Elizabeth Wilkinson

Elizabeth Wilkinson was a member of the Communist Party. On the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War she helped establish the British Women's Committee Against War and Fascism and was appointed secretary of the Spanish Women's Committee for Help to Spain.

In 1937 Wilkinson was sent by the The Daily Worker to report on the war in the Basque country. After the Second World War Wilkinson and her husband ran a progressive school.

Primary Sources

(1) Elizabeth Wilkinson, The Daily Worker (27th April 1937)

Yesterday at about 1.30 pm I arrived in Guernica, the ancient capital of the Basque country. It was a peaceful town, with no factories, no munition works and no troops stationed there. Peasant women and children were going quietly about the streets.

Then at four o'clock the rebels began a brutal bombardment which continued without stopping until seven in the evening.

More than fifty German planes rained bombs on the town and machine-gunned the streets incessantly. The surrounding villages were similarly bombarded. The rebel planes even machine-gunned the flocks in the fields.

At eleven o'clock at night the whole town was in flames, not a single house standing. The streets and the square were crammed with goods and chattels snatched from the inferno. The people are still searching for missing relatives, for wives, daughters, husbands, sweethearts and children.

During the first few minutes of the bombardment the Catholic priest blessed the people, Socialists and Communists included.

The roads out of Guernica are now thronged with refugees, driving their sheep and cattle and carrying their rescued goods with them. Eleven thousand more people are coming to Bilbao. Eleven thousand more to be fed.

(2) Elizabeth Wilkinson, The Daily Worker (9th May 1937)

Heavy bombing still continues, including bombs having set the pine woods at Solluse alight.

The militia, however, are still holding the crest, and the last line of fortifications outside Bilbao has been constructed.

Only two days before an appeal was made in the press for the work to be done, and 500 people volunteered immediately.

Particularly fine has been the response of the women, married women whose husbands are at the front, mothers whose children have been taken away to safety, refugees from San Sebastian.

Bilbao lies in a deep hollow, and the fortifications have been built on the edge of the hills dominating the roads.

Work went on from seven in the morning until seven at night. A young girl said to me, 'It is better up here than down below. Although there is so much bombing, we get down into the trenches. They waste their ammunition.'

On the way back I had twice to take refuge. I counted six bombers with eight chasers. They dropped many bombs.

The big asylum at Zamudio was ablaze. Women and children were hastening from the farms nearby. Aeroplanes came suddenly and caught numbers of them.

(3) Elizabeth Wilkinson, The Daily Worker (12th May 1937)

Hitler is celebrating Coronation Day with the biggest air-raid and bombardment on this city since the offensive began.

As I write this, at midday, in the centre of Bilbao, I can see a tremendous pall of black smoke darkening the bright sky.

There at La Campsa in the outskirts of Bilbao, a huge petrol dump is in flames. When I was out in this area I could feel the intense heat from the tremendous conflagration on the other side of the river, where the roads and the embankment were pock-marked by machine-gun bullets. And the dump is still flaming.

A little later a house in front of where I was standing was completely destroyed. The people who had lived there talked to me just a little, and one of the things they said was: 'I should like to put the London Non-Intervention Committee right in the middle of all this.'

I counted nine bombers and seven chasers come over. They bomb and machine-gun everything the pilots can set eyes on. They have even bombed a herd of cattle coming along one of the roads into Bilbao.

The people streaming in along those roads say they are strewn with dead and dying cows.

Already the Nazi pilots have dropped thirty big explosive bombs and hundreds of incendiary bombs on the city. They dropped them when you in England were laughing and shouting.

As I write the sirens, signalling a raid, are sounding again. I cannot tell what will happen.