Upon hearing a performance of ‘The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff’ by Teesside folk trio The Young ‘Uns at The Arc in Stockton, John Christie had an idea.
The song tells the story of young Johnny, born in Stockton-on-Tees in 1919, following him through industrial injury, hunger marches, The Battle of Cable Street and on to The Spanish Civil War.
When speaking to his regulars (he owns The Golden Smog pub), John realised that few of them knew about the young men from the town who’d fought and (in some cases) died in the battle against fascism on the Iberian peninsula. He felt that the names of these men should be known and remembered so started planning a memorial to them in the town.
To collect the money needed for the memorial a whole raft of fundraisers were initiated, including a book – ‘I Sing of my Comrades‘ – by local historian Tony Fox; a basketball tournament; performances by The Young ‘Uns; and a Just Giving page. In addition, a special International Brigade basketball kit (designed by The Golden Smog Warriors) was sold across the world, and over 170 separate donations were received on the Just Giving page alone.
Via email, I spoke to John, Tony and Abby from Abby+Owen (who we’ve featured before) about the work:
John: I wanted a memorial that people couldn’t miss and one that hopefully people would talk about – even if they hated it, then leading to people maybe looking into what it was about and learning more.
Picasso’s painting Guernica shows the horror of the war and I thought that something based around this, but more colourful would be striking enough for people not to be able to walk past.
I sent a few very rough ‘coloured in’ Guernica images to Abby+Owen who sent back various ideas over time and alterations, tweaks were made before we all agreed on a final image.
Abby: In terms of creating the artwork, Owen and I faithfully redrew Guernica as a scalable vector graphic, using a digital drawing tablet mounted on a mechanical arm. The process itself was intensive and certainly challenging, but a wonderful opportunity to study Picasso’s masterpiece and put our own spin on it.
John: A Golden Smog regular, Mark O’Reilly helped with the design of the frame, font etc (I was a nuisance to him). Mark contacted Q-Laser and sent them all the drawings etc that they needed. Q-Laser were really great to work with, as were all the various businesses and people.
Tony: We will be dedicating it in April 2023, as April is the Anniversary of Otto Estensen arriving in Spain (12th April 1937) and the bombing of Guernica two weeks later. Elizabeth Estensen (daugher of Otto), Duncan Longstaff (son of Johnny) and Phil Saint (Nephew to Myles Harding) will be attending.
Abby: We are personally thrilled with the finished product, which was a real collaborative effort, and it’s clear that it’s already making a real impression as a fitting memorial piece to the Stockton International Brigaders.
Tony: On Teesside we now have one of the oldest and also the most recent memorials to the British International Brigade volunteers in the world.
John: It will shortly have some lighting fitted nearby to illuminated it on an evening, by which time I will see it as ‘completed’.
The memorial can be found in Wasp Nest Yard in Stockton.
Thanks to John Christie, Tony Fox and Abby+Owen for their kind help on this entry.