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On March 28 1939, the last boat carrying republican exiles on board, ‘Stanbrook’ left the port of Alicante

About 14,000 people were left behind and trapped in the port; Franco would not let them leave. Most of them ended up in concentration camps.

It was the last days of the Republic. Dozens of thousands of terrified people moved from their villages to the coast. They wanted to flee however possible.

The last republican authority, General Casado and his entourage abandoned Spain on March 30 escorted by the Franco troops and the British Navy via the port of Gandia.

At least two other refugee boats tried to get into Alicante port, but two Franco vessels, 'Canarias' and 'Volcan' stopped them.

The Stanbrook on her arrival in Oran - Photo www.operacionstanbrook.com


The Stanbrook was an old English cargo ship, commanded by Captain Archival Dickenson, who disobeyed his superiors and took 3,028 people on board, including 147 children.

Franco and the British Government had spent weeks negotiating an evacuation of the republicans which wanted to leave the country. At the start of the talks the British Government made an official posture, saying any evacuation would need the approval of Franco. The British Government said the ideal thing would for Franco let everyone who wanted to go.

Franco only agreed a selective evacuation which affected General Casado and his men. No one else was to leave.

On March 30, 14,000 republicans were waiting for a boat which would not come. A message from London said, ‘The policy of the Government remains unalterable and the instructions to his Majesty’s ships continue to be what has been transmitted in earlier telegrams. His Majesty’s ships will not enter Spanish ports to collect republican refugees.

The writer Eduardo de Guzmán was one of the 14,000 left in the port. He described in his notebook what he saw.
‘The suicides continue. Outside the breakwater two bodies are floating. One individual was walking quietly along the port and then shot himself in the head. Another did the same but after the bullet left his body it mortally wounding an old grey haired man. In two days more, Franco will need to do no more, because he will have killed all of us.

Meanwhile the Stanbrook headed for Orán, now called Algeria, with double the number of passengers permitted. Records show that it rained and there was little cover and only 2 toilets for more than 3,000.

The destiny for those 14,000 republicans trapped in Alicante Port was one of the 104 concentration camps which Franco had established across all his territory. Alicante province had the sad honour of some of the most bloody and repressive of them all, at Molino de Batán, Portcoeli, Benalúa, San Fernando, Santa Bárbera, the Alicante bull ring and worst of all camps in Los Almendros and Albatera.