The People of Gibraltar
1965 - Crisis in Gibraltar - Anthony Burgess


Anthony Burgess was a Catholic author and composer. A Clockwork Orange is -  I suspect - his best known work perhaps because it was adapted by Stanley Kubrik into what was at the time a very controversial film. More to the point, he joined the army during WWII and was stationed in Gibraltar for several years.


Anthony Burgess

It was within the pages of  The Spectator - a right-wing pro Conservative Party magazine with close editorial connections with the Telegraph and the Party itself - that Burgess wrote the following article on the Rock a couple of years before the well-known referendum of 1967 in which Gibraltarians voted overwhelmingly to keep their British status. Gibraltar must have been on his mind as he had just written his first novel - A Vision of Battlements -which was based on his WWII experiences on the Rock.


A vision of endless battlements - the Northern Bastions   (Late 19th century - James H Mann)
Crisis in Gibraltar - by Anthony Burgess

The Gibraltarians have, up till now, always I been the first to admit that they had plenty to be thankful for. Against the hard bare fact of the rock, ubiquitous and austere like a Puritan God, the easy pleasures of life in a compact, Catholic, Mediterranean community have to be set. Gibraltar is crammed but not cramped. In two and a half years I walked over every inch of it, and I can testify to its scenic variety, its wealth of flowers, the sense of space derived from its janitorship of two continents.   
The sun is sometimes shut out by the liverish Levant, but not for long. The conditions of well-being are either free or duty-free. This is Calypso's land, very beguiling; calling here, one would gladly put off the rest of the Odyssey indefinitely. The Gibraltarians, who are no fools, are not much tempted to emigrate.

Catholic Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned - Calypso Land  ( More or less contemporary)
But various small grievances, now swollen, have always nagged at them. They have never been taken seriously enough by the rest of the world, meaning that small part of the world that knows they exist. Popular novelists call them `Gibraltese' and visiting sailors call them 'Rock scorpions.' They have no sense of ethnic identity. 

Main Street Gibraltar overwhelmed with British sailors on shore leave  - and just a few Gibraltese - aka “rock Scorpions” - walking away in the background  (1954)
Their stock is compounded of Genoese, Maltese, Moroccan, Portuguese and time-expired British elements, though some Spanish blood has inevitably trickled in from La Linea and Algeciras. They are bilingual, though Spanish has to be taken as their first language, since it colours their English. Their Spanish is that of Andalucía, somewhat blurred and weak on the s-phoneme. 
Unfortunately they have no real indigenous culture—no literature, no music or painting. It is easier to get these from Spain or the UK than to grow them on rock. They are forced to lean. Geography makes them lean one way and history another. Geography is an accident, however; history starts as an accident and ends as a matter of conscious choice and deliberate aspiration. The Gibraltarians are determined to be British.

Determined to be British   (1967)
Being British has, up till the start of the Spanish trouble, been too passive a state for the Gibraltarians' own good. The colonial sun shone, the guard was changed outside the Convent and the Ceremony of the Keys took place every Wednesday evening on the Casemates. I helped to train the Gibraltar Defence Force during the war and found a number of its members hotly resentful that there should be a war on; I never saw, during the period of post-war rehabilitation, the same eagerness to learn that characterises the Chinese classrooms of Malaya. 

The 1942 intake of the Gibraltar Defence Force - known locally as el gee-di-ef
Things are, I know, somewhat different now, and perhaps the old politician's cry of  'el gibraltareño es apatetico' sounds hollow in face of the Spanish pressure. And, since the war, some of the famous Gibraltar family names have rung in contexts other than commercial. 
Chiappe, Xiberras, Bruzon, Restano, Garcia, Galliano—they were all there, with other signatories, at the foot of a letter to the Catholic Herald on March 5. Part of the agony that Gibraltarians feel during the present crisis with Spain comes from the fact that a great Catholic country is oppressing a smaller one.  
The Catholicism of Gibraltar is at least as devout as that of Ireland, and it takes the baroque forms of Iberia. But the Gibraltarians are now disillusioned about (I quote from this letter) `the avowed "Catholicity" of the Spanish Government,' which will not even allow altar wine from Jerez to pass on to the Rock. They look for some protest from English Catholics against Spain's illiberalism, but it seems that English Catholics are sympathetic to 'Franco's claim to have delivered Spain from Communism and to have established a "Catholic" State.' 
There has been especial bitterness about a letter from an English Catholic journalist, Mr. Hugh Kay, who, in the March 19 issue of the same newspaper, seemed to corroborate the Spanish claim to Gibraltar. 'Britain should yield her sovereignty over the last remaining piece of colonial territory in Europe,' but should expect to hold a position on the Rock 'at least comparable to that of the US at the nearby naval base of Rota.'  
Mr. Kay talks of the disruption of Spain's `territorial integrity' and even quotes, in support of the alleged unity of feeling of all Spaniards on this issue, the words of the Republican Professor Salvador de Madariaga : "That Spain wants Gibraltar cannot even be discussed . . . she cannot even be without wanting it." 
The legal situation is, admittedly, a tricky one. The Treaty of Utrecht precludes self-determination for Gibraltar, but—in the election last year that followed the Lansdowne Conference—the Gibraltarians determined their own future. The position now, as the recent White Paper emphasises, is the one that Gibraltar as well as Britain desires—`a full measure of participation by the people of Gibraltar in the conduct of their domestic and municipal affairs' while 'the sovereignty of Gibraltar remains with Her Majesty. 
That a free people should unanimously decide to remain a colony sticks in the craw of a nation that has had little success in the managing of a colonial empire; meanwhile, to progressives who have never lived for even a month in a British colony, the very term 'colony' can hold nothing but the most violently pejorative connotations. 

A "Colony" . . . but British
The people who should decide whether or not it is degrading to retain colonial status are the ordinary men and women, not the demagogues or the doctrinaire blatherers, no matter how high-minded their vicarious, which means abstract, aspirations. The Gibraltarians I know, and I have known many, are quite sure what they want. They want to be British. After all, they have been British for 250 years.
The legalistic arguments resolve themselves into semantic hair-splitting. If self-determination can mean a determination to abrogate self- determination, is this still the self-determination the Spaniards regard as a violation of the Treaty of Utrecht? As for logic, does it follow from the British granting of limited self-government that (I quote Mr. Kay again) there may be `an ultimate escalation' - there's an emotive word for you - to outright independence should the local community desire it in the future?' 
The Gibraltarians know the paradox. Such a desire would mean a different kind of colonisation— one that the progressives would be right to condemn but, dreaming of 'territorial integrity,' undoubtedly would not. 
The ceding of Gibraltar to Spain would not represent the fulfilment of a natural pattern. Territorial unity means nothing in face of the claims of race, history and, most of all, the will of an educated, liberal and tolerant people. The Gibraltarians do not want to be on bad terms with Spain, and the proposals of Mr. S. A. Seruya, a member of the Gibraltar Legislative Council, expressed in a letter to The Times on April 3, are as enlightened as one would expect from an informed and articulate British citizen.  
His theme is co-operation—cultural and commercial - for the common benefit of Spain and Gibraltar, a serious attempt to suppress smuggling, the granting to Spain, on the Rock, of facilities already enjoyed by NATO members, a greater British participation in Spain's Four - Year Development Plan, and so on. The Gibraltarians are responding with reason and dignity to the vindictiveness of Spain. One expects no less from British people.

NATO units in the harbour   (1960s)

I have no intention of writing another biography for Mr Burgess but perhaps the above should be viewed after taking into account the following.

Burgess may have spent most of the war stationed in Gibraltar but whatever warlike activity he was ever involved in he probably managed to keep to an absolute minimum. During his six years in the army he only never managed to achieve a rank no higher than that of Warrant Officer. 

After the Armistice, however, he was forced to remain in the army and was sent back to Gibraltar where he was instructed to organise some kind of educational system for the “natives” and was made responsible for the running of an adult educational facility - the Gibraltar Evening Institute. He was later involved in the re-equipment of local schools for children and taught classes in several subjects.

As mentioned Burgess came from a Catholic working class family but he often expressed his dislike - not to say contempt - for Gibraltarians with similar backgrounds - which is what many of his adult pupils were. This is how an anonymous “friend” described him:
He was frightfully conservative in politics. He complained that he’d been to a dance drill hall at Adderbury. He objected to working-class people there .  . . .  He had this toffee-nosed attitude to people he didn’t think were of his own social or intellectual class.
In a follow up article on Gibraltar published in 1966 in the Manchester Guardian he ridiculed Gibraltarians because they “liked singing God Save the King”. Their policemen, he said, were just “biscuit-complexioned bobbies”  



The wall of the Spanish Pavilion with posters advertising films for local cinemas   ( Early 1960s )

I would suggest that Burgess got this one wrong - all the cinemas displaying their wares on the wall of the photo shown above always played the National Anthem when the film had ended - Anybody who has ever witnessed the mad rush for the exit to avoid having to stand up and keep still for the duration would have soon realised that it wasn’t the locals who had a penchant for what was known as el godsafedeking but their colonial masters. And I should know - I spent a good portion of my waking time inside one or other f those cinemas during the 1960s. 

In other words Burgess may have actually felt a certain affection for the Rock itself and its complex and interesting historical background - but as for most of the local people who lived there both during and after the war . . .  that was another story.