A History of the Chipulina Family
La Cabra de Thelmo - Operation Torch

1942 New Years Day was described by a journalist as 'the saddest Gibraltar has ever known.' There were few celebrations due to the curfew. There was also little to celebrate about. By this time there was a contingent of German P.O.Ws at Little Bay Camp. They were all Pioneer Corps soldiers. There was also a much larger contingent of Italian prisoners, also Pioneer Corps men. Some of these were either billeted at Crutchett's Ramp or worked there for a while. The tiles up in the terrace, until they were many years later over painted with waterproofing, were full of their graffiti, one of which read, 'Lorenzino Pranio, Prigioneri di guerra.'

Lieutenant-General Sir F. Noel Mason-MacFarlane, alias 'Mason-Mac', took over from Lord Gort, and the Aerodrome was completed. Some million and a half tons of rubble were hewn out of the rock and dumped into the sea at North Front. In the process Gibraltar lost its racecourse, football and cricket pitches and some of its most beautiful gardens. The building of the aerodrome violated the Treaty of Utrecht but there was precious little that the Spaniards could do about it.

Nevertheless throughout the war Spain allowed as many Spaniards to cross daily into Gibraltar as could find work there. During periods of peak demand in the dockyard as many as 13 000 Spaniards held passes out of Spain and into Gibraltar. Of these 2 000 were women who worked as domestic servants and shop assistants. The security problems were enormous.

Passes issued to Spanish workers. This one is dated 1936

As British military personnel were also allowed to visit Spain, the bars and cafes of La Linea and Algeciras became a convenient hunting ground for secret agents of both sides. German military intelligence in the form of the Abwehr was particularly active. The first intimations of the activities of enemy agents in Gibraltar itself, was the announcement in May of the execution at Wandsworth Prison in London, of the Gibraltarian, José Key. Incriminating evidence concerning the movement of ships and aircraft at Gibraltar had been found in his possession.

Contemporary postcard of La Linea. Most of the Spaniards who worked in Gibraltar during the war lived here. There is something ironic that a street with a view of Gibraltar should have been named Vista Alegre.

That year the Fortress Independent Company was formed. The Company was composed of four platoons taken from four different infantry battalions then stationed on the Rock. All the men were trained in demolition, the handling of boats and landing craft, unarmed combat, sabotage, signalling, swimming in full gear, and in night fighting. Lord 'Haw Haw' Joyce referred to them in one of his broadcasts as, 'Those thugs and ruffians, the scum of four battalions on the Rock of Gibraltar'. General 'Mason-Mac' called them his 'professional killers'.

William Joyce alias Lord Haw Haw. An American Fascist who held an illegal British passport. He was infamous for his anti-British propaganda broadcasts on Radio .

On the 30th of May Air Marshall Arthur 'Bomber' Harris ordered a 1000 bomber raid on Cologne. He followed it up next day with another one on Essen. A month later it was the turn of Bremen. The raids were not exactly 'wizard prangs' and the British pilots wisely, if often unavailingly, continued to sing their lucky charm song to the melody of a well known Scottish tune; 'Bring back, oh bring back, oh bring back my bomber and me and me.'

On my mother's forty-third birthday, Eisenhower established his headquarters in Gibraltar. Churchill had placed the Rock within the command of General Eisenhower as the temporary headquarters for 'Operation Torch. This was the first large scale Anglo-American venture of the war. Eisenhower travelled to Gibraltar from Britain accompanied by no less than six Flying Fortresses. It is difficult to imagine these enormous planes landing on the tiny airstrip at North Front, even less considering that the weather was so bad that the Commander in charge of the flight had advised Ike to postpone the journey. The General, however, decided it was time to go. They travelled all the way to Gibraltar at an average altitude of 40 metres above sea level.

There was no respite after his arrival. According to the General, the underground operation rooms which he used, were the most dismal he had occupied during the entire war. He conceded, however, that there was nowhere else to go. Gibraltar was the only place in the whole of Western Europe which the allies controlled. Without Gibraltar he would have lacked the indispensable aerial protection he needed for the success of the entire operation.

General Eisenhower. The commander is sitting at his desk in Gibraltar just after having issued orders for the invasion of North Africa code named Operation Torch. He had arrived in Gibraltar on Evelyn Chipulina’s (1.2) forty third birthday. The cigarettes are Philip Morris.

According to the general the underground operations room that he used throughout his stay was the most dismal he had occupied during the entire war. But he conceded there was nowhere else to go.Without Gibraltar he would have lacked the aerial protection he needed for the success of the entire operation.

By August Gibraltar was being used to assemble aircraft for use in Malta. It had also become an important base from which to run convoys. In one operation alone two battleships, three large aircraft carriers, seven cruisers, and thirty-two destroyers were concentrated there to escort supply ships. Only five got through and two cruisers and the aircraft carrier H.M.S. Eagle were sunk.

HMS Eagle after being hit by a torpedo.

Meanwhile convoy after convoy travelled towards the Rock through the U-boat infested waters of the North Atlantic. Those which were required to rendezvous for the attacks on Algiers and Oran were required to travel through the Straits of Gibraltar, both sides of which were bristling with the guns of friend, foe and all manner of dubious neutrals.

On the 7th of November Ike went on a drive up the Rock to visit the apes. They were supposed to bring good luck. That day despite the continuing bad weather, a prearranged plan was put into action to bring General Giraud to Gibraltar. The Americans wanted a French figurehead to facilitate their landings in North Africa. As President Roosevelt was prejudiced against General de Gaulle, arrangements had been made to transport General Giraud to Gibraltar from the Riviera. He escaped during the night from under the noses of the French Vichy and was brought to Gibraltar in an American submarine.

Before the end of November the campaign was on its way. During the opening phases of the invasion the airstrip in North Front was used not only as a base from which to send planes out on sorties but as a depot for aircraft on transit from Britain. For weeks on end there was not a square metre that was not occupied by either a Spitfire or a gasoline tank. All this was done without any attempt at camouflage and well within sight of enemy agents just across the border. Miraculously the Germans took no action. Misinformation via the secret services had led them to believe that all this activity was simply a futile attempt to reinforce Malta where the situation had been critical for months. As Eisenhower was later to write in his
memoirs:'Britain's Gibraltar made possible the invasion of North West Africa.'

1942 It is difficult to be certain whether Pepe (1.1) had any religious beliefs. He rarely if ever went to church. One day, very uncharacteristically, he decided to take Eric to Mass in Funchal. The place was packed and the unholy combination of the odour of sweaty feet and burning candles was overpowering. They had scarcely been there five minutes when he said,
'Let's get out of here'.
Eric was thoroughly impressed with the decisive way in which he said the words. He was expressing what he himself had felt but had not had the authority to do anything about.

Somewhat more characteristic of the types of activities which he and the children indulged in were the visits to the Sao Martinho football ground to watch the local soccer teams slugging it out, or trips to the Lido, with its large chute and huge swimming pool jutting out into the sea. The children also frequented the swimming facilities which formed part of the amenities of the Savoy Hotel which were open to the general public.

My father, bottom row in the middle with a hat at a football match in Sao Martinho. I think most of his friends are sitting on the row behind him.

Back in Gibraltar a new word was being coined. Those able-bodied male evacuees of military age who had opted to leave the Rock were ironically labelled 'Commandos'. In Madeira married women whose husbands had stayed in Gibraltar were contemptuous of those whose husbands had opted for evacuation. On one occasion Eric witnessed a scene at the Gibraltar Club in which an elderly Gibraltarian gentleman taunted one of these men in an argument. '¡Vete para allá y coje un fusil en vez de estar aquí ganduleando '

Me. This was taken in the gardens of the Atlantic Hotel in Madeira.
The top part of the garden behind the retaining wall was a favourite place for collecting grasshoppers. Tito Torres, my best friend in Madeira, would go about stuffing dozens of the poor fellows into glass jars. I am sad to say that I was always a more than willing helper.

Me again. This was also taken in the gardens of the Atlantic Hotel in Madeira.
I remember this particular day very well. As I walked away after the photograph had been taken, I suddenly noticed a tiny wooden boat among the plants that lined the edge of the path. It was perfectly made and seemed very realistic to my eyes. For some reason I didn’t pick it up but rushed away to tell my mother. When we returned to the spot I could no longer find it.

It was also around this time that Thelmo Chipulina increased his reputation as an eccentric by walking about town followed by a pet goat. People not surprisingly referred to him as 'La Cabra de Thelmo'. The rest of the family always felt vaguely embarrassed. After all he was a relative. Not that he was the only eccentric in town. The owner of a local cinema called the Cine Parque enjoyed driving through town at a leisurely pace in an open convertible with his pet donkey trotting along behind the car.

That same month Montgomery defeated Rommel in the Battle of Alamein. Churchill would later comment: 'Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein we never had a defeat.'

1942 That year in the middle of yet another disruptive period in the history of the Rock, a handful of Gibraltarians foresaw the possibilities that a post-war world would bring and formed the Association for the Advancement of Civil Rights, or the AACR for short. It was not originally an exclusively Gibraltarian association. Nor was it as yet a political party in the true sense of the word. The founding father was Albert Risso who was the leader of the Gibraltar Confederation of Labour.

The statutes were drawn up by a young Jewish lawyer, Joshua Hassan, and the main purpose of the Association was to promote the rights of civilian, as opposed to military rights. The programme was simple and easy to understand. It hardly caused a stir in the turmoil of the build up to the North African invasion. But the AACR's persistent badgering of the Governor would eventually be rewarded. Almost immediately after the war in Europe ended, Attlee's new Labour government granted Gibraltar its first majority-elected City council.

Unaware of these political developments, Eric was nevertheless keeping himself up to date with other activities on the Rock. From one of the news bulletins he learned that Lower St. Michael's cave had been discovered by the Royal Engineers during excavations in the Rock. The dominant physical feature of Gibraltar is, of course, the limestone mass of the Rock itself. A geological fault lies towards the southern end. Over a period of millions of years, a series of large caves were eroded in many places along the fault by the action of water. The largest of these is called St. Michael's cave. It was, and still is, an enormous hall with stalactite arches well over 70 feet in height.

St Michael’s Cave

Although not much frequented up to that time by the locals, it would one day be used as an amphitheatre to hold concerts of one sort or the other as its acoustics were very good. Less accessible were the newly discovered Lower St. Michael's and Leonora's caves which formed a complex of spectacular tunnels and huge caverns. The full extent of these caves remains unknown and some have since been classified as killers and have been sealed up. There were at one time rumours that some of these tunnels led to a connection with North Africa running under the seabed of the Straits. There was also the story of an explorer who went down a deep shaft at the end of a rope. When the rope was hauled back up it was found to have been cut. The explorer was never seen again. It is difficult to vouch for the truth of either of these stories, but many years later they would go down well with the tourists.

Whether the tide was turning in the Allies favour or not was hard to tell. But the ripples were certainly moving in the right direction. In February General Von Paulus surrendered to the Russians at Stalingrad despite Hitler's increasingly hysterical exhortations to fight to the last man.

There was an even greater morale booster. Anthony Quale, who was the Governor's military assistant at the time organised a production of Andre Obey's Noah at the Theatre Royal with an all service cast and himself in the title role.

Anthony Quale in Lawrence of Arabia

There was in fact a serious need to entertain the many servicemen of different nationalities cooped up in the Rock. When these men were not preparing for war or actively engaged in it, there was very little for them to do and most of their free time was often taken up by long sessions of hard drinking.

Fights were common and housebreaking and larceny were on the increase. The atmosphere of the Rock during the war was thoroughly claustrophobic. It was an ideal place for the ignition of Scottish, Irish, Welsh and English antagonisms. Gibraltarian civilians, easily identifiable and speaking a foreign language also became a natural target for the pent-up violence of drunken servicemen. The word they used to taunt the locals was 'caliente', which was sometimes accompanied by a secondary insult in the form of 'bastard'. On the whole, however, the word 'caliente' was considered sufficient insult on its own. The Gibraltarians mistakenly thought the insult was a reference to their inordinate randiness and invariably came up with the inappropriate but equally insulting response:
'¡Caliente tu puta madre! '

It was an understandable misunderstanding. 'Caliente' was in fact a pre-war word that had virtually fallen into disuse but had been picked up again and put into circulation. It had once been used by the British to describe, not necessarily as an insult, fellow countrymen who had gone native much in the same way as 'chichi' was used for Anglo-Indians. Its proper pronunciation was 'ca-leon-tay' with the accent on the 'o'.

On one occasion, or so the story goes, a serviceman in conversation with a local in a bar asked him the sixty-four thousand dollar question: 'Why do they call you caliente? ' 'Ah,' replied the Gibbo, ' It's because when we go to England, we like to fuck your wife, your sister and your mother. 'Not much imagination is required to visualise the resulting fracas.

Once again, however, there were other more serious problems that had to be addressed. The Rock Ape population was down to seven. When Winston Churchill heard this he hurriedly ordered seven more to be imported from Africa. It seems that not only Governors . . . The myth of course, was that when the apes left, appropriately so would the British. Churchill considered it psychologically wrong to allow such an event to occur.

In June King George VI on his way to visit North Africa expressed the wish that the Governor of Gibraltar's residence should be renamed the Convent. His wish was a command. The residence has been called the Convent ever since. It was also probably in June that Edwin Wills managed to wangle a seat on a military transport plane which was flying home to England. His wife Meg was then living in the U.K. In those precarious days there were no commercial flights from Gibraltar, and bookings were never firm. Anyone with a higher priority took precedence. When departure time arrived someone important turned up and Edwin promptly lost his seat. He probably thought he was out of luck, although in fact he could not have been luckier as the aircraft crashed into the sea.

At the time it was rumoured that the important person that had taken Edwin's place had been Leslie Howard, the British actor of, among other things, 'Gone with the Wind' fame.

Leslie Howard

The timing was right. Howard did die in a plane crash that same month. But this was not the plane. His had been a commercial KLM flight 777 from Lisbon which was shot down by the German Luftwaffe over the Bay of Biscay.

There is, however, a curious Gibraltar connection. The previous month, Howard had been in Madrid, ostensibly to deliver a series of lectures on Shakespeare. In fact he was probably there to promote the Allies' increasing political and cultural contacts with the Franco regime. For his final evening in Madrid, Howard gave his lecture on a passage from Hamlet which begins:
'Good sir, whose powers are these? '

It was a period when Allied strategy desperately required a non-belligerent Spain as any attack on Gibraltar would prejudice the planned invasion of Sicily, codenamed Operation Husky. During his analysis, Howard discussed at great length the psychological effects of the defeat of a large well equipped army by a small garrison. The analogy with Gibraltar was very clear and there was an immediate clamp-down. The Spanish press were forbidden to print, broadcast or even mention the lecture. A few days later Howard's plane crashed under mysterious circumstances. It is more than possible that Gibraltar played some small indirect part in Howard's premature death.

1942 The following month the Polish leader, General Wladyslav Sikorski, landed in Gibraltar when returning from a visit to Cairo. The next evening the Liberator plane in which he was to have flown back to England failed to gain height after leaving the runway, and crashed into the sea off Eastern beach. The pilot was the sole survivor. The wreck of the plane remained there for many years and became a favourite site for future underwater fishermen, including me, as it was soon teeming with all sorts of fish, especially Moray and Conger eels.

The wreck of General Wladyslav Sikorski’s plane just off Eastern Beach.

In August Luis Lopez Cordon-Cuenca, an agent working for the German Secret Service, was brought to trial before a special court under the Chief Justice of Gibraltar. He was found guilty of 'treachery by acting with intent to help the enemy. Cordon-Cuenca, who had worked at the Empire Fruit Shop in 114 Main Street, had intended to place a bomb near the Ragged Staff Magazine, which at the time was full of ammunition in readiness for the Sicily landings. He was sentenced to death.

All was not gloom, however. That same month Noel Coward visited the Rock, and in England, Gracie Fields was telling the troops all about the girls who worked on the thing that oiled the ring that drove the bore of the thingamabob that was going to win the war.

Gracie Fields