George Steer

George Steer


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George Steer, the son of a newspaper editor, was born in South Africa in 1909. He was educated at Winchester and at Christ College, Oxford, where he obtained a double first in classics.

Steer became a war correspondent and covered several wars for The Times and the Daily Telegraph. In 1935 he covered the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. The poorly armed Ethiopians were no match for Italy's modern tanks and aeroplanes. During the war Steer reported on how the Italians were using mustard gas on the home forces.

In 1937 Steer was sent to cover the Spanish Civil War where he reported on the bombing of Guernica. Another witness to the event was Leah Manning, who described him as a "tower of strength and encouragement to me." Steer was then sent to Finland where he witnessed the Red Army invasion.

Steer published eight books including Caesar in Abyssinia and A Tree in Guernika. In one article he wrote "A journalist is not a simple purveyor of news, whether sensational or controversial, or well-written, or merely funny. He is a historian of every day's events ... and as a historian must be filled with the most passionate attachment and most critical attachment to the truth, so must the journalist, with the great power that he wields, see that the truth prevails."

In 1940 Steer took over the running of the Ethiopian Forward Propaganda Unit. Later, in the Second World War he was appointed as head of the Indian Field Propaganda Unit. George Steer was killed in a car crash in Bengal on 25th December, 1944.

Guernica, the most ancient town of the Basques and the centre of their cultural tradition, was completely destroyed yesterday afternoon by insurgent air raiders. The bombardment of this open town far behind the lines occupied precisely three hours and a quarter, during which a powerful fleet of aeroplanes consisting of three German types, Junkers and Heinkel bombers and Heinkel fighters, did not cease unloading on the town bombs weighing from 1,000lb. downwards and, it is calculated, more than 3,000 two-pounder aluminum incendiary projectiles. The fighters, meanwhile, plunged low from above the centre of the town to machine-gun those of the civilian population who had taken refuge in the fields.

The whole of Guernica was soon in flames except the historic Casa de Juntas with its rich archives of the Basque race, where the ancient Basque Parliament used to sit. The famous oak of Guernica, the dried old stump of 600 years and the young new shoots of this century, was also untouched. Here the kings of Spain used to take the oath to respect the democratic rights (fueros) of Vizcaya and in return received a promise of allegiance as suzerains with the democratic title of Señor, not Rey Vizcaya. The noble parish church of Santa Maria was also undamaged except for the beautiful chapter house, which was struck by an incendiary bomb.

At 2 a.m. today when I visited the town the whole of it was a horrible sight, flaming from end to end. The reflection of the flames could be seen in the clouds of smoke above the mountains from 10 miles away. Throughout the night houses were falling until the streets became long heaps of red impenetrable debris. Many of the civilian survivors took the long trek from Guernica to Bilbao in antique solid-wheeled Basque farm carts drawn by oxen. Carts piled high with such household possessions as could be saved from the conflagration clogged the roads all night. Other survivors were evacuated in Government lorries, but many were forced to remain round the burning town lying on mattresses or looking for lost relatives and children, while units of the fire brigades and the Basque motorized police under the personal direction of the Minister of the Interior, Señor Monzon, and his wife continued rescue work till dawn.

In the form of its execution and the scale of the destruction it wrought, no less than in the selection of its objective, the raid on Guernica is unparalleled in military history. Guernica was not a military objective. A factory producing war material lay outside the town and was untouched. So were two barracks some distance from the town. The town lay far behind the lines. The object of the bombardment was seemingly the demoralization of the civil population and the destruction of the cradle of the Basque race. Every fact bears out this appreciation, beginning with the day when the deed was done.

Monday was the customary market day in Guernica for the country round. At 4.30 p.m. when the market was full and peasants were still coming in, the church bell rang the alarm for approaching aeroplanes, and the population sought refuge in cellars and in the dugouts prepared following the bombing of the civilian population of Durango on March 31, which opened General Mola’s offensive in the north. The people are said to have shown a good spirit. A Catholic priest took charge and perfect order was maintained.

Five minutes later a single German bomber appeared, circled over the town at a low altitude, and then dropped six heavy bombs, apparently aiming for the station. The bombs with a shower of grenades fell on a former institute and on houses and streets surrounding it. The aeroplane then went away. In another five minutes came a second bomber, which threw the same number of bombs into the middle of the town. About a quarter of an hour later three Junkers arrived to continue the work of demolition, and thenceforward the bombing grew in intensity and was continuous, ceasing only with the approach of dusk at 7.45. The whole town of 7,000 inhabitants, plus 3,000 refugees, was slowly and systematically pounded to pieces. Over a radius of five miles round a detail of the raiders’ technique was to bomb separate caserios, or farmhouses. In the night these burned like little candles in the hills. All the villages around were bombed with the same intensity as the town itself, and at Mugica, a little group of houses at the head of the Guernica inlet, the population was machine-gunned for 15 minutes.

I had arrived in Bilbao on April 24 and on the next day had gone to Mass with the Foreign Secretary and his family, spending the rest of the day in his office. The morning of the 26th I spent quietly at the office of Asistencia Social, discussing in outline the plans for evacuation.

In the afternoon I made my way down to La Prensa where a group of journalists had invited me for a drink, among them Philip Jordan and George Steer, who during the next few weeks were to prove towers of strength and encouragement to me. A day begun so quietly was to end in indescribable horror and dismay.

"A raid's coming up," said Jordan. "Do you want to go down to the shelter?" I shook my head, so we went outside. Phil's ear had caught the sound of bombers in the air, although there had been no warning. Across the hills to the east the air was alive with Heinkels as wave after wave drove in from the sea. They were followed by Junkers. Horror-striken, the Basques amongst us shouted, "Guernica! they're bombing Guernica!" It seemed incredible that such a monstrous thing could happen to this quiet little market town, renowned from time immemorial as the home of Basque liberation where, before the famous oak tree, rulers of Spain had traditionally sworn to observe Basque local rights. Helpless to do anything we watched from the hills. Until nearly eight in the evening, incendiary bombs and high explosives rained down every twenty minutes. The town was open and defenceless; it was crowded with market day visitors and as people fled from the destruction they were dive-bombed and machine-gunned from the air. The roads out of the town were jammed with dead and injured: 1,654 killed; 889 injured.


George Steer - History

In 1915, George Washington West set out to build a town on the site of his ranch. He built a Courthouse, a school, highways, bridges, waterworks, a light plant and a hotel, among other things, to make the town complete. To open up this new frontier, he sold to farmers, ranchers and businessmen, thousands of acres of rich land. Today the City of George West, County seat of Live Oak County, is a tribute to the generosity of this innovative rancher.
George Washington West Kittie Searcy West T he couple at home in their ranch house in Live Oak County

The Story of the Man.

George Washington West was born on March 10, 1851 in Shannonville, Tennessee.
His father, Washington West, owned and operated an iron foundry at West Point on the Tennessee River. His mother was Mary Willauer, the daughter of a Pennsylvania Quaker family.

In 1854, Washington West moved his family to Lavaca County, Texas. The West home became an important stagecoach stop, and the community around it became known as Sweet Home.

Following the Civil War, George West joined the cattle drives north and in 1867 went on his first drive to Kansas.
In 1870 he contracted with the U.S. government to deliver 14,000 head of Texas longhorns to the Rosebud Indian Reservation in Montana. Although he was the youngest man with the herd, he had full charge.
The cattle were gathered in South Texas and driven north into Indian Territory. When the Platte River was reached, George West became the first man to cross this river with a herd.
From this point on. he broke his own trail and when he reached the reservation he had established the longest cattle trail on the continent.

During the 1870's, George West made many drives to Kansas, Nebraska, Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas.
He became well known to the Indian tribes who watched each spring for his herds of longhorns being brought to the Reservations as the buffalo gradually disappeared.


Geronimo, lead steer in the George West herd, has been preserved and is on display in front of the Courthouse.

In 1880, George West and his wife, Kittie Searcy West, moved to Live Oak County and purchased 140,000 acres of land and 26,000 head of cattle for a cattle ranch.
This ranch included the present town of George West, extending to the Nueces River on the north and east, and to McMullen County on the west.
In 1882. George West handled over 80.000 head of cattle. Then came the most disastrous drought ever experienced in Live Oak County. The Nueces River went dry for the first and only time.
George West lost 25,000 head of cattle and had to sell off half his ranch. The year 1897 brought another drought followed by a freeze that killed cattle by the hundreds. But in spite of reverses, George West's ranch prospered and his screw plate brand became known in stock yards all over the West.

After the turn of the century, George West put his efforts into colonization. His first enterprise was a railroad through the vast ranchlands between San Antonio and Corpus Christi. He gave to the San Antonio, Uvalde, and Gulf Railroad $100,000 in cash and the free right of way through his entire ranch. in 1912, the long sought railroad became a reality.


George Steer and Guernica

Paul Preston remembers the journalist and Basque sympathizer who broke the news of the bombing of Guernica on April 26th, 1937.

In early 1938, Martha Gellhorn wrote to her friend and mentor, Eleanor Roosevelt:

You must read a book by a man named Steer: it is called the Tree of Gernika. It is about the fight of the Basques – he’s the London Times man – and no better book has come out of the war and he says well all the things I have tried to say to you the times I saw you, after Spain. It is beautifully written and true, and few books are like that, and fewer still that deal with war. Please get it.

Martha Gellhorn’s judgement has more than stood the test of time. Steer was the correspondent of The Times whose account of the bombing of Guernica perhaps had more political impact than any single article written by any correspondent during the Spanish Civil War.

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George L. Steer: a chronicle about the journalist who told the world about the Bombing of Guernica

Today, on the 80th anniversary of the Bombing of Guernica, we’re paying tribute to the journalist who most helped spread the truth about what happened at Guernica around the world. In addition to our annual article about the event, we’d like to share this tale of who he was and what he did that makes us consider him a “Friend of the Basques”, but above all, a great journalist and a “Friend of Truth”.

Nor shall we forget Noel Monks, a correspondent for the Daily Express , who was also a witness to the Bombing of Guernica and about whom we’ve written an article that we encourage you to read.

When George Lowther Steer arrived in Bilbao to cover the Basque front of the Spanish Civil War, he was barely 28 years old, but despite his youth, he was already an advanced war correspondent who had covered the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935.

There, Steer met another young man, José Antonio de Aguirre, just five years his senior, who had just been sworn in as the first Lehendakari of the Basques under the Tree of Guernica, while the sounds of the raging battle between the gudariak of the recently-created Basque Army and the troops of the insurgent Francoists could be heard in the distance.

Those who’ve read the book The Tree of Guernica: A Field Study of Modern War will know that this Brit from South Africa developed a close friendship, steeped in admiration, with Aguirre, and he felt very close to that handful of Basques who’d left behind their occupations to be the first line of defense against the fascism that was threatening to engulf the world.

What neither Aguirre, nor the other Basques, nor even Steer, could imagine was the fundamental role that this young journalist would play in the defense of the Truth and of the cause of the Basque people.

His chronicles from Bilbao for The Times of London started narrating the arrival of British merchant ships that, with the protection of that nation’s navy, broke the insurgents’ naval blockade. And they finished with the fall of Bilbao and the beginning, on the way to Santander, of a long exile from which many would never return.

But it was April 26, 1937 that Steer’s story and that of the Basques would be definitively joined. On that day, the insurgents and their German and Italian allies decided to level Guernica.

The news reached Bilbao: “Guernica is in flames”. Steer was having dinner at the Hotel Torrontegui with a group of foreign correspondents: Brit Christopher Holme, from Reuters Keith Scott Watson, who wrote for The Star Mathieu Corman, for the French daily Ce Soir and Noel Monks , for the Daily Express (expelled from the territory controlled by the insurgents, just like Steer, and who also worked hard to spread the word about what had happened at Guernica).

They all immediately left for Guernica to check out what had happened. Monks was unaware, at the time, that the machine gun fire that he had survived that very morning on a road in Biscay, along with other colleagues, and which had had him hiding in the crater left behind by an exploding bomb for more than 15 minutes while a group of Heinkels 51 planes tried to finish them off, were the work of the planes that had participated in the bombing.

Neither Steer, nor Monks, nor the other correspondents were prepared for what they found that night: the entire Sacred Town of the Basques was aflame, with hundreds of victims, many of them destroyed by bombs, littering the streets.

While the other journalists rushed back to Bilbao to urgently send out their stories, Steer stayed behind, talking with witnesses, and gathering the remains of the incendiary bombs. He came back with those pieces of evidence, and, without sending an urgent story, waited until the next morning to talk to the refugees who’d arrived in Bilbao from Guernica, and to go back to the bomb site to see the tragedy in the light of day.

When he again returned to Bilbao, he sent out, with a “neutral and non-sensationalist” tone, a story which is without a doubt the most extraordinary story written by a correspondent in the whole Spanish Civil War.

Published by The Times and The New York Times , and a role model for all journalists on how to tell a story.

That telegram changed the history of the Basques: the world’s perception of what had happened seriously hurt the image of the insurgents, it inspired Great Britain and many other places to start taking in refugee Basque children, it inspired Picasso, it made history.

James Holburn, the correspondent on the insurgent side for The Times in the north of Spain also sent his version of events, denying the bombing and saying that the “Reds” had dynamited and burned the town.

The Times had already cabled George Steer at the Torrontegui: VIEW OTHERSIDES DISMISSAL YOUR GUERNICA STORY FURTHER JUDICIOUS STATEMENT DESIRABLE.

The denial by Salamanca of all knowledge of the destruction of Guernica (in Basque, Gernika) has created no astonishmenthere, since the similar butless terrible bombing of Durango was denied by them in spite of the presence of British eye-witnesses.

I have spoken with hundreds of homeless and distressed people, who all give precisely the same description of the events. I have seen and measured the enor

mous bomb-holes at Guernica, which, since I passed through the town the day before, I can testify were not there then.

Unexploded German aluminium incendiary bombs were found in Guernica marked “Rheindorf factory, 1936. The types of German aeroplane used were Junkers 52 (heavy bombers), Heinkel 111 (medium fast bomber), and Heinkel 51 (chasers). I was myself machine-gunned by six chasers in a large bomb-hole at Arbacegui-Gerrikaiz, when they were returning from Guernica. According to a statement made by the Ger

man pilots captured near Ochandiano early in April at the beginning of the insurgent offensive, they are manned entirely by German pilots, while nearly all the crew are German, and the machines left Germany in February.

It is maintained here that the entire insurgent air force used in this offensive against the Basques is German, except for seven Italian Fiat fighters and three Savoia 81 machines.

The original telegram (which Steer copied to Philip Noel Baker, asking him to use it in the House of Commons and get the information to Lloyd George and Anthony Eden) ends:

THAT THEY BOMBED AND DESTROYED GERNIKA IS CONSID ERED JUDGEMENT YOUR CORRESPONDENT AND MORE CERTAIN KNOWLEDGE IF THAT POSSIBLE OF EVERY WRETCHED BASQUE CIVILIAN WHO FORCED TO SUFFER IT MESSAGEND = PLEASE PUBLISH WHOLE THIS MESSAGE WHICHUNDERSTATEMENT OF TRUTH STEER +

That chronicle from Guernica, that defense of Truth, was not comfortable for Steer.

It served to get him on the list of delinquents who were pursued by the Gestapo, on the list of 2,820 people to be arrested when Great Britain was invaded. It also helped get him fired by The Times for “supporting the Republicans”.

But it also served him to write an extraordinary book that every Basque should read. It tells the story of a people determined to defend their freedom and their democracy in a world that seemed on an inevitable course to complete totalitarian rule.

Steer defended his version, which is the one that coincides with what really happened, against the propaganda of the Francoists and many other European journalists who really preferred the “order” Franco promised to the Truth. It’s a position that, as we said, united the sympathy of the Basque Republicans and the defenders of Freedom, and cost him his job at The Times .

That young journalist stayed on in the Basque Country, living out the tragedy with the Basques. He told the story of the fall of Bilbao, and accompanied the Basques as they ran from Francoism westward to Santander.

From there, when that city was also taken by the insurgents, just a few days after the fall of Bilbao, he went to Paris, where he wrote the book that best tells the story of those heroes who fought totalitarianism.

The Tree of Guernica: A Field Study of Modern War was the book’s title, published in London in 1938, less than a year after the fall of Bilbao, by Hodder and Stoughton.

Very few examples remain of that first edition, because during the Second World War, during the German blitz on London, the warehouse where the copies of that first edition were stored was hit by a bomb and destroyed.

TRUTH AND LIES ABOUT THE BOMBING OF GUERNICA

José Antonio Aguirre, President of the Basque Government:

“Before God and History, which judge us all, I swear that for three and a half hours, German planes bombed, with heretofore unseen rage, the defenseless civil population of the historical town of Guernica, reducing it to ashes, chasing, with machine gun fire, women and children, who have died in great numbers, with the rest fleeing in terror”

Francisco France, Head of the Insurgents:

“Aguirre lies. We have respected Guernica, as we respect everything Spanish”

Francoist propaganda video (starting at 0:45):

“Guernica. There’s nothing left but the name
The home of the legitimate Basque fuero rules has disappeared
The Jewish and masonic press of the world, and the whiny hypocrites from Valencia tore apart their clothes, defaming the caudillo , whose heavenly-clean name they tried to stain with the drool of calumnious information.
The photographic camera, which doesn’t know how to lie, tells clearly that such great destruction was not but the work of arsonists and dynamiters.
There you have the jai alai court. The arsonists’ fire consumed its wood and left behind the its ironworks.


George Müller: Delighted in God (Steer) (History Makers)

George Müller's life is a powerful answer to modern scepticism.

His name has become a by-word for faith throughout the world. In the early 1830s he embarked upon an extraordinary adventure. Disturbed by the faithlessness of the Church in general, he longed to have something to point to as 'visible proof that our God and Father is the same faithful creator as he ever was'.

Praying in every penny of the costs, he supervised the building of five large orphanages housing thousands of children. Under no circumstances would any individual ever be asked for money or materials. He was more successful than anyone could have believed possible and is as much an example to our generation, as he was to his.


The first meeting of the 2021-2022 biennium met January 15, 2021 at 5:30 PM at the Buck West House in George West, Texas. Appointee applications for the new biennium were approved by County Judge, Jim Huff, and the Commissioners' Court at their last meeting on December 31, 2020. At that time the Court appointed Mary Margaret Campbell Chair for the 2021-2022 biennium. Campbell chose Richard Hudson to continue as Marker Chair for the new biennium. LOCHC elected officers and committee chairs to serve 2021-2022 at the January 2021 meeting. See below.

Photo courtesy Mary Margaret Dougherty Campbell.

Geronimo, historic international Longhorn icon, observed by tourists as they pass through George West, Texas. Since 1927, Geronimo has stood within a glass corral on the courthouse lawn of Live Oak County's county seat. Known to be George West's (traildriver and rancher who founded the town) favorite lead steer.

Geronimo's image was preserved by West's nephew, Albert West, soon after the steer saw his last days. Geronimo's mount traveled as far as Moscow representing Texas in America's 1976 Bicentennial Exposition. Geronimo has been immortalized in books and movies and continues to exemplify the Longhorn and Cowboy mystique today. Though cattlemen and cattlewomen of the West feared Longhorn extinction at the time Geronimo was preserved, Texas Longhorn herds now live in countries across the world.

The Live Oak County Historical Commission (LOCHC) exists to preserve the rich heritage and cultures of Live Oak County and its part in historic preservation not only at home, but in the state of Texas and our nation. The Commission develops local programs and cooperates with other community organizations to encourage understanding and appreciation of Live Oak County's historical significance. Appointees apply and are approved by the Live Oak County Commissioners' Court. M eetings are held quarterly on the third Monday unless announced otherwise above. The public is invited. Each meeting begins at 5:30 PM and ends sometime soon after 7:00 PM.

In 2010 with the appointment of a new Marker Chair, the LOCHC began efforts to revitalize the organization which had become inactive. By 2012, Judge Huff and the Commissioner's Court appointed ten new applicants. First efforts were directed toward honoring historical persons, buildings, and events that deserved Texas Historic Markers which tell their stories for perpetuity.

Since 2012, the organiztion matured and meets quarterly. Appointees have voting privileges and are required to attend at least 3 meeting each year. The revitalized LOCHC planted fifteen additional markers, one more delivered to George West First Baptist Church awaits an unveiling ceremony, the Chapa family at the foundry, and yet another two approved by the 2020 THC Staff await approval from THC Board, then foundry service. This will bring the total LOCHC Texas Historical Markers to 41. Two more are in process for 2021.

The narratives for all Texas Historical Markers approved by the THC Board since 2012 can be found on this website under Texas Historic Markers. Unfortunately, previous marker narrative histories had not been passed down. THC has now provided these histories to the webmaster, and this website is providing them as time allows since most of those are either written by hand or old typewriters which do not reproduce readable form.

Archeology, Cemetery, Education, Oral History, Publicity, and Website chairs have active committees and continue historical recognition in numerous county and state events. These include: appropriate relocation of Patrick Allen Randel (Narcotic Agent felled in 1974) monument, Wreaths Across Amerca, Historic Texas Cemetery Designation, reconstructing Geronimo Memorial Site, Chisholm Trail Celebration, Visit to J. Frank Dobie original ranch, and numerous others.

The THC requests each biennium appointment be finalized in the early months of a new biennium. If you are interested in working with us in the 2023-2024 biennium, please consider obtaining an application from Judge Jim Huff's office in the courthouse on Houston Street in George West, Texas when open application period is announced by the Court in late 2022.


Intervention in Spain

In July 1936, a civil war began in Spain when a group who called themselves the Nationalists, led by General Francisco Franco, used force to overturn the left-wing government of the Spanish republic. Like Hitler, Franco admired Italy’s Benito Mussolini, and the dictatorship Franco sought to create in Spain was modeled in part on Mussolini’s fascist dictatorship. Only a few nations took sides in the conflict: the Soviet Union’s Communist government backed the Republicans, while Italy and Germany supported Franco’s Nationalists. Although most nations did not take sides, some of their citizens did. Nearly 3,000 Americans, known collectively as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, joined about 40,000 volunteers from 52 countries to serve in international fighting units that supported democracy.

Franco’s forces did receive military help from Germany and Italy, which both sent army and air-force units. For Hitler, in particular, the war offered a chance both to attack a government allied with communism and to try out new ways of fighting that would prove nearly overwhelming in future conflicts. One such new technique was the bombing of civilians and cities in attacks designed to bring terror, which is what happened in the Spanish town of Guernica.

British journalist George Steer broke the news of a large-scale attack on civilians in the London Times and the New York Times on April 27, 1937.

Guernica, the most ancient town of the Basques [an ethnic minority in Spain] and the center of their cultural tradition, was completely destroyed yesterday afternoon by insurgent air raiders. The bombardment of this open town far behind the lines occupied precisely three hours and a quarter, during which a powerful fleet of aeroplanes consisting of three German types . . . did not cease unloading on the town bombs weighing from 1,000lb. downwards and, it is calculated, more than 3,000 two-pounder aluminium incendiary projectiles. The fighters, meanwhile, plunged low from above the centre of the town to machine-gun those of the civilian population who had taken refuge in the fields . . .

At 2 A.M. today when I visited the town, the whole of it was a horrible sight, flaming from end to end. The reflection of the flames could be seen in the clouds of smoke above the mountains from 10 miles away. Throughout the night houses were falling until the streets became long heaps of red impenetrable debris. . . .

In the form of its execution and the scale of the destruction it wrought, no less than in the selection of its objective, the raid on Guernica is unparalleled in military history. Guernica was not a military objective. A factory producing war material lay outside the town and was untouched. So were two barracks some distance from the town. The town lay far behind the [battle] lines. The object of the bombardment was seemingly the demoralization of the civil population and the destruction of the cradle of the Basque race. 1

The newspaper story raised disturbing questions about Germany’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War and its motives for attacking unarmed civilians. At the time, no outsider, including Steer, was aware that the bombing had been planned by a German officer—Wolfram von Richthofen—who would later devise the air attacks that set off World War II. At first Richthofen vehemently denied that German airmen had even been involved in the bombing. But there were too many witnesses to the attack who recognized the bombers as belonging to the German air force to continue making that claim for long, so his story changed. He acknowledged Germany’s involvement in the attack but insisted that the strike was accidental. At the same time, he secretly boasted to his superiors in Berlin that “the concentrated attack on Guernica was the greatest success.” He and his superiors saw the assault in Spain as an opportunity to try out a new military tactic—the blanket bombing of civilians to demoralize the enemy.

To the Germans’ dismay, Steer’s story was reprinted in newspapers everywhere. The New York Times wrote an editorial condemning the “wholesale arson and mass murder, committed by Rebel airplanes of the German type.” Several hundred prominent Americans published an “Appeal to the Conscience of the World” in response to the bombings. And on May 1, more than a million French protesters flooded the streets of Paris to voice their outrage.

Artist Pablo Picasso, a Spaniard who was living in Paris at the time, was stunned not only by Steer’s account but also by the photographs that accompanied the story. Appalled, the artist began work on a painting that would become his most powerful political statement. He called it Guernica.


Intervention in Spain

In July 1936, a civil war began in Spain when a group who called themselves the Nationalists, led by General Francisco Franco, used force to overturn the left-wing government of the Spanish republic. Like Hitler, Franco admired Italy’s Benito Mussolini, and the dictatorship Franco sought to create in Spain was modeled in part on Mussolini’s fascist dictatorship. Only a few nations took sides in the conflict: the Soviet Union’s Communist government backed the Republicans, while Italy and Germany supported Franco’s Nationalists. Although most nations did not take sides, some of their citizens did. Nearly 3,000 Americans, known collectively as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, joined about 40,000 volunteers from 52 countries to serve in international fighting units that supported democracy.

Franco’s forces did receive military help from Germany and Italy, which both sent army and air-force units. For Hitler, in particular, the war offered a chance both to attack a government allied with communism and to try out new ways of fighting that would prove nearly overwhelming in future conflicts. One such new technique was the bombing of civilians and cities in attacks designed to bring terror, which is what happened in the Spanish town of Guernica.

British journalist George Steer broke the news of a large-scale attack on civilians in the London Times and the New York Times on April 27, 1937.

Guernica, the most ancient town of the Basques [an ethnic minority in Spain] and the center of their cultural tradition, was completely destroyed yesterday afternoon by insurgent air raiders. The bombardment of this open town far behind the lines occupied precisely three hours and a quarter, during which a powerful fleet of aeroplanes consisting of three German types . . . did not cease unloading on the town bombs weighing from 1,000lb. downwards and, it is calculated, more than 3,000 two-pounder aluminium incendiary projectiles. The fighters, meanwhile, plunged low from above the centre of the town to machine-gun those of the civilian population who had taken refuge in the fields . . .

At 2 A.M. today when I visited the town, the whole of it was a horrible sight, flaming from end to end. The reflection of the flames could be seen in the clouds of smoke above the mountains from 10 miles away. Throughout the night houses were falling until the streets became long heaps of red impenetrable debris. . . .

In the form of its execution and the scale of the destruction it wrought, no less than in the selection of its objective, the raid on Guernica is unparalleled in military history. Guernica was not a military objective. A factory producing war material lay outside the town and was untouched. So were two barracks some distance from the town. The town lay far behind the [battle] lines. The object of the bombardment was seemingly the demoralization of the civil population and the destruction of the cradle of the Basque race. 1

The newspaper story raised disturbing questions about Germany’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War and its motives for attacking unarmed civilians. At the time, no outsider, including Steer, was aware that the bombing had been planned by a German officer—Wolfram von Richthofen—who would later devise the air attacks that set off World War II. At first Richthofen vehemently denied that German airmen had even been involved in the bombing. But there were too many witnesses to the attack who recognized the bombers as belonging to the German air force to continue making that claim for long, so his story changed. He acknowledged Germany’s involvement in the attack but insisted that the strike was accidental. At the same time, he secretly boasted to his superiors in Berlin that “the concentrated attack on Guernica was the greatest success.” He and his superiors saw the assault in Spain as an opportunity to try out a new military tactic—the blanket bombing of civilians to demoralize the enemy.

To the Germans’ dismay, Steer’s story was reprinted in newspapers everywhere. The New York Times wrote an editorial condemning the “wholesale arson and mass murder, committed by Rebel airplanes of the German type.” Several hundred prominent Americans published an “Appeal to the Conscience of the World” in response to the bombings. And on May 1, more than a million French protesters flooded the streets of Paris to voice their outrage.

Artist Pablo Picasso, a Spaniard who was living in Paris at the time, was stunned not only by Steer’s account but also by the photographs that accompanied the story. Appalled, the artist began work on a painting that would become his most powerful political statement. He called it Guernica.


George Lowther Steer

George Lowther Steer (1909 – 25 December 1944) was a South African-born British journalist, author and war correspondent who reported on wars preceding World War II, especially the Second Italo-Abyssinian War and the Spanish Civil War. During those wars he was employed by The Times, and his eye-witness reports did much to alert western nations of war crimes committed by the Italians in Ethiopia and by the Germans in Spain, although little was done to prevent them by the League of Nations.

George Steer was born in South Africa in 1909, the son of a newspaper manager. He studied classics in England, at Winchester College and Christ Church, Oxford. He began his journalistic career in South Africa, then worked in London for the Yorkshire Post.

In 1935 Steer covered the Italian invasion of Ethiopia for The Times and reported that Italian forces used mustard gas and bombed Red Cross ambulances. He became friendly with Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, who later became godfather to Steer's son.

In 1937 he was sent to report on the Spanish Civil War. He won prominence with his report on the bombing of Guernica on 26 April 1937. His telegram to London described German bomb casings and the use of thermite as an incendiary to create a firestorm in the center of the town. His reporting did much to inspire Pablo Picasso to record the atrocity for posterity in his massive painting.

The anti-Fascist tone of Steer's reporting led The Times to dispense with his services the newspaper's editorial stance on the war was neutral, whilst its editor, Geoffrey Dawson, privately sympathised with the Nationalists under Francisco Franco. Steer returned to South Africa and, in his book Judgment on German Africa, documented Germany's attempts to subvert its former African colonies.

After the outbreak of World War II, the Daily Telegraph dispatched Steer to Finland to cover the Winter War. He saw the effects of aerial bombing of several Finnish towns by the Soviets, attempts made to intimidate the population, just like at Guernica.

In May 1936, as looters ravaged Addis Ababa around him, and while taking a break from rescue work, Steer married French newspaper correspondent Margarita Herrero. A short while afterwards he was deported by the Italian authorities, along with other Europeans, for aiding the opposition Abyssinians. Margarita Steer died in childbirth in London while George Steer was reporting on the Spanish Civil War. He later married Esme Barton.

In 2006 the town of Guernica honored George Steer unveiling a bronze bust and naming a street in his memory. Also in 2010 the City of Bilbao (Spain) dedicated George Steer Street, with Steer's son and granddaughter attending the ceremony.

Military service and death

In June 1940 Steer joined the British Army and led an Ethiopian Forward Propaganda unit when British troops began to fight Italian troops in the country. After the defeat of the Italians in Ethiopia in 1941, Steer was influential in restoring Haile Selassie to the throne. Later Steer was sent to India to lead a Field Propaganda Unit in Bengal. The unit tried to break Japanese morale by loudspeakers with speeches and sentimental music.

George Steer died in the crash of an Army Jeep, which he was driving, in Burma on 25 December 1944.

Caesar in Abyssinia: An account of the Italo-Abyssinian war, 1935-6. With a map (1936).

The Tree of Gernika: A field study of modern war. With plates and maps (1938).

Germany in Africa. A series of articles dealing with the question of the former German African Colonies (1938).

A Date in the Desert (1939).

Judgment on German Africa (1939).

Abyssinia to-day with W. Arnold-Forster (1939).

Sealed and delivered : a book on the Abyssinian Campaign (1942).

Nicholas Rankin – Telegram from Guernica: The Extraordinary Life of George Steer, War Correspondent ISBN 0-571-20563-1, 2003, Faber and Faber

Born: November 22nd 1909 Died: December 25th 1944

George was born at Mrs Wheeler's Nursing Home, Alexandra Road, Cambridge, East London, Cape Colony, South Africa. He was the only child of Bernard Augustine Steer (1880-1952), a newspaper manager and his wife, Emma Cecilia Armitage Nutt (1884-1960), a charitable activist, daughter of Whaley Bouchier Nutt and Helen Hamilton Black

Described as slight, ginger-haired and precociously bright, he was educated at St Andrew's preparatory school, Grahamstown, South Africa. He was sent to England to St Peter's, Seaford from where he won a scholarship to Winchester College. He was there from 1923 until 1928. He edited The Wykehamist and was known to be independent-minded and witty.

He Matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford in 1929 and was awarded a classics scholarship. He graduated in 1932 with a double first. [Classical Mods 1930 Lit. Hum. 1932.]

He went home to South Africa in the summers of both 1930 and 1931.

He began his journalistic career in South Africa with an apprenticeship on the South African Cape Argus. He returned to London and was employed by the Yorkshire Post.

In July 1935, he covered the Italian invasion of Ethiopia as a special correspondent for The Times. He became friendly with Emperor Haile Selassie.

The Emperor fled on May 1st 1936. Whilst Addis Ababa collapsed into anarchy, George helped to rescue foreigners and on May 4th he married the Spanish journalist Margarita de Herrero y Hassett in the grounds of the British legation where 1520 refugees of twenty-seven nationalities were sheltering. The beautiful daughter of a Spanish father and English mother, Margarita was in her late thirties, some ten years older than George.

The next day he was expelled, accused of anti-Italian activities and espionage because he had reported the Italians' use of mustard gas and their bombing of Red Cross ambulances.

In December 1936, Hodder and Stoughton published his first book, �sar in Abyssinia”. In his introduction he thanked The Times for showing him 'a path from which I shall not deviate' His five subsequent books all dealt with the menace of international fascism.

Margarita Steer and her unborn child died in the London Clinic on January 29th 1937. George had taken up the cause of the Basques in Spain. On Margaret’s death, they provided a minesweeper to take him to France where she was buried in Biarritz. 'To Margarita, Snatched Away' is his dedication in “The Tree of Gernika: a Field Study of Modern War” which was published in 1938. It is a firsthand account of the gallant struggle of the Basque Autonomous Republic in the Spanish Civil War, from the burning of Irun to the fall of Bilbao.

He reported on the destruction of Guernica on April 26th 1937. His telegram to London described the Nazi bombing and the machine-gunning of the people. The anti-Fascist tone of his reporting led to him leaving The Times the newspaper's editorial stance on the war was neutral. He wished to write his book on Guernica.

He joined the Daily Telegraph and returned to South Africa .In his book “Judgment on German Africa” [1939], he documented Germany's attempts to subvert its former African colonies. In the same year, having toured French and Italian defences in Tunisia and Libya, he wrote 𠇊 Date in the Desert”.

On July 14th 1939, George married Barbara Esmé Barton (1908-1988), the younger daughter of Sir Sidney Barton, former British minister at Addis Ababa. Haile Selassie attended the wedding and stood godfather to their son at St Paul's Cathedral in June 1940. They went out to South Africa, returning to England on August 21st. They gave their address on the manifest at the Orchard Hotel, Portman Street, W1. Later in the year, a second visit was made to South Africa and they returned on December 16th. They were living at 15, Neville Street, S.W.7. They had a son and a daughter.

The Daily Telegraph sent him to Finland to cover the Winter War. There, he saw the effects of the aerial bombing of several Finnish towns by the Soviets and attempts made to intimidate the population, just as he𠆝 seen at Guernica When Italy entered the war, Sir Sydney Barton and George lobbied for Haile Selassie to be involved in the war effort. On June 24th, the newly commissioned Acting Captain George Steer accompanied Haile Selassie in a Short Sunderland flying boat to Egypt and the Sudan.

The story of how a multiracial army of Africans, Indians, Europeans and Ethiopian guerrillas drove the Italians out of East Africa is told in George's book “Sealed and Delivered” [1942] and in the official history “The Abyssinian Campaigns” which he wrote, anonymously, the same year. When the Emperor re-entered his capital in triumph on May 5th 1941, Captain Steer of the Intelligence Corps was at the head of the column in a loudspeaker-van.

George Steer specialised in psychological warfare, using music, broadcast speech and the written word to persuade enemy soldiers to surrender. He developed this in Eritrea against Italians, in the western desert against Germans, in Madagascar against the Vichy French and, finally, in Burma against the die-hard Japanese.

From his arrival in India in January 1943, he was at the forefront of tactical offensive propaganda for the Special Operations Executive. He founded the multilingual Indian field broadcasting units who used front-line loudspeakers to broadcast in Japanese and distributed surrender leaflets by plane and mortar.

After lunch on Christmas day 1944, he was driving a jeep with seven passengers, to his men's sports day when it overturned at Fagu, West Bengal. George and three others were killed.

He was buried at Rungamuttee tea estate on Boxing Day 1944.

He is commemorated on the Rangoon memorial Face 19.

He had not seen his wife Esmé and son and daughter for two years. The typescript of his last book vanished. He left 򣑃 5s. 11d

'One of the adventurers of this generation' The Times, 2 Jan 1945,

'An adventurer who was never out for himself, only for a cause'. T. Cadett, New Statesman and Nation, 3 Feb 1945.

'There was nothing he could not have done when he got back,' mourned Philip Noel-Baker in a letter to Sir Sidney Barton.

In 2006 Guernica honoured him by unveiling a bronze bust and naming a street in his memory

In 2010, Bilbao opened the George Steer Street. His son and granddaughter attended.

Sources: DNB Nick Rankin, “Telegram from Guernica: the extraordinary life of George STEER” (2003)

A historian must be filled with the most passionate and most critical attachment to the truth, so must the journalist, with the great power he wields, see that the truth prevails.


There are 4 census records available for the last name George Steer. Like a window into their day-to-day life, George Steer census records can tell you where and how your ancestors worked, their level of education, veteran status, and more.

There are 1 immigration records available for the last name George Steer. Passenger lists are your ticket to knowing when your ancestors arrived in the UK, and how they made the journey - from the ship name to ports of arrival and departure.

There are 1,000 military records available for the last name George Steer. For the veterans among your George Steer ancestors, military collections provide insights into where and when they served, and even physical descriptions.

There are 4 census records available for the last name George Steer. Like a window into their day-to-day life, George Steer census records can tell you where and how your ancestors worked, their level of education, veteran status, and more.

There are 1 immigration records available for the last name George Steer. Passenger lists are your ticket to knowing when your ancestors arrived in the UK, and how they made the journey - from the ship name to ports of arrival and departure.

There are 1,000 military records available for the last name George Steer. For the veterans among your George Steer ancestors, military collections provide insights into where and when they served, and even physical descriptions.


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