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S4C doc tells story of overlooked Spanish civil war volunteers

WHILE the heroism of the men who fought against Franco in the International Brigades is rightly celebrated, the role of women who volunteered to help the Spanish republic remains overlooked. 

But a new documentary broadcast on Welsh-language channel S4C seeks to set the record straight by following in the footsteps of three women who served on the front line of the Spanish civil war. 

Journalist Dylan Iorwerth tells the story of two young communists who volunteered as nurses. Thora Silverthorne from Abertillery and Margaret Powell from Crickhowell treated hundreds of men wounded in battle with fascist forces equipped by Hitler and Mussolini.

The third woman, Fifi Roberts, from Penarth, sailed on her father’s ship, which was the first to break through the blockade in Bilbao to feed those suffering from starvation. 

“It’s essential we hear their story,” said Mr Iorweth. “The nurses travelled to Spain because of their belief in democracy and their opposition to fascism and they made a huge contribution. 

“They supported the soldiers despite the desperate working conditions, they operated on soldiers by candlelight.

“Fifi was adventurous and feisty, she was brave enough to travel with her father in difficult circumstances. She reached Guernica a few days after the bombings. 

“It’s important to celebrate the bravery of these women and to remember the stand they made. They were as important and brave as the men who fought in Spain.” 

The documentary also contains a warning from history over the way in which we treat refugees. Ms Powell stayed until the bitter end of the war, enduring the freezing temperatures during the retreat through the Pyrenees before enduring terrible conditions as an undocumented migrant in a French refugee camp.

Mr Iorweth said: “The treatment of refugees in recent months shows we haven’t learnt anything from past experiences. We’ve also seen how the vulnerable are targeted and have witnessed deliberate attacks on hospitals in Syria … it’s sad that history repeats itself.”

The documentary was first broadcast on S4C last night but gets a repeat at 10.30pm on Thursday. It is available on BBC iPlayer from today. English subtitles are available.


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