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British in Iberia

British history and stories in Spain and Portugal.

The English Cemetery of Monte Urgull
20 January 2010 @ 09:58

San Sebastian, 27th September, 1924.  A dynamic sculptor from Donostia carves the stone monument, bringing it to life with the figures of soldiers and military insignia.  He immerses himself in his work, both great in detail and eulogy, forming part of the restoration of the forgotten cemetery in which could be found the remains of those British soldiers who lost their lives in Spain, fighting for the liberal cause during 1936 and 1937.

 From this moment onwards, those previously forgotten tombs were to be remembered by charming gardens and a monument facing towards the sea.


On the 15th July, 1924, work had begun on the project chosen by the Town Hall of San Sebastian.  It was carried out by the Artillery Command under the supervision of military engineers, in the cemetery which bore the names of the heroes who died in the fight for the liberal cause.


The British Auxiliary Legion was a military body set up in 1835 by volunteers in Great Britain on request from the government of the Queen Regent of Spain, María Cristina de Borbón, to support the liberal troops in the First Carlist War.  This was a civil war which took hold in Spain between 1833 and 1840 between the followers of Infante Carlos María Isidro of Borbón(1), known as Carlists and renowned as absolutists, and the followers of Isabel II, known as Cristinos for their support of the Regent Queen María Cristina de Borbón, whose government was originally moderate absolutist, but then became liberal in order to gain popular support.


Miguel Ricardo de Alosa arranged the help from the English.  On the 10th June, 1835 the British Government announced the creation of a legion of 10,000 volunteers, under the orders of Lieutenant Colonel George de Lacy Evans.  The period of service was two years, with the exception of the 6th and 8th Scottish Regiments who joined up for one year.   They were promised a good wage, bread and an English uniform in addition to a pension on their return to Great Britain and troops signed up in London, Liverpool, Dublin and Glasgow.  As no previous experience was required, it attracted many unemployed, criminals and helpless people from the major cities of the United Kingdom, who saw a way to resolve their financial problems and put food in their mouth.  In addition, and most unheard of, the Irish were allowed to bring their wives and children, around 700 in total, and they were to accompany the troop throughout their mission.  The Annual Register of 1835 was quite clear: “All the detachments are made up of the wasters of London, Manchester and Glasgow”.


At the end of the summer of 1836, the 10,000 men of this new military group gathered on the outskirts of San Sebastian, under the direct control of George de Lacy Evans who, in turn, took his orders from General Fernández de Córdoba.


The main battles of the First Carlist War took place against the back-drop of the provinces of Catalunya, Aragon and, in particular, the Basque Country.  As the Infante Carlos, and his section were based in the Basque Country, it was they who suffered most casualties in the war.  After several skirmishes in Hernani and around Vitoria where the battalion based themselves, in 1836 they managed to hold on to the free port and the fort on the Mount of Urgull in San Sebastian, despite the attempts from the Absolutists to encircle the city and the attack on the port of Pasajes.  During the siege of Bilbao, they acted on the orders of Baldomero Espartero to liberate the city.


The regiment disbanded in 1837, but despite its break-up over one thousand men remained active with the express permission of Espartero to fight on other fronts, amongst which was Andoain.


A reddish-coloured stone in the cemetery on Monte Urgull states the following: “In memory of those courageous British soldiers who gave their life for the flag of their country and for the independence and the freedom of Spain”.


Written by Jesús Castro.

Translated by Rachael Harrison.

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