The People of Gibraltar

1845 - The Loreto Nuns - 23. Personal Tragedy

Sister Lorcan and Mr and Mrs Dalia - Sister Milagrosa McGovern
Sister Thomas More Devaney  and Mother Dympna - Father Azzopardi
Guilhermina Emilia Mary and sons

Gibraltar at war

The nuns were in Europa for just one week preparing for evacuation to England and thence to Ireland when tragedy struck. On the evening of Thursday July 18th 1940 the first bombs fell on the Rock. The Bay and the harbour, with all its British military and commercial shipping, was now a target for the Italians, the French and the Germans. 

On this night an Italian plane off-loaded its bombs short of the Bay, and three fell on the Rock in the South district. The first fell on Loreto Convent Europa, killing Sister Lorcan, Mr Dalia the gardener and his wife and causing considerable damage to the convent. Sister Milagrosa McGovern and Sister Thomas More Devaney were injured and taken to the hospital. This was one of the few bombs which fell on the Rock itself during the War; most of the rest fell in the Bay or the harbour. Sister Lorcan’s welcoming smile would be missed. She had spent most of her life in Gibraltar.

Loreto Convent after the bombing  (1940 )

At last, after several further problems on a long sea journey and a short stay in London, the nuns from the Convent Place community, who had left Gibraltar on July 21st in a convoy of thirteen ships, finally arrived in Ireland on August 4th. They were welcomed by the whole Community out on the steps and by the Europa nuns who had arrived some days earlier on the “Athlone Castle”. 

The Athlone Castle

No doubt because of their recent traumatic experience they had been allocated First Class accommodation in this beautiful new ship. The sea journey to England was seen as another opportunity for service. 
The Elementary School nuns went in and out among the evacuees, cheering and comforting them. Mother Dympna helped Fr Azzopardi to arrange the altar for Mass and to gather the children together for hymns and rosary in the evening. Mother Superior supplied many rosaries, scapulars and medals, all of which were eagerly taken. Some of the ship’s crew were Catholics and they too gathered round us and were supplied with holy objects. 
The journey to England of the Convent Place Community was different.
 We got on board and were taken to the hold where we were to spread out our mattresses and make ourselves as comfortable as we could for the journey!!
In Gibraltar ships in the Bay were constantly mined and bombed. Two Italian frogmen in the Bay of Gibraltar were picked up by the Pilot boat, offered a cigarette each and handed in to the Police. It began to look as if Gibraltar might be in danger if Spain entered the War on the side of the Nazis. Anyone in a Nazi-held Gibraltar and in possession of Spanish gold smuggled out of Spain during the recent Civil War would have been put in front of a firing squad! 

Gibraltar at war - Winston Churchill in Gibraltar

Two pilots (Guilhermina Emilia Mary’s sons) who had been given Spanish gold coins by family friends, the Fergussons and Cookes from Jerez, took it out in small canvas bags and dumped it off the side of the Pilot boat into the Bay. It must be there still. Gibraltarians in England endured constant bombing raids, Gibraltarians in Jamaica felt far away from home, Gibraltarians in Madeira and Tangier felt displaced, for all that they continued to enjoy good weather. . .