Gibraltar on Thames

by Simon Fowler

During the Second World War Richmond housed hundreds of women and children who were evacuated from Gibraltar in June 1940 because of fears that the Germans and Italians would attempt to seize it.

Initially, 13,000 Gibraltarians were hurriedly sent to Casablanca and Rabat in Morocco, which was then controlled by France. Following the fall of France and increasing hostility of the Vichy government, they had to flee with just a few hours’ notice. Some 12,000 people eventually arrived in Cardiff, Liverpool and other ports during the summer of 1940, with smaller numbers going to Madeira and Jamaica. They were sent to London where they were billeted in hotels. Many children attended school at the Victoria & Albert Museum throughout the Blitz.

In April 1941, a large party of Gibraltarians came to Richmond, which was regarded as being safer than London. They were billeted in Buckingham House and Marlborough House which were part of Courtlands, a complex of newly built flats on Sheen Road.

Courtlands already housed many refugees, some of whom had fled the Spanish Civil War. On 21 September 1940 a mine landed directly on one of the blocks – Runnymede House – killing eight people including five Germans and Czechs.

Among the new arrivals was Mary Bosano, then aged nine, who came with her mother and brothers and sisters. Her father – a dock policeman – remained on the Rock. Now aged nearly 90, she remembers how she and her brothers and sister so enjoyed being in Richmond – the freedoms and in particular the space (compared to where they lived in Gibraltar’s Old Town). Mary joined the local Brownie pack and her older sister, Aida, was a Girl Guide. The pack met in a church hall on Richmond Green.

Mary went to school at the Marist Convent. The school was housed in temporary accommodation in Fife Road, East Sheen as the convent itself had been destroyed during the Blitz. She also remembers the pond adjacent to Queens Road as she was bitten by an Alsatian dog that lived at the Black Horse pub on the corner with Sheen Road.

The Bosanos left Richmond in October 1943, living for a few months in the Balmoral Hotel in Kensington, before making the return sailing to Gibraltar in April 1944. They were among the first to return as priority was given to families who had left menfolk behind in Gibraltar.They were the lucky ones. Many families did not return home until 1951, having lived for some years after the war in old army camps in Northern Ireland.

Thanks to Paul D Lane who supplied the photograph and his mother’s memories of her time in Richmond. This article was originally published in Twickenham & Richmond Tribune on Friday 5 February 2021.