Category Archives: Europe

Before Salisbury: A Look at Russian Linked Deaths in the UK

The diplomatic war in which the UK and Russia were embroiled just two months ago seems to have been lost in the fog of the 2018 World Cup. Around the time in which Harry Maguire’s header against Sweden had English fans thinking of nothing but vindaloo and vandalising an IKEA, news emerged that Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley of Salisbury had fallen ill with symptoms of Novichok poisoning. While UK newspaper front pages focused on Gareth Southgate’s waistcoat, anti-Russian sentiment in the country had faded, despite the tense period of ambassador-expulsions which had preceded the tournament. Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had even compared the Russian World Cup to Nazi Germany’s 1936 Olympics. This perhaps isn’t so surprising, given that it fits neatly within a trend of Russian-linked UK deaths, all of which have served as the news story of the month before interest in the case, is lost. Below, we detail some of the more bizarre of those incidents.

 

Alexander Litvinenko – November 2006

Alexander Litvinenko was a successful FSB Lieutenant Colonel and vocal opponent of Russian state corruption. Arrested in 1998 while investigating plots to assassinate media tycoon Boris Berezovsky, Litvinenko soon became an active opponent of Russian authority.

Upon his release from prison in 1999, he released Russia: Terror from Within, which claimed that FSB agents had been involved in a terror-attack on Russian apartment blocks used as a pretext for the Russian invasion of Chechnya.

Having moved to the UK for security, Litvinenko became a British citizen in 2006. Understood to have been on the payroll of both MI6 and fellow exile Berezovsky, Litvinenko remained a vocal opponent of Putin’s Russia. He had been investigating Spanish links to the Russian Mafia as well as the murder of Anna Politkovskaya when he reported extreme ill-health.

It is almost certain that Litvinenko had been administered a radioactive compound called polonium-210 via tea. The prime suspect is Andrei Lugovoi, who he had been in contact with regarding the Spanish investigations. Litvinenko is said to have blamed Putin for everything while on his deathbed.

Gareth Williams – August 2010

Gareth Williams was a cipher expert working for the Secret Intelligence Service when he was found dead inside a North Face sports bag. After failing to turn up to work for several days, colleagues had alerted the authorities, and police entered his Pimlico flat to find Williams dead in his bathroom. The bag had been locked from the outside, and the key placed under his body.

Despite it being summer, the flat’s heating was on, hastening Williams’ decomposition. The investigation into Williams’ death was hindered by mistakes including the accidental contamination of the crime scene by forensics, as well as the failure to report his absence sooner.

While it was determined that the likely cause of death was murder, namely because it is generally considered impossible that Williams could have locked himself into the bag from the outside, there has never been a definite verdict on the matter. There was no sign of forced entry at the flat, nor any second-party DNA around the body. Williams’ family maintain that the true findings of the investigation have been withheld from the public.

A child mathematics prodigy from Anglesey, Williams had been recruited by Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) while studying at Cambridge University. Success at GCHQ led to his recruitment by MI6, as well as co-operation with the US National Security Agency and the FBI. A known recluse, Williams was understood to have resented the London-lifestyle and wished to return to the countryside to pursue his hobbies of walking and cycling.

The Russian link to the Williams case came in 2015, when former KGB Major Boris Karpichkov claimed Russian hitmen had been ordered to assassinate the Welsh agent. Karpichkov claimed that Williams had befriended a Russian mole within GCHQ, and a third party had tried to recruit him for the Russian intelligence services. Williams reluctance led to attempted blackmail.

Rumours had persisted surrounding Williams’ sexuality prior to his death, including his apparent ownership of substantial amounts of female clothing, to the extent that some claimed that his death may have been part of a bondage-type sex act. These claims have never been substantiated. Karpichkov claimed that Williams was drugged while on a night out, and then photographed explicitly. Threats to circulate the images should he not comply led Williams to threaten to expose the Russian GCHQ mole. The Russians, according to Karpichkov’s claims, decided this wasn’t acceptable and dispatched of Williams via the insertion of an untraceable poison into the ear.

Alexander Perepilichnyy– November 2012

Alexander Perepilichnyy was a Russian financier, found dead in Weybridge, Surrey after going out jogging. Pereplichnyy had moved to the UK in 2009, and was understood to have been in contact with western authorities regarding the theft of over $200 million from the Russian Treasury through investment fund Hermitage Capital Management. Documents handed to Swiss authorities are understood to have revealed the involvement of senior Russian officials in the fraud scandal.

Despite having no significant health problems at the time of his death, Perepilichnyy’s collapse was considered a mystery. This persisted until 2014, when an autopsy encountered Gelsemium, a rare Chinese poison nicknamed ‘Heartbreak Grass’ and known to trigger cardiac arrest, within his stomach. Surrey Police have maintained that no toxin was identified on the body.

Boris Berezovsky –  March 2013

The death of Boris Berezovsky, billionaire media tycoon and former confidant of Boris Yeltsin, is perhaps the most high profile of all Russia-linked deaths on British soil. Berezovsky was a successful Jewish business, and had made his fortune importing and selling second hand German cars. His wealth and influence expanded through the purchasing of shares in Aeroflot, as well as gaining control of Russian Channel One.

Control of Channel One was achieved thanks to a close partnership with Boris Yeltsin, to whom he would contribute £140 million toward a successful 1996 re-election campaign. Berezovsky was then made Deputy Secretary of the Chechen Republic, overseeing the economic reconstruction of the region following the Chechen Wars.

Despite initially helping to fund Unity, Vladimir Putin’s original parliamentary base, Berezovsky and the new president quickly fell out. After going into opposition, Putin ordered investigations into Berezosky’s estate. Berezovsky was also accused of plotting to murder the Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzkhov.

In 2000, the oligarch fled to the UK where he was granted political asylum. This led to a freeze in UK-Russia relations, which had been successfully thawing in the optimistic period following the collapse of the Soviet Union. While in the UK Berezovsky orchestrated a network of anti-Putin exiles including Alexander Litvinenko, as well as Akhmed Zakayev, a former Chechen rebel leader.

In 2010 Berezosky lost a High Court battle against Roman Abramovich over ownership of the Sibneft Oil Company. Abramovich and Berezovsky had founded the company together, and the latter sought £3 billion. In March 2013 Berezosky was found hanging in his ex-wife’s Berkshire mansion. The case was declared an open verdict. He had allegedly owed the UK taxman £46 million upon his death.

Scot Young – December 2014

Scotsman Scot Young was found impaled on railings below his fourth floor Pimlico flat. A successful property developer, Young is understood to have been worth around £4 billion. Ties to Russia are understood to have began when Young invested heavily in the failed ‘Project Moscow’, a planned redevelopment of a large industrial area of the Russian capital.

Young was widely reported on in the tabloids owing to a high-profile divorce case, during which he had claimed to have lost a significant amount of money. An investigation prompted by his ex-wife found that he had significant assets hidden in Panama-based firms. Russian involvement in the Young case is tenuous aside from the Project Moscow affair, as well as an apparent link to Boris Berezovsky.

Nikolai Glushkov – March 2018

Nikolai Glushkov was a vocal critic of Vladimir Putin, and close associate of Boris Berexovsky. A former businessman, Glushkov had served as deputy director for state-owned Russian airline Aeroflot.

After openly criticising Putin, as well as claiming that Aeroflot was being used as a “cash cow” for the Russian secret services, Glushkov was imprisoned on money laundering charges. He was granted political asylum by the UK in 2010, and remained critical of the Putin regime. Moscow brought charges of stealing over $100 million from Aeroflot while director of the company against Glushkov, and had him convicted in absentia. Britain refused to extradite him.

He had been due in court over a $99 million compensation claim by Aeroflot on the day he was found dead at his house in New Malden. The death was initially branded unexplained, however subsequent autopsies have claimed that the body showed clear signs of strangulation.

Sergei & Yulia Skripal/Dawn Sturgess & Charlie Rowley – March/July 2018

In March 2018, former Russian military intelligence colonel Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury. Tests revealed that both had been poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union known as Novichok.

The British Government quickly and directly blamed Russia for the attack, sending a number of Russian Ambassadors home and convincing a number of western nations to do the same. The Kremlin denied any involvement, but requested access to the Skripals.

The attack seems to have been one too many Moscow-linked attacks on British soil for Downing Street. While the British had previously been keen to allow similar incidents to fade into obscurity, a string of high-profile political attacks upon Russia followed the breaking of the story. This included former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson comparing Russia’s hosting of the 2018 World Cup to Nazi Germany’s hosting of the 1938 Summer Olympics. Despite British conviction of Russian guilt the source of the poisoning has not been clarified, nor have details of direct Russian involvement.

Sergei Skripal was a former Russian military intelligence colonel and British double agent. Sentenced to 13 years for spying in 2006, Sergei was part of a 2010 swap deal which saw Russian trade western spies for members of the Illegals Program spy ring, including Anna Chapman.

Having settled in Salisbury, he remained active in training western countries and potential NATO allies in Russian spying techniques. Russian involvement therefore makes sense, although despite traces of the nerve agent being found at a pub, restaurant, and Skripal’s house, no clear link has been established. Both of the Skripal’s eventually recovered.

The case was given fresh impetus in July 2018, when Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley of Salisbury fell ill with Novichok poisoning. It is thought the couple had come into contact with the discarded Novichok vessel. Dawn Sturgess eventually passed away.

 

 

It’s hard to tell the extent to which the Kremlin is directly responsible for all the curious deaths listed above. While there is clear evidence of Russian involvement in affairs overseas, particularly when involving exiled Russians, all powerful nations operate out of their borders to an extent. Russia has been portrayed as the enemy within western media for over half-a-century. Despite the Cold War officially ending nearly thirty years ago, Russia remains the Ivan Drago to the west’s Rocky. While the nation which Churchill famously called an enigma is perhaps an easy scapegoat for unexplained deaths in western nations, he also claimed that the key to that enigma was the nation’s self-interest. Would engineering the deaths of men like Berezovsky, Litvinenko, and Williams serve this interest? Given that as of July 2018, Putin is the Russian state, and it could be argued the actions of these men threatened the cult of Putin, it is not hard to see how the cases could be linked back to the man in the Kremlin.

Sources:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/Alexander-Litvinenko-Profile 

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/11952973/Spy-in-bag-Gareth-Williams-was-murdered-by-Russian-hitmen

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/may/19/poisoned-russian-whistleblower-was-fatalistic-over-death-threats

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/the-weird-world-of-boris-berezovsky

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/11287793/Scot-Young-Ring-of-death-claims-after-four-friends-also-commit-suicide

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/mar/16/police-launch-inquiry-over-death-of-nikolai-glushkov

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-43291394

 

 

Il Grande Torino – A National Tragedy at the Basilica of Superga

Torino FC are a club still in mourning. Known internationally for being ‘the other’ Turin side owing to the success of their neighbours, footballing giants Juventus, many Italians will tell you that the best side ever produced in the city donned the maroon of Il Toro. The Great Torino, or Il Grande Torino, of the 1940s are one of the most acclaimed sides in European football history. Emerging with the country still under the grips of fascism, this outstanding Torino side came to symbolise a new Italy, uniting a divided nation in awe during a period of dominance which would see them win five Scudetti in a row. Torino players featured heavily in the Italian national sides of the late 1940s, who were tipped by many as favourites to retain their title at the 1950 World Cup in Brazil. This made the tragedy at the Basilica of Superga in 1949 all the more profound, for when the team’s aircraft collided with a wall on the outskirts of Turin, so many were denied their main source of optimism in the bleak post-war era. 300,000 lined the streets for a public funeral during an outpouring of grief unprecedented in European sport and one from which Torino have never fully been able to recover.

While they had enjoyed brief success as inaugural winners of the Copa Italia, pre-1939 Torino were far from outstanding. This was to change in 1939, when local industrialist and former Torino player Ferruccio Novo became club owner. As President Novo remodelled Torino, with the club’s structure and tactics heavily influenced by Herbert Chapman’s Arsenal. Ernest Ebstein was employed as Technical Director, and Englishman Leslie Lievesley employed as Coach. Despite Italy’s June 1940 entrance into the Second World War Calcio did not initially cease in the country, such was Mussolini’s confidence in a rapid victory. As such, Novo’s project proceeded uninterrupted, with players avoiding draft into military service by registering as workers in essential industries, notably within Turin’s FIAT factory.  The first evidence of this substantial financial backing came in 1941 as players such as Guglielmo Gabetto and Felice Borel were purchased from rivals Juventus at the start of a league campaign which would see the side finish in 2nd place. The real foundations of success were not laid however until July 1942, when Valentino Mazzola signed from Venezia. Mazzola is heralded by some as the greatest Italian footballer of all time, and would score 118 goals in 195 for the club during its greatest period of success.

Valentino Mazzola.

Led by the talismanic Mazzola, Torino won their first Scudetto at the end of the 1942/43 season. The emergence of this dominant side was disrupted by the reality of global conflict as the 1943/44 and 44/45 Serie A tournaments were cancelled. The Allies had invaded ‘the soft underbelly of Europe’ in 1943 and the nation was in a virtual state of civil war. Bombing of infrastructure prevented regular transport or communication, while fierce German resistance at the Gothic Line, a network of defensive fortifications, effectively separated the north of the country from the south.  This division was prevalent within football once the war was over, as the 45/46 league system was divided between the north and south, with the top four teams from each playing in a final table. Torino had started the campaign with the purchase of goalkeeper Valerio Bacigalupo from Savona, who would go on to become an icon of Il Toro. Despite the strange composition of the league system, Torino won the 45/46 Serie A, beating local rivals Juve by one point. Midfielder Danilo Martelli signed at the start of the 46/47 campaign, which was won by ten points with Mazzola as top goal scorer. The 47/48 Serie A was even more impressiv, as the club won the league by 16 points – back when a win was worth just two points – scoring 125 goals.  Such was the team’s dominance that during a 1947 friendly against a strong Hungary team, all ten Italian outfield players played for Torino. The side was a national phenomenon, gaining the nickname Il Grande Torino ‘The Great Torino’, with Mazzola and co providing much needed entertainment to a nation uprooted by fascism.

While not as dominant during the 48/49 season, Torino were still the nation’s outstanding team, and were four points ahead of 2nd place Inter Milan with four games to go when they travelled to Lisbon for a friendly. Almost the entire club had travelled to take part in the benefit match – lost four goals to three – for Benfica and Portugal Captain Francisco Ferriera.  The only notable exceptions were Sauro Toma, who was suffering from an injured knee, reserve goalkeeper Renato Gandolfi, and President Ferruccio Novo, who had a case of influenza. While returning to Turin, the aircraft Torino were travelling in is understood to have suffered with a malfunctioning altimeter. As a result, the pilot was much lower than he believed upon descending, and the plane crashed into a wall at the back of the Superga Basilica in the outskirts of Turin. There were no survivors. Such was the shock of the tragedy that Italian Parliament was suspended, and 300,000 people lined the streets of Turin in mourning. Torino were declared Italian champions, their 5th scudetto in a row, with the remaining fixtures played by the youth team.

While Ferruccio Novo tried to replicate his late, legendary team, frantic recruitment could not replicate the outstanding quality of the Great Torino. The team finished 6th during the 49/50 season, with rivals Juve claiming the Scudetto. In 1950 an Italian national team formerly so dependent on Torino for its players travelled to Brazil for the World Cup. With the memory of Superga still fresh, the team travelled two weeks by boat rather than using air transport. The Italians were knocked out in the group stages following a 3-2 loss to Sweden and a 2-0 win over Paraguay, with new Torino signing Carapellese scoring in both games. The remainder of the 1950s saw a slow decline, with Il Toro relegated to Serie B in 1959. The ecstasy of a Copa Italia win in 1967 was cruelly punctured by the death of star player Gigi Meroni, the maroon butterfly, who was killed while crossing the road. The depression following the club briefly subsided in 1976 when the club won its only post-Superga Scudetto, edging Juventus by two points. Relegation in 88/89, a UEFA Cup Final loss to Ajax and relegation again in 99/00 preceded bankruptcy in 2005, after which Torino Calcio were dissolved and reformed as Torino FC.

The Superga Disaster robbed the world of a truly incredible football team. Aside from the club president and two injured players, Il Grande Torino were effectively wiped from existence at a time when they were dominating the national league and establishing themselves as a European giant. While the 1958 Munich Air Disaster tragically ended the lives of a number of sublimely talented footballers, the foundations of Manchester United remained, and were built upon leading to European Cup glory in 1968. The affect upon Torino was arguably more profound, as they were left with no such foundations, and a nation was denied a source of much needed pride in the bleak post-war era. Robbed of these foundations, the club has never been able to replicate the successes of the 1940’s, while neighbouring Juventus have gone on to become giants of world football. Despite nearly 70 years passing, the memory of Il Grande Torino and thoughts of what could have been, not just for Torino but for the landscape of Italian and European football, continue to define the club.

Cover Photo and body image: http://storiedicalcio.altervista.org

You’re not West Ham anymore: The death of an identity

The end of the 2017/18 Premier League season marks two years since West Ham United left their historic home in Upton Park. The seemingly constant state of crisis the club has been in since moving into the former Olympic Stadium has been a much documented, much criticised part of the Hammer’s subsequent two seasons. The disconnect between the board and the fans, highlighted by recurring protests both physical and online, seems to only be widening as memories of the Boleyn Ground fade. While on the surface this seems like a fanbase wrongly ungrateful for a taxpayer funded 60,000 seater stadium, the resentment much of the Hammers faithful have stretches beyond even the realms of the beautiful game.

When Upton Park was sold to property developers for £35,000,000, it saw the severing of a cultural connection between many and a vastly changed area of East London. The majority of West Ham’s core support live in Essex and Kent, the children or grandchildren of East Enders removed from their traditional heartland during slum clearances and the New Housing projects of the post-war era. During this process, a traditional London working-class culture was removed to the towns and suburbs of the Home Counties to make room for the gentrified middle-class culture East London is famous for today. For many of these expatriate East Enders, the fortnightly visit to Upton Park was more like a pilgrimage to an ancestral homeland rather than just the attending of a football match. Green Street, Queens Market, Ken’s Café, The Boleyn Tavern, Nathan’s Pie and Mash, the entire matchday experience was an intrinsic link to a traditional Cockney culture, one which came ‘home’ every time West Ham played at The Boleyn. The experience at Stratford City could be no further away for that which Upton Park represented to so many.

Rather than travelling down the archetypical East End thoroughfare, Green Street, fans are now herded towards the stadium by disinterested staff in high-vis amongst Missguided and Primark shoppers in the Westfield Shopping Centre. Instead of Queen’s Market one walks past a Hugo Boss and an Urban Outfitters. Instead of Percy Ingle, fans eat at restaurants owned by Jamie Oliver and Gary Neville. The whole Stratford City complex could really be anywhere in the world, and fans get no sense of traditional London culture in the build-up to the match. Once past the maze of Mr Pretzel and Bubble Tea stands, London Stadium approaches. While the underlying problems with the current ‘home’ experience are largely not a product of the stadium itself as opposed to where it is, there are some issues which only fuel fans contempt and views that the board assume mass naivety.

West Ham legend Bobby Moore takes a rest at Upton Park.

London Stadium is an athletics stadium poorly adapted for footballing purposes. The running-track is covered by an oh-so-obviously temporary set of ‘retractable seats’ held together with cable ties. The exposed track is then covered with a shockingly green felt carpet that looks like it was bought hooky by a punter at Queen’s Market. The exterior decorative cladding is tied onto the stadium frame and looks ready to be taken down at a moment’s notice. While the views from the stands are not as bad as have been made out, the cavernous bowl-shape and resultant echoing makes chanting in unison difficult, save for small groups and random bursts of clapping more commonly seen at England games or a Little Mix concert. This isn’t aided by the pockets of empty seats throughout the stadium, a result of season tickets having been sold by the club to fans of football rather than fans of West Ham. Cheap season ticket prices and a need to fill the stadium led to those with the money buying a seat at the London Stadium as a non-partisan mode for watching Premier League football. These are more inclined to come and watch the top six than show up for a Monday night game against Stoke, although they’d have missed a cracking Andy Carroll volley during the latter.

Compare this to the Boleyn Ground, which despite significant redevelopment retained much of its historic character and reputation as a ‘proper’ football stadium throughout its entire history. Despite enduring rotten seasons involving relegation, Avram Grant, and Emmanuel Pogatetz, West Ham were famous for their atmosphere and self-depricating terrace chants. This was best observed during floodlit night matches, with the three tower blocks and fans on garage roofs on Priory Road really making it feel like the East End had stopped to watch West Ham play. Yes this could sometimes turn nasty, with the 2009 ‘Upton Park Riot’ during a cup match against arch-rivals Millwall vindicating an often unjustified associated between the club’s fans and football violence, however for most matchday was all about loving Upton Park. The place was home, and for now London Stadium feels like a three-star hotel room.

It is likely that things will improve at the stadium itself, with there being a strong possibility that West Ham will eventually buy the stadium, given that Birmingham will have a purpose-built athletics stadium for the Commonwealth Games in 2022. However, the crisis at the club runs much deeper than the stadium. The Nathan family, owners of a pie and mash shop on Barking Road, announced this week that they are to close after 80 years in West Ham’s heartland. The shop depended upon it’s fortnightly visit from expatriate Cockneys for its livelihood, and the demolition of Upton Park heralded the end for that family’s business. It is likely that many more formerly match-day dependent businesses, such as Ken’s Café and the various local pubs, will close in the near future. This is symbolic of what the West Ham move has meant for so many Hammer’s fans; the loss of a culture, a history, an identity. It is hard to see how the connections people had to Upton Park could ever be replicated in the sprawling glass metropolis in Stratford, and that is something that will loom over the club for the foreseeable future.

Sources:

Cover and Body Photo – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-3581963/Farewell-Upton-Park

 

Ist Südtirol Italien? A Brief Explanation of The South-Tyrol Problem

Nestled in Italy’s scenic north-east, amongst the Dolomite mountain range, lies the autonomous province of Alto Adige. While such a description may encourage the intrusion of any number of stereotypically Italian images into one’s mind, thoughts of pizza, pasta and wine would be misplaced here. Continue reading Ist Südtirol Italien? A Brief Explanation of The South-Tyrol Problem

Frontline Gibraltar: The Evacuation of the Rock

Gibraltar is a thriving British Overseas Territory, situated at the gateway to the Mediterranean. The local population are a blend of Maltese, British, Moroccan, Genoese, Jewish and Spanish cultures, and speak a distinctive dialect known as Llanito. A successful democracy, Gibraltarians enjoy some of the lowest unemployment figures in the world, with infrastructure supported by bunkering and an booming online gambling industry. Students study at universities primarily within the UK, for free, with much of their living expenses subsidised by the local government. An extensive government housing programme means very few Gibraltarians are homeless. This acute social awareness within Gibraltarian politics and democracy has not evolved as organically throughout the peninsula’s extensive history as it might be assumed. The importance of individual and community rights within Gibraltarian culture can be traced directly to the Second World War, when the territory was almost entirely depopulated by the British to make way for military fortification. The experiences of the evacuated population, who were ferried between three continents throughout the conflict, form the bedrock of modern Gibraltarian culture and politics.

Quick Facts Gibraltar

Having been invaded by the Moors in the Fourteenth Century, surrendered to the British in 1704, and besieged by the Spanish and French in 1782, Gibraltar is no stranger to military conflict. In all of these instances the civilian population endured, with the siege of 1782 on record as the longest in British military history. Gibraltarians were relatively unaffected during the First World War, but the all-encompassing nature of the Second World War did not overlook La Roca. The involvement of Fascist Italy in the conflict meant that the Mediterranean, and control of it, was a key aspect of British strategic policy. This was exacerbated following the Italian invasion of British territory in North Africa. The need for a military staging post in the area led to a declaration by the British in June 1940, that all women, children, and elderly of Gibraltar were to be evacuated to French Morocco. The British assessed that the presence of a civilian population would impede the productivity of the base, which was to be expanded for use by the RAF and Royal Navy. Therefore, without significant deliberation, 13,500 Gibraltarians were escorted onto boats away from their homeland.

The situation in Morocco soon became untenable. The French territories in North Africa came under the control of the Vichy regime, who collaborated with the Nazis, following French surrender in May 1940. The evacuated Gibraltarians were now living in enemy territory. This situation turned hostile following an often documented incident at Mers-el-Kebir, where the British sunk the French Fleet to prevent its use by the Axis powers. The evacuees were forced out of Casablanca as a result, and were herded by rifle-wielding French soldiers onto British ships not equipped with provisions for a large civilian population. Return to Gibraltar was impossible as fortification of the territory was in full swing; the Gibraltar Defence Force were formed, an airfield constructed, and the Rock of Gibraltar itself extensively fortified, with miles of tunnels, hospitals, power stations, and barracks built inside. A return of the civilian population would risk the compromising of this extensive strategic development.

As such, despite protests from the fatigued evacuees, the transports navigated the Atlantic war-zone to Britain. Had the transports been attacked, one British Admiral claimed it would have been the worst maritime disaster in history. Most evacuated Gibraltarians remained in London throughout the war, where they would endure the worst of The Blitz within houses rendered empty by occupants who themselves had fled to safer locations in the British countryside. Luckier were those sent to Madeira, who enjoyed a relatively peaceful war. Many more were sent to Jamaica, where they inhabited a camp now comprising part of the University of the West Indies. Exposure to the English language and the western world would profoundly impact the evacuees. Pre-war, the Spanish language was used in education, and also within the most popular newspaper of the day – ‘El Capense’. Western exposure, as well as participation in Britain’s war, led to the distinct anglicisation of Gibraltarian culture visible today.

Gib Searchlights
The Rock of Gibraltar, lit by British searchlights during WWII

The success of the 1942 Allied invasion of North Africa negated any realistic possibility of invasion or attack of Gibraltar. This prompted calls from evacuees and those locals who had remained for repatriation. The civilian population was still regarded as a potential nuisance by the British. Gibraltar retained its strategic importance, and Britain saw its dominance of Mediterranean commerce and the associated Suez Canal zone as a lynch-pin in its post-war cling to great power status. Moreover, many homes had been demolished to facilitate militarisation, and an extensive homelessness crisis was feared should the evacuees return too soon. As such, the return was delayed. Many were moved to camps outside of Belfast, within which conditions were said to be appalling. Over 6,000 evacuees remained within camps such as these by the war’s end, with the last Gibraltarian returning home in 1951.

This denial of basic human rights and exodus from their families and homeland led to a heightening of the Gibraltarian social consciousness. Along this vein, the Association for Advancement of Civil Rights was established by Joshua Hassan and Albert Risso. The AACR called for improved working conditions, access to healthcare, and improved working conditions under the slogan ‘with Britain, not under Britain’. It is no coincidence that the rise to prominence of the AACR coincided with the rise of Attlee’s Labour Party in Britain, who were elected on a manifesto broadly comparable to that proposed for Gibraltar. Gibraltarians returning from London had been exposed to the grievances of the British working class and could see these issues reflected within their own society. These demands continue to form the basis of modern Gibraltarian politics, with access to free education, healthcare, and government housing dominating the demands of the territory’s inhabitants. This focus on basic rights forms one of two key components of Gibraltarian culture, alongside the commitment to partnership with Britain. This was perhaps best demonstrated in 2002, when 98% of voters rejected the principle of shared sovereignty with Spain. While the changes in Gibraltarian society may have evolved organically given time, the experiences of the evacuees accelerated the process. Gibraltar is the way it is today because of the territory’s unique wartime experience.

J G Middleton and B Bagu


SOURCES:

  • Constantine, S., Community and Identity: The Making of Modern Gibraltar Since 1704
  • Finlayson, T.J., Gibraltar and the Spanish Shadow
  • Finlayson, T.J., The Fortress Came First: The Story of the Civilian Population of Gibraltar during the Second World War
  • Gingell, J., ed Beiso, D, We Thank God and England
  • Jackson, W.G.F., and Cantos, F.J., From Fortress to Democracy: The Political Biography of Sir Joshua Hassan
  • Photos; Cover Photo: www.gbc.gi/news/75th-anniversary-wwii-evacuation-be-commemorated-next-month; The Rock Image: WikiCommons