The Scottish evacuees enigma
This year marks the 80th anniversary since the evacuation of Gibraltar’s civilian population during World War II. In this article Joe Gingell describes the odd decision to send pregnant women to Scotland.
By Joe Gingell
Although the preparations for the evacuation of the Gibraltar civilian population were made well in advance since the start of the war, the actual implementation of the final orders was carried out in a very hasty manner causing much anxiety among the civilian population. In the case of expecting mothers, they were all of a sudden faced with the worries of being compelled to give birth on board the ships. Their worries were not only about the concerns of the conditions on the ships but more so knowing that the ships could be sunk by enemy submarines.
In my article published in this newspaper on the 10 August, I mentioned that baby girl Athlone Angeles Lopes was born on board the SS Athlone Castle. This ship which was much faster than any of the convoys, carried nearly 1,600 evacuees consisting mainly of elderly, disabled persons, families with toddlers and maternity cases. Looking after these evacuees, were administrators, medical staff and a midwife. The largest convoy HG40, commanded by Commodore Creighton, consisted of 24 freighters. 12 of these freighters carried an assortment of stores ranging from iron ore to sardines.
The other 12 freighters which carried the evacuees were the Brittany, Strategist, City of Windsor, Balfe, Calumet, City of Evansville, Euryades, Dromore Castle, Baharistan, Swinburne, Beckenham and the Belgravian. These ships carried amongst them nearly 5,000 evacuees. Despite this large number of evacuees, the only medical facilities available in each of these ships was a first aid box!
A girl who had suffered serious injuries to her head as result of recent bombing was embarked on the City of Evansville without any medical attention to her injuries. Her wounds had to be attended throughout the whole journey by voluntary evacuees with very basic nursing skills.
According Commodore Creighton’s account during the journey that took sixteen days, there were twelve births which had to be assisted by the evacuees themselves. There were no medical staff to attend to a five-year old boy who died on the Dromore Castle and five elderly persons who died in different ships and had to be buried at sea.
The convoy’s log book reported that when it was approaching the northwest coast of Ireland, submarines were reported to be very active and the convoy's route was changed by Admiralty orders. Many emergency turns were also made, both during the day and during the night, in view of intelligence reports being received. A couple of ships carrying cargo lost touch with the rest of the convoy but joined later after being machine gunned by a German aircraft but not damaged.
Conditions at sea were reported to be very trying for the women and children when strong north westerly winds with heavy seas and thick squalls were experienced in the approaches to the Irish Sea. 50 miles west of Tory Island, another German aircraft flew over the convoy but was chased off by gunfire from the only escort ship - HMS Wellington.
When nearing the Isle of Man, the master of the City of Windsor requested permission to put in to Liverpool as they were desperately in need of food for evacuees who had been purposely boarded in this ship because they were diabetics.
Although Commodore Creighton initially approved the request, the master of ship advised as to the dangers of stray ships being venerable to be bombed by enemy aircraft. Considering this advice, Commodore Creighton decided that the diabetics could survive a few more hours rather than taking the risk of being sunk.
The City of Windsor, therefore, maintained its scheduled course and speed with the rest of the ships in the convoy. Despite the strict instructions for the ships to stay within the convoy, no mention is made in the convoy’s report about the fact that the Brittany had detached from the convoy to disembark 718 evacuees at Liverpool on the 12 August 1940.
This unexplained detachment by the Brittany from the main convoy led, in some way, to another interesting anecdote. On arriving at Liverpool expecting mother, Mrs Angeles Felices was conveyed about 350 kilometres to give birth in a hospital in Glasgow.
When the evacuees were arriving in the UK, all the major cities and ports were being bombed as part of Germany’s invasion plans. Liverpool was a very important port and was one of the worst bombed cities after London. Given the war scenario in Liverpool it is logical to think why Mrs Felices did not stay in Liverpool to give birth.
However, what is not known is why she was made to travel such a long distance from Liverpool to Glasgow and not taken to a place which was safe and much nearer. The whole of the Clyde region was also an important German target. Glasgow was first bombed on 10 July 1940 – the day of the start of the Battle of Britain. It suffered other series of bombings with the worst one between 13 and 14 March 1941 when the city was largely destroyed and 1,200 people died.
Whatever the reasons for making Mrs Felices travel so far, she gave birth to a baby boy Joseph Felices on the 21 August at Stobhill Hospital, Glasgow. After spending sometime in hospital, Mrs Felices, her newly born baby boy and all the family accompanying them were taken first to Liverpool and then to London.
As to the other eleven ships which stayed within the convoy to carry the rest of the evacuees, these continued southwards and arrived off Milford Haven on the 13 August 1940. From there they proceeded towards the Bristol Channel. Because of the presence of mines in the assigned ports, the ships had to wait until onward routing orders were sent off by boat. After the clearance instructions were received, the ships then proceeded towards their respective ports for the disembarkation of evacuees.
The Strategist, Balfe, City of Evansville, Euraydes and Baharistan berthed at Swansea with 2,194 evacuees. The Dromore Castle, Swinburne, Beckenham and Belgravia berthed at Cardiff with 1,368 evacuees. The Calumet and the City of Windsor berthed at Avonmouth with 726 evacuees.
During my research I got to know about two other children, namely Lydia Pozo and Charles Cartwright who were born in Scotland but not exactly where. Their expecting mothers arrived with their families at Liverpool on board the Athlone Castle on the 6 August 1940.
The same as in the case of Mrs Felices, Mrs Cartwright and Mrs Pozo were also conveyed from Liverpool to Scotland to give birth. Apart from the obvious reasons for not giving birth in Liverpool owing to the bombing, the reasons as to why these expecting mothers were made to travel such a long distance to give birth in Scotland continues to be an enigma.