Lieutenant Ronald Alison McInnis served as an engineer during the First World War. He kept a diary of his experiences which included his involvement in major battles such as Ypres and Passchendaele. In 1919 he returned home on the troopship HTS Czar which called at Gibraltar. As far as one can make out from his diary entries the ship must have remained anchored in the Bay and he never actually landed on the Rock.
Entry about Gibraltar in the original diary written by hand by Lieutenant McInnis
McInnis later typed out a handwritten diary.The following is a transcript of the handwritten version;
Grey rock, barnacle like buildings, red roofs, green foliage, zigzag roads. Concrete retained in many places. Big guns here and there nestling close down to their emplacements. Palm trees dotted here and there, Gun-boat with paying off streamer as long as herself lying in harbour, Bum-boats selling oranges, figs and cigars.
Three main humps on Rock, Signal Hill on middle hump, Aerial railway leading up to it. Across the harbour in Spain is San Roque on top of a Hill, a very compact little town, white buildings with red roofs. The Rock is 1356 ft at the outer end.There is also a sort of aerial way at the shore end and where the cliff is perpendicular, running from the flat to near the top, about an angle of 45o.
At night it is a sight to remember. It is a great shadowy sphinx watching Spain with a mantle of brilliant jewels in the thickly clustered lights to about ¼ of the way up.There is a light right on the tail with a red section facing the entrance to the bay. From the outside it flashes long and short.
The eastern side of the Rock is strengthened with hundreds of tons of cement. During the war ships from England could only enter at night and to England in daytime.
The etymology, meaning and the spelling of this word varies from place to place. In Gibraltar they were often referred to as Bamboats and were a common sight for people visiting the Rock by sea even as far back as 1805 (see LINK). As McInnis reminds us these small harbour boats restricted themselves to selling fruit and refreshment as well as Giberaltar's main 'export' - tobacco in all its forms.
In the 20th century cheap souvenirs were included as useful selling items. The actually people who owned and ran these boats were rarely Gibraltarians. Most were inhabitants from the nearby Spanish towns of La Línea and Algeciras.
Gibraltar Bumboats ( 1953 - Ralph Crane ) (See LINK)
The Aerial Railway seen from the north ( 1891 - Hauser Y Menet - Detail )
This is a relatively rare reference to a funicular type of contraption that was used to transport military lookouts and supplies right up to the Signal station mentioned by the diarist. In 1894, the Graphic magazine carried the following article on the Railway.
From the day when Gibraltar was captured by Admiral Rooke in 1704, (see LINK) the art of the engineer has been constantly employed in strengthening the naturally powerful defences of this mighty fortress which at the present time is considered impregnable.
A recent important addition to these is the aerial railway which now connects the signal station with the south end of the town. By means of it matériel of all kinds- formally conveyed in carts by steep and tedious route - is now transferred to the summit of the rock in less than five minutes. At the north end of the Alameda is an engine-house, from which two cables rise, with a stretch of three hundred yards, as far as the edge of the cliff.
Above this point the convex shape of the rock necessitated their being raised to the required height from the ground by means of huge trestles. The longest wire span in Europe (unsupported between the ends) is that of a similar railway in the Pyrenees, no less than twelve hundred yards in length. A powerful horizontal engine works hawsers connected with the two cars, pulling the one up and the other down simultaneously.
Although to those ignorant of the laws of gravity, an ascent appears to be fraught with peril, there is not the least danger of the cars overturning or the cables breaking.The latter although capable of resisting a strain up to seventy tons, are not required to carry a load of more than one-twelfth of that weight. The peak on which the Signal Station stands has for centuries past served for the same purpose, as is shown by its Spanish name of "El Hacho" which means a faggot saturated with pitch - the bale-fire of olden times.
Our illustration is by H. Rose, Lieutenant, Black Watch, Gibraltar.
The Aerial Railway (1894 - The Graphic Magazine )
In Gibraltar's local patois or Llanito (see LINK) the Aerial Railway was inevitably christened El Carrito el Lacho.
McInnis perhaps understandably misinterpreted what he saw on the eastern side. The Czar was anchored in the harbour which faces the western part of the Rock. He must have caught a glimpse of the eastern cliffs when the ship entered the Straits on the way to its next port of call in Malta.
What he must have seen was a large section of the great sand dunes covered with corrugated iron sheets attached to a timber framework. They formed part of a water catchment system built at the beginning of the century. By 1916 nearly 100 000 m2 were covered with these sheets which from a distance gave the appearance of being a huge, sloping, cemented surface.
The Water Catchments in 1944 - the cloud over the Rock is known locally as the levanter ( Unknown )
The Water Catchments shortly before they were dismantled ( 1992 - Jim Linwood )
The light at 'the end of the tail' was of course the Trinity lighthouse at Great Europa point. The referenced to the 'red section' is odd. The modern lighthouse does have a wide red strip painted across the middle section the tower. However older photographs show it minus the red section.
Lighthouse in the late 19th century ( National Archives )
Lighthouse in the early 20th century ( L. Roisin ) (see LINK)
Lighthouse in the 21st century ( Willi Doyen )