Francis Cosquieri. Other stories from the evacuation: spending the Second World War in Tangiers

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The evacuation is certainly one of the major events of Gibraltar’s recent history. It is during the evacuation that, according to many, Gibraltarians started feeling increasingly detached from their Spanish and North African neighbours as they lived years away from the Rock in England, Madeira or Jamaica. However, not everyone went where the British Government offered to displace them. As Francis Cosquieri – an 88-year-old Gibraltarian of Maltese origins – tells us here indeed, few Gibraltarians did not leave the Mediterranean as they crossed the Straits and established themselves in Tangiers until the end of the Second World War.

Audio Interview (12-03-2015):


FC: Well, during the evacuation, we didn’t go to England or Madeira. My mother had relatives in Tangiers. So my father decided that we should go to Tangiers instead. I was about… At the time I was about, what? 10, 10 years old.
IN: 10 years old.
FC: 19… 1926. 1936 I was 10. The war started in 39: so I was 11, 12 years old.
IN: Sí. So, you remember, huh?
FC: And, we went to Tangiers and lived in Tangiers for four years.
IN: Did you spend the whole of the war in Tangiers?
FC: I spent the all four years in Tangiers, except going now and again on a trip to Tetouan and… Marrakesh and all those places. But…
IN: Who went? Who went – your mother?
FC: My mother…, my grandmother, my great-uncle and the family of my elder brother’s fiancé. So we hired… We hired the house in Tangiers and lived there during the four years.
IN: Four years.
FC: Which was quite… nice, mind you.
IN: You didn’t…
FC: It was beautiful in Tangiers at the time. It was international. There were representatives from all – practically – all nations. There was a British Embassy, French Consulate, Spanish Consulate, Italian Consulate: the whole world.
IN: Sí. And were there other Gibraltarians there?
FC: There were. We were about five hundred Gibraltarians.
IN: ¿Ah, sí?
FC: About five hundred. And I will tell you one thing. There is a… A statue in commemoration or in remembrance of the evacuees, at the crossroads of, um…
IN: Where?
FC: The road leading to, to Morrison’s.
IN: [Ah, sí, sí, sí].
FC: [There is a statue in the middle of the]… Of the crossroads there. All the three places where Gibraltarians were taken are named there: namely the United Kingdom, Madeira and… Jamaica.
IN: Jamaica, but not…
FC: Tangiers was left out.
IN: Why? Why do you think?
FC: I don’t know why. Because… Possibly because we paid our way.
IN: That’s what I was going to say. It wasn’t arranged by the government.
FC: We paid our way. We didn’t get any… Any grants… Any grants from anyone.
IN: But then you should have. More so, [you should have been mentioned then].
FC: [And for some families it wasn’t very nice,] you know.
IN: I can imagine.
FC: Because not everyone had the funds sufficient to stay…
IN: Comfortably…
FC: All the time in Tangiers.
IN: Claro, claro. Your father went as well or he stayed here?
FC: My father… Actually, my father came to accompany us. But before… we went… He was a very, a very good friend of the Defence Security Officer, Major – I don’t remember his name. But, anyway: before we went, my father went to see him and asked him that – or rather told him – that he was going over to Tangiers to accompany his family, but that he wanted to come back. And the Defence Officer told my father, ‘Look, Peter’ – my father was Peter.
IN: Peter.
FC: ‘You go with your family to Tangiers, stay there for a while, and when you want to come back, let me know by… By whatever means you [can manage].
IN: [Fancy].
FC: So my father stayed with us for about a month or so. After that, after a month or so… He had a business in Gibraltar.
IN: Sí. What did he do?
FC: He was an ironmonger.
IN: [Ah, right… Sí, sí …].
FC: [He had an ironmongery shop]. So when he… When he decided to come back, he wrote to the Defence Officer. But that particular Defence Officer had been posted somewhere else. And the one who was didn’t know my father and didn’t want to attend and give any permission to – for anyone – to come back to Gibraltar. So, he had to stay the whole four years.
IN: Anda ya, ¿sí? Hay qué ver… What a story!
FC: The whole four years. And my, my two brothers remained in Gibraltar. They stayed at the business and managed it for… For the duration…
IN: Your brothers? Your brothers? ¿Sí?
FC: My brothers, yes.
IN: Your older brothers.
FC: I had two older brothers, Antonio and Umberto.
IN: Hay qué ver, ¿qué situación?
FC: Yes. And I had a sister as well, but she was in London.
IN: How come? How come?
FC: She was married to a Spanish…Spanish subject. And the Spanish subject… Those who resided in Gibraltar had to leave and go to Lon… And go to England. Because they were, before they were… Shall I say? Let free, they had to be… In a sort of a concentration camp. But after that, they were released. And my sister was there in… In London all the time.
IN: With her, [with her husband].
FC: [All through the Blitz as well] as the rest of the Gibraltarians.
IN: Claro, claro.
FC: As the rest. And, well, after the war she came back and we all were reunited in Gibraltar.
IN: Claro, claro. And she stayed living in Gibraltar.
FC: She stayed in Gibraltar.
IN: Yeah?
FC: Yes. Her husband was an engineer: something to do with the cinemas.
IN: Ah. And then in Tangiers, did you go to school? Was it a normal life?
FC: In Tangiers…
IN: [With Gibraltarian children].
FC: [In Tangiers, four Christian Brothers] went over to Tangiers to… in order to be with the Gibraltarians. Brother O‘Bryan, Brother Mercy, Brother Healy and Brother O’Toole. They opened up a school – make up school – and one of them came over to Gibraltar – he was allowed to come over back to Gibraltar – and collected the… Whatever books he could manage, from the Sacred Heart School and he took them over. And during the four years, we were at school with them. Mind you, we could have gone to the French Lycée.
IN: As well.
FC: Or the Spanish Lycée.
IN: It’s true. It’s true.
FC: Which were excellent, excellent places of education. But, being Gibraltarians, we went to the Christian Brothers’ school. After that, when they came back, the first thing I had to do was the Gibraltar Defence Force. Huh.
IN: No me digas, ¿sí?
FC: Huh, so that was six, six months. I had to…
IN: Six months? Huh!
FC: With the Gibraltar Defence second intake and… First, the first battery was the West Battery, two months with West Battery. Then two months at South Battery and two months at… Where the big, big gun is, err…
IN: In Rosia?
FC: Rose… Rosia… Rosia, that’s right.
IN: And what do you remember coming back to your house? How was that like?
FC: Well, my… My first… I was very glad obviously. I was very glad coming back to Gib. And I had to join the GDF for six months service, which I did. And during that time, the war ended. That was 1944.
IN: Claro, claro.
FC: Actually we were… In my time, at the time we were at war, we were still at war, [because we…].
IN: [When you came back].
FC: We came over from Tangiers when the war… The war was not yet ended.
IN: No me digas, sí.
FC: And we were on active service.
IN: Really? So it’s…
FC: At the… On active service at…
IN: Your family came back as well, your mother as well?
FC: Oh, yes, yes.
IN: Before the war ended? ¿Sí?
FC: Yes, before the war ended in 1944, no? Err…
IN: Why? Why did you come back before the…?
FC: Because we were allowed to come back.
IN: ¿Sí?
FC: Because the war was practically over.
IN: Ah, everything was sorting itself out.
FC: Actually, the war in Europe was over. Only remained the war in the Far East.
IN: Sí, sí, sí, sí, sí. It was safe in other words. [Claro, claro].
FC: [But we were allowed to come back]. And we were all about, pf… From Tangiers about five or six hundred.
IN: And how did you come back? On what boat? Do you remember?
FC: We came on the… We came back on… On the Gibel Dersa.
IN: Gibel?
FC: Gibel Dersa. That was a Blands ferry boat, which went across to Tangiers every day – I think. I think she was… It was a daily run out from… Out from Gibraltar to Tangiers in the morning, and in the evening from Tangiers to Gibraltar.
IN: Sí. Like the Mons Calpe later. ¿No? More or less.
FC: And there was another. They also had another one, which was called Gibel Zerjon.
IN: Sí. Where did that…?
FC: But this was a cargo ship.
IN: Ah!
FC: And it used to supply… Go to the North coast of Morocco… And bring back supplies as well.
IN: Claro. Fruit and everything, no?
FC: But the other one was a… Was a passenger.
IN: Passenger.
FC: Passenger ship, yes.
IN: And how did it feel? Did you feel safe in Gibraltar when you came back? Sí.
FC: Quite safe, yes… Yes.
IN: Yes. But you say you were in active service.
FC: I was in active service there for six months.
IN: For six months.
FC: That was the GDF, the military. We had to do it. All youngsters had to do it. Six months service.

» Uncategorized » Francis Cosquieri. Other stories from...
On 25/07/2016
By Andrew Canessa

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