Tony stirred, coming slowly awake. He felt her warm body pressing into his back as he became conscious of a pleasurable sensation and of his arousal. “Good morning darling”, she drawled hoarsely. “You like?” she asked. “Ummm.. very much..” He mumbled in assent, feeling his stomach tighten ever so slightly, aware of a little remaining stiffness at the back of his neck muscles and somewhat of a headache, no doubt from the tensions of the night before. Not that he had drank too much. Apart from a small glass to sample it, he had hardly touched the armagnac Paco Ramirez had sent over, good as it was. He kidded himself that that his headache was due to the lack of ventilation and cigarette smoke in the café. He made a mental note to speak to Jorge, see if they could not find some solution to the problem. If he was honest with himself, he would have accepted that the tension he was feeling had more to do with the incident at the end of the evening. For now, he couldn’t imagine any better medicine for his headache than Cindy’s wonderfully insatiable ministrations.
They had made love, with some passion, when they returned to his flat around two in the morning. Fervently, as if in an attempt to expunge his disturbed emotions from his encounter earlier. Cindy had sensed it. In ways that only a woman can, Cindy tried to sooth his turbulent feelings, distracting him with her own sexuality. In the drive back to the flat, she had whispered in his ear, asked for, in some detail, what she wanted, what she was expecting from him. Once all her demands had finally been met , they slept, both their wishes satiated in full. Tony slept fitfully. Now, he once more welcomed Cindy’s sensuousness and attention. It was as if she knew he needed her to caress away those thoughts. Yes, he needed Cindy around. He was glad as they once more lost themselves in their embraces and this time, unhurried lovemaking.
The lay on the damp sheets, spent, huddled. His headache eased, Cindy breathing gently and evenly. He felt her smooth stomach rising and falling in cadence with her breath. His mind once again allowing the outside world to permeate his thoughts, returning to the events of the previous evening. They had really enjoyed the evening, until that moment, Cindy even managed to get him to share a few dances with her. It would have been difficult for him, had she not insisted, as her suitors seemed endless, appearing at the table, one after another, requesting Tony’s leave to ask her to dance. Not that he minded, so long as they did observe the proper protocols by asking him first! Though relaxed, he did feel a certain possessive ownership, as latin men tend to but no overly so. She actually liked that about him, so long as it was not overdone, which he probably never would. She loved to dance and he not so much. He did like to please her though, conceding the occasional dance just to keep her happy. He felt himself tensing once more as his thoughts turned to the disagreeable and for him especially, somewhat distressing moment of the evening.
It had happened quite a while after Paco’s departure. They had spent most of the evening at their table enjoying Chippie and his wife’s company along with a group of other friends. He recalled the joke Chippie was telling as he rejoined the group after his conversation with Paco Ramirez. Chippie, with a big grin and at his best, telling jokes.
“So anyhow, there was Father Robles, walking along Fish Market Lane one day and happened to walk by one of the hookers who hang around the area. "Blowjob half a crown!", she half whispered at him as the priest went past. Naturally, she made him jump a little and with an uncertain look, shaking his head he hurried on. A little further on down the lane, so help me, another hooker, this time shouting, once more informed him, "Blowjob half a crown!". Well, he had had enough of these unknown verbal assaults and he scuttled off. Greatly relieved, he reached the relative safety of Main Street. He walked quickly back to the Cathedral. On arrival, he was greeted at the sacristy by the nun who looks after the priests housework, Sister Angelina, you know the one. Anyhow, Father Robles, confiding in the nun, in a quiet, perplexed tone, called her aside, "Dearest Sister, what is a blowjob?" The Sister, without a blink or hesitation replied, "Half a crown, just like in the market Father!" The table burst into uproarious laughter! Chippie could always be counted on to tell a good joke, so often irreverently directed at the local priests. Which reminded Tony as the table settled down, “You know Chippie, Paco Ramirez was just telling me about the parish priest in San Roque being carted off by the local ’Falangistas’ last week!” The ’Falanges’ were the equivalent of the German Nazi Brown shirts. “It appears they gave him a severe pasting. Something they didn’t appreciate in the sermon during Sunday mass! Things are getting worse over there.” Chippie nodded, “I heard about that from Mario”, mentioning one of their mutual smuggling acquaintances. “Mind you, things weren’t all that much better when the Republicans were flexing their muscles, not that long ago, were they? No, it got just as bad. Not that I have that much pity for the priests, to be honest. I mean, they are always putting their foot in it - constantly pontificating from their well fed, high up pulpits - telling us how to live our lives! Pah!” he shook his head in disgust. “In my opinion, the priests are as much to blame as anyone else for the mess the whole place is in!” he took a long swig of Paco’s armagnac. “Yes, well, be that as it may - there’s not so many of them now. What with both sides having so ruthlessly culled their ranks over the last eight years! And it’ll no doubt get worse before it gets better.” Tony said, diverting his glance to Chippie’s glass as he refilled it. Grasping the brandy balloon once more, with one all enveloping hand that hadn’t quite lost the engine oil and grease marks, “Tell you what Mario was also saying”, he looked back up at Tony, with some intensity. “I don’t know what your impression has been over the last few days but Mario was talking about the increase in activity they’ve all noticed from the ‘Sloppys’ over the last few weeks, especially over the last few days. They’re very worried, that lot. They reckon the ‘Slops’ are building up to a big crackdown on them!” Chippie steadied his gaze on Tony. Tony queried, “You mean the smuggling?” Chippie nodded. “Yes - the smugglers. They’re all talking about far more sightings of the ‘tabacaleras’, than usual - much more than usual - and not just the fast patrol boats either. No, no - they say they’re bringing over fast corvettes too! A group of them arrived over in Algeciras over the last few days. They’re there now! I tell you Tony, they‘re well and truly spooked!” he paused. The ’tabacaleras’ was how the fast coastal patrol boats, belonging to the Spanish authority’s paramilitary anti-smuggling forces were referred to by everyone. Chippie continued excitedly, “What about the Dorniers? Like the one we‘ve seen over the last few days. Twice today! Something’s going on Tony - don‘t you think?” Tony listened, pursing his lips and nodding slowly, thinking Chippie was so right. Something was up. Only, he wasn’t so sure it was just the Smugglers who should be the only ones concerned. “Yep - I think you’re right Chip! There does seem to be something in the air”, he said, not intending the pun.
Adjoining the Restaurant and Dance area, at Jorge’s suggestion, Tony had agreed a little while back, to add a smaller more private area that served as a little casino. It was never going to rival Monte Carlo but many of the Guests enjoyed a flutter at the couple of roulette and card tables. Uncle Armando approved. The takings were very reasonable!
Later, whilst enjoying one of his rare dances with Cindy, they heard raised voices over the music, coming from the adjoining room. Then, the crash of one of the small drinks tables that were used around the roulette and card tables, as it overturned, breaking some glasses on the way! As he came through the doors, Jorge and one of the waiters were already restraining a remonstrating tall thin man, his arms flapping about in an effort to avoid Jorge and the waiter’s attempts to overpower them. As Tony approached he saw another waiter and one of the guests helping a woman as she recovered from being thrown backwards, stumbling into the small drinks table by the Roulette wheel. With a start and a lurch of his stomach, he recognised Belinda! She was clearly very distressed and as she looked up their eyes met. Everything seemed to come to a stop. He no longer heard the music, though it was still playing next door. Everyone seemed to be moving slowly, almost not moving. All sound stopped. They just stared at each other. Belinda stared back, her eyes gradually filling with tears, strangely not so much from her distress it seemed, more in defiance. They stood there, locked in that moment for what seemed like an age but could only have been a few brief seconds. The sounds of the remonstrating between the man and the staff slowly brought him back to reality. In two steps he was holding her arms, ducking his head and looking up into her now lowered eyes, “Are you alright?” She didn’t answer. She just nodded vigorously and tried to move away, shrugging her arms and turning from him. One of the other ladies, quickly put her arms around her and made a gesture towards Tony, mouthing something like, “I’ll look after her!“ as she led Belinda away in the direction of the Lady’s’ room.
Tony turned to face the man who, by now, was well in hand, Jorge and the burly, thick set waiter, having managed to gain a controlling hold on him. Tony knew the man well! He was Belinda‘s husband. “What the devil are you playing at Captain?” Tony angrily demanded, not really concerned for a reply. “You Gibos, you’re all the same!” he spat! “Bloody jumped up Colonials - just like she is!” Forgetting his usual self control for a second, Tony grasped the Captain by the neck with one hand and felt his other hand clench forming a fist. Jorge, slightly surprised, quickly but calmly interjected, “It’s alright Boss. We’ll escort Captain Marriott outside”, with a quick movement, placed himself between the Captain, pushing Tony’s arm away from his hold round the Captain’s neck. The Captain allowed himself to be released and turned, adjusting himself, massaging his skin as he followed Jorge’s indication towards the doors. He was about to say something when Tony, with a large pointing finger in his face, snarled hoarsely, “If I ever hear you’ve forgotten yourself - with Belinda - you will answer to me my English friend!” They stared menacingly at each other for a second or two. Then the Captain turned, slowly moving his piercing blue eyes from Tony to Jorge, who was still urging the Captain, by indication, towards the exit. He did as he was being asked and marched off briskly towards the door of the cafe. Tony followed them a few paces. “Make sure Mrs. Marriott is alright and that she’s able to get home safely Jorge.” he ordered. “Yes sir!” Jorge assured him. “I’ll make sure.” Tony watched them disappear down the stairs to the Hotel’s foyer.
Cindy had watched the whole episode from a distance, for a moment alarmed at Tony’s unusual near loss of control and astonished at her realisation, she thought, “My god! He’s still in love with her!” She watched him follow Jorge and the Captain, remembering the expression on Belinda’s face when she had confronted Tony and thought, “and if I didn’t know any better, I do believe she is still in love with him!”
Tony had always thought Captain Peter Marriott of the Royal Signals, an unpleasant character. He knew his judgement was well founded and not tainted by the man’s relationship with Belinda. Others found him just as disagreeable. He was the stereotypical British Military ‘martinet’. A man who played it by the book and showing little regard for the consequences of his demands on his men, not to mention the local populace, his beloved ‘colonials‘! He would never understand whatever possessed Belinda to marry him.
Tall, thin with a fine clipped moustache on rather angular features and praetorian nose, Captain Marriott looked every bit the Garrison Staff Officer he was, even in his well cut civilian suit. Tony and Captain Marriott had never had much to do with each other directly. In his duties as Commander of his MTB, Tony had no need for direct contact with the Garrison, receiving all orders and briefings from the Naval base command. But the grapevine in Gibraltar was very efficient and people, some people, could hardly wait, at times, to bring the latest bit of gossip about the couple. The Captain’s more absurd orders or otherwise insulting behaviour towards his own junior staff, not least, towards the Gibraltarian members of the military attached to the Garrison was often the subject of these choice items of gossip.
Later, in Jorge’s office, he was able to find out exactly what happened. It appears Marriott had not been lucky and had lost a significant amount, certainly more than a Captain’s military salary could afford. It was common knowledge though, that he had private means, coming from a very well off family who owned a large country estate in England. Nevertheless, Belinda, probably because of her background and conservative upbringing, objected to him throwing his, their money away in such a manner and quietly and very discreetly but not enough to avoid the Head Croupier’s notice, had urged him to stop. Added to which, he had consumed a few drinks, probably one too many. Captain Marriott, somewhat uncharacteristically for a Staff Officer, who are normally very careful how they behave, in public particularly, seems to have lost control of his temper and lashed out at Belinda, pushing her back and making her crash into the drinks table. Whilst Jorge explained, Tony could feel his temporal artery throbbing and inadvertently, his fists clenching once more.
As he lay in bed now, one hand on Cindy, whilst she slept quietly beside him, he recalled the strong effect the whole incident had had on him and the shock at seeing her, especially distressed and unhappy. He was irritated to the point of anger at the turmoil of emotions Belinda could still make him feel. A little surprised too. It had after all been some time, years even, since it had become obvious that the hopes they once held and the promises they had once made to each other were not going to be fulfilled. After all, he thought again, it is all of five years since her marriage to that ‘martinet’!
Sunday, November 28, 2004
Thursday, November 25, 2004
In a stylish second floor apartment, overlooking Main Street, not far from the Café Cecil, Paco Ramirez took a long drag of his strong Spanish ‘tabacco Negro’ cigarette and finished his coffee. Resting his elbow on the beautifully worked wrought ironwork of the balcony, he sipped his Fundador cognac as he watched the passers by below. The evening had turned cooler in this early spring, he was wearing his silk cravat, and paisley patterned dressing gown over his clothes for comfort. His attention was caught momentarily by the passing flash of one of the upper rock battery searchlights on one of the many sweeps it would carry out over the town tonight, as they did every night.
Paco was the local representative of a highly respected Spanish shipping and freight company. He also wrote for a number of newspapers, as the on-the-spot reporter for a news agency in Madrid. He had arrived in Gibraltar back in ’38, to take over the post from the previous incumbent who had passed away from a virulent flu epidemic. Paco had inherited a well-organised local office that, more or less run itself and the job did not task him too much so he had taken up writing for the news agency as an extra interest. At least, that was, ostensibly, what Senor Francisco Armando Ramirez, Director of Transportes Iberia (Andalusia) SA was all about. He had always been known as Paco, the natural diminutive for Francisco. In his early forties, he had a remarkable resemblance to the excellent English actor, recently made famous through his appearances in Hollywood films, Claude Rains. When friends had commented he hadn‘t known who they meant not being to familiar with English language films and wondered if this was complimentary. Curious to find out, he had made the effort to see for himself when he had found out one of Rain’s films, ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington‘, was being shown in Gibraltar a few months earlier. It had surprised him. No wonder his work colleagues and one or two acquaintances had instantly made the physical comparison. The likeness was surprising even to him, though he didn‘t see himself quite as chubby and he was surely a little taller. The hair, his facial expressions, the thin moustache, the way he walked were all very similar. Even a little of the way he sounded when speaking English though his accent was unmistakably Spanish! Paco was quite sophisticated and discerning in his tastes for the good things in life. In keeping with many of his compatriots, he was also a little vain. He liked to dress impeccably. One might even say a dapper dresser, right up to the colourful handkerchiefs he liked to sport in his suit and jacket top pocket and of course, always showing at least a good inch of shirt cuff and gold cufflinks below his jacket sleeves. He looked at his watch and saw it was time to go. He took his dressing gown and cravat off, changing into a tie and rather smart jacket and set off, carefully double locking the apartment behind him.
The Café Cecil was just along the now near empty street and within a couple of minutes he could already hear the strains of the music emanating from the half open but blacked out windows above as he approached. Just before the Café was The Tabacaleria Monte Cristo, a popular tobacconist and the only place he could buy his favourite ’Excelso’ black tobacco cigarettes. Three large arched doorways fronted the shop. In the shadows, in one of the doorways, he made out the figure of the person he was looking for stirring as Paco’s steps alerted him to his arrival. “Todo bien?” Paco inquired. “Si, todo parece tranquilo,” the man replied adding “but I’m not! I am getting nervous Paco. Everything still on for Sunday?“ he asked in spanish. “Yes, yes, still on. Get a grip joder” Paco said rather impatiently. “You know what you have to do. Just follow your instructions as we have discussed and all will be well! This time next week we shall be upstairs celebrating with the best French champagne in their cellars.” Paco inclined his head in the direction of the Café and squeezed the man’s shoulder to reassure him. “and tomorrow night..” he didn’t finish the question. Paco interrupted him. “Come back in twenty minutes and I shall tell you then. I’m just going up to find out. I’ll also have something to give you to take back when you cross back tomorrow! Okay? Twenty minutes and I shall be back. Don’t hang around here! They’ll think you are waiting to break in! Go on. On your way. Go and get yourself a cerveza at the Universal and I’ll see you again shortly” Paco squeezed him again. “Hasta ahora”. He turned and within a few more steps walked into the brightly lit foyer of the Café Cecil and took the stairs to the first floor.
He sat on a stool at one corner of the bar and ordered a beer, conscious of the cognacs he had already drank, he wanted to keep a clear head. He was hoping others here did not have the same good intentions. The room was quite hot and smoky. Even though the windows were open at the end of the room, due to the obligatory blackout curtains, not a lot of air was able to circulate. The fans above him managed as best they could and he remembered how it would be in the summer months. In a strange way, he liked it. Somehow, it added to the exciting ambience of the Café nightclub. It looked like a different room to the one he sometimes used for his lunches. He looked around and recognized a number of faces. He noted Anthony Valoris sat at his usual corner with his lovely companion engaged in lively conversation with two other couples unknown to him. Tony caught his eye at the same instant and they nodded at each other, Paco smiling as he tried to remember the blonde’s name. Paco took an Excelso from his pack, lit it and gently spat some of the tobacco off his lips, from the unfiltered cigarette, then adjusted his cuffs. He took a drink of his beer as he looked about him some more, studying the guests.
He was suddenly aware of Tony at his shoulder. “Buenas noches Paco, como va la cosa?” inquired Tony cheerily. “Tony, bien gracias,” he smiled back. “Another?” Tony asked pointing at Paco’s near empty glass. “Bueno, venga. I never like to refuse the boss!” The exchanged a few pleasantries and Paco complimented him on how well the Café was doing and how much he enjoyed the little bit of social company the Café provided him and others of his standing. Gently, he steered the conversation around to the subject that most interested him, until he got the opportunity. “No doubt, you will be there tomorrow night?” he asked finally. “Tomorrow night?” Tony asked distractedly. “Yes, the Governor’s wife’s birthday fiesta” he reminded Tony. “Oh, yes. To be honest, It had slipped my mind”, he said glancing back to their table and remembering Cindy reminding him only a couple of days ago. He had received an invitation naturally and he and Cindy did indeed plan to take it up. She was especially looking forward to it. Many of her colleagues at work and most of their friends, not to mention the very best of Gibraltar society, Garrison and Navy would be there. After all, it was going to be Lady Liddell’s 50th birthday celebration. In fact, a double celebration, since the Governor, General Sir Clive Liddell would be leaving Gibraltar next month, the appointment of the new Governor, General Sir John Vereker, 6th Viscount Gort, having recently been announced and Sir Clive and Lady Liddell would be departing in May, so a big send off was planned. The whole town was looking forward to it. In these austere days, everyone enjoyed a good party. “Yes, we’ll be there along with most of Gibraltar”, he smiled. “Does the top man at Transportes Iberia receive party invitations from the Governor these days then?” he asked raising his eyebrows smiling. “Yes of course. They are very ‘cumplido’ with us over at the Governor’s Palace. Most attentive and proper, yes indeed!” he said not without some pride.
Tony and Paco amiably for a while, Paco making sure he noted all details of who was likely to be at the party, encouraged by all he heard. Tony changed the subject, asking how things were coming along in Spain. The subject always made Paco sombre and as expected, the news from Spain was not good. Conditions remained very difficult but Paco explained that the Generalisimo was making all the difference with the vigorous plans he was implementing, to make Spain a great country once more. He was, as always, very emphatic and supportive of the Franco regime. They had spoken at length at other times about the new regime and the upheaval and transgressions of civil liberties going on, as Tony put it. Paco’s feelings towards Franco and the new regime in Spain was no secret and his views were no surprise to Tony. In fact, many of the Spanish workers in Gibraltar were ‘Franquistas’, supporters of the Franco regime. This had been known to cause one or two problems in the streets and bars of the town. Republican, enjoying the liberty that Gibraltar afforded them but perhaps risking consequences on their return across the border, had already had various confrontations with ‘Franquistas’, supporters of Franco’s extreme right wing government. Once, with fatal consequences, when a ‘Franquista’ had been knifed to death, allegedly in reprisal for some incident that had occurred in the latter part of the Civil War. Apparently, one of the assailant’s family had been particularly badly treated by the man and had subsequently paid with his life. He recalled another incident, not long ago, when Paco himself had been verbally abused right here in the Café. Thankfully, on that occasion, the abuser had been carefully and discreetly shown the door, clearly having had a little too much to drink and forgetting himself. Thinking about it now, Tony realised he had not seen the abuser around since the incident a two or three months ago. No doubt, he had embarrassed himself and hadn’t felt like returning yet.
Tony listened and watched Paco attentively, looking into the man’s eyes, wondering. As they spoke. It’s just the Spanish’s natural sense of curiosity, he assured himself. As he says, he does have to gather his journalistic material. He liked Paco. He was not enamoured by his politics but that was no reason to judge a man harshly. Spain was in a mess and there was no disguising that some strong measures were necessary to pull the country back together, even though he was against the Fascist ideals, which were, after all, akin to the Nazis and we were at war with them. Well, he thought, if he is a spy, he is a very friendly spy! A little while after their conversation and after Paco had waived goodbye as he left the Café, a waiter had come over to their table with a bottle of a rather good Armagnac, an offering from Paco, a sign of friendship and good fellowship in anyone’s book. He had not noticed one of the Barmen speaking to Paco, shortly before he left. The barman had waited for Tony to return to his table before approaching. Discreetly, drying some glasses, he had leant across the counter, “Todo esta listo en la casa grande!” he whispered, confirming for Paco that all was ready at the ‘big house’. On his way home, Paco once again stopped off in the arched doorway of the Tabacaleria and spoke to the shadowy figure. “Okay, just give them this message. Tell them it is done! Now go back to work and try and relax.” Paco watched him turn down Parliament Lane to walk up Irish Town, which run parallel to Main Street. Paco went home, satisfied with his night’s work. The man watched the searchlights waggling across the skies above as he walked to the southern end of Irish Town and into John Mackintosh Square, turning down some steps on the side of City Hall to finish off his night’s shift in the Town’s main civil telephone exchange.
Early on Saturday morning, Paco’s 'shadowy figure' from the night before was hardly given a glance by the police at the border as he walked across into La Linea, mixing with other night shift workers returning home for their breakfasts.
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
She looked wonderful in her provocatively low-necklined black evening gown and light shawl when he collected her at Europa. She smelt pretty good too. Chanel he thought as the perfume drifted gloriously around them in the car on the drive back into Town. He had been a little unsure earlier, confused by the warm scent of the jasmine, appropriately named ‘Dama de Noche’ or ’Lady of the Night’ that abounded outside her quarters, as they walked through the small garden to the car.
The Hotel was at the northern end of Main Street, close to Casemates. Casemates was a large flat open area, surrounded by barracks on two sides and was used by the Garrison for musters and Parades. The Ceremony of the Guards, a nightly interpretation of the closing of the town’s Main Gates, was conducted here every evening by the duty battalion. In reality it was no longer absolutely necessary. Dating back to the old Siege days, the Town Gates were closed and locked, using a huge set of keys ceremoniously carried by the guards. This signalled the end of the Garrison day and secured the Town and Fortress of Gibraltar overnight, behind the massive defensive stone walled casemates that surrounded the town. As they drove past Casemates Parade, they heard the last sounds of the Guard’s commands calling out the “All Secure”. It always gave Tony a nice feeling of safety, that all was well, whenever he observed this old tradition. A bit of a futile exercise, he knew, in the light of modern weapons. It wouldn’t take much more than a well aimed blast from one of the new German Panzer tanks, for instance, like the ones that had completely overrun the gallant but tragic Polish and, more recently, the French armies, using this new type of warfare they were calling ‘Blitzkrieg‘. He comforted his unsettling thoughts with the knowledge that the Garrison’s own 9.2-inch Batteries were ideally placed on the northern escarpment of the Rock, in fact just above Casemates Parade. These had a commanding field of fire across the mile and a half or so of flat and lacking any cover with a lagoon on the easterly side, further narrowing the isthmus that lead north towards the Spanish/Gibraltar border and formed the mouth of our small peninsula. Not much occupied this area other than a small and well frequented racecourse that sometimes also doubled as an airstrip but was not really large enough to cater for any large aeroplanes. Any troops or armoured formation attempting to cross this area would soon find themselves wishing they hadn’t!
A couple of hundred yards into the northern end of Main Street they parked just outside the balconied entrance to the Hotel Cecil, as it was named. The doorman, stepped out and opened the doors. The sound of band music drifted down from the Café Restaurant and Dancehall upstairs overlooking the busy street, gently wafting around the late evening walkers, on their way to their Friday evening’s chosen entertainment or home after their customary evening drink and stroll around the town centre.
“Good evening Don Anthony!“ greeted the night manager, using the customary term of respect reserved for well known customers or, as in Tony’s case, superiors, as they walked through the Reception area. “Que tal Frank?“ Tony replied with a light smile. Frank, the Night Manager, had been with the Hotel for years. Like many of the Hotel’s staff, he had known Tony since childhood. The Hotel Cecil was actually owned by Tony’s family, the Valoris. Tony’s father Alphonso was the youngest of six brothers and the Hotel was a significant part of a wider highly respected and influential business in Gibraltar. The Valoris Family business comprised of a large industrial laundry, a number of souvenir shops in Main Street and the main town bakery supplying the vast majority of Gibraltar, including large parts of the Garrison, with its bread and the most delicious cakes, pastries and patisserie. In fact, throughout Gibraltar, the Valorises were known as “The Town Bakers”! As a child and through his teens, Tony had had to put up with endless but by and large friendly ribbing from his peers, frequently being referred to as ‘Panadero’ or ‘baker boy’! He didn’t mind at all, especially as the compensation was regular visits to the main bakery in Irish Town where his Uncle Eugene looked after this important part of the family business and who also happened to be his godfather. A bachelor for most of his life and therefore childless, he took great pleasure in plying Tony, his favourite (and only) godson with all the cream and other assorted cakes that Tony and often his school chums too, could stuff into themselves! At times, arriving home feeling queasy from the banquet, young Tony would be scolded for his strange lack of appetite for the evening meal, which his Mother Anita Valoris had lovingly prepared. Needless to say, this never put him off his visits to Irish Town and he always looked forward to his next visit with a slurp of anticipation. He would spend hours there, watching the skilled Spanish Bakers, making the dough and working the bread loaves and patisseries around the huge baking ovens, whilst Uncle Eugene plied him with endless and delicious samples of all that was being produced! Wonderful, if at times somewhat nauseating days but never regretted!
On his return to Gibraltar, having concluded his short Naval career after University, Tony had been invited to join the family business, as was customary. After his apprenticeship, spending time in all the diverse areas of the business, Tony settled and worked his way up the ranks of the Hotel, working as a receptionist initially, then Night Manager but eventually, showing a good head for business, he persuaded his father and uncles to invest and develop an entertainment venture using the Hotel’s ample facilities and position in the centre of town. It had not been easy as the Uncles tended to be quite set in their ways and did not take to new ideas or radical changes comfortably. Uncle Armando had been especially challenging. He was the third oldest and by far the wisest of the six brothers. It was he who carried the main burden of managing the family business as the company’s Secretary. Having gained degrees in law and accountancy in his youth, he was the most qualified for the task. He also counselled and advised on all legal aspects for both business and family matters. Tortoise like and fixing him with studious eyes over his pince-nez glasses across the large board room table, Uncle Armando had questioned him at length over his plan and especially, the figures. By the time Tony had won him over, the rest of the brothers, always acting in committee, were easily persuaded and unanimously voted to support his venture. Tony was allowed to create what quickly became one of the most popular Nightspots in town, frequented by senior members and Officers in the Military Garrison Staff, visiting Royal Navy Officers and affluent and influential members of Gibraltar society. The new venture proved a great success and quickly became an important contributor to the Family business. Uncle Armando in particular, was well pleased, nevertheless still keeping a close eye on those figures. Quietly, his father was also once more made to feel very proud of his son, now proven to the rest of the brothers and family as his own man of business!
Because of the start of hostilities, on his return to semi-active service with the Royal Navy Reserve however, Tony’s duties meant more and more time away from the Cafe. In the end, he had carefully hand picked an Assistant Manager, approved by the committee of brothers, his Uncles, to look after the daily business of the Café Cecil, as it was now known. Tony still remained ‘The Boss’ however, his Assistant reporting and consulting him before making any major decisions. This arrangement worked well.
Cindy tucked her hand under his arm and they started up the stairs to the first floor Café. Frank caught his eye and quietly told him Jorge, his Assistant Manager would like a word when convenient. Tony nodded. As they climbed the stairs, the band music raised its volume, a latin american number seemingly marking their step as they climbed. Jorge was standing at the door, already mysteriously alerted to their arrival. “Good evening Jorge” Tony smiled at his able assistant, handing his rather worn homburg to one of the waiters. Jorge returned his greeting and with a slight bow gallantly turned to Cindy, stretching his hand out to gently hold hers, “Good evening Miss Cindy! An especial pleasure to welcome you back again. You grace our café with your beauty!” he smiled broadly as he helped her off with her shawl, quickly handing it to the waiter, then indicating with his hand for them to follow, marched off, through the Café doors and led them to their favourite table always reserved for Tony, in one corner by the large window overlooking Main Street. The table, one single lounge seat, curved round the corner of the room in a large ‘C’. It provided a semblance of privacy, whilst at the same time affording a good view of the Band, the polished wooden parquet dance floor, main door and the room generally. Tony helped Cindy shuffle along into the corner and then sat himself, looking around the room discreetly appraising tonight‘s guests. He was pleased to see quite a few friends and acquaintances dotted about, pleasing noting that, even at this early hour, the tables were starting to fill up, with many groups well advanced enjoying their suppers, waiters busily buzzing around smartly dressed in their tails, armed with the regulatory white cloth napkins over one arm and carrying drink trays in the other hand.
Jorge waited till they were settled and ordered their drinks. He raised his eyebrows questioningly at Tony. Tony indicated for him to join them. “What’s up Jorge, problem?” Jorge Valadares spoke perfect English for a Spaniard. He had trained at one of the best hotels in Madrid and had also worked in London for a time before he had been found by one of Tony’s contacts, when looking to fill the position of his assistant at the Cecil. He had now been in his post for a couple of years, proving himself to be a discreet, loyal and very capable right hand. Tony had grown to value Jorge’s input in most matters. He noted Jorge’s slight frown. “No, I don’t think so” he said. “Paco Ramirez was in again earlier this afternoon. You know he comes in nearly every day? He comes in nearly every morning for coffee and reads his paper. Often, he comes in for tea in the afternoon too”. Tony nodded, listening attentively. Cindy excused herself and Tony and Jorge raised themselves off their seats as she breezily went off in the direction of the Ladies room, interrupted on her way by a loud shout of “Cindy!“ He saw a group of their friends waving and she stopped by their table which burst into a series of hugs, kisses on the cheeks and greetings.
Jorge continued, “He often stops me for a chat, you know, idle chit chat I suppose,” he paused and then continuing, “but many questions, always questions”. “Well, that’s the Spanish for you” Tony replied, “a curious race”, he smiled. “In any case, he’s got his column to write. He needs to keep his ear to the ground, gather his material”. Jorge looked at Tony. “Yes, I suppose you’re right. Anyhow, he also asked if you might be in this evening. I told him you would probably but that I wasn‘t sure. Was that okay Boss? He didn‘t say why he was asking. I can only assume he wants to see you though he did not say”. he looked quizzically at Tony. “Did he say if he was coming in tonight?” “No, he just said he would catch you around sometime.” Tony looked across the room in thought. “Hmmm, okay, well we’ll just have to wait and see. I’m sure it’s nothing.” Nevertheless, he was curious. “Is that it?, he asked taking a sip of his iced bourbon. Jorge nodded, “Yes Boss. That’s all.” he pursed his lips and continued, “That man. He asks many questions Boss. Too many questions!” Tony nodded once more and slightly tilted his head as he did so, a little gesture he had acquired when deep in thought.
Cindy returned from her 'working' the room and her boudoir stop just as the waiters started serving their supper. They were ready for it and Tony smiled and licked his lips at her as he poured her the chilled chardonnay from the bottle, dripping with condensation. The band had been joined by their female singer and she now sung a cheerful number recently made popular by the American film actress, Betty Grable. Tony enjoying his food, was not listening. Jorge’s voice was echoing in his mind, “That man, he asks too many questions Boss”!
At 32, Tony looked good, his body taught, not over muscular, he thought as he towelled himself down in front of the long mirror. He kept himself very fit and had the typical, well proportioned figure of a good swimmer, as indeed he was. He swam and jogged regularly, still rowed at the Mediterranean Rowing Club when he could and played a decent standard of his favourite sport, Field Hockey, which in Gibraltar, due to the long periods of dry weather and impossibility of growing any semblance of grass playing fields, was played on gravel. To play hockey on gravel, one really had to finely hone one’s technical skills. As a consequence, Gibraltarians sustain a remarkably high standard of hockey considering the smallness of the community. Tony’s thoughts drifted back to the days when he had first arrived at Downside School, the distinguished Catholic public school near Bath in Somerset, where his parents had sent him as a boarder to finish off his secondary education. A custom much employed by many generations of the more well-to-do Gibraltarian families. The ease at which one could play hockey on the lush grass playing fields the school offered was unbelievable. Excelling as a centre back and showing great qualities of leadership, it wasn’t long before he was given the Captaincy of Downside’s Hockey XI, a position that he would later repeat at University, obtaining a Cambridge ‘Blue‘ during the process of graduating from Corpus Christi College, with a rather undistinguished if passable degree in Linguistics. How he ever managed this, would forever be a mystery to his father, as his near entire focus throughout had been on his sporting, social and other, some might have said, more nefarious activities during his undergraduate days, the sowing of a few wild oats having been carried out with some vigour!
His days at Downside and at Cambridge further strengthened his love for Britain and all things English, the people, traditions, systems of justice and government and of course, its history. Of course, as a Gibraltarian, he had been brought up in an environment and receive an education that already cherished and nurtured English, or more correctly perhaps, British values. By the time he arrived on British soil for the first time, it seemed to him as if he already knew it, as if from another lifetime. He very quickly became very much at home and at ease with the lifestyle, adopting the best airs of an Englishman gentleman, quite naturally.
He made many friends during these educative years, including some from other far flung corners of the British Empire. He was pleased to have been able to maintain contact and correspondence with many of them, even during these difficult times and he thought about them now, hoping they were keeping safe and out of harms way. The memory of Tom Niell painfully returned. Tom had been one of his best mates at Cambridge and they had enjoyed many a wild escapade during those halcyon undergraduate days, sowing of wild oats included! Tragically last Summer, whilst flying Hurricanes with the Royal Air Force, Tom had been shot down and killed over the Channel during a particularly fierce series of onslaughts by Goering’s Luftwaffe on the southern and eastern coastlines and home counties. At the time, it was widely suspected as the prelude, the softening up and strong attempt at destroying the RAF, prior to a full scale invasion of Britain by Hitler’s Third Reich. Thankfully, largely due to the tremendous efforts, enterprise and sacrifice of a very few brave young men, who put up a startling fight and defence of Britain’s skies, it seems Hitler was forced to alter his plans as the massive aerial assaults had now petered out to the occasional bombing raid but on a much smaller scale. Time will tell. The news of Tom’s tragic death had hit him very hard. It had especially hit home as Tony’s own younger brother, Eddy was himself serving with the RAF, flying Spitfires somewhere in Suffolk. So Tom’s death had hit very close indeed. He knew Eddy could look after himself. He had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in September, in recognition of a significant number of kills to his credit, so no mean fighter pilot this. Of course this did not stop his protective older brother from worrying and hoping he stayed safe.
As he tried to dismiss these concerns, the last rays of a beautiful setting sun came through the open bathroom door. They made their way across his lounge and the large shutter doors that gave way to a small balcony, catching the particles of dust swirls much like the searchlights do with the seagulls over the wartime Gibraltar nights. The view out of his balcony windows always cheered him up even in the most dismissal and tempestuous winter storms that often hit the Bay of Gibraltar. He could see nearly the whole of the bay, with the Detached and North Moles opposite and to the right that formed part of the protected harbour. He could just make out the small lighthouse at the tip of the South Mole, the final section of the inner harbour area and a vital part of the many jetties, which the Royal Navy used within the massive HM Dockyard complex.
Force H, a huge task force with over 50 warships of varying sizes, including the Battleships Hood, Resolution, Valiant and the aircraft carrier Ark Royal, had assembled here the previous month. The larger warships taking advantage of the excellent deep water berths provided by the South Mole. The task force was enormous, with a number of smaller cruisers, numerous destroyers and fast corvettes forming the main defensive elements for Ark Royal.
Force H had made a quite magnificent and impressive sight as they ’dressed ship’ with their colourful signal flags, ccupying all of the available berths througout the naval base and spread away below him had to use most of the commercial areas to the north and some using the independent anchorages mid harbour. The word was that Force H was now on the hunt for the German Battleship the Bismarck and he wondered how they were getting on, as he stared into another glorious sunset across the Bay and over the hills behind Algeciras.
He turned back once more to the mirror and was tempted to trim the short beard he had taken to sporting. Maybe tomorrow, he thought. He hated shaving and had decided to emphasise his RNR and MTB commander’s image with this dashing, just past stubble length beard. His deep brown eyes looked back at him with a twinkle, conscious of his small vanity. His hair was light brown and he wore a little longer than was acceptable Naval etiquette but typical of the small boats breed that crewed MTB’s, submarines and other small coastal craft. Not classically good looking, by any stretch, with bigger ears than he might have hoped for and prominent nose, which nevertheless, the combination of which women still seemed to find very attractive. In truth and though in a still somewhat childish way he had yet to find out, it was the whole package, the looks in combination with his graceful, even lazy movement and gestures, seemingly laid back but strong, genuine and sincere character and bright intelligent personality was what they really fell for every time. it didn’t seem to have done him much harm to date, other than with Belinda, he thought, suddenly aware that once more, she had surreptitiously entered his mind and irritatingly, he was thinking of her again. As he had done many a time before, he brusquely pushed the beautiful, passionate but strangely painful mental picture of her aside and forced his mind back to tonight. His stomach chose that moment to help make him aware, with a low rumble that he was quite hungry. The shower and had opened up his appetite. A ‘Caballito’ he thought, picturing his favourite supper of medium rare fillet steak, eggs and chips, lightly boiled spinach in garlic and curiously, hollandaise sauce! Cindy and a well chilled Chardonnay should finish it off quite nicely! Quietly whistling to the strains of a rather jolly upbeat new sound created by an American big band coming from his radio, he walked back to his bedroom and took out a clean shirt and pin stripe double breasted dark blue suit and colourful red tie in a paisley pattern. What was the ’yanks’ name, he wondered. Oh yes, some chap called Glenn Miller, the radio had said. Good stuff! Great for dancing. He did not realise it but the local Bands had already been emulating Glenn Miller’s new sound for some time and he had danced to this music at the Hotel and other nightspots numerous times. Cindy, with a giggle and calling him silly, would have been able to tell him instantly!
Monday, November 22, 2004
The sun was still very hot on his back as it followed its daily path, just starting to dip behind the hills across the Bay of Gibraltar over Algeciras. The throbbing of the powerful Paxman diesel engines below purring now gently, as they approached the base jetty at Coaling Island in the centre of the enclosed harbour.
Lt Cdr Anthony Valoris stood back relaxed, leaning to one side of the small bridge, as he allowed ‘Subbie’ to bring their pride and joy, MTB 32, back alongside. The patrol had been uneventful and routine, much as on many other occasions over the last couple of months. Other than the odd ‘stop and searches’ on smuggling runners, not much else had troubled them lately. He supposed he ought to be thankful for that but he couldn’t help wishing for a little bit of excitement, some real action to test this great boat and its crew. The only item of note he had entered in his log was when they had been over flown by a Dornier with Spanish markings, ex-German Luftwaffe no doubt, flying from the nearby base at Malaga. Come to think of it, there seemed to have been far more of these sightings lately. Routine reconnaissance he thought, doing much as they themselves, keeping an eye on movements along their shores.
He had been very proud and elated on being given command of one of the new Fairmile ‘D’ MTB’s when they first arrived in Gibraltar seven or so month’s ago. It really was an excellent craft, powered by three 16 cylinder Paxman VRB diesel engines capable of 1000 bhp at 1750 rev/min and a top speed of 27 knots through the water, though this was greatly reduced when fully loaded with its heavy armament of guns and torpedoes. Nevertheless, perfect for the task given to them in these waters, patrolling the coastal areas around Gibraltar and the Straits. He relished the prospect and excitement that every patrol brought. The small, close knit crew, all Gibraltarian reservists knew their jobs well having exercised interminably and were prepared for anything that could be thrown at them, itching at it in fact. He thought of how the men referred to their little craft as ‘Chocho’ with amusement. Loosely translated to English as ‘Fanny’, as in the female connotation. Often on a ‘stop and board’ chase when confronting suspected smugglers, shouts of “Venga Chocho” or much as one might whisper, “come on girl” in a very different context, would be uttered, urging the MTB on and up to her impressive speeds over the Mediterranean waves. A slight grin crossed his face as he reflected on the pleasing affection his men felt for their powerful charge.
He heard the voice of his Engineer, Leon Chipolina, known by all as ‘Chippie’ naturally, echoing the last command given, coming over the tannoy in a slightly bored accented ‘llanito’ tone, “Slow ahead”. The rush of the engines slowed to a dull thump. Chippie was an interesting character, with a dry sense of humour. You could never tell when he was being serious or pulling your leg. They had been at school together and Tony, as Lt Cdr. Anthony Valoris was know by his friends, had grown to be very good friends with Chippie. Diminutive, chubby and with an impish look about him, full of guile, not unlike one of our own Barbary Apes, Chippie was one of those people who can work magic with machinery or any sort of mechanical tasks and just the man one would wish to look after the heart of our prized craft. He had other hidden talents too. Some said he was not unknown around the local smuggling fraternity, even to lend a quiet hand at times. Tony had never been able to quite get Chippie to admit to any of this, dismissing it as ‘idle women chatter’ but grinned mischievously as he said so!
Subbie brought the boat into its berth perfectly and the men prepared to secure the boat for the off duty weekend they were all looking forward to. Other MTB crews would be looking after maintaining control of our sea lanes over the next couple of days. Tony gave his orders for the following Monday‘s resumption of patrolling duties, reminding Subbie to read a little bit of the riot act to the men not to overdo things over the weekend and to be ready for Monday morning at 6:00 am. Tony always enjoyed a cooling evening drink, especially after a patrol and he was looking forward to it now. He was hurrying as he also wanted to try and catch Cindy over at the Officer’s Club at Rosia Bay before she left from her afternoon’s obligatory sunning duties. As he made his way ashore, Chippie popped his head out of one of the engine room hatches. “See you tonight at the Hotel Skip?” he checked. When on duty, Chippie always referred to him as Skip or Skipper, respectfully adding the required ‘Yes Sir, no Sirs’ when necessary. Once ashore and off duty though, he fell back to just plain Tony. Tony looked back over his shoulder and held a thumbs up. “Sure, around tennish” and changed his thumb to an open palm as he smiled, turned and jumped ashore agilely, one or two crewmen wishing him a great weekend as he walked to the car park. He wished them likewise. Not much of military formalities around here, no salutes or piping! He preferred it that way, comfortable in the knowledge that he was popular with the men and that they did not lack in respect for him as their Skipper, in any way at all.
As he drove towards the Officers Club at Rosia, along the long Battery straight overlooking and running the length of HM Dockyard, the warm air flowing around him in his open top, slightly battered little Morgan, he thought about wild Cindy and looked forward to the prospect of sharing the weekend, enjoying her company and most of all, her womanly charms. Cindy was always great company. The type of woman that turns men’s heads and in more ways than is comfortable for mere males, perhaps! Bright and ever effervescent, dangerously blonde long wavy curls to just above her shoulders, dark green oval eyes, glorious smile and a contagious laughter that can easily be triggered and heard across a crowded room, Cindy was very attractive, exciting and great fun to be with, in any company, especially alone together. At times, however, Tony did catch glimpses of a more complex and dark side to her but these were only fleetingly shown. Despite her outgoing and seemingly carefree personality when off duty, she was very conscientious about her job and by all accounts, a highly efficient Nurse, working at the large Royal Naval Hospital up in Europa to the south of Gibraltar, catering to all the ailments, illnesses and injuries of the busy Garrison and Naval Base. She had arrived on post a year or so earlier and they had soon become friends, frequenting the best watering holes and nightspots the Town had to offer. They had been instantly attracted to each other when introduced by friends and it wasn’t long before they had progressed to a mutually satisfying relaxed love affair, not expecting too much of each other in terms of any future commitments but simply enjoying the social and other moments they could share in these uncertain times.
He got to the Club just after five and walked into the bar. “Hello Santi,” he greeted the Barman smiling, “How‘s the Rosia Front this afternoon?”. “Good day Sir, all quiet and tranquilo around here, yes, gracias! The usual for you Sir?” asked Santi in a heavy Spanish accent and completely mixing his response with English and Spanish. A custom most have around this part of the world and not solely restricted to the Spanish. Most Gibraltarians are bilingual in English and Spanish and mix their languages, often mid sentence allowing them verbal expression in a greater range. It is not uncommon to spring into the other language, even mid word! A quaint trick, odd for the visitor but not all that uncommon in places around the world where bilingualism exists. English is the official language of course and is used on all formal or official occasions, governmental, written business, at school and so on but Spanish is the language more commonly used at home and informally, socially and with friends. Santi’s English was better than most Spaniards. He was one of the many Spanish workers privileged with a special day pass and work permit, who enter Gibraltar every day for their employment. The Spanish economy has been completely decimated during their recent Civil War and things are very tough across the country, especially just over the border in Andalusia. Santi, like his many Paisanos and co-workers was very grateful for all that his work permit and allowed entry into Gibraltar provided him and his family. In the same way, many others who are unable to obtain employment in Gibraltar are also greatly helped and supported by the ability of these workers to sustain some sort of semblance of income, a small start to the economic recovery of this local community, around what is known as the Campo de Gibraltar.
“Make that two please Santi. Long glass, lots of ice and slices, thank you!” he reminded Santi as he bent against the glare of the sun now opposite and peered out of the patio doors across the large concrete sunning area that formed a little peninsula into the small bay. Interestingly, it was right here, many years earlier, where the body of Admiral Lord Nelson had been brought ashore off his flagship, HMS Victory shortly after his demise during the Battle of Trafalgar. His body was pickled and conserved in a sherry barrel right here above the Club in the Victualling Yard in preparation for his return journey back to England. Tony cherished many of the historical aspects that surrounded him and Gibraltar was chock-a-block full of them.
Squinting into the sun, he very quickly picked up the shapely figure of Cindy lying on one of the ‘tumbonas’ near the water’s edge and away from the now dwindling clusters of other bathers and sun worshipers. Gin and tonics in hand, he steered a path through them towards her, nodding and smiling and mouthing ’hellos’ to acquaintances as he went, followed by one or two admiring glances over their sun glasses by some of the ladies. As he approached Cindy, he gently touched a glass against her bare shoulder. Cindy squealed and sat up with a jump, attracting the attention of the members, much to Tony‘s embarrassment! “Valoris, you creep!” she squealed but quickly changing to a lower and husky tone, “What an unexpected pleasure” she smiled up at him, extending an arm gracefully round his neck and pulling him down towards her for a warm and gusty kiss full on the lips. He loved her for these displays of sexy affection, even though he was conscious that not all felt it very appropriate behaviour for a single lady. To hell with them, he thought, returning her warm welcome! He settled beside her, clinked glasses, ‘cheered’ and proceeded to catch up with each others news. Not that there was all that much to tell, other than the usual bad news from back home, as Cindy referred to England, news gathered earlier that morning at the Hospital, a great place to keep abreast of current affairs from all quarters! As they chatted and sipped their drinks, the sound of an airplane engine slowly droned over them. For the second time today, he picked out the unmistakable silhouette of another Dornier in the distance, making a wide skirt avoiding Gibraltarian airspace. Often, in these instances, the air raid sirens would have sounded in warning. This time though, the troopers manning the numerous anti-aircraft batteries around the Rock must have already picked up the Dornier and reported its presence to the Garrison command, avoiding the necessity for any air raid warning being sounded. Almost unconsciously, he once more noted this aerial activity to be a little more than the usual. So long as they are only Spanish, he comforted his disquiet.
“Dinner at the Hotel tonight dwarling? Perhaps a twirl or two on the dance floor?” Cindy, using the curiously affectionate corruption of 'darling' interrupted his thoughts. “Sounds good” he replied. Having arranged to pick her up later, he drove Cindy back to her Staff Sisters quarters and made his own way back into Town, to his small flat near the Hotel at the northern end of Main Street, for a much needed shower, freshen up and change of clothes, ready for the evening's entertainment.
Sunday, November 21, 2004
Update 9th February 2009
I have decided to re-direct the use of this Blog, converting it into a personal blog. You can read about this here.
I have kept the original 5 chapters I wrote for the novel and these are archived. If you wish, you can read them by clicking on the label 'Novel' and also on the right margin under 'Labels'.
As for further chapters of this novel... one never knows... I might get around to finding the inspiration (and urge) to write some more. But not for the moment.
Thanks for your interest though! :)
It is April 1941. Since September of last year, Britain has been enduring the Blitz conducted by Goering’s Luftwaffe. Already, 43,000 have been killed across Britain and 1.4 million have been made homeless. Not only has London been attacked but so have many other British cities. Coventry and Plymouth have been particularly badly bombed but most of Britain’s cities have also been attacked – Manchester, Glasgow, Liverpool etc.
Since France’s fall in the Spring last year, German U-Boats have had access to the French ports and have been causing mounting losses to convoys in the North Atlantic bringing further pressure to bear on the British Government and their focus is far from Gibraltar and are assuming Spain‘s continued position of neutrality, despite the fact that last year Spain's Dictator, General Franco, made a pact with his Fascist friends, the Axis Powers to support them although, so far, he has kept his promise to Britain, not to actively enter the conflict.
Gibraltar is quiet for a change. The inhabitants have been spared any further visits by the Vichy French bombers who flew over from the French Protectorate across the Straits in Morocco last year and carried out a daring raid. Luckily not too many injuries and not much damage was caused. The past few months have continued at a frantic pace nevertheless with preparations for all expectancies and dangers trying to be anticipated and provided for.
Nearly the entire civilian population, some 16,000 people, with the exception of males of military service age have been evacuated. The vast majority have been sent to England and Northern Ireland. Others to Madeira, North Africa and Jamaica. Remarkably, some have even gone to London and are now even worse off having to endure the Blitz! The sense of this has been strongly questioned here and is causing much worry amongst their family members who have stayed in Gibraltar and are serving in the Gibraltar Defence Force, Royal Naval Reserve, HM Dockyard manning many other essential services around the ‘Rock’ and of course, not least, ‘minding the shop‘, looking after important businesses!
Since September ’39, shortly after the declaration of War, the Garrison has been comprised by two British battalions: 2nd The Kings Regiment and 2nd Somerset Light Infantry. 4th Devonshire arrived in May 1940 and 4th Black Watch in July 1940, so by January this year, four infantry battalions have been in place. These have been augmented by our own 1st and 2nd Gibraltar Brigades of the GDF (Gibraltar Defence Force), providing some additional battalions. Up and around the Rock, the 3rd Heavy Regiment, Royal Artillery control 4th, 26th, and 27th Batteries with 8 x 9.2-inch guns, 7 x 6-inch guns, and 6 x twin 6-pounders. In September 1939 two AA batteries, the 9th and 19th, arrived and had the pleasure of defending Gibraltar from the Vichy French air attacks with their 4 x 3-inch, 4 x 3.7-inch and 2 x 40mm guns. HQ 10th AA Regiment has been formed to control the two batteries. The 82nd Heavy AA Regiment arrived in July 1940 with three batteries including 16 3.7-inch guns, 8 x 40mm Bofors guns and the first radar sets. 3rd Searchlight Battery also arrived in July. Some shuffling of assets and re-numbering of units followed (including departure of HQ 10th AA Regiment, but no batteries); however, this AA strength has now been further reinforced last Month, March 1941. Absolutely essential since, as there are no fighters currently based in Gibraltar and no facilities for supporting them, AA fire is the only defence against any further bombing by the Vichy French or even possibly the Italians.
The Naval Base is also once again back to relative normality. Force H assembled here last month from units of the Home Fleet. Vice-Adm Sir James Somerville flying his flag in the battlecruiser “Hood” and also commanding the battleships “Resolution” and “Valiant”, the aircraft carrier “Ark Royal” and a few cruisers and destroyers have now sailed, apparently on the hunt for the German pocket Battleship the “Bismark”. Force H was a splendid and impressive sight as they left the harbour and cheered on their way by all, despite the crews having caused the usual chaos in the Bars and streets of the town. They shall be warmly welcomed on their return, despite these disruptions to our otherwise relatively calm existence. The population is well used to it after 240 years of it! Left behind in harbour are only a handful of destroyers and our own small fleet of RNR Motor Torpedo Boats (MTB’s).
As already explained, the civilian population that has remained in Gibraltar is almost solely male. Many are serving in the Gibraltar Defence Force or Royal Naval Reserve augmenting the Military Garrison and Naval bases. There is a distinct lack of local female company. Many Spanish women enter Gibraltar every day from across the border in La Linea. Most of them cleaners or shop assistants or working as cooks or waitresses in the hotels, restaurants and bars. Some stay behind at weekends to enjoy the thriving night life, Gibraltar still somehow manages to offer, some perhaps earning a little extra ’pin money’. There are also some British females here but alas not many. A very few with the Army Transport Corps, some QARN nurses and even a few wives and girlfriends of serving officers belonging to Force H, who came out to visit ‘hubbies’ and fiances, choosing to stay and enjoy the relative peace Gibraltar offers, not least the impending great Summer weather, in the hope of the proposed early return of Force H to the Rock. In the meantime, Spring is here and that in itself beats an English Summer every time anyhow. Seems a reasonable choice to make if your hometown back in Britain is presently being bombed nightly by the Luftwaffe!
Unknown to anyone on the Rock of Gibraltar or indeed back in Britain or anywhere else under British control for that matter, things are not quite as they seem across the border in Spain! Amazingly, the feasibility of an assault on Gibraltar has long been in the planning by the Third Reich! Following a number of detailed reconnaissance missions and visits to the Town by specialist Wehrmacht officers wearing civilian clothing and in depth studying of the Rock from Spanish soil, Algeciras and San Roque’s hilltop ’Seat of Isabel’ as well as seaward perspectives, the Wehrmacht in the summer and autumn of 1940 drew up detailed plans for what they term Operation Felix, the assault on Gibraltar! Only the implementation of Operation Barbarossa, which has drawn most available German Wehrmacht and much Luftwaffe manpower to the Russian Front added to some difficulties at the highest diplomatic levels have so far prevented the proposed Operation Felix from occurring at the beginning of 1941.
However, for the Generalissimo Francisco Franco, the ultimate prize of grasping British Gibraltar back into the Spanish bosom ,"Todo para La Patria" (all for the homeland!), is too great a temptation. Having thought long and hard about all the ramifications, including the consequences of breaking his promise to Britain, having studied the plans very carefully and taking account of his own highly trained and experienced battle hardened troops, rested over the last four years or so after the successful conclusion of the Civil War, Generalissimo Franco, is confident of getting away with this audacious and treacherous assault. He has proposed to Hitler that Spain itself is willing to conduct Operation Felix! He has offered his troops and Navy to conduct the main elements required by the assault. All he needs is the Luftwaffe to provide the main aerial attack, as they did during the Spanish Civil War. Hitler, relishing the prospect of control of the Western entrance to the Meditterranean for this considerably reduced effort and the bonus of winnng the active entry of Spain on the side of the Axis confident in the knowledge that Franco can be handled, has immediately consented. Operation Felix is once again on and about to explode on the quiet and relatively unprotected Rock of Gibraltar.