Fifi Roberts – Calling Franco’s Bluff

As part of our research into the Spanish Civil War we were grouped together once again and assigned reading materials from the book ‘Cardiff and the Spanish Civil War’ by Rob Stradling. My groups focus was around a girl who was 19 at the time called Fifi Roberts and the part she played in the war effort.

In the spring of 1937 the world bore witness to the siege of Bilbao, a port city in Northern Spain. Franco, with the support of Nazi Germany, had blockaded the port and was attempting to starve out the republic resistance therein. International condemnation was audible, however international intervention was nonexistent. Fifi Roberts is part of a wider story of independent citizens of neighboring countries attempting to supply aid to the besieged city.

The story we read revolves around Fifi Roberts and her father David Jones; the skipper of a small merchant vessel, who sail from Cardiff to Bilbao to supply the beleaguered resistance. The physical impact of this tiny boat with a pitifully small cargo capacity on the war effort was negligible. The value of the voyage was as a symbol. The mighty dictator Franco had been outwitted and his bluff called, by a mere merchant boat. This story was hugely important for morale of the republic. It is suggested that it may have angered Hitler into the bombing of Guernica in retaliation to solidify his political position.

The brief we were set was broad and ill defined allowing us plenty of creative wiggle room. We were asked to create a body of work based on our text. We threw around several ideas. The first being to create posters in the relevant styles of the time. During the Spanish Civil War propaganda played a huge role for each side. Both inspiring loyalty and demonizing the enemy. This played out, not only in Spain, but, of course, drew in foreign fighters drawn to the cause of both sides.

Furthering this idea, I felt that we should each create a poster detailing key events in the story. As previously stated, the events of the story were a huge political boon to the Republic and so spreading the story as effectively as possible would be essential to maximizing its value. Each of us would focus on a single element of the story – the lone vessel facing down the Spanish Navy, the triumphant arrival in Bilbao, the banquet and the resilience despite constant attacks.

I felt that the posters should work both as individual pieces and as a set, we decided they would need an aspect that they would keep in coon, an art style, a colour scheme etc. We eventually elected to make a border for each poster that would be uniform. I made a quick model on Photoshop.


After consulting with our lecturers, however. Some members of the group decided that they would prefer to head in different direction with the work. Despite the unlikelihood of this model of work being used. I decided I wanted to create a piece if only to demonstrate my idea.


Author: David Rothwell

I am a Graphic Communication student at Cardiff Metropolitan School of Art and Design If you like any of my work, have feedback (good or bad) or would like to get in touch, please do

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