On Thursday, 15th of May 2014, a group of FOTBOT members were invited to the opening of the Friends of Gibraltar Oral History Project with special guest Fabian Picardo, Chief Minister of Gibraltar.
Jerry Robinson MBE and Mary Ingoldby, who led this project, interviewed around ninety people about their experiences in and around Gibraltar from 1930 to 1970 - an invaluable resource providing a treasure-trove of memories. Those interviewed included servicemen sent to Gibraltar during World War II, civilians evacuated from Gibraltar, and government officials. Thursday’s event focussed on the period from 1930 until just after the Second World War.
The accounts brought to life the experiences that really shaped Gibraltar, particularly the War. The presentation started with a sailor’s harrowing account about surviving the sinking of a ship. Other soldiers recounted their mixture of boredom on the Rock, and their pleasure that they were in a relatively safe port when they could have been sent to more dangerous theatres of operation.
Also included was Gibraltar’s leading role in various successful counterintelligence missions that thwarted the German war effort, in a similar way that Bletchley Park did in the UK.
The most fascinating aspect for me, however, was how a uniquely Gibraltarian identity was forged during the War. The vast majority of Gibraltar’s civilians were evacuated, including all women and children. These evacuees were mainly in Gibraltarian communities throughout the world including in the UK, the Caribbean and farther afield. Most of those interviewed in this project were evacuated to Central London during the War, including several memories of the Blitz. Their tales of adversity during the War, living in very cramped and dangerous conditions, and subsequently rebuilding Gibraltar after the War, gave Gibraltarians a real sense of patriotism towards Gibraltar and the UK. They are British, but are Gibraltarians too. Evacuation and the War truly shaped Gibraltar’s identity.
That point, that Gibraltarians and indeed all British Overseas Territories Citizens actively love love Britain and have proud attachments to their territory has very often been overlooked by governments and civilians alike. What this oral history project does is to remind us what British subjects throughout the world went through to save their country from Axis tyranny. Indeed, these archives will show future generations the Overseas Territories are not some ‘relic of empire’, but they are part of the cultural and social tapestry that makes up the United Kingdom.
These archives will be taken to Gibraltar but a copy of these interviews will be donated to the Imperial War Museum for other members of the public to access this invaluable resource, and to get a real feel for the Gibraltarian people.
On behalf of FOTBOT, I would like to thank Albert Poggio and the team at Gibraltar House, and the Friends of Gibraltar for inviting us to see this truly magnificent resource.