery Rose and Liz Woolley — with a foreword by Tom Buchanan, Professor of Modern British and European History at Oxford University.

Despite the strength of Oxfordshire’s links with the Spanish Civil War, they are less well known than those of Cambridge and other English towns and cities.

Yet hundreds of refugee children were given homes across the county, while Oxford became a centre of activism on behalf of the Spanish Republic, uniting Oxford’s University students and the working class community in a common cause.

The 31 individuals profiled, who were either born, lived or studied in Oxfordshire, were certainly a diverse group of characters, from both humble and highly privileged backgrounds. Six of them were killed in action.

The Spanish Civil War followed an attempted coup by right wing army officers in July 1936, who attempted to overthrow the democratically elected government of the Spanish Republic.

The coup failed but it sparked three years of civil war, which cost more than 500,000 lives, mostly civilian.

Franco would receive arms and support from Hitler and Mussolini, while the Republic’s appeal for arms was turned down by Britain and France.

Eventually some 35,000 volunteers, mainly from Europe, the United States and Canada, would serve with the Brigades, leading the historian Hugh Thomas to describe the struggle as “a world war in miniature”.

Mr Farman, a freelance writer from Deddington, said: “The first Britons to join in the war were not fighters but medical personnel.

“The British Medical Aid Unit as it was called included Alec Wainman, a Quaker from Shipton-under-Wychwood, who signed on as a driver, and Thora Silverthorne, a communist who had trained as a nurse at Oxford’s Radcliffe Infirmary.”

Colin Carritt, 69, who lives in Woodstock is among those anxious to see the Bonn Square memorial.

His father, Noel Carritt was injured in the Spanish Civil War, while his uncle Antony Carritt, died in the action.

The Carritts belonged to a family of seven children who lived on Boars Hill, with their home a magnet for left wing notables such as the Labour politician Dick Crossman and poet W.H. Auden.

The ambulance Noel was driving was damaged in an air attack and he was towed back to a medical centre 30 miles from Madrid, where he heard his brother was missing.

He would spend days searching hospitals and dressing stations around the battlefields in the hope of finding Antony alive.

Today Colin Carritt says: “My uncle was driving an ambulance with a Red Cross marking on the roof. He died after the fighting at Brunele. There are quite a few memorials in other cities, including Reading and Bristol. Some are quite grand, others more modest.”

It is hoped his uncle’s name will be on the memorial along with the five other volunteers who perished.

Lewis Clive, the Eton educated son of a Tory MP killed in the Great War, whose godfather was the Conservative Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, read law at Christ Church. At Oxford he established himself as one of university’s outstanding rowers and was a gold medallist at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics.

But Clive became a man of the left, and a founder member of the National Council for Civil Liberties (now known as Liberty).

He arrived in Spain in February 1938 to join the fighting in Aragon. He was killed five months later taking part in the last Republican offensive of the war.

By then a company commander, he was ordered to attack a heavily fortified hill, launching attacks on five consecutive days, but was shot in the head in the final assault.

Ralph Fox, who went to Magdalen College died at the Battle of Lopera, near Cordoba, where the actor Edward Cooper (whose stage name was Edward Burke), from Duns Tew, received fatal injuries.

The other deaths, including John Rickman, of Lincoln College, and Herbert Fisher, who attended The Dragon School, provide the starkest proof to the claim of Denis Healey — the communist Balliol undergraduate who became a Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer — that the 1930s saw the most politicised generation of young people in Oxford’s history.

But as one of the largest marches Oxford has ever seen, on May 1938, clearly showed, the concern in Oxford for Spanish people was broad.

Our sister paper, the Oxford Mail, reported that the procession stretched for more than a quarter of a mile.

The new book tells us: “Marchers ranged from workers at the Morris car works in Oxford, to Early’s the blanket makers in Witney, to well connected students at the university.

“Many were motivated by a horror at the spread of fascism in Europe. Others actively supported the Republican cause for political reasons, and still others were inspired to help simply on humanitarian grounds.”

Local committees were formed to welcome refugee children. Homes were found for scores of children at Thame, at Aston, Shipton-under-Wychwood and at Buscot Park, the home of Lord Faringdon, who had himself been to Spain.

Mr Farman said: “Spanish Civil War memorials have been created in other towns and cities. It is high time that Oxford had one.”

He hoped that the designs would be bolder than originally envisaged, and might be based on the graphic design posters that epitomised the 1930s.

There have been discussions to locate the memorial in the new Westgate.

But for Mr Carritt, Bonn Square remains the favourite location.

“We like the ‘democratic feel’ of Bonn Square,” he said. “After all, the volunteers of the International Brigade were first and foremost, defenders of democracy in Spain.”

No Other Way: Oxfordshire and the Spanish Civil War 1936-39 is available from IBMT for £8 (including p&p) and at a number of local bookshops, including Blackwell’s and Rewley House, for £7.99.