Sister Trinidad Garcia and Mother Joseph Peter O’Donnell
Sister Rita Gaffney and Mother Hildegarde - Mother Eustelle McNamara
Mother Patricia Dwyer and Mother Dympna - Mother Regina
Sir Clive Liddell and Tilly Nacimiento - Elena Romero and Anita Fuentes
Dona Abrines and Marie Garde - Sister Regina Ramsey and Mother Francis Gerard
Mother Ethelreda and Mother Dympna Crowley and Guilhermina Emilia Mary
Children playing near the harbour in 1937 - they would not be playing there for much longer
Sister Trinidad Garcia died in Gibraltar in November 1937, aged ninety. She must have been concerned for the plight of her country. Originally from San Roque, she had worked and lived on the Rock for sixty-nine years since 1862. Might she have been a member of one of the pre-1704 Gibraltarian families who left when the British took Gibraltar? Sister Trinidad joined Loreto when she was twenty-one . . Her closest friend, confidant and spiritual director was Mother Hildegarde whose Spanish was fluent, albeit with a soft Irish accent. . .
In those days, water had to be carried upstairs to the bedrooms daily. When the fresh water supply was running low salt water (sea water) and fresh water were mixed to use for washing. Until relatively recently the supply of potable water in Gibraltar has always been problematic and people have always been conscious of having to use it sparingly. Most houses in Gibraltar had salt water taps in their kitchens and bathrooms as well as the ordinary drinking water taps. Baths were usually taken in salt water or in a mixture of salt and fresh water. In the Convent in Europa Sister Trinidad was evidently in charge of seeing that the water for washing was carried upstairs. This served her as a useful bargaining ploy: if you disobliged her she would say, “Tonight—mixity!” . . .
Casemates ( 1937 - Gustavo Bacarisas ) (See LINK)
When Mother Joseph Peter O’Donnell was due to leave Gibraltar the girls and their parents all signed an appeal to try to get Rathfarnham’s decision reversed. This was at least the second Loreto Sister who was the subject of such a petition! But Mother Peter left, and when she did several of the girls went out on the tender to see her off on the ship. As a farewell gift they had secretly managed to get a copy of her signature, which they then arranged to have impressed on to a gold Parker pen by someone in the Dockyard who did engraving.
On January 11th 1939 Sister Rita Gaffney died. . . The Spanish Civil War ended in 1939, Spain was left in tatters and the rest of the world braced itself for yet another conflict. That year Mother Eustelle McNamara arrived to replace Mother Patricia Dwyer as Superior in Europa. In the summer of 1939 the Gibraltar Loreto nuns went to Tangier for their holidays as Spain was still unstable after its own Civil War. Rumours about the escalating political problems in Europe had been rife for some time and when the news got worse the nuns cut their holiday short and returned to the Rock.
At last Chamberlain declared war. Mothers Dympna and Regina heard the news one morning, early, while they were down at the Navy swimming club near what is now Queensway Quay. People in Gibraltar became very worried, and rumours began to circulate that the civilian population might not be allowed to remain on the Rock. Since 1704 Gibraltar had always been first and foremost a military garrison and on several occasions down the centuries, notably during the Great Siege, civilians have been moved out of the garrison to allow the military more scope for fulfilling their obligations to the Crown.
The authorities began to encourage those who could afford to do so to leave Gibraltar. The Loreto nuns made plans for some of their number to go to Seville should evacuation from Gibraltar become necessary, but events overtook them and in the end the Government made the decision for them. . . As tension mounted the Campo area crawled with German spies and the Italians set up a midget submarine base in a derelict ship, the “Olterra”, anchored in Algeciras. From here they harassed the British Fleets in Gibraltar with limpet and other mines.
The Olterra in Algeciras Bay with the Rock in the distance
Nine months after the onset of war in 1940 the authorities decided that it was no longer practical from a military point of view for civilians to remain on the Rock. The Army, Navy and Air Force could make good use of the base and according to Governor Sir Clive Liddell the civilian population would amount to “too many useless mouths” for the military to have to feed. All women and children and men in non-essential jobs were therefore to leave Gibraltar, while men in occupations essential to the war effort were obliged to remain.
Sir Clive Liddell - fifth from left in the front row - posing with several Spanish government officials after a meeting in the Convent (1940 )
On the evening of 17th June 1940 thirty-five Loreto nuns boarded the “Mohammed Abdel” and were evacuated to French Morocco with 1,100 women and children of Gibraltar. Many families were split up as some of the men had to remain behind. The School Certificate class at Convent Place would miss their examinations due to be taken in July that year. They were Tilly Nacimiento, Elena Romero, Anita Fuentes, Dona Abrines and Marie Garde.
A picnic organised by evacuees in Madeira. On the far left, my father and my mother. My brother Eric hold on to a rather anxious looking me and my sister Maruja sits to the left of the girl with the drivers cap. Just below her is her good friend Elena Romero (1940)
Sister Regina Ramsey describes the experiences of the nuns:
We took our mattresses, and put into them as much as we could, including a basin to wash in and other necessary items. We stitched up the mattresses with a packing needle and set off for the harbour. We were put on a boat without any knowledge of our destination. Most of us were ill. The journey was not too long, and we arrived in Casablanca – a beautiful city. It was a miniature of Paris.
The nuns were taken to the Majestic Hotel, and when we were there for a few days, Mother Francis Gerard and Mother Ethelreda went over to Rabat to search for accommodation. They rented two new flats. They bought divans for us, and we put our mattresses on these. We turned our cases up as stands for our basins. There were four of us in each room and we had one chair. This had to be brought to the other apartment where we had one room which served as a Prayer Room, a Community Room, Dining Room and School Room.”
A few weeks later France fell and in order to prevent the Axis Powers from gaining the advantage of the French Fleet Britain bombed much of it in Oran. Immediately French Morocco, as it then was, vented its anger on any British subjects within the country, who were told they must leave within twenty-four hours. An arrangement was made for British Subjects to be exchanged for French prisoners of war. There was great difficulty in getting any help from French citizens in Morocco and the Gibraltarians had to use their ingenuity to get their belongings to the docks in time.
Crowds assembled at John Mackintosh Square on 11th July 1940 and a petition was sent to the Governor asking him to allow the returning evacuees to land. He agreed - but only on the condition that they would accept an alternative evacuation plan
Mother Dympna Crowley managed to hire a donkey and cart, and this served the nuns very well. Guilhermina Emilia Mary (née Smith), now a grandmother for the first time and about Mother Dympna’s age, did much the same and found a cart, a donkey and a driver, and the family’s belongings were transported to the mole.
After long delays in a very hot sun the whole Gibraltar contingent, including the Loreto Nuns and the Christian Brothers, were put on to ships and sent back to Gibraltar where they arrived on Friday July 12th. At first they were told they would not be allowed to disembark, but the ships on which they travelled from Morocco had been left in such a filthy state by the French prisoners returning to Morocco that the Gibraltarian men left behind on the Rock petitioned the Governor to allow their families to disembark while the ships were cleaned up and re-provisioned.
When the nuns arrived back at Loreto Convent, Europa, the Army had already taken it over, but the soldiers moved into the lower part of the building and allowed the nuns to move back to the top floors. There is a story that one day a soldier carrying a tooth-mug came to one of the nuns asking for a little water so that he could shave. There was no water in the house – so he was offered lemonade for his shave, which he gladly accepted!