When the Spanish Civil War came to the River Wear

Jose Tartiere under arrest on the Wear in 1937.
Jose Tartiere under arrest on the Wear in 1937.
Have your say

As the Spanish Civil War was being fought between Republican and Nationalist factions in the 1930s, a Spanish ship in the Wear was caught up in its consequences.

It should have been a routine visit for the 2,289 gross-ton Jose Tartiere when she arrived from the Tyne on September 9, 1937, to load coal at Lambton and Hetton Staiths.

Captain Roderiques.

Captain Roderiques.

Owned by Vasco [Basque]-Asturiana Navigation Company, the Gijon-registered vessel had been built at Duluth as Josefa in 1920.

She soon moved upriver from White’s Tier, but before loading could begin, HM Customs and Excise officials led by Chief Preventive Officer WF Hodge, nailed an Admiralty Marshall writ to the mast, placing her under arrest.

The explanation given was that the Spanish Government owed payments to the ship’s owners, but all was not as it seemed.

After the fall of Republican-held Asturias and the Basque County in North-West Spain in 1937, General Franco’s Nationalists demanded that ships owned and registered in those regions be detained in UK ports to enable transfer of ownership to the rebels.

Jose Tartiere under her original name of Josefa.

Jose Tartiere under her original name of Josefa.

Nevertheless, British courts dismissed Nationalist claims and with Spanish consuls trying to discharge pro-Nationalist crews, there were some ugly attacks in UK ports, supported by British fascists, to help Nationalists seize Spanish ships.

With fears that fascist-led violence might spread to Wearside, Jose Tartiere was moved to North Quay Buoys at Monkwearmouth.

Later, an attempt to commandeer the steamer was thwarted by removal of an engine part for safe keeping by SP Austin and Son shipbuilders and repairers.

After some 11 months, the shabby Jose Tartiere was released from arrest in August, 1938.

There seemed little prospect of an early return to service as only five seamen remained on board. By November 29, 1938, Jose Tartiere had been laid up at Shorts Buoys, Pallion.

With the Spanish Civil War ending in March, 1939 on the Republican surrender of Madrid, Jose Tartiere was handed over to the Franco regime.

She sailed for Bilbao on April 6, eventually to be scrapped there in 1965.

Only the chief engineer had been brave enough to return to Spain, but had been imprisoned.

Afraid to return home, the rest of the crew at first received shelter at the Salvation Army Hostel in High Street East but later left town.

The master, Captain Jose Garcia Roderiques, remained a political refugee, finding sanctuary at Sunderland’s Missions to Seamen Hostel.

With the outbreak of the Second World War on September 3, 1939, the destitute Capt Roderiques had not seen his family for four years, and learned that two of his sons had been killed fighting for the Republicans, with another being wounded.

In appreciation of Wearside hospitality, the Spaniard willingly offered his services to the British Government in the Second World War.