Dr. Rebecca Tortello, Contributor
Upon their safe return the governor of Gibraltar sent a letter thanking the Jamaican people nothing that the Gibraltarians remembered that Jamaica gave them sanctuary and made them welcome.
AS QUIET and unassuming as the Gibraltar Camp Road section of the UWI campus is today, 60 years ago it was anything but. The site of an evacuation camp for some 1,500 Gibraltarians (hence its name), an army base, and later an internment camp, the land was covered by row after row of wooden huts with a few commodes here and there.
In 1940, the English gave orders to establish an evacuation camp for anywhere between 7,000 and 9,000 war-threatened civilian inhabitants of their Mediterranean colonies, Gibraltar and Malta. Located at the entrance to the Mediterranean, the Straits of Gibraltar, which link the Mediterranean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, are found on the southern coast of Spain. Malta is located in the middle of the Mediterranean, halfway between Sicily and North Africa.
Ceded under the Treaty of Utrecht, Gibraltar has been a British territory since 1704. During World War II, which broke out in 1939, the civilian population was evacuated to Britain, Madeira and Jamaica in order for Gibraltar to be fortified against the possibility of a German attack. By 1942, 30,000 British soldiers, sailors and airmen were found on Gibraltar and 1,500 Gibraltarians were in Jamaica.
The then Mona Estate was considered an ideal location for a refugee camp because at that time it was government property, spacious enough and located close to Kingston. The Public Works Department spent £375,000 clearing the site, putting in roads, constructing barracks, stores and offices, as well as a police station, a hospital, and cottages for senior staff and the Roman Catholic nuns and priests who would monitor the refugees.
Major General Bob Neish recalls hearing that many of the barrack frames were constructed onboard ship en route to Jamaica which accelerated the building process immeasurably. The wooden barracks, situated in long rows, numbered 1-112, each 150 feet long, 25 feet wide with a 7-foot verandah. Upon completion, the camp's 252 acres was enclosed by a wire fence. Water, electricity and a telephone service were also provided.
The first set of 1,104 Gibraltarians (185 men, 673 women and 246 children) arrived on the Neuralia in October, 1940. Thousands of Jamaicans turned out to welcome them, punctuating their bus trip to the camp with cheers. One of these was a young Jackie Thwaites, who remembers how as a Boy Scout, his troop turned out to help guide the Gibraltarians on their way. A second group of 393 (the last set of Gibraltarians to be evacuated) arrived in November. By that point, all men over 45 and all women, regardless of age, were ordered to leave Gibraltar.
The Maltese never came in large numbers. A Maltese delegation that visited the island was said not to have liked it and they did not wish their families to be placed under the rule of black and coloured people.
The Gibraltarians had plenty of room. They were living in a camp meant for 7,000. After much discussion, some of the extra space was used by Jewish European refugees following special appeals to the British Empire. One hundred and fifty three arrived in 1942 and 107 more came later. The number of Gibraltarians grew during their stay in Jamaica, as over 100 Gibraltarian babies were born in the camp.
Peter McCaulay, a mess officer with the West Indian Regiment stationed at Gibraltar Camp at that time, recalls that residents could come and go between 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. once they logged in and out. "Soldiers," McCaulay explained, "could leave on an '1159'" a pass named for the time they were to be back. Jamaicans, entering the camp without passes could, however, be fined. The camp was first run by an English Commander Major Henry Simms whose residence is one of few buildings from that era still standing. It remains on Gibraltar Camp Road near the Papine entrance, and currently houses the offices of the University of the West Indies Development Foundation.
Miriam Stanton, who came to Gibraltar Camp as a young girl, remembers
She goes on to note that there were churches and a room to be used as a synagogue as well as a kosher kitchen. Each room had an army cot, chair and table. Those refugees who had a trade were allowed to work within the camp which translated into payment for the hairdresser, barber, shoemaker, tailor and others. Books, newspaper and radios were available. There was never a shortage of food.
Yet, some Jewish refugees have sad memories of the camp charging a lack of interest among the local Jewish community despite the fact that certain individuals within the community did extend a welcome. This lack of interest may be as a result of the fact that the refugees were Ashkenazi Jews who did not speak English, and the Jamaican Jews were Sephardic.
In late 1943, a section of Gibraltar Camp (near today's Mona Rehabilitation Centre) was run by the military as a family internment centre for Italians and Germans previously housed at Up Park Camp (men) and Hanover Street (women and children). These internees mainly came from British West Africa. They had been working there as tradesmen when the war broke out and they were shipped to Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast and Nigeria, and later Jamaica.
Uwe Zitzow, a German from Cameroon, British West Africa, remembers that his family was one of the last set of internees to leave Gibraltar Camp.
Although seven years old when he left Jamaica, Zitzow remembers there were probably about 60 families in the camp mostly professional Germans and Italians, construction workers and missionaries, who had been interned in British West Africa during the war.
The families were housed in eight barracks and there was also a dining hall, school and staff quarters. Zitzow's father raised rabbits in their yard and built a community oven, baking bread and cakes. There was a sports field and each month movies were shown. Plays and concerts were staged every now and then, and the children were taken on field trips.
By the end of 1943 Gibraltar Camp employed 186 local staff and 446 evacuee staff. There were 1,530 Gibraltarians as well as some Spanish evacuees, Polish and Dutch refugees and a few Finnish internees. When the war was over, Zitzow recalls that most internees returned to Germany and Italy, although some married Jamaicans and stayed. As for Zitzow, he moved with his family to the Dominican Republic where his father worked at a chocolate factory and eventually to the United States (Brown, 2004, p. 33).
At the end of the war in 1944, the Gibraltarians, by then numbering close to 2,000, are said to have left on one big ship. Those who had married Jamaicans simply took their wives with them. Jamaican historian Hartley Neita recalls that when the time of departure came, Gibraltarian women paid their last visit to the Papine market where they received many hugs from the Jamaicans who were sad to see them go. Upon their safe return, the governor of Gibraltar sent a letter thanking the Jamaican people noting that the Gibraltarians remembered that Jamaica gave them sanctuary and made them welcome.
Many of the Jewish refugees left for Cuba and other destinations, although some moved to the Nunnery until they could find permanent homes (Brown, 2004, p. 32).
TRANSITION TO A UNIVERSITY
Following the end of the war, the Colonial Office closed down the camp, and a part of it was used as an Ex-Servicemen's Training School until 1947, when the camp buildings and some 650 acres of the combined Papine and Mona estates were handed over to form the new University College of the West Indies (UCWI) (Brown, 2004, p. 33).
Some of the
old Gibraltar Camp buildings have been
The Mona Rehabilitation Centre, located near to the UWI, and the Gibraltar Camp Bell, used to signal meals and gatherings and now part of the UWI's new Sculpture Park, are also reminders of a bygone age.
that not many Jamaicans know much about Gibraltar Camp or Gibraltar, but
Peter McCaulay believes the Gibraltarians remember Jamaica. Towards the
end of our interview, McCaulay recounted how a few years ago when he and
his wife, Dawn, visited Gibraltar, they wound up with a taxi driver who,
on hearing where they were from, excitedly told them that his grandparents
had come to Jamaica during World War II. He said that Jamaica held a
There were other internment camps in Jamaica during World War II. At Up Park Camp, for example, there was a prisoner of war (POW) camp where German and Italian POWs (mainly merchant seamen) were held.
As one reader of this series recalls in an email: "The internment camp in Kingston ... was on the spot now occupied by the National Stadium. In the early 1940s, my parents and I lived in a house which had as its backyard the Up Park Camp fields and my friends and I used to run all over those fields down to the Internment Camp to see the German POWs.
"They were very well treated, and we saw them frequently playing football or tending to vegetable gardens. As memory serves, they grew a lot of cabbage. Among those prisoners was a Jewish doctor who was captured in North Africa. He was able to convince the authorities that he was not a Nazi and was allowed to practise medicine at the Kingston Public Hospital."
Sources: Brown, S. F. (2004). The History and heritage of the Mona campus. Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, Personal Interviews Peter McCaulay, Jackie Thwaites, Major Robert Neish (July 2005) and Tony Kelly (Sept. 2005).
http://www.discovergibraltar.com/mainlogo/mainfrm.htm, Daily Gleaner, (Oct.26, 1940) "1100 Evacuees Now at Gibraltar Camp," Daily Gleaner, (November 18, 1940)
A Jamaica Gleaner Feature originally posted November 07, 2005
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