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Maestras, the teachers accompanying
the ninos

With the children were 95 female, qualified teachers — or maestras — 120 female, auxiliary helpers
and 15 priests. The presence of teachers had been crucial in persuading parents that their children
were going to be looked after. They were to have an important role in continuing the education of the
children and in maintaining a link with the life and culture of Spain. One of the maestras was Ana Maria
Gonzalez Garate, who was 22 at the time of the evacuation. Born in 1914 in San Sebastian, she was
trained in the Escuela Superior de Maestros in San Sebastian. In 1932, she was a founder member of
the FUE — the Federacion Universitaria Escolar de Euzkadi. The FUE was a left-wing/Republican student
group (founded during the First Republic, outlawed during the dictatorship and resurrected during the
Second Republic), which had the aims of establishing a university for the people, defending the culture
of the country against fascism, and the recognition of Basque nationhood. In 1936 after the fall of
San Sebastian, Ana Maria fled with her widowed mother, grandmother and two sisters to Portugalete,
close to Bilbao and its port of Santurce, working with orphans of members of the militia who had died
fighting in the Republican cause (the Casa de Huerfanos de Milicianos). The Basque government had
given her permission to leave for England, in company with her mother and grandmother, under the
arrangements it had made with the English and French governments for the evacuation of old men,
women and children. In the event, she came to England on the Habana as a maestra without them
— her mother, grandmother and sisters subsequently sought refuge in France. Ana Maria remained in
England, as a teacher with the ninos at the colony at The Oaks, Carshalton, until May 1939.

Most of the children had now gone back to Spain, but she could not return. Teachers trained under the
Second Republic were especially vulnerable: many lost their posts, were beaten, imprisoned or executed.
Ana Maria had also been a member of the FUE and had worked in the orphanage for children of the
Republican militia. She did not go back to Spain until 1951, when she visited her family in Guipuzcoa. As
an alien in Britain during the Second World War, her employment prospects were limited to domestic
and secretarial work, both of which she did, working as short-hand typist in London from 1941. She
applied to retrain as a teacher in the UK, but was told that she was not a suitable candidate as she
spoke with an accent.
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