The People of Gibraltar
1943 - Journey to Gibraltar - Robert Henry - Introduction

R.H. is Robert Henry but I have no idea who he was other than that he wrote a book called A Journey to Gibraltar which was published in 1943. The book from which my digital copy is taken is not from the Garrison Library (see LINK) - although I am sure they must have a copy hidden away somewhere - but from the Hyderabad State Library - once known as the Asafia. Which is neither here nor there as the library is in India and the book deals with an account of a journey that took place in Europe during World War II.

Nevertheless I somehow find it subtly appropriate to write about a book which one can still find in an Indian library. A book in which the background noise is the defence of a nation and its empire - an empire of which both India and Gibraltar were very much a part of at the time. 

Air raid    (1942)

As it says on the title, the book is mainly about Henry’s trip rather than about Gibraltar. His experiences in Lisbon, Madrid and the Campo area - and a later visit to Tangier - take up most of the narrative with only about 10% of the book dedicated to Gibraltar.

The warships are HMS Hood and HMS Renown - The two gentlemen are relaxing on a bench in the “ Buleva de las Palmeras”  (Early 1940s)

My original intention was to deal exclusively with the Gibraltar section of the book  . . .  but I changed my mind when I noticed that his descriptions of Algeciras, San Roque - as well as a visit to the local fair and a bullfight in La Línea - were not just very readable but astonishingly recognisable. In fact nothing much seems to have changed for in that part of the world for over a decade and until well after my family had returned to Gibraltar in the late 1940’s from our enforced evacuation. 

Most of the human characters mentioned in the book are nameless British and foreign personnel involved in the war but I must admit I have no idea whether he was a military man himself or what he was doing in Gibraltar. In other words I don’t know very much about Richard Henry. Several Spaniards are clearly named but it is hard to tell whether other named civilians are Gibraltarians or Spaniards. 

The tone is a pleasant one throughout - his writing has more than a hint of Laurie Lee, (see LINK) with the same romantic feeling for nostalgia but perhaps with less of a critical eye. Although he does not mention it my feeling is that he spoke Spanish well, and gives the impression that he felt more at home in the Campo area than in Gibraltar - despite the abject poverty he encountered as a result of the recently ended Civil War.

Shanty Town like poverty in La Línea

Click on the links below for quotes and comments on the book: