‘I drew the War’: The Spanish Civil War pictured by its children


The first shots of the Spanish Civil War were fired 80 years ago on July 17 1936. Over a period of three years the Republican Government fought to suppress a Nationalist rebellion led by General Franco. By the time the Nationalists had finally secured victory, in April 1939, it is estimated that up to one million people had died. The war was seen by many as a battle between the forces of fascism and democracy. Certainly Italy and Germany provided men and equipment to aid the Nationalist cause and the Soviet Union provided similar support for the Republican army. Officially France and Britain remained neutral, although many men and women from both countries joined the International Brigades established to fight alongside the Republican Army.

In a prolonged and bitter conflict, that turned neighbour against neighbour, atrocities and summary executions were commonplace and were committed by both sides. The victims were not just those who had fought for the opposition but frequently those who were suspected of supporting or sympathising with the enemy. It was one of the first wars where civilians on both sides were in the front line with fighting in many towns and cities and indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas. There was also a climate of fear with purges and often executions of those denounced as traitors and enemy collaborators.

The horror of the war was captured dramatically in a series of paintings completed by Spanish children aged 10 to 12 years in 1938 and used to raise money to care for those orphaned or separated from their families by the war. Glamorgan Archives holds a set of 6 pictures of the war produced in 1938 as postcards. They are part of the Gilbert Taylor papers, a collection of letters and memorabilia of a young man, living in Cardiff, who fought and died with the International Brigade in Spain in 1938. It is likely that the cards were sent from Barcelona, to Gilbert’s wife, Sylvia, by Bill Morrissey a fellow member of the British Battalion. Bill served alongside Gilbert in the 16th (British) Battalion of the XV International Brigade.  He helped Sylvia at a time when she was desperately seeking news of her husband, who went missing in the fighting to repulse the offensive launched by the Nationalist forces in the Aragon in March 1938.

The cards were the work of Dr Alfred Brauner who, with his wife Francois, went to Spain to work for the Republican cause. Francois was Austrian by birth and worked as a doctor in the hospital at Benicassim set up by the International Brigade. Alfred headed the Committee for the Refugee Children of the International Brigade and travelled through the Republican areas where thousands of children were separated from their families. Prior to the outbreak of the war the Republican Government had used summer schools as a means of bringing education, including political education, to villages and towns across Spain. The schools were reconstituted during the war to care for the thousands of children evacuated from towns and cities and separated from their parents. The International Brigades were one of several organisations that supported and ran such schools. In many cases the children were eventually evacuated to countries that supported the Republic including Mexico and the Soviet Union. The British Government was, initially, reluctant to accept evacuees. However, it was agreed in April 1937, after the bombing of Guernica, that 4,000 children from the Basque country be accepted and cared for in Britain.

The pictures were almost certainly produced by children cared for in the Republican schools. Most would have seen and would have lived through air raids on their towns and cities and possibly on their homes. There was clearly a fascination with attacks that brought a new and dramatic dimension to warfare. Great care and attention was given in the pictures to the bombers and the fighter planes. They also show the destruction to buildings and, in one case, a boat, caused by bombs and machine guns.

The Brauners promoted the use of art and drawing as means of helping the children to come to terms with the trauma of war. Alfred Brauner, known as ‘Dr Fred’, provided a background note on the production of the pictures.

When visiting the refugee children in the homes established by our international comrades we asked the children to draw something from their life.

Most of them were influenced by familiar illustrations or imitated their neighbours, while the remaining represented the war in some form.

We reproduce here some of these drawings.

Invariably the child selects as the place of the drama his village. Above is always drawn the terrible menace, the airplanes.

These children’s drawings are horrible realism. The types of planes are well shown. The forms of bomber and pursuit planes learned by observation. Notice the details of the air battle; the people escaping; the black and red of the night attack; the destruction with only a picture of the family nailed to a wall dangling at a curious angle.

The children, victims of this war, are never to forget it. A little artist, one of these refugee children of whom our wounded are guardians, has learned to give to the garden of the home … a breath of peace.

Committee for Spanish Children of the International Brigades, Barcelona.


The card ends with the plea in bold type – Help us through your local aid Committee for Spain. It has to be remembered the pictures used for the postcards were carefully selected as part of a wider propaganda campaign that used images of children caught up in the war and the brutality of the Nationalist attacks to build support, both within Spain and internationally, for the Republican cause.

The five pictures were signed by the child in each case. They were all 10 to 12 years old. The child also added a title and, in most cases, detail on where the attack took place. In two instances, anti-fascist slogans were used. The pictures portray war in towns across Spain, from villages such as Oropesa to the large urban communities of Madrid and Toledo.

Card 1.

Bombardeo de mi calle en Madrid

Bombing of my street in Madrid, Manuel Arias, aged 11.


Card 2.

Un Barco bombardeo en Benicassim

A ship bombed at Benicassim, Antonia Perez, aged 11.


Card 3.

Bombardeo en Toledo

Bombing of Toledo, E Arroya, aged 10.


Card 4.

Bombardeo en Oropesa

Bombing of Oropesa, aged 12 years.


Card 5.

Por aqui ha pasado el Fascismo!

“This is the work of Fascism!”, M Arias, aged 11 years.


Card 6.

Esta es la obra del fascism!

“Fascism had passed this way”, Manuel Perez Osana, aged 12


It is possible that the artists were among the 35,000 children that were later evacuated from Republican held territory during the war. The 4000 ‘ninos’ who came to Britain were housed with families in Swansea, Brampton, Tynemouth, Margate and Carshalton. Although most were reunited with their families after the war, it is estimated that 250 made their lives in Britain because their parents and family could not be found. In 2012 many of this group came together at Southampton University to mark the 75 year since they had left Spain as part of the ‘Expedicion a Inglaterra’.

The drawings provide a graphic record of the brutality of the Spanish Civil War. The Brauners went on to use the techniques developed in Spain in the treatment of hundreds of children who escaped the Nazis to France in 1939 and, subsequently, with 440 children released from Auschwitz and Buchenwald in 1945 and brought to France. Many years later they established a clinic for the treatment of disabled children at Saint Mande close to Paris. Their collection of children’s drawings in wartime was brought together in a book published in 1991, J’ai dessine la guerre: Les dessin de l’enfant dans la guerre, Alfred and Francois Brauner, Expanision Scientific Francais, 1991.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

The Battle of Mametz Wood

Mametz Wood was the objective of the 38th (Welsh) Division during the First Battle of the Somme. The attack occurred between the 7th and 12th July 1916.  On the 7th July the men were halted by machine gun fire before they reached the wood.  Further attacks on the 8th July failed to improve the position.

The attack on the 10th July was on a larger scale than had been previously attempted and despite heavy casualties, the fringe of the wood was soon reached; some bayonet fighting took place before the wood was entered and a number of German machine gun positions silenced. Fighting in the wood was fierce with the Germans giving ground stubbornly.

By the 12th July, the wood was effectively cleared of the enemy, but the Welsh Division had lost about 4,000 men, killed or wounded. The Division would not be used in a massed attack again until 31st July 1917.

Today the wood still stands, surrounded by farmland, and overgrown shell craters and trenches can still be made out.

To commemorate the centenary of the Battle of Mametz Wood, I researched the men whose names are recorded as having served at Mametz within the Cardiff City Corporation Roll of Honour held at Glamorgan Archives.

The roll of honour records the name, address, age, rank and regiment of these soldiers, which meant that I had a starting point for the research which appears in my booklet. Some of the names have revealed an interesting hidden history of information, whereas other names did not reveal very much at all.

This is the first of two documents researching Mametz Wood. This one details the names within the Roll of Honour and part two will commemorate members of 16th (Cardiff City) Battalion, Welsh Regiment who also met their end at Mametz.  It is available to read on the Glamorgan Archives website at:


We would love to hear from members of the public who may recognise the names of possible ancestors, and be happy to come forward with information additional to that found within the records.

Rosemary Nicholson, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer


Glamorgan Archives holds the formal roll of honour of Cardiff Corporation employees killed in action during the First World War, along with application forms for inclusion of servicemen in the roll.

The forms were completed by individuals applying for the inclusion of their relatives, both living and dead, in the roll of honour. These were people employed by the City Corporation at the time of their enlistment.  The forms typically contain the name of the serviceman along with his place and date-of-birth, address at time of enlistment, and length of his residence in Cardiff.  A note is often made of the school he attended.  His occupation within the Council is noted, as is his marital status, and the regiment he joined.  Date and place of death are included where relevant, as are any medals or other distinctions awarded and the date on which they were bestowed.  The name and address of the servicemen’s parents is often listed.  Families were asked to send a photograph of their relative, although not all survive; many were returned to the applicants on their request, possibly as this was the only photograph they had of their loved one.

The files are arranged by the department in which the serviceman worked at the time of his enlistment. Files are held for the City Treasurer and Controller’s Department; the City Engineer’s Public Works Department; the Street Cleansing and Street Lighting Departments; Heating and Ventilating Staff; the Tramways Section;the Property and Markets Section; the Waterworks Department; the Medical Officer of Health’s Department; the Sanatorium; the Parks Department and the Cemetery Section.

Amongst the hundreds of application forms we find George Tucker of Arabella Street, Roath.

George Tucker

He was born in Stour Provost in Dorset in 1879, the son of William and Emily Tucker.  He received his education at the village school.  George married Mary Harriet Preece at Branksome Park, Dorset, in 1903.  They moved to Cardiff in 1907 and lived at Wyndham Street in Canton before moving to Roath.  They had a young son, Leonard.  George worked as a lamplighter for Cardiff Corporation.  He enlisted on 5 November 1915, joining the 15th Welsh Regiment as a Private.  He was killed in action at the Battle of Mametz Wood on 11 July 1916, aged 37.  He is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

George Tucker letter

Arthur Thomas of Forrest Street, Grangetown, worked as a warehouseman before gaining employment as a tram conductor with Cardiff Corporation.

Arthur Thomas

Born in 1891, he had lived in Cardiff all his life, and attended Grangetown Board School.  In 1911 he was living with his mother, Sarah, his sister, Mary Jane, and his grandfather, Edwin.  He joined the 16th Welsh (Cardiff City) Regiment in November 1914 as a Private, and was later promoted to Lance Corporal.  He died at the Battle of Mametz Wood on 7 July 1916.  He is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

Samuel Jenkins was born in Caerphilly on 25th February 1889, the son of Morgan Jenkins, a blacksmith of Caerphilly, and his wife Jane who came from Somerset.

By 1891 the family were living at 21 Market Road in Canton, Cardiff. Samuel attended Radnor Road School and worked as a mason’s labourer before gaining employment with Cardiff Corporation’s Public Works Department as a sewerman.

Samuel enlisted at Cardiff on 15th February 1915 as a private in the 16th Welsh Regiment.  He embarked to France on 4th December 1915.  He was killed in action, at Mametz, on 7 July 1916.  His mother, Jane, received a £5 10s war gratuity.  Samuel was awarded the 1915 Star and the British War and Victory Medals and is recorded on the memorial at Thiepval.

Samuel Jenkins letter 2

Samuel’s brother, Edward, was five years older than him and born in Sheffield, before the family returned to Wales. He worked as a labourer before he too joined the Public Works Department of Cardiff Corporation as a timekeeper.  Edward enlisted in the East Surrey Regiment and died in France on 2 June 1918.  He was awarded the 1915 Star and the British War and Victory Medals.  Edward’s grave is in the Warley-Baillon Communal Cemetery at Somme, France.

Samuel and Edward’s younger brother, Evan (below), worked as a blacksmith and wheelwright with the Corporation. He served with the Army Service Corps and survived the War.

Evan Jenkins

George Henry Tarr was born on 20th December 1887 in Canton, Cardiff.  He was the son of William Henry Tarr, a labourer from Devon, and his wife, Eliza, from Somerset.  He was the eldest of 8 children, 6 of whom survived childhood.  George followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a road labourer with Cardiff Corporation’s Highways Department.  In 1911 he was living with his family at 28 Glynne Street, Canton.

George enlisted at Cardiff, becoming a private in the 16th Welsh Regiment.  He was killed in action at Mametz on 7 July 2016.

George Tarr letter

George’s younger brothers – Charles, Fred and Albert – also served in the War.

Charles was born in 1892. He enlisted as a private in the Devonshire Regiment and embarked from Marseilles on 13th November 1915, disembarking at Salonika on the 23rd November.  He was wounded in action on 24 April 1917, receiving a gunshot wound to the thigh.  He transferred to the 819 Employment Company of the Labour Corps on 4 October 1917.  Charles survived the war and returned to Cardiff where he married Flora M Geet during the summer of 1920.  He died in Cardiff in September 1972.

Fred was born in Cardiff in 1898. He was married to Lilian Mary King of 7 Lyndhurst Street, Cardiff.  Fred enlisted at Great Yarmouth, in the Royal Garrison Artillery, on 12th November 1915.  He was awarded the 1914-15 Start, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.  He was discharged on 26 June 1919 aged 24, and died at Southampton in June 1947.

Albert was born in Cardiff in 1901. He served with the 20th Middlesex Regiment, the 5th Lancers and the Hussars.  He survived the war and received his discharge on 30 January 1919.  He returned to Cardiff and in 1927 married Elizabeth M Lewis.  He died in Cardiff in June 1931.

These are just a few of the stories relating to the employees of Cardiff Corporation who served in the First World War.