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British in Iberia

British history and stories in Spain and Portugal.

The Scottish Ambulance
22 January 2010 @ 10:57

Sir Daniel Macaulay Stevenson was Chancellor of the University of Glasgow and Grand Cross Knight of the Order of Isabel the Catholic, and the first Scot to be given this title (in April,1935).  He was a liberal, a great Hispanophile, founder of the Chair of Spanish Language and Literature at the same University and established exchange scholarships between universities in Spain and Scotland.  But above all he was the pioneer of the Scottish Ambulance which saw action on the frontlines during the Spanish Civil War, from 1st October, 1936 onwards.

The Scottish Ambulance Unit grew out of a strong humanitarian spirit, a large amount of initiative and from the suffering of the Spanish Civil War which was felt by many Scots, ardent fans of the Spanish.  From the beginning of the war onwards, it delivered supplies to the needy and later, brought back the injured and administered assistance.  The ambulances were incredibly well equipped.  So much so that, when the Francoists (ill-named as the Nationalists) took power, they seized an ambulance, released its drivers and, due to the great value of the ambulances, decided and tried to seize all of them.
The Scottish Ambulance was present at many of the frontlines during the war, such as Olías, Cabañas, Parla, Getafe etc.   There were 6 ambulances, 12 lorries, a car and bus, all bought and financed by the democratic and working-class people of Scotland.  The human team behind this altruistic movement was made up entirely of Scots, with the exception of one Spaniard, Joaquín Morales.  They were John MacKinnon, Izod A.Joseph Carlin, Thomas Peuman  and Thomas Walters and led by the only female, Miss Fernanda Jacobsen.

Miss  Jacobsen was the driving force of the Scottish Ambulance in Madrid.  She was both dynamic and intelligent and her overwhelming actions on the frontline in Madrid were exemplary.  She carried out her brilliant mission with rigid and unscrupulous discipline and, with her unusual Scottish attire, she became a well-known figure in war-time Madrid.   The people greeted her warmly and regarded her with grateful affection to which she always responded true to character, distributing food with a smile and kind words.

Fernanda Jacobsen’s love for Spain began much earlier, when she would often travel through the country as a child with her mother.   She never felt as though she was travelling in a foreign country and, despite the many differences which existed, she felt so at home there that many times she would think of the pain she would feel when she would finally have to leave the place for good.

However, for Miss Fernanda, as she was affectionately known, this was not her only mission in Spain.   In February, 1938, she personally organized the first visit of a group of Spanish Protestants, fifteen women and seventeen children, to England, as guests of the Committee of Spanish Evangelical Refugee Home.  These evacuees were to stay in the magnificent Moorlands House in Merriott, Somerset, which had been donated to the Committee by an English philanthropist.  The refugees left Madrid for Barcelona in one of the Scottish Ambulance buses where they then met up with other refugees from Granada and Barcelona.  They then left for the French border where representatives from the Refugee Committee met them to drive them to the British Isles.

The Spanish Civil War was a cruel blow for the newly-emerging Spanish evangelists.  Its slow but steady growth was cut short by both the Republican Government and the Francoist rebels and its ranks were reduced through murders and the emigration of many believers.  Day to day functioning ground to a halt and minority faiths were destroyed by a deathly despondency.

Miss Jacobsen always had a great Spanish friend and ally in Tomás Bordallo y Cañizal, the Spanish consul in Liverpool, and from 1936 in Marseille. During his postings as Consul, he played a great part in assisting the student exchange programe and was the first Spaniard to receive an Honorary Doctorate in Law from the University of Glasgow.

Fernanda Jacobsen was decorated with an OBE  for her services to  humanity and for her assistance during the war in Spain. 

Written by Jesús Castro.
Translated by Rachael Harrison.
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