Valentin Sa­gasti Tor­rano

The Herald - - OBITUARIES -

Ar­chi­tect Born: March 11, 1930; Died: April 21, 2015.

VALENTIN Sa­gasti Tor­rano, who has died aged 85, was an ar­chi­tect who, as a young boy, was one of hun­dreds of chil­dren evac­u­ated to the UK to es­cape the Span­ish Civil War in the 1930s. They were known as Los Ni­nos Va­cos – The Basque Chil­dren; their ex­pe­ri­ences were de­scribed in the film To Say Good­bye.

He was born in the north­ern Span­ish city of San Se­bas­tian in 1930. With the Span­ish Civil War mov­ing north closer to the Basque re­gion, the fam­ily was evac­u­ated to the rel­a­tive safety of Barakaldo near Bil­bao, ex­cept his older sis­ter Aurora who was sent to live with an aunt in Estella. Val also had two younger sis­ters, Car­men and Juani, who was born in Barakaldo.

The bomb­ing of the north then moved closer and one day Val and his sis­ter Car­men were lucky to sur­vive an attack. The sirens sounded as they were play­ing in the street and ev­ery­one rushed to hide in a nearby rail­way tun­nel. When a train sud­denly ap­peared, Val held Car­men’s hand tightly and pulled her to one side of the en­trance. Un­for­tu­nately, those in­side the tun­nel could not es­cape and the car­nage was ter­ri­ble.

Af­ter the bomb­ing of Guer­nica in April 1937 by the Ger­man Con­dor le­gion in sup­port of Gen­eral Franco, the de­ci­sion was made to evac­u­ate the chil­dren and adult helpers to the safety of other coun­tries. Val and Car­men were taken to the port but at seven years of age Val was con­sid­ered too young to care for his younger sis­ter so he boarded the boat alone. With 4,000 chil­dren and adult helpers, the SS Ha­bana sailed for Southamp­ton on the May 21, 1937. It was sup­posed to be only for three months. Val never felt fear but knew lone­li­ness. A hand was al­ways there to guide him to the com­pany of oth­ers with the words: “Here. Take care of him.”

Af­ter his ar­rival at the re­ceiv­ing camp at Eastleigh, the chil­dren were dis­persed around the UK. Val was sent to a hos­tel at Bramp­ton near Carlisle. A troupe was formed to en­ter­tain the lo­cal com­mu­nity with Val the only boy mem­ber.

In Au­gust 1939, he was moved again, this time to stay in Glas­gow with a foster fam­ily, Mr and Mrs Black­wood. He was now able to start his school­ing at Carn­tyne Pri­mary School. He was ten years old

he Cly­de­bank blitz caused yet an­other evac­u­a­tion with Val and “Mum” Black­wood mov­ing to the Mead­ow­park hol­i­day camp near Irvine. His school­ing con­tin­ued at Bank St Pri­mary and the an­nex of Irvine Royal Academy. Dur­ing this pe­riod the Ayr­shire Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment gave a three-year grant for Val to con­tinue his ed­u­ca­tion. He never for­got this and some years later do­nated a tro­phy in recog­ni­tion of the happy times and as­sis­tance he had ex­pe­ri­enced. The tro­phy, still pre­sented an­nu­ally to the best pupil at tech­ni­cal sub­jects, was ded­i­cated to Mr Wother­spoon, the wood­work teacher who had shown so much in­ter­est and at­ten­tion.

Con­tact with his Span­ish fam­ily was dif­fi­cult as they were also evac­u­ated for a short time to France. The few let­ters be­tween them had to be trans­lated as Val had forgotten his Span­ish lan­guage. Thir­teen years af­ter his evac­u­a­tion, he at­tempted to re­turn to see his fam­ily in Spain. He hitch­hiked through the UK and France but could not en­ter Spain as he was now an “alien” and would have been ar­rested and con­scripted into the army. He fi­nally met his fam­ily for a pic­nic in no-man’s-land on the bridge over the bor­der.

He met his wife Vera in Glas­gow and af­ter a short pe­riod in Lon­don they set­tled back in Glas­gow even­tu­ally hav­ing three daugh­ters, Eliena, An­gela and Ju­lia.

On leav­ing school, he be­came a draughts­man work­ing as an ar­chi­tect’s as­sis­tant at Grat­ton & McLean. He stud­ied part-time at the Glas­gow School of Art and be­came a se­nior ar­chi­tect with Parry & Hughes be­fore form­ing his own prac­tice, Sa­gasti As­so­ciates.

As a Nino Vasco, he was one of about 250 chil­dren who never re­turned home. The his­tory of the Span­ish Civil War could never be com­plete with­out the sto­ries of the chil­dren be­ing recorded. In 2012, af­ter read­ing their mem­o­ries, screen­writer Iza­skun Aran­dia told their story through an an­i­mated film To Say Good­bye, which was shown at the San Se­bas­tian Film Fes­ti­val. Val was one of those whose voices were used in the nar­ra­tion. He was proud to at­tend the screen­ing and sit with his Span­ish fam­ily, as they were able to see and hear his story.

He is sur­vived by his daugh­ters Eliena, An­gela and Ju­lia and his grand­son Adam.

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