Octogenarian’s passion for history breathes new life into Lord Airey’s battery
By Gabriella Montegriffo
In Lord Airey’s battery at the top of the Rock earlier this week, an 87-year old UK veteran was engaged in delicate heritage restoration work.
Dennis Abbott began his part on the project last May and is still at it. His passion for restoring history goes beyond his age.
The “excellent carpenter and joiner” is “putting his skills to good use at Lord Airey’s battery” Pete Jackson from the Gibraltar Heritage Trust said.
Mr Abbott works alongside other veterans to refurbish and recondition the original equipment of the battery, which was built in 1891 and had deteriorated over time through neglect.
“It’s a shame to see history disappearing,” Mr Abbott said.
But the work is not straightforward.
The group of veterans have faced setbacks throughout the project, including leaks and rat infestations.
The restoration work is part of a heritage project carried out by veterans and organised by the UK-based charity Alabaré and Pete Jackson from the Gibraltar Heritage Trust.
The charity supports vulnerable, homeless and marginalised people, many of them veterans of military service.
This is the second consecutive year that Alabaré has brought veterans from the UK to work on the battery and other heritage sites in Gibraltar.
The initiative is not just about restoring physical infrastructure but also about the people involved, providing positive and constructive goals and encouraging teamwork and friendship.
In terms of mental health and wellbeing, it helps “push them in the right direction”, Mr Abbott said.
For the veterans, the work also connects them with the Rock’s military past and, through that, their own.
Many of them visited Gibraltar during the course of their service.
“All of what’s around you has been built, for good or bad,” Mr Abbott said.
“Many British have been on the Rock and fought on the Rock.”
“Two thirds of what we live on now is heritage.”
Mr Abbott acknowledged the hard work which has been put into the project, but added: “It’s been a real pleasure.”
As the veterans continued work this week, the sense was that the restoration of Lord Airey’s battery still has potential to develop further.
“I’d like to see it all develop as it could,” Mr Abbott said.
The Trust’s Pete Jackson has worked on the battery for three years. The support from the veterans has enabled Mr Jackson’s work to pull ahead. His tireless work has been assisted by the group in the past year.
Mr Abbott praised Mr Jackson for his knowledge and passion for “trying to keep history together”.
“Pete needs all the help he can get,” he said.
“Small donations here and there, [or] even if it’s sending a couple of boys over.”
“I think his work wants to be broadcast around a lot more.”
Alongside the work in Lord Airey’s, members of the group and volunteers are also working hard to restore the nearby O’Hara’s Battery, at the highest point of the Rock.