The People of Gibraltar
2017 - The Military Road - Summer in Gibraltar

Sir Herbert Miles and Lieut-Colonel A.R.O Williams - James Lucas Imossi
Rosa and Josephine  Lucas Imossi - Sir Arthur Dudley Ward and Viscount Gort

Summer in Gibraltar meant going to the beach - at least to the vast majority of the local population. For those who preferred the eastern beaches there were three main options - el Mar de levante or Eastern Beach, the biggest and for many the mostest, La Caleta (see LINK) and its small but pleasant Catalan Bay village with its bars, restaurants and other amenities, and finally Sandy Bay, (see LINK) remote by Gibraltar standards and by far the least popular mainly because it was an absolute pain to get to it.

A rare photograph of the eastern side of the Rock showing all three beaches - El Mar de Levante in the far distance, Catalan Bay in the middle and Sandy Bay closest to the camera   ( 1950s )

But let me get the geography right - if I can! At the time of writing I suspect that all you needed to do to get to any of these beaches is to hop into your car and drive along under the shadow the North Face of the Rock and along Devil’s Tower Road. (See LINK) If it’s Eastern Beach you are after then you turn north just before you get to Sir Herbert Miles Road - if your preference is for either Catalan or Sandy Bay - then you just continued south.

The northern end of Sir Herbert Miles Road is a continuation of Devil’s Tower Road which lies under the shadow of the sheer face of the North Front of the Rock. 

The beginning of Sir Herbert Miles Road in the foreground and a gloomy looking Eastern Beach stretching away in the distance behind the old with the old incinerator   ( 1930 )

The road continues along Gibraltar’s eastern coast, skirts Catalan Bay - the side road to the village is called Catalan Bay Road - and ends a mile or so away a short distance after the southern end of Sandy Bay and at the start of the Dudley Ward Tunnel.

Originally only a track it was first made into a proper road in 1915-16 and was widened in 1918. As was the custom in those colonially influenced days it was named after Lieutenant-General Sir Herbert Miles who was Governor during WWI - from 1913 to 1918 to be precise. The name of the road was not one that too many people in Gibraltar knew about - I certainly didn’t and neither did the photographer on several of the photographs shown below. He called it the Military Road.

Sir Herbert Miles

A massive land slide in 1943 caused by nearby WWII tunnelling wiped out a whole section of the road from just south of Devil’s Tower Road and obliterated most of Catalan Bay Road. It meant that a makeshift Road had to be built to allow access to Catalan Bay Village - and by makeshift I mean makeshift. It was narrow, unstable and dangerous, The CaleteƱos called the pathway “ la trocha” - (the trail in English) - while the townies preferred “las Tablitas”.

Top secret it might once have been but here is the notice from the Governor to the War Office about the Catalan Bay land slip - note also the lack of a “Sir” when identifying Sir Herbert Miles Road   ( 1943 )

Top photo shows the middle section of the Catalan Bay path after the landslide looking south - the bottom one looks north towards Spain - It was known as “las tablitas” - “small wooden planks” in English - because that is what the surface of the road was covered with in order to make it just a bit more stable   ( 1950s )

It may have been referred to as a Military Road and the landslide that gave rise to it may also have had its origins with military activity but they certainly were never in any great hurry to repair the damage they were responsible for. When my family returned to Gibraltar in 1945 after our lengthy WWII evacuation to Madeira (see LINK) “las tablitas” were still there. And they continued to be there throughout my school days. 

Photographs showing a wider and “tablitaless” Catalan Bay Road as it approaches the village   ( 1930s )

At that time I belonged to that small and select group of Gibraltarians who preferred to go to Sandy Bay in summer. We went by bus and of course the “tablita” pathway could hardly cope with bicycles - much less buses.

The solution was to give the pathway a miss and travel through a military tunnel called Williams Way. It was named after Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Robert Owen Williams who was in charge of mining operations in Gibraltar during WWII. It was built in 1942 and the authorised version given for its construction - which I find hard to believe in - was that it was meant to bypass the landslide. 

I suspect that there were other more pressing military reasons for it than that - the tunnel also provided access to MacFarlane's Gallery and was also an entrance to an important fuel storage area among other things. Note also that there is no apostrophe in Williams Way - although documents written by British officials often spelt it - incorrectly in my opinion - as William's Way.

I am not sure what these people are doing here posing in front of the entrance - but that is exactly as I remember the entrance to Williams Way   ( 1955 )

Not that any of us who made the more or less daily trip through it during the summer months were overly interested in the history of Williams Way - I personally have only become aware of the details while researching it for this article. What I do remember is that the entrance was at the end of a small side road just off to the west of Catalan Bay Road. 

Williams Way was a dingy place with a nasty echo. It made the noise of the bus going through it quite unpleasant at times. I also walked through it a few times - despite the fact that it was probably illegal to do so as I remember always being rather apprehensive while doing so. The exit came out to another pathway which led on to Sir Herbert Miles Road at a point just mid way above Catalan Bay. 

Inside Williams Way    ( 1950s )

The Rock from the air from the north east - A is the entrance of Williams Way B is the exit point just above the village of Catalan Bay   ( 1945 )

Then came the hard bit - there were no buses from Catalan Bay to Sandy Bay which are approximately a mile distant from each other - if you wanted to go there you just had to walk roughly one and a half kilometres which would take about 20 minutes on a hot summer day. 

Sir Herbert Miles Road or Military Road - top photo looking north towards Catalan Bay - Bottom photo - looking south - Southern end of Sandy Bay just visible - The heavy seas suggest the photos were taken in a rather less hot and summery day        ( c 1920 )

Probably a charitable event organised by the local firm J Lucas Imossi and sons in aid of soldiers wounded during the Gallipoli campaign some of whom were brought to Gibraltar - James Lucas Imossi stands on the left with his wife Rosa Parody and his daughter Josephine - The photo was taken at almost exactly the same spot as the second one shown on the previous set    ( Probably 1915 )

Sir Herbert Miles Road or Military Road - top photo looking north towards Catalan Bay - Bottom photo - looking south and just above Sandy Bay on the left - The palm trees were no longer there after WWII but the Hottentot fig growing on the wall on the right had grown exponentially along the entire area as I remember it     (c 1920)

The Hottentot fig plants shown in the above illustration had been introduced specifically to stabilise Gibraltar’s Great Sand Dune - its invasive nature would one day prove a problem but I remember it as a welcome addition. Anybody under the age of twelve would often use its succulent leaves to write wet graffiti on pavements and walls. It was the ideal type of graffiti - the dark wet stains would quickly disappear as they evaporated under the sun.

Sandy Bay - a study in horizontal layers - The beach, retaining wall, Hottentot fig bank, the Military Road aka Sir Herbert Miles Road, the Water Catchments, the Rock and the sky   (1950s)

The end of Sir Herbert Miles Road in so far as the Sandy Bay beach going civilians were concerned was a couple of concrete pillars and a gate guarded by a policeman.  The Dudley Ward Way - another tunnel named after Sir Arthur Dudley Ward yet another Governor of Gibraltar - was built during the 1960s so theoretically I don’t suppose it was easily possible to continue southwards to Europa point. It certainly wasn’t for the civilian hoi polloi.  

Policeman guarding the gates at the northern end of Sir Herbert Miles Road

Somewhere further south and well beyond those gates was a relic of the war - the Monkeys Cave Convalescent Hospital built by the Royal Engineers in 1942. Yet another Governor - Viscount Gort - was in office but on this occasion the powers that be opted to name the hospital after the cave into which it was built. I have no idea whether it was possible to get to it from the north in 1942 or even during the time when I lived in Gibraltar. The truth is I never knew the place existed while I lived on the Rock.

Building the Monkeys Cave Convalescent Hospital - I can’t think of a less appealing place to convalesce - but of course not shown in the photograph is that it faced the sea ( 1942 )

The trip back home was of course the same in reverse - with one important difference. The wait for the bus back home via Williams Way could happily be postponed by a visit to a smallish bar cum restaurant  called La Terrasse (see LINK) - a name which this being Gibraltar was immediately changed to la Terrasa. It was the only establishment of this sort in the entire length of Sir Herbert’s Road - in fact I would guess that its address was No 1 Sir Herbert Miles Road as it was one and only building with an entrance on it on the mile long road.

La Terrasse

At the time of writing the road has become an attractive promenade, both Catalan and Sandy Bay have been hugely developed and include housing estates and hotels and of late it has become possible to circumnavigate the Rock. It is called progresses and in this case undoubtedly for the better. For a start I suspect nobody now remembers that it was once known as a “Military Road”.  

But the colour of nostalgia is rosy pink and those frequent, long, sweltering trips to Sandy Bay, with the eager anticipation of a quick change into a bathing costume and a dive into the cool surf on arrival, are still something that I think back on with great affection. 

The Bay and the Rock, taken by the same photographer who took many of the “Military Road” snapshots shown above     (c1920)