What were the dangers faced by the refugees crossing the Atlantic?


Evacuees aboard transport ships

The second evacuation was to be conducted over the following few months. Between the 19th July and the 20th August 11,816 evacuees were sent to the United Kingdom. Another 2,000, those who could afford to pay for their own accommodation and upkeep, went to Madeira instead. Most of the ships which had originally brought the evacuees back from Morocco were again used to transport the Gibraltarian population to the UK. Commodore Creighton, the man who had acted against the advice of the Admiralty bringing the evacuees back home, was again charged with command of the 24 ship convoy carrying the first of 5,000 men, women and children to England. The lack of lifeboats aboard these ships filled Creighton with dread. He remarked:

‘If this convoy was attacked, and it only had one escort, it could result in one of the worst maritime disasters in history’.

Evacuees aboard the SS Royal Ulsterman.

Disaster almost fell upon the second contingent of refugees as they prepared to board the liner Athlone Castle. Vichy French aircraft attacked the city and port and bombs fell in various places killing two civilians, one of whom was a two year old child. Luckily the Athlone Castle was spared. Life aboard the ships was far from comfortable, and hundreds of people had to live in cramped, unhealthy conditions, fearing for their lives as the undefended convoy sailed through U-boat infested waters towards England. A total of twelve babies were born aboard the ships and a number of injured civilians, including children, from the bombing raids carried out against Gibraltar, had to be tended to by the evacuees themselves as there were no doctors aboard. The freight ships were not designed to carry passengers only cargo. Some also carried explosives on board along with the evacuees. Luckily none of the ships carrying Gibraltarians to England came under attack, although the evacuees had to experience some hair-raising moments. After a hazardous 18-day journey, the first convoy finally began to arrive safely in UK ports such as London, Liverpool and Cardiff.

Evacuees aboard the SS Stirling Castle.

Others would soon follow. In just a few months, the entire population of Gibraltar had been successfully evacuated. Unfortunately tragedy did strike some Gibraltar evacuees aboard one of the ships. Some thirty members of the Hindu community, who had decided to return to India for the duration of the war, had obtained passage aboard the SS Kemmendine which was captured by a German warship in the Indian Ocean. The evacuees were later transferred onto another captured vessel, the Tirranna and the crew ordered to set sail for France. Whilst in the Bay of Biscay, the Tirranna was torpedoed and sunk by a British submarine, causing the death of many evacuees. Amongst the worst hit was the Khubchand family who lost seven family members. Miraculously, eight year old Krishna Khubchand survived. The survivors were interned for the rest of the war in German camps.

Convoy escort HMS Gallant.