Posts Tagged ‘WWII’

A guest post by Joe Gingell.

In May 1940 the British Government ordered the evacuation of women, children, the elderly and infirm to French Morocco to convert Gibraltar into a fully-fledged fortress, which Hitler was planning to capture.

NPG x166829; Sir Kenelm Everard Lane Creighton by Walter Stoneman

Commodore Creighton. National Portrait Gallery.

Soon after the arrival of the evacuees in French Morocco, France fell. As a result of this and the destruction of the French Fleet at Oran, the Gibraltar evacuees were ordered to leave French Morocco within 24 hours. Coinciding with the expulsion of the Gibraltar evacuees, 15,000 French troops were arriving at Casablanca on British cargo ships from the UK. The French authorities threatened to impound these ships unless they took away the Gibraltarian evacuees. Commodore Creighton (later Rear-Admiral Sir Kenelm Creighton) pleaded for the cleaning and replenishment of the ships but the request was refused and evacuees were forced on board by French troops.

The British Government did not want the evacuees to return to Gibraltar. Nonetheless, Commodore Creighton ignored the instructions from the Admiralty and sailed to Gibraltar with all the evacuees. But on arrival these evacuees were not allowed to disembark. Again Commodore Creighton insisted that the ships had to be cleaned and replenished. By then both the Italian and Vichy French air forces were bombing Gibraltar. Eventually alterations were made to the holds of the ships sailing into the Atlantic, with no medical facilities with hardly any life-saving equipment. After six days all provisions were inedible. Babies were born and some elderly people died in the journey. To avoid the menace of German U-boats, the convoy had to circumnavigate the Atlantic taking 16 days to reach England, specifically London.

Commodore Creighton in his book Convoy Commodore said that “if the convoy with Gibraltar evacuees had been attacked, it could have resulted in one of the worst disasters in maritime history.”

The evacuees arrived in London in August 1940, shortly before the Blitz and the Battle of Britain. About 13,000 of them lived in the capital during the war enduring all four years of bombing with some inevitable casualties.

I was one of those children evacuated to London. By 1944 I was already six and have vivid memories of the bombing of our evacuation centre, the Whitelands College in Putney. While in central London, I still remember my mother, my two brothers and I lying on the floor of the room at the York Hotel as a result of the explosion from a flying bomb which killed a Gibraltar evacuee. By end of July 1944 half of the evacuees had been repatriated. The remaining half were to live for four years in camps in Northern Ireland to await their gradual return home. Many of these evacuees had to wait for as long as ten years from the beginning of the war to rejoining their families in Gibraltar.

During the war Gibraltar became extremely vital, particularly, during Operation Torch. Some historians have qualified Gibraltar’s importance to the extent that, without Gibraltar, Britain would have lost the war. In the fortress scenario there was no place for non-combatant civilians who co-operated fully with a forced evacuation. Very little seems to be known about the story of the Gibraltar evacuees in London.

If you wish to read the book and find out the full story you can download it from the Gibraltar National Archives.


Evacuees at Dr Barnardo's

Evacuees at Dr. Barnardo’s.


Evacuees at Wembley.


Evacuees at Whitland College.


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A guest post by London Historians Member, Simon Fowler

evac1The story of brave Cockneys grinning and bearing it during the Blitz in 1940 is really a myth. The start of German air raids on Docklands and the East End in late August saw many panicky families flee the bombing. Some sheltered in Epping Forest, while others made it as far as Reading and Oxford. Frank Lewey, the Mayor of Stepney, who arranged the despatch of thousands of desperate men, women and children, wrote later that he and his staff were…
“far too busy to keep records of the evacuees. It was all we could do to get them out of London fast enough. We did not know where they had all gone, or all who had gone there, except that one hundred and fifty had gone to Ealing, two hundred and thirty to Richmond and so on.”

In Richmond hundreds of refugees arrived at short notice on 12 September. The Richmond and Twickenham Times reported that:
“A thousand men, women and children arrived, after a four-hour journey down river by barge or in pleasure launches. The first relay arrived at about 12 o’clock; a later party were landing just as an air raid warning sounded and so had to take shelter under the arches by the riverside immediately, and the last 600 arrived so late that they could not be billeted…, but had to spend the night at the cinema sleeping on the chairs or the floor.”

They did not receive a warm welcome – in contrast to the myth of Britain pulling together. Richmond’s middle class homeowners were reluctant to take in strangers, particularly those from a different social class.


The Mayor H A Leon appealed for help: ‘Inconvenience will inevitably be felt by the householders on whom they were billeted, but this inconvenience is negligible compared with the unhappy circumstances of those who have had to leave their homes. I appeal to all to their utmost to meet this emergency in a happy spirit of co-operation.’

Margaret Scudamore played host to a little girl: ‘who looked with disfavour on the bathing facilities provided and such innocuous foodstuffs as we could muster, and longed only for the joys of her companionable cul-de-sac and piquant pickles.’

Not everybody was so hospitable. Writing after the war, the Richmond Herald remembered:
“Some householders accepted evacuees reluctantly and did nothing to make these people comfortable, with the result that a large number of East Enders left their billets at night and slept in public shelters and walked the streets by day. Often families had to be billeted in different houses and the fact that they wanted to meet each other during the day led to further trouble. Gradually these were smoothed out… considering the large numbers of persons dealt with there were few cases of dirty conditions.”

Most East Enders soon returned home because they were homesick or just worried about what had happened to their houses and possessions.


Long-time London Historian member Simon Fowler is a professional history researcher, writer and tutor. Richmond at War 1939-1945 is available from the Richmond History Society price £6.50 (plus P&P). Order online at www.richmondhistory.org.uk.

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