Aberdeen’s solidarity with striking Spanish seafarers

John Londragan with American soldier Peter Fry and the daughters of Juan Attaro.
John Londragan with American soldier Peter Fry and the daughters of Juan Attaro.

Shortly before Spain’s bloody civil war broke out, Aberdonians were fighting for the rights of Spanish sailors.

And it led to an amazing encounter for one North-east man who joined the International Brigades to fight General Franco’s forces months later.

In 1936, the Spanish republican government passed new laws granting seafarers a pay rise of 80% and better food.

But the captain of the Spanish S.S. Eolo, which had docked in the Granite City in May that year, refused to meet the wage hike – which the crew were unaware of.

Instead the 20 men were poorly paid and fed two meals a day.

Archie Dewar, Bob Cooney and Tom Davidson in Spain
Archie Dewar, Bob Cooney and Tom Davidson in Spain

Soon Bob Cooney, an Aberdonian communist, marched on board to tell the sailors of their rights and convinced them to strike.

What followed was 15 weeks of industrial action.

Without food or shelter of their own, the sailors were fed, housed and watered by the people of the North-east.

John Londragan, who grew up in poverty in the city, was one of four who welcomed crew members into their homes.

The men were also entertained by being taken to dances.

The crew of the S.S. Eolo were helped by Aberdonians.
The crew of the S.S. Eolo were helped by Aberdonians.

John’s granddaughter, Nina Londragan, 49, who now lives in Cardiff, said: “My grandfather liked democracy and didn’t like the way the sailors were being treated. They were really hands on, feeding them and taking them to dances.

“But the local men were worried like crazy that when they went to the dances the Spanish would nick the women.”

After months of negotiation, a deal was brokered with the ship’s owners by the Spanish government.

The sailors were ordered home in September, prompting tearful goodbyes between new-found friends.

The country’s civil war had already broken out by the time the men left.

A number of men from the North-east followed them to fight against General Franco’s fascist forces.

John Londragan with American soldier Peter Fry and the daughters of Juan Attaro.
John Londragan with American soldier Peter Fry and the daughters of Juan Attaro.

And John was one of the first to leave.

Nina said: “When they befriended the sailors they chatted about politics, it was a real turning point for them.

“They felt they had to do something.”

While fighting in Brunete, a shell explosion splintered into John’s leg and arm so he was hospitalised.

Eventually, his right arm was operated on at an American hospital in Albares.

It was in that town he spotted a postcard in a photographer’s shop window of Aberdeen harbour.

He popped inside and asked the shopkeeper how it got there. In an astounding coincidence, the card had been posted there by Juan Attaro, the shopkeeper’s son, who was one of the Eolo crew John had made friends with.

Although Juan wasn’t there, a photograph was taken of John and an American soldier, Peter Fry, with the Spaniard’s two daughters.

After the war, John went on to fight in World War 2 before continuing to fight for workers’ rights back in Aberdeen.

Nina said: “My grandfather was a great one for solidarity and fighting for the underdog.

“He had such a hard upbringing that he wanted equality for everybody.

“That inspired him to try to change the world.”

General Franco was Spain’s dictator from 1939 to 1975.
General Franco was Spain’s dictator from 1939 to 1975.

It is hoped an exhibition can be launched highlighting Aberdonians’ support for the Spanish sailors 80 years on.

Nina hopes, if the picture of her grandfather goes on display, there might be a chance of finding Juan’s daughters.

A special weekend of events is also now being planned to mark the anniversary of the start of the strike.

A day of music will be held on Friday, May 27, followed by a cultural day on the Saturday, although venues are not yet confirmed.

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