I hadn’t expected that this story would have a Part 3; last week’s Part 2 was meant to be a conclusion. But it’s extraordinary the way this story keeps unfolding.
After meeting Agustina last week, I looked up a book she had shown me and Googled the organisation behind it. It seems there is a small group called the Basque Children of 37 Association www.basquechildren.org
My research had not been thorough enough to discover it earlier. The association had been set up to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the evacuation from Bilbao in 2007, and had been doing its best to keep track of the children who came to Britain on the Habana in 1937.
I contacted the Secretary by email through their website, explaining the story briefly and showing photographs of the two boys whom I knew only by their Christian names, Jesus and Angel. (For a rare occasion, I feel that the term ‘Christian name’ is entirely correct when applied to Jesus though I would like you to appreciate that the name is pronounced more like ‘Hay-zooss’.)
I got on with my work, not sure if I would get a reply – the website did not look as if it had been updated recently. So I was sitting in a City office, making a presentation to a group of clients, when the mobile phone in my pocket started vibrating. This happened three times and it seemed someone was anxious to contact me.
After the meeting finished, I came out with David Carroll and we sat having a coffee. I listened to my voicemail messages. The voice stated that she was Carmen from the Basque Children’s group and she might have information to help. So I rang her back and we had a long conversation.
She has the list of the 4000 children from 1937, and more recent information about many of them. Could I give her any more clues about Jesus? When had he returned to Spain – or at least left England? I said I thought he had stayed six months, leaving at the end of 1937. ‘That helps’ she said. She told me there were eight boys called Jesus who left England at that time. I gulped a little at the thought of all those boys called Jesus.
Any more clues? I said there were some messages and signatures, particularly on the backs of the photographs. My neighbour Rosa had translated the messages – ‘to my dear friends Jessie and Frank’ – but we had not been able to decipher the signatures. I told Carmen I would get the information scanned and sent to her.
I did that when I got home in late afternoon, then was surprised to receive an email from Carmen at 6 o’clock.
The message read:
ID number 2990 -on the hexagon
Jesús Iguaran Aramburu aged 13 on arrival in Britain, returned to Bilbao 26-01-1938. Came with 9 year old sister Amelia
Ángel Lavilla Sanvicente aged 12 on arrival, returned to Bilbao 12-12-39. Came with older brother Luís
I was stunned and tearful. The family story was coming to life and I have to admit there was part of me that had feared discovering that the ‘truth’ might turn out to be disappointing in some way. Did Jesus really exist? (That’s not a question involving personal religious torment.) But these discoveries, these lists from an official register, were certainly proof of existence and tantalising snippets of human stories.
I was particularly stunned because the main character in my Spanish Crossings novel, completed just weeks earlier, is a young woman called Lorna who is a junior in a law firm. Lorna acts as secretary to the Basque Children’s Committee in 1937 and one of her responsibilities is to compile, update and keep secure the list of the refugee children.
There will be no Part 4 next week. Carmen is away on holiday to Japan but she has told me she will follow the trail further when she returns. I feel as if I’m taking part in a real-life detective story, and I’m eager to find out what will happen next.
By the way, as a final piece of serendipity, the Habana docked in Southampton on 23 May 1937. Perhaps you are reading this on the anniversary? 23 May is also the day I’m celebrating the relaunch of the Dark Angels trilogy. Everything is connected. http://urbanepublications.com/book_author/john-simmons/