Spanish Civil War child refugees celebrated in weekend of events at Dartington

The lives of two sisters who escaped the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s to make their home on the Dartington estate have been celebrated in images, performance, film, literature, food and a public discussion on the lessons for providing welcome to refugees in modern Britain.

The Carito and Marina Weekend (27 to 29 April) was organised by local people who knew Carito and Marina Rodriguez well and told the story of how, contrary to dominant narratives about refugees and asylum seekers today, the Rodriguez sisters positively influenced the lives of so many in the Dartington Hall School and wider community.

Carito and Marina Rodriguez receiving their teaching diplomas from Dorothy Elmhirst
Carito and Marina Rodriguez receiving their teaching diplomas from Dorothy Elmhirst

The celebration included a performance, Marina and Me, by former Dartington Hall School pupil Deborah Paige and Nicky Marshall drawing on personal memories of the sisters, followed by Visible Ink’s Sam Richards’ poetry and music celebrating the literature of immigration and displacement.

A new biography of the Rodriguez sisters, Hearts of Giants, was launched, alongside two exhibitions – one specifically on the lives of the two sisters and one on the story of the Basque refugees. An auction of the estate of Carito and Marina Rodriguez was held to support the South Devon Refugee Support Network, as well as exhibitions, a film and Spanish meal of tapas, paella, salad, Cava and macaroons at the Green Table café.

The weekend included a public discussion hosted by the Trust on how attitudes and policy toward refugees and displaced people have shifted since the 1930s and the future we want to see for refugees, asylum seekers and other displaced people. Speakers included former Dartington Hall School pupil Lucy de Groot (also formerly Bristol City Council CEO), Devon County Council Refugees Officer Simon Milner and Refugee Services Area Manager at British Red Cross in Plymouth, David Feindouno.

Marina and Carito Rodriguez arrived on the Dartington estate to work at Dartington Hall School in 1942 on the invitation of a fellow Spanish refugee, Margarita Camps. The sisters later spoke of the love, the freedom, the security and cooperation they experienced at Dartington, as teachers, craftswomen, and house-workers.

The feeling was mutual. ‘Their lives shone with an uncommon honesty and integrity’ said one event organiser, John Paige. ‘Their father had died in the war but they were reunited with their mother in a house in Totnes, and the two sisters became the much loved teachers of Dartington Hall School that we remember’.

The sisters were two of nearly 4,000 children who arrived in the UK from Bilbao, Spain, on 13 May 1937. The unaccompanied children were escaping attacks by Francisco Franco‘s nationalist government allies on Spain’s civilians, including the notorious aerial bombing of Guernica (as depicted by Pablo Picasso in Guernica) in April 1937 by Franco’s allies, Nazi German Luftwaffe‘s Condor Legion and the Fascist Italian Aviazione Legionaria.

Their ship Habana docked in Southampton the following evening and by 1938, the vast majority of children had left the UK but around 470 remained. Carito and Marina Rodriguez were two of these, spending time in Langham near Colchester before training and working as nurses in Nottingham.

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