SEVENTY years ago Spain was rent by a Civil War which had begun in July 1936 when the Fascist Franco and his rebel forces invaded Spain, intent on overthrowing the democratically elected Government.

By early 1937 Franco had taken about half of Spain and in April of that year mounted a concentrated assault on the Basque northern Spain.

On April 6, Franco publicly announced that he would stop all ships from entering ports in Northern Spain, to stop food getting to the Basques who were already short of food, to starve them into submission.

Merchant vessels that tried to break the blockade were bombed, captured and/or sunk by Franco's rebels. heavily supported by German and Italian forces.

Twenty-seven British ships were sunk, many more were attacked and some captured - some were owned by Penarth shipowners such as Claude Angel, Sir James German, Cyril Howell, Richard Street.

The blockade runners achieved universal acclaim, especially the 'Jones Boys,' Captain 'Potato' Jones of the 'Marie Llewellyn' owned by Claude Angel, Captain 'Corn Cob,' Jones of the 'Macgregor' owned by the Guardian Line of Cardiff and Captain 'Ham and Eggs' Jones of the 'Sarastone' owned by Stone and Rolfe of Llanelli who had bought the vessel from Penarth's Sir Sven Wohlford Hansen.

The first vessel to break the blockade was the 'Seven Sea Spray' commanded by an ex-Penarthian Captain Roberts, who was accompanied by his 19-year-old daughter Florence who had recently left Penarth County Grammar School.

The 'Seven Sea Spray' had been adopted by the girls of the school through the British Ship Adoption Society.

The vessel left the French port of St Jean de Luz during the night of Monday, April 19, 1937, with a cargo of foodstuff.

Franco's heavily armed cruiser the 'Almirante Cervera' was patrolling the area aided by four armed trawlers, the 'Seven Sea Spray' not displaying any lights dodged the insurgent vessels, and as she steamed up the river to Bilbao the riverbanks were thronged by tens of thousands of Basques.

Hungry people who shouted 'Long live British sailors. Long live liberty.' On another blockade breaking run Captain Roberts, his daughter 'Fifi,' the vessel and crew were captured at Santona when Italian troops seized the city and its docks on August 25, 1937.

They were all held captive, prisoners of war until November 1, 1937.

Throughout the blockade of northern Spain, which lasted from April 6 until the north was defeated on October 21, 1937 when Aviles, Gijon and Musel were taken by the Fascist rebels, British vessels were attacked.

These attacks continued on vessels trying to reach the Mediterranean ports - eg The 'Jeanne M' on May 29, 1938, was bombed whilst discharging at Barcelona, she suffered heavy damage to her hull and superstructure but was able to reach Barry for repairs.

The 'Jeanne M' was owned by two Penarth men Cyril Howell and Frederick Moorsam who traded as the Mooringwell Steamship Company, the men also traded as Moorwell Motors.

One of their garages is now Robert Smith's garage opposite the Police Station.

Penarth shipowners Claude Angel, Sir James German and Richard Street all lost vessels.

Angel lost three, the 'Dellwyn' bombed and sunk at Gandia July 27, 1938, 'Miocene' sank at Barcelona January 24, 1939, 'Yorkbrook' sunk Barcelona January 23, 1939. Sir James German's 'Arlon' was sunk off Valencia June 27, 1938.

Richard Street's 'St Winifred' was badly damaged by bombing whilst unloading cargo of much needed food at Alicante June 6, 1938, the vessel was towed to Marseilles and declared a constructive Total loss.

The 'Seven Sea Spray' belonged to Alfred Pope's Veronica Steamship Company. Pope lived on the top floor of the Seabank Hotel at Porthcawl which he owned.

At the start of the Second World War he sold his vessels, the 'Seven Sea Spray' was bought by the Mooringwell Company who renamed her 'Jeanne M' (not to be confused with their earlier vessel of the same name).

Whilst making a passage Cardiff for Lisbon the vessel was sunk by a torpedo from the German submarine U37 on December 2, 1940, with a loss of seven crew.