Extra bank holiday marks anniversary of Gibraltar evacuation

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EVACUATION: Statue by Jill Cowie Sanders commemorating the events.

THE GIBRALTAR government has added a one-off extra bank holiday on Monday, September 7 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of evacuation from the rock and there will be a free concert featuring the music of the era at 8pm at Victoria Stadium.

During the second world war, Gibraltar was of strategic importance and effectively became a fortress but with a large civilian population. A decision was made to evacuate non-essential men, women and children and the initial plan was to send them to Morocco so that in June 1940, some 13,500 Gibraltarians were sent to Casablanca.

This unfortunately coincided with the surrender of France and the establishment of the Vichy government under Marshall Pétain. The arrival of such a large number of people from a British colony was both embarrassing and potentially dangerous, especially as Britain had attacked and sunk a number of French ships in French Algeria to keep them from German hands, killing many French sailors.

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Following the evacuation of Dunkirk, the British had agreed to transfer French troops to Morocco and as they disembarked the French, so a decision was made to evacuate the Gibraltarians who were there. There was something of a crisis of conscience as the British government didn’t want the evacuees to be sent to England whilst the Governor at the time refused to allow them to land back in Gibraltar.

In the event, a compromise was reached whereby they were allowed to land on the understanding that they would agree to leave again when new destinations were found. Eventually, some 10,000 were sent to London, 2,000 to Jamaica and a slightly lesser number to Madeira. The evacuees started to return in 1944, although the last did not make it back to Gibraltar until 1951.

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