The Santamarias c.1938.

The Santamarias c.1938.

My father (Luis) was a child war refugee. Franco, Hitler, and Mussolini had beguiled the world of their innocence, while the reality was the suffering of my father and other children.
Four thousand Basque children had arrived in Britain from Spain in 1937, leaving behind the atrocities of a civil war. In 1938, they were lodged at Sketty Park Children’s Home, Swansea.
They were just children. While the world raged its tantrums, parents were faced with decisions as to which child to save. Boys were often the ones sent away, aware that girls would be more fragile. Hence my father and his two brothers sailed on the Habana to Southampton, a ship known to be filled with children, but still attacked by Hitler´s planes, at the bequest of Franco. He was nine years old when he said “Adios” to his parents. It was some forty-five years later that he was to see them again, once the dictator was dead. There was no fanfare.
Isolated, bed-wetting, bereft and afraid, they could only be saved by the generosity of their host nations.
In the picture are (left to right) my father and his brothers, Luis Santamaria (10), José (12) and Ramón (10). Also are the couple caring for them are from Swansea. They had invited the three refugee brothers into their home for afternoon tea. They were miners, and of modest means, the house very sparsely furnished. Their names have been lost, but the picture still stands to this day on my father’s mantelpiece to this day. He has not forgotten them.

My father remembers the feast

..We had been eating the same as everybody else – bread and lard, mostly. And then to be presented with a smack-up feed was beyond expectation. Only years later did we realize that the food alone must have cost them a weeks´ salary, and then the extent of their kindness…”
“And yet they had prepared this feast, fit for three kings. “In Spain, we were foraging for food in waste bins and wherever we could”..
In later years in England, his mother on a visit from Bilbao shed tears to witness discarded bread, in the gutter in London. The sight of unwanted food was inconsolable to her.
This was truly a meeting of different cultures. The couple spoke no Spanish, and the boys knew no English. Communication was by sign language only. But the gesture needed no translation.
My father is still a character around Notting Hill Gate (London), where he and many of his contemporaries live fruitful lives. Such is the lot of most refugees of his time. His autobiography can be found ( Agur Euskadi, Hasta Nunca ).
An immigrant tale of yet anothe hankering refugee: He graduated in the fifties from the Shoreditch Technical College as a cabinet- maker and worked as such for many years. He later passed his skills of the cabinet-maker on to innumerable other young adults in Britain as an instructor, as one should in life. His workshops were wonderful. His students took their liberties with his Spanish accent. But most went on to good jobs.
He lives a fruitful life in Notting Hill, to be envied by many, as one should in their nineties. It will be eighty years next year since their diaspora. He steadfastly refuses care or help from the state – does his own ironing, and still cooks decent paella.
Thanks to the kindness of strangers.

One comment on “My Father Luis Santamaria and Swansea kindness by Belinda Santamaria

  • Belinda, you may not remember me but I remember you and your wonderful and amazing family……..I hope all is well xxxx

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