Wigan's volunteer freedom fighters remembered

John Sanson, general manager at the Grand Arcade, with the Spanish Civil War exhibition
John Sanson, general manager at the Grand Arcade, with the Spanish Civil War exhibition

Campaigners have pulled together a week-long programme of events to commemorate the sacrifice made by 12 Wiganers in the Spanish Civil War.

An official unveiling of a plaque to the dedicated dozen, who flocked to the Iberian shores as part of the efforts to defeat Franco’s Fascists in the 1930s, is scheduled for the gardens between Wigan Town Hall and the town baths.

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Wigan Trades Council has arranged the unveiling, from noon on Saturday April 14, also in memory of the late Ron Thompson, a stalwart member who fought for such a memorial locally before his death in 2014.

But before then there will be a showing of Ken Loach’s seminal film Land and Freedom, at Beech Hill Book Cycle, in Buckley Street.

And an exhibition, staged by the North West branch of the International Brigade association, has been running in the Grand Arcade.

The Saturday dedication will be accompanied by speeches from invited guests, music by the Bolton Clarion Choir, with Joe Solo performing, before refreshments are served in the Museum of Wigan Life opposite.

A trades council spokesman, stressing that many of the volunteers were trade unionists, said: “A big crowd is expected and some high-profile guests will be attending.”

Three of the 12 paid the ultimate price for volunteering in Spain - ex-miner Michael Gallagher, from Scholes, who took part in hunger marches in 1934 and 1936, to London from Wigan, was killed in the Battle of Brunete, in 1937.

Another former pitman, Bernard Sweeney, lost his life at the Battle of Belchite and Paul Francis Dewhurst, from Lowton, whose family later ran the Theatre Royal in Leigh, was also killed at Brunete.

The organisers have arranged the event to coincide with the Spanish Dia de la República, or Day of the Republic, when the second republic was declared in Spain.

Campaigners have been eager to mark the dedication of the dozen, who they say were treated as returning heroes by townsfolk in the 1930s but have long been ignored by the Establishment.

Among those to also be be commemorated are nurse Lily Robinson, who grew up at The Wiend in Wigan, and had a history of radical activism.

She was smuggled out to Spain and is believed to have worked as a nurse, a career she later returned to at Billinge Hospital.

Other survivors remembered include Edwin Blood, Tommy Degnan, Pat Deignan, Arthur Evans, Thomas Connolly, Hector Coop, Benny Hoath and Harold Croston.