A PUB owner is campaigning for a memorial to eight local men who became volunteer soldiers fighting for democracy during the Spanish Civil War.
John Christie, who runs Golden Smog and two other Stockton pubs, is backing a project to raise £6,500 for a memorial. Over £5,000 has been raised so far.
Mr Christie, who attended Our Lady and St Bede’s School in Stockton as a youth, later served in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers for several years supporting the British Army in various countries.
He said his knowledge of history is reasonable but, until recently, he knew next to nothing about the Spanish Civil War. Likewise, he grew up knowing nothing of the men from Teesside who fought as volunteers in Spain with the International Brigade from 1936 to 1938 to defend Spain’s democratic government against a coup by General Francisco Franco.
Mr Christie said: “In the past I only knew a few details about the Spanish Civil War. We had never been told about it at school. So I had no idea that men from Stockton and Thornaby were fighting in Spain. When I asked other Stockton people about it and they didn’t know either. I thought it was a disgrace to the town.
Tony Fox and John Christie outside the Golden Smog pub
Eight volunteers from Stockton and Thornaby joined the International Brigade. They were George Bright, William Carson, Wilfred Cowan, Otto Estensen, Myles Harding, Johnny Longstaff, Patrick Maroney and Bert Overton.
Prior to the Spanish Civil War, Bert Overton and Myles Harding had both served in the British Army. Later, Johnny Longstaff served in the British Army and Wilfred Cowan joined the Canadian Army during World War II.
During the Spanish Civil War other Teesside volunteers came from other towns including Middlesbrough, Eston, South Bank and Hartlepool. A total of 22 men were sent from Teesside and eight lost their lives in Spain.
More than 2,500 men and women from Britain and Ireland have volunteered as soldiers, nurses and in other roles, supported by others back home in Britain.
Mr Christie added: ‘A lot of people in the UK still don’t know about local connections or how the Spanish Civil War led to WWII. With good reason, we hear a lot about World War II, but almost nothing about the Spanish Civil War. So I started a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for a permanent memorial in Stockton. I want to create something people can’t miss, get people talking and asking questions.”
Badges of the Stockton International Brigade
It was inspired by songs performed by award-winning Stockton folk music group The Young ‘Uns, who coincidentally also went to Our Lady and St Bede’s school. The Young ‘Uns highlight the International Brigade with their ‘Ballad of Johnny Longstaff’ album and show, which has toured the UK. They are due to perform the songs again at the Arc arts center in Stockton on March 17 for a concert recorded on BBC Radio 3.
Mr Christie’s Stockton memorial campaign is supported by Tony Fox, a Billingham history teacher who has written a new book about Stockton volunteers, called I Sing Of My Comrades. His book is available from Drakes The Bookshop in Stockton, online or by mail order.
Both are members of the International Brigade Memorial Trust (IBMT), which raises awareness of the Spanish Civil War and looks after memorials to British and Irish volunteers.
Mr Christie set up the Golden Smog micro-pub in Stockton’s Hambletonian Yard in 2014. The pub houses a host of Teesside memorabilia inside and a large mural outside, featuring the red, yellow and purple flag of the International Brigade. He said, “We have quite a few people coming to see the mural and taking pictures. People are asking about it, which is good.” The colors were those of the Spanish Democratic Republic.