Basque Fact of the Week: Luis de Unzaga, the Basque Who Coined the Phrase “United States of America”

History is full of characters that, while not always highlighted in our text books, made seminal contributions that certainly impacted the course of events. In the early days of what would eventually become the United States of America, numerous Basque were behind the scenes, working in official capacities for France and Spain, aiding the American effort against the British. Luis de Unzaga was one of those Basques, over his life governing several regions of Spanish America.

Portrait of Luis de Unzaga y Amézaga when he was Capitán general de Venezuela, from Wikipedia.
  • Luis de Unzaga y Amézaga was born in 1717 to a prominent Basque family in the southern Spanish city of Málaga. He was the son of the mayor of the Alcazaba of Malaga, Francisco de Unzaga-Amézaga Aperribay; the grandson of the alderman of Bilbao, Tomás de Unzaga Gardoqui (Diego Gardoqui was a cousin) and great-grandson of the royal commissioner and paymaster of the Navy, Francisco de Unzaga Beraza. On his mother’s side (Juana Paniza Ladrón de Guevara), he was the grandson of Luis de Paniza-Ladrón de Guevara, captain of the coast of Granada, and great-great-grandson of the philanthropist and founder of schools in Lombardy, Luigi de Paniza. Coming from a military family, he himself joined when he was only 13 and in 1732 was part of the reconquest of the Algerian city of Oran.
  • Unzaga was the fourth Spanish governor of Spanish Louisiana, which had become part of the Spanish empire in 1762 after the Treaty of Fontainebleau. He served from 1769 to 1777, when the American colonies declared their independence from Great Britain. He wrote George Washington, calling him “General of the United States of America.” Washington so liked this phrase — the United States of America — that it became the new name of what until then had been called the 13 colonies.
  • Unzaga used his powerful family connections to help the fledgling nation, particularly by alerting Washington to the movement of British troops. He created a spy network that helped him deliver, clandestinely, five tons of gunpowder up the Mississippi River that was used in the defense of Fort Pitt. Before that, in 1772, he had sent a merchant, one Juan de Surriret, to New York to collect intelligence on British activities, in an effort to understand threats against Spanish holdings in the Americas. With his superior, Antonio María de Bucareli, he used Cuba’s fishing fleet to both gather and transmit intelligence.
  • Unzaga was instrumental in the transition from French to Spanish rule in Louisiana. He tried to bolster New Orlean’s exports and promoted lumber and cotton industries that would benefit the region for many years. And he turned around Louisiana’s treasury.
  • While in Louisiana, he married Elizabeth St. Maxent, daughter of Gilbert Antoine de St. Maxent who was the wealthiest man in Louisiana. They had one daughter.
  • After completing his service in Louisiana, Unzaga became Captain General of Venezuela in 1777 and, in 1783, governor of Cuba. He retired to Málaga, serving as Lieutenant General of the General Command of the coasts of Granada. He died in 1793.

Primary sources: Luis de Unzaga, Wikipedia (English); Luis de Unzaga y Amézaga, Wikipedia (Spanish); Luis de Unzaga y Amézaga, Real Academia de la Historia; The Role of the Basques in the US War of Independence, About Basque Country

Random Bits of Basqueness

Just got back from a great trip to Costa Rica, where we encountered a few Basque names (though not as many as I might have expected): Soul’s Beauty by Ana Mendieta, Lubricentro y Repuestos Chaverri, Bolívares from the República Bolivariana de Venezuela (Bolibar is a Basque name, and both are named after Simón Bolívar), Ferretería Nanan Zúñiga, and a recycled plastic bottle, with water from Echeverria springs, which is also used in local beer.

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 109

Kepa walked through the door. The inside of the large room was nondescript. It was a large circle, with a row of doors that ran its circumference. Inside the circle were various tables and chairs.It reminded Kepa of a cafeteria as much as anything. Everything was white: the walls, the tables, the chairs, even the doors. A few people were scattered, sitting in twos and threes, at some of the tables, but for the most part, the large room was empty. Kepa didn’t see any computer screens or any of the technology that defined the cavernous operations center they had just escaped.

“This is the baserri?” he asked Latxe as she led him across the room to a desk that sat directly opposite to where they had entered.

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

“Bai,” she responded. “We call it the baserri because of its simplicity. It doesn’t have any of the fancy equipment, to minimize our chances of detection. It’s a waystation, if you will, a place for us to regroup after events like earlier.”

“You mean, that happens often, when they find you?”

Latxe shrugged. “I wouldn’t say often, but certainly more often than we would like. Fortunately, they haven’t found this place.”

“Yet.” A large black man sat behind the desk. The left side of his face was heavily scarred and Kepa noticed that his left arm seemed different somehow. The coloring wasn’t quite the same as his right arm. He wore a simple white shirt and what looked to Kepa like blue jeans. “But they will,” continued the man, “someday.”

“It’s good to see you too, Jorge!” Latxe went around the desk and gave the man a hug. “It’s been a while, but I see you are still your same grumpy self.”

“Someone has to be,” said Jorge roughly, though a hint of a smile peaked through as he spoke. “You fools are too reckless out there.”

Latxe shrugged. “We aren’t going to change things hiding all the time.”

Jorge grunted. “Just wish I could be out there with you all, I guess.”

“You know we need you here.”

“Yeah, yeah…” began Jorge before cutting himself off. He looked over at Kepa. “And who is this? I don’t recognize you.”

“This is Kepa,” said Latxe. “Olatz recruited him and his friend, Maite. Maite was captured in the raid.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Jorge, genuine concern in his voice.

“Mari… I mean Olatz said we’ll get her back,” said Kepa.

“I’m sure we’ll try,” said Jorge in a way that left Kepa unsettled. But before he could question what Jorge meant, Jorge had pulled two spheres out of the desk. “Rooms 103 and 156 are available,” he said as he tossed a sphere to each of them. “Olatz isn’t here yet, but she always likes to take the long way. She should be here soon.”

“Mil esker, Jorge,” said Latxe as she led Kepa back into the common area. “It’s been a long day,” she said. “Go get some rest. When Olatz gets here, we’ll figure out what to do next.”

Kepa nodded absently as he looked at his sphere. 156. He found the door to his room, about halfway around the circle from the desk to the now-missing door they had come through. As he approached his room, the door automatically opened and he stepped inside. The door silently closed behind him. It wasn’t a big room, but it was clean, almost sterile. There was a cot and a strange pod next to it, large enough for him to step inside. He ignored the pod and collapsed on the small cot. Within moments, he was fast asleep.

If you get this post via email, the return-to address goes no where, so please write if you want to get in touch with me.

Basque Fact of the Week: Julen Zabaleta, Master Drawer

Eneko Ennekõike, who is passionate about his home town of Eibar, told me about Julen Zabaleta, a long-time resident of Eibar who died at the age of 101 a few months past. Julen lived through the Spanish Civil War and World War II. He saw the world change dramatically over the last 100 years, with the advent of computers, television, and the internet. Through it all, he documented the people and places of Euskal Herria with his pens and pencils, memorializing the buildings and traditions that are a key part of the Basque Country’s charm, identity, and history.

A drawing of a street in Eibar by Yulen, found on
  • Julen, or Yulen as he was known artistically, was born in Elgoibar on February 14, 1921. However, he lived most of his life in the nearby town of Eibar, moving there in 1951 when he got married to Hortensia San Martín (he once said that while God determines where a man is born, his wife determines where he lives). He was the oldest of five children born to Telesforo Zabaleta and Josefa Barrenetxea. Telesforo worked as a mail carrier, driving a six-horse cart to deliver mail between towns. He would also take various goods and, sometimes, bathers who wanted to visit the baths in Altzola.
  • Yulen began his professional life in the forges of Elgoibar, but after his military service, he worked as a designer and draftsman for many of the local companies. He would draw the parts of machinery, in perspective, so that others could put the machines together. Even after retirement, he kept working. He couldn’t stop. He would say that the body is lazy, and it needs movement.
  • His love of drawing began at an early age. When he was six years old, his father gave him a pencil and he was drawing ever since. When he was nine, he was at a cousin’s house, who had an encyclopedia, which he opened to a photograph of a horse and began drawing. He was mostly self-taught, practicing into the late hours in his bedroom. Over his lifetime, he drew some 8,000 pictures, mostly historical buildings of the Basque Country and the occupations and traditions of the past. A PDF of one of his books filled with drawings of Goierri can be found here.
  • His passion for buildings began with towers in Gipuzkoa, and then to hermitages. He learned the history of the buildings he drew. A lot of hermitages, for example, were built by Basques who had gone to America and made their riches, returning with gold teeth and building the hermitages to share their fortune with their countrymen.
  • To celebrate his 100th birthday, and the 675th anniversary of Elgoibar, released a book entitled Yulen 100 urte in early 2022, to go with an exhibition of the same name from the previous year. Yulen died on February 26, 2022, at the age of 101.

Special thanks to Eneko Ennekõike for teaching me about Yulen.

Primary sources: 100 urte, milaka irudi, Barren 1190, 02/12/2021; Julen Zabaleta, marrazkilaria: “Igarri barik etorri zaizkit 100 urteak, entretenituta egon naiz orain arte,” eta kitto!; Julen Zabaleta ‘Yulen’ hil da, eta kitto!

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 108

The baserri was not at all what Kepa expected. He had thought it was likely a rural outpost, surrounded by trees, just like the baserri he shared with his ama back in his own time. This baserri, however, was about as far from that as one could imagine.

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

Latxe had led Kepa through the tunnels until they reached a ladder that led through a small hole in the ceiling. Latxe pushed a stone in the wall and a small compartment opened up. Inside were several bundled packages. Latxe rummaged through them, muttering to herself. “Female, large. Male, small. Male, medium.” She grabbed that one and tossed it to Kepa. “Female, small.” She took that one for herself. 

“Go ahead and get changed,” she said as she started pulling off her robe. “These robes will be too conspicuous up there.”

Kepa blushed as he started pulling off his robe. He turned as he saw a flash of Latxe’s naked skin, blushing as he revealed his own body, naked except his underwear. For whatever reason, he felt more awkward than he did when he wore that transparent bodysuit. He quickly tore open the package she had given him and put on the clothes without really looking at them. When he was done, he turned.

Latxe was already dressed and looking at him curiously. “Not quite your style, I don’t think, but it will do,” she said with a smirk. Kepa looked down at himself. He was wearing red rubber pants that almost squeaked when he moved. His shirt was white, but with billowy arms that ended in large square cuffs. The hem of his shirt was also square shaped.

Latxe, on the other hand, looked stunning. She had on a white bodysuit that hugged her body tightly. Ribbons of color wrapped around her at various angles and slightly hovering over her body. One arm was covered in shades of blue, the other in shades of red. They merged as they met her body, blending into purples that encircled her torso before splitting again into reds and blues, this time on opposite legs. 

Latxe winked at him before she shoved their robes into the cubby and closed it and then started climbing the ladder. On the other side, hands waited to pull him up and out. Two other figures, both women, grabbed his hands and pulled him into the sunlight. 

They all stood at a blank wall at the base of one of the city’s many skyscrapers. As they stood there, a few random people walked by, not paying them any attention. They were dressed in some of the strangest outfits yet and Kepa wondered if anyone would really notice them wearing their robes. 

The two women kept glancing up and down the walkway. After a few moments, there was a lull in the pedestrians. “Orain,” said one of the women. Kepa watched as the other woman, tall and dressed in all black except her eyes, which were stark white, pulled out some kind of handheld tablet device and started tapping at the screen. A moment later, Kepa watched in astonishment as a door materialized out of nowhere in the wall.

Latxe ushered Kepa in as the two other women hung back. “Welcome to the baserri,” she said.

If you get this post via email, the return-to address goes no where, so please write if you want to get in touch with me.

Basque Fact of the Week: Zazpiak Bat, the Basque Coat of Arms

The phrase Zazpiak Bat – the seven [are] one – signifies the unity of the seven Basque provinces – four in Spain and three in France. It is also the nickname of the Basque coat of arms – the Euskal Harmarriak. But wait, there are only six panels in the coat of arms! Hold on… I see the seventh… the red lion and the fleur-de-lis are two separate ones, representing two different provinces, right? Nope! So, what’s going on here…?

Zazpiak Bat, the Basque Coat of Arms. Image from Wikipedia.
  • Though there are seven Basque provinces, there are only six fields on the Zazpiak Bat. That’s because Nafarroa and Nafarroa Beherea share the first field, the chains of Nafarroa. The chains first appeared during the reign of Theobald I of Nafarroa, in the early-to-mid 1200s. Legend says that the chains, and the emerald that sits in the middle, represent the chains broken and the emerald captured during the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212.  
  • Next comes the coat of arms of the province of Gipuzkoa. The original design, dating back to 1466, had a king on his throne holding a sword in the upper half and three trees, likely yews, above the sea in the lower half. The king is likely either Alfonso VIII or Enrique IV, while the trees represent the inherent nobility of the people. In 1513, twelve cannons were added to upper panel, to the right of the king (as illustrated here). They represent the cannons captured during the Battle of Belate the year before. In a decision made in 1931 but not enacted until 1979, the king and cannons, representing monarchy and feudalism, were removed. The official coat of arms of the province now only contains the trees and the sea. Some versions of the Zazpiak Bat have the older version while some have the newer version.
  • The last field on the top row comes from Bizkaia. There are again a couple of versions. The actual coat of arms of the province has the tree of Gernika superimposed on a silver cross surrounded by eight red Xs (or saltires). Before 1986, Bizkaia’s coat of arms also included two black wolves, each with a lamb in its mouth, representing the House of Haro. Legend has it that two wolves crossed Jaun Zuria’s path before his victory at the Battle of Arrigorriaga. Sabino Arana suggested that the wolves represented monarchy and was anathema to the Basque spirit, so they were eventually dropped.
  • First on the bottom row is the coat of arms of Araba. Around the edge is written “en aumento de la justicia contra malhechores” meaning “in heightened justice against wrongdoers.” There is a castle upon a rock with an armored arm holding a sword sticking out of the rock, defending the castle against a rearing red lion. The castle represents Portilla Castle, an important defensive point in the Kingdom of Nafarroa. The appearance of the castle in Araba’s coat of arms dates back to the 13th century.
  • Lapurdi comes next. Its coat of arms consists of a red lion holding a sword or a dart on a gold background and a gold fleur-de-lis on a blue background. These were directly taken from the coat of arms of the town of Uztaritze when it became capitol of the province. The lion likely represents the rulers of the region and the fleur-de-lis represents the union with France under Charles VII.
  • Finally comes Zuberoa, which is a gold lion on a red background. It was originally the coat of arms of the lord of Mauléon, the capital of the province.
  • The Laurak Bat, the coat of arms of the Basque Autonomous Community (BAC), comprised of Gipuzkoa, Bizkaia, and Araba, has three fields for those three provinces, plus a fourth blank red field. Until 1986, the last one contained the chains of Nafarroa, but the government of Nafarroa filed suit and the Spanish Supreme Court ruled in 1986 that the BAC could not use the chains any longer.
  • There are lots of variants of the Zazpiak Bat as it isn’t the official coat of arms of any specific legal entity. The order of the fields changes from version to version and so too does the detail of each specific field.

Primary sources: Coat of arms of Basque Country (autonomous community), Wikipedia; Zazpiak Bat, Wikipedia; Eusko Harmarriak by John Ysursa,

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 107

Maite stood at the edge of the patio and looked over the city. She watched as, in real time, a new building, a tall sky-scrapper, appeared in the distance. First its core structure grew literally out of the ground. Then the walls. It was another one of these organic structures, with numerous pods growing out of the sides covered in trees.

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

“How?” she asked in awe as she turned back to De Lancre.

“Nanotech,” he said with a shrug. “I admit, I understand none of it. It is so far removed from what we had in my time. But, my understanding is that there are literally billions of little robots that swarm together to build these things. Like an army of ants, but doing our bidding.”

“Who’s bidding, exactly?”

De Lancre shrugged again as he took another sip of his coffee. “Not mine, if that’s what you are asking. If I could control them, then I would have routed Marina a long time ago.”

“Then who?”

“There is some central computer that guides them. It does simulations of what is needed most to adapt the city to the needs of the people. It anticipates growth, changes in the economy, those kinds of things. And it builds new structures or takes down old ones based on those simulations.”

Maite shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts. “It’s so amazing.”

“I thought you might find it interesting. At the ground level, it is hard to appreciate how the city is almost a living organism, and I mean that literally. But, from up here, you can watch it change, watch it grow and almost breathe.”

Maite sighed and turned back toward the table. She sat down, grabbed her coffee cup but just stared at its surface. She looked up at the man across from her, who she realized had been watching her intently. She had to admit that he was an attractive, even handsome man. And he certainly had his charms.

She quickly took a sip of coffee to hide the blush that rushed to her cheeks.

Once she had regained her composure, she put her cup down. “So, what now?”

“That’s up to you,” said De Lancre with a smile that made Maite’s blood go cold. “I’d like you to stay, to get to know you better, and to show you this world I’ve helped make. However, unfortunately, I can’t let you leave. You are simply too dangerous to be out there, plotting against me. So, you’ll stay regardless. It just depends on if it will be as my guest or my prisoner.”

A cold shiver ran down Maite’s spine, but she did her best to hide it from De Lancre. 

“I…” she began. “I would like to get to know you better too.” 

If you get this post via email, the return-to address goes no where, so please write if you want to get in touch with me.

Basque Fact of the Week: Fire and Flame in Basque Culture

Perhaps one of the most defining things that separate humans from the rest of the animal world is our command of fire. Fire is essential to who we are and how we have developed as a species. Indeed, it has been suggested that our taming of fire, and our development of cooking, is what let us evolve to Homo sapiens. Thus, it is no surprise that fire is a key element in Basque culture. Several expressions highlight the central role of fire to the Basques: su bako etxea, gorputz odol bagea – a home without fire is like a body without blood; sua eta ura morroi onak, nagusi gaiztoak – fire and water are good servants, but bad masters. But fire’s role goes beyond a few nuggets of wisdom.

A bonfire on the night of San Juan. Image from Mi pequeño Gulliver.
  • At one time, the population was counted not by person, but by the number of fires, or families, in the province. A house could have more than one fire, and thus more than one family (a large baserri or caserio could house more than one family, sort of duplex style). The Book of Fires, from 1366 in Nafarroa, counted 18,219 fires in the province.
  • The Fueros of Nafarroa stipulated that, particularly in towns that were short of firewood, neighbors had to share fire, with strict guidelines on how the fire of the hearth had to be maintained and how the one who needed fire, with a pot of straw, was to take away their own embers.
  • Until the end of the 19th century, most domestic fire was produced using flint and tinder, where the tinder was made, at least in Gipuzkoa, from beech trees. The tinder would be cooked with water in ash and then dried completely. This tinder could be easily lit with sparks from a flint. With the advent of matches, this method quickly disappeared.
  • The kitchen fire is central to the concept of home and was considered a supernatural spirit, symbolizing the home and serving as a vehicle to ancestors. Many favors, including aiding the second teething of children, purifying foods, and consecrating outside people and animals into the house, were asked of the fire. If one wanted to attract a new person into the family and house, they would walk around the fire. Every year, at Christmas Eve, the fire would be renewed with a new log.
  • Fire was also used to announce the death and burial of people in the home. Fires were lit either at the crossroads near the home or at the doorway, heralding the burial of a family member.

Auñamendi Entziklopedia. FUEGO. Available at:

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 106

The trip to the baserri was uneventful. Marina guided Kepa through dark tunnels until they came to a fork. There she handed Kepa off to another woman, dressed in the same dark robes as the men and women he had met earlier. 

“Don’t worry,” Marina said as she left down the left fork. “It is best to split up for the time being, to throw them off our tracks. Latxe will take you from here.”

Kepa gave a numb nod, not really caring where he went at this point. All he could do was think about Maite.

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

Latxe led Kepa down the right fork. While she was hidden behind her robes, her voice was soft and gentle as she spoke. “Everything will be alright. Olatz has kept us safe so far.”

“Not all of us,” mumbled Kepa.

Latxe stopped, putting her hand on Kepa’s shoulder. “I know this is hard. I lost someone back there too. But we’ll get them back. And it will all be worth it.”

“What will be worth it?” replied Kepa. “What are we trying to do?”

“Change the system. Preserve our freedoms.”

“I only just got here,” said Kepa, “but it seems to me everyone up there -” he pointed to the ceiling, indicating the masses of people he imagined swarming around on the ground above them “- are happy. Do they want change?”

Latxe glanced up, as if she could see those people. “Sometimes, people don’t know what is best for themselves.”

“But you do?” asked Kepa.

Latxe turned back to look at Kepa. She pulled off her hood. Kepa was shocked to see that her face was covered with a jagged scar that ran down from her forehead, down the bridge of her nose, and across her left cheek until it stopped at her lip. Her brown eyes trembled with emotion. 

“I don’t, to be honest. But what I do know is that things can’t stay the way they are. Any voice that speaks out, that dares questions the way things are, is violently silenced.” Latxe ran a finger along her scar. “I got this during a raid on my parents’ apartment, when I was barely a teen. My parents were advocates for change, for the freedom to question the way things were. They wrote articles and even appeared on the feed a few times. But, they got too big, I guess. The government burst in and took them, leaving this as a reminder when I tried to get in the way. I haven’t seen them since.”

Kepa just stammered. “I’m so… sorry.”

Latxe sighed. “All I’m saying is that, while the people think they are happy, it’s only because they follow the lanes set by the government. Any time anyone questions what lane they are in, or what direction they are going, the government is there to stop them. And, if that power gets in the wrong hands…”

“Zalazar,” whispered Kepa.

Latxe nodded. “In the wrong hands, it could get so much worse.”

If you get this post via email, the return-to address goes no where, so please write if you want to get in touch with me.

Basque Fact of the Week: Basque Refugee Children in the UK

During the Spanish Civil War, particularly the years of 1936-1937, thousands of women and children, many of the latter without their parents, were evacuated from the Basque Country to a variety of countries, including the Soviet Union, France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Denmark. I’ll write about some of these others in the future. However, a key destination for many of these children was the United Kingdom.

Basque refugee children on the SS Habana as it arrived in Southampton. Photo from BBC News, by Getty Images.
  • On May 21, 1937, the ship SS Habana left the Basque port of Santurce with some 4,000 children, headed for the British city of Southampton. They stayed in the Stoneham camp, consisting of some 250 tents, organized by the Basque Children’s Committee. The evacuation to Britain was not without controversy, as some in the British government viewed it as a breach of the non-interventionist policy and others argued it would prolong the war by reducing the number of “mouths… that don’t have to be fed” by the Basque government.
  • The children were placed all across the country in what were called colonies. For example, about 60 children were placed at Beach House, in Worthing. The government provided no support – rather, the hosting families and other volunteers raised the necessary funds and clothing to support the children. In fact, the government demanded that the Basque Children’s Committee guarantee 10 shillings per week per child to pay for the care and education. The children stayed there for a few years before most returned to the Basque Country. A plaque was recently placed on the Beach House by the Basque Children of ’37 Association to commemorate their role in aiding these children.
  • While most children eventually returned home to the Basque Country – by 1940 only about 500 remained in the UK – others made new lives in their adopted countries. Sabino Barinaga and Raimundo Perez Lezama, two of the 4,000 children to arrive in 1937, became professional soccer players. 14 years old when they arrived in the UK, they honed their soccer skills on British fields before returning to Spain. Barinaga played for Real Madrid while Lezama was a goalkeeper for Athletic Bilbao. They met in the 1943 Spanish Cup final where Lezama’s Athletic Bilbao team beat Real Madrid 1-0. Other refugee children also made careers in soccer following their encampment in the UK.
  • Another 230 children were sent to Wales. The Basque Country and Wales have a long history of interchange, with Basques working in Welsh industrial cities in the 1880s and Welsh workers doing the same in the early 1900s. 56 of these children made it to Caerleon and soccer was again a distraction from the harsh realities of being so far from home in the middle of a war. They formed a team, called by some “The Basque Wonder Team” and “The Basque Unbeatables,” that became somewhat of a sensation in southern Wales. One of the boys, Enrique Garatea Bello, became a professional goalie back in Spain after returning home.

Primary sources: Arrien Berrojaechevarría, Gregorio. NIÑO, NIÑA (NIÑOS EN LA GUERRA). Auñamendi Encyclopedia, 2022. Available at:

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