South Shields seaman captured Spanish Civil War on film

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THE most iconic image associated with Guernica – the Basque town bombed during the Spanish Civil War in 1937 – is Picasso’s famous painting of the same name.

But photographs also captured the devastation caused by the raid – yet who would have thought that some of them would be the work of a South Shields merchant seaman?

His name was Norman Ramsey, and he was among the crew of the Newcastle steamer Hamsterley, which had docked three days earlier, with a cargo of food, in the port of Bilbao.

Norman used his camera to photograph refugees on the road from Guernica, as well as some of the town’s shattered buildings.

You can see some of his pictures, and read an account he afterwards gave of the events, on a fascinating blog which Tyne and Wear Archives has just placed on line.

Search for it at

There is also an eye-witness account of the action when the British battlecruiser HMS Hood and the destroyer Firedrake engaged the cruiser Almirante Cervera.

By the way, I had hoped to find out a bit more about Norman Ramsey in our own files but I’ve not been able to. Perhaps someone remembers him.

The Hamsterley was lost just a few years later, in December 1939, when she sank after a collision with the s.s. Accrington, off Happisburgh.

It’s a reminder, though, that although they were supposed to be neutral, British merchant ships actually took enormous risks running food and other supplies.

The Gazette headlines here recall the occasion, in the spring of 1938, when another steamer, the Greatend, with 11 South Shields men among her crew, was bombed while in harbour in Valencia.

A mass protest was made by the masters of other British ships.

And despite their neutrality, it was a British cargo ship, the Stanbrook, built by the Tyne Iron Shipbuilding Company, which became the last vessel to leave Spain before the end of the civil war the following year, when she braved the blockade to evacuate more than 2,500 republican refugees.

Her skipper, a Welshman called Archibald Dickson, threatened to crash into the harbour side after French authorities in Algeria refused permission for the dangerously overcrowded ship to berth. They subsequently relented.

A few months later, in November 1939, Capt Dickson and his crew of 22 all died when the Stanbrook, bound from Antwerp for the Tyne, was torpedoed by a U-boat in the North Sea.