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Veterans charity works to restore O’Hara’s Battery

Photos by Eyleen Gomez

Gibraltar's historic O’Hara’s Battery has had a facelift in recent days thanks to a dedicated team of military veterans and civilians from the UK who are working tirelessly to restore the landmark.

The team is working under the expert eye and guidance of Peter Jackson from the Gibraltar Heritage Trust.

The team, made up of a mix of navy and army, have been applying fresh coats of paint to the large battery and its barrel.

The work, which began with the removal of rust, is expected to be completed by the end of the week.

Their visit is credited to Alabaré a UK based charity which helps support vulnerable, homeless and marginalised people.

This follows their visit to the Rock last year where they worked on Lord Airey’s Battery.

The Chronicle spoke to some of the men and women working on O’Hara’s Battery.

Royal Navy veteran, Tim Wise, 63, has been to Gibraltar numerous times during his career in the military and is now getting ready to settle into his own home this summer, which he helped build in Plymouth. The self builds form part of the work that Albaré do.

A friend of his was involved with the charity’s work at Lord Airey’s Battery last year and she described the experience in such a positive way Mr Wise knew he wanted to be part of the next visit.

“When they gave me an opportunity to come this year. I just jumped at the chance,” he said.

“I was over the moon when they asked me to come out and it's the hard work. Especially in the sun.”

“But it is very rewarding as well. Essentially at the end of the day you go away feeling like you did something when you take a look back and see what you've done.”

Mr Wise also shed light on the changing face of Gibraltar over the past few decades. He expressed his amazement at the transformation he has witnessed since his last visit to the Rock decades ago.

He noted that much has changed, with numerous buildings and reclaimed land, popping up on both the east and west sides of the harbour.

Karen Langley, a 55 year old veteran, has returned to Gibraltar as part of a group of veterans for the second year in a row.

Last year, she was impressed with how much she got out of the experience. Not just in relation to the work she physically did but she also found the experience of working with the other veterans rewarding.

“It’s very hard work, extremely hard work, but I’m honoured to come out again with another group of veterans to do this,” she said.

“We've got a few more extra guys this time,” she added noting it makes the work somewhat easier.

She was pleased to see her work on Lord Airey’s Battery, which she did last year, again and her excitement is something she will get to share with her parents next week.

“It’s very emotional to come back. My Mum and Dad are on a cruise at the moment and they actually come to Gibraltar next Tuesday. I've taken advantage of staying a bit longer and be able to bring them up and show them because my Dad is an ex submariner and he has been to Gibraltar,” she said.

“And his best friend is ex Navy as well so to be able to bring them up here and show them what I have achieved is great.”

The group are due to leave Gibraltar on Sunday, while Ms Langley will remain until Wednesday. During her stay, she has enjoyed meeting locals and learning about the history of the area from them as well as finding out what do they think of the group being on the Rock.

According to her, the locals have been very welcoming, making her feel appreciated and valued.

Carl Coleman, 38, got involved with Albaré when a house he was living in became too dangerous. He wanted out and the charity provided him with a new chance in life.

“It was an absolute dreadful situation. Then I moved to Gosport which is okay. Fantastic, to be honest,” he said.

When the charity then offered him the chance to come out to Gibraltar he seized the opportunity.

Mr Coleman shared that the work in Gibraltar is hard graft, but he finds it rewarding to give back to charities.

However, the weather has been the most disappointing element he said.

When in the army he served seven years as an artillery man but had never been to Gibraltar before. He had the opportunity to travel to Iraq, Cyprus, Canada, Kenya, Poland, and Germany during his time in service.

He left in December 2008.

Unfortunately, in 2017 Mr Coleman was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2017.

“I got put in remission last October the 6th,” he said.

Matthew Donovan, 53, joined the Royal Navy when he was 19 in 1989. In 2011 after 22 years of service he left. During that time he served on two aircraft carriers, six type 42 destroyers and for a short time on the new type 45 destroyer HMS Daring.

“I have been to Gibraltar loads of times but mainly to the dockyard,” he said, but did admit he completed the infamous Rock run once, and only once. “Once was enough and I was in my early 20’s,” he added.

It has changed a lot since he was last here.

“These towers [Hassans Centenary Terraces], the buildings, the Marine has changed,” he said.

When asked if he thought it was for the better or worse he said he understood that with such limited space there was only room for buildings to go up.

“You've got to build up because it is a small area and the population is getting bigger,” he said.

“But I think it's good to be part of this project. Because the heritage of Gibraltar needs to be kept.”

On the actual work he is doing on the Battery he said he had not done it before so was a learning curve, and one he was enjoying.

“It is a good team, a good mix of ex-navy and ex-army,” he said.

Peter Jackson said the task to restore both O’Hara’s and Lord Airey’s Battery was enormous.

“They did a fantastic job on the gun behind us [Lord Airey’s] and hopefully they will carry that motion onto this one [O’Hara’s],” he said.

“We can’t call it just cosmetic but it's going to look a whole lot nicer when it's finished.”

“We've got other things going on at the same time. I have a guy called Dennis Abbott, who was here last year worked on the gun project. Excellent carpenter and joiner, so he's come back this year to help as well and he's putting his skills to good use and at Lord Airey’s Battery.”

Mr Jackson has been working on Lord Airey’s Battery for three years. It would take him 18 months to do what the group will achieve in one week such is their value and such is the dedication and hard work Mr Jackson does also.

The last time such extensive work was carried out on O’Hara’s Battery was in the early 90s.

The brutal elements of wind and sea air impact the Batteries and the steel it is not something you can replace with modern day metal.

“There's nothing like the original and the, the standard of the metals that we're working with there and the workmanship that went in from the start is fantastic,” said Mr Jackson.

“When you restore something on these guns, they look brand new. And you can't do that with modern equipment and modern metals.”

“It's just not the same.”

“This was built to last.”

“And, it's lasted, it's been blasted by this wind since World War Two.”

Which the bulkheads are rusted there is nothing they can do regarding this other than replace them but they do not have the money for that.

Mr Jackson believes if a five-year outer coat, the battleship grey coloured coat, was applied every five years the Batteries would be in good shape for many more decades to come.

Mr Jackson is known for his knowledge and passion of Gibraltar’s Heritage.

“As I like to tell everybody that if we don't protect and look after these things, they're going to be gone and we can't move forward as a people unless we know where we're coming from.”
“These are big markers of that. These gave security to whole of the Mediterranean.”

“So, it is important what we do and I believe I wouldn't be here if I didn't think he was.”

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