‘For Spain and humanity’

More than 50 countries have erected monuments to their citizens who chose to take part in the Spanish Civil War (1936–39). This powerfully symbolic yet bitter conflict erupted after a military coup overthrew the elected government of Spain. The rebels, under General Franco, received military support from the governments of Germany and Italy. Volunteers from dozens of countries, including New Zealand, also arrived in Spain to defend its Republican government.

The handful of New Zealanders included the renowned journalist Geoffrey Cox, a surgeon from Cromwell named Doug Jolly, several nurses including René Shadbolt, a fighter pilot from Wellington named Eric Griffiths, and Griff Mclaurin, a young mathematician from Auckland.

Plaque to New Zealanders who served in the Spanish Civil War

Plaque to New Zealanders who served in the Spanish Civil War

At a ceremony in Wellington this week a memorial was unveiled to the New Zealanders who took part in the civil war. It is a bronze plaque bearing the words ‘For Spain and Humanity’ in Spanish and English. This was the motto of the Spanish Medical Aid Committee, the main relief organisation for victims of the civil war.

The plaque was provided by the Spanish Embassy in New Zealand. At the unveiling ceremony the ambassador, Marcos Gomez, said that until he came to New Zealand he didn’t know that this country had sent volunteers to his homeland during its civil war. The memorial, he said, was to commemorate and thank them for defending democracy in Spain.

Mayor of Wellington Celia Wade-Brown, holding the book 'Kiwi Companeros – New Zealand and the Spanish Civil War' and Spanish Ambassador Marcos Gomez, with a 1939 poster for a public meeting commemorating the New Zealanders who died in Spain

Mayor of Wellington Celia Wade-Brown, holding the book 'Kiwi Companeros – New Zealand and the Spanish Civil War,' and Spanish Ambassador Marcos Gomez, with a 1939 poster for a public meeting commemorating the New Zealanders who died in Spain

Wellington’s mayor, Celia Wade-Brown, also spoke at the ceremony. She said this plaque would be placed on the seaward wall of Frank Kitts Park, on the Wellington waterfront. This wall already displays plaques recording other significant arrivals and departures, such as Edmund Hillary‘s 1956–58 Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition, the young Polish refugees who landed here in 1944, and survivors of the shipwrecked inter-island ferry Wahine in 1968.

Among the guests at the unveiling ceremony were the surviving family of Jim Hoy, who fought with the British Battalion of the International Brigades in the civil war, and later spent many years working on the Wellington wharves. It is satisfying to think that he, and the other New Zealanders who travelled to the far side of the world to support another country’s defence of democracy, will finally have a permanent memorial.

3 comments have been added so far

  1. Comment made by malcolm || June 2nd, 2011

    the blogger is too modest to mention he was the editor and indeed mastermind of the book Kiwi Companeros, which Mayor Celia Wade Brown is holding in the photo, and was the product of a anniversary conference held in 2006. It’s a great read about this episode of New Zealand and Spanish history.

  2. Comment made by Gerhard Hoffmann || June 15th, 2011

    It is a great feeling to belong to this worldwide community of friends of the Spanish
    Republic. – I am one of the last survivors
    of the International Brigades.
    Salud!
    Viva la República!

  3. Comment made by Victor Grossman || June 21st, 2011

    I was happy to see René Shadbolt mentioned,1 of 3 NZ nurses who went to Spain. While there she married a Thaelmann Battalion volunteer, Willi Remmel of Cologne – the story of their love and separation is a sad and moving one, documented in part by René’s nephew, author Maurice Shadbolt. She worked as a nurse in a poor Maori area until her death; Willi, after surviving the torpedo sinking of his ship to Spain, almost every major battle in the Civil War, internment in France and 3 Nazi concentration camps, lived after the war in Erfurt, East Germany.

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