Why were the London evacuees moved to Northern Ireland?

Recuerdo de Irlanda

Back in London the evacuees who had suffered the same hardship as Londoners during the blitz and were now suffering from the effects of Germany’s new menace, the ‘doodlebugs’ or ‘flying bombs’. By mid July 1944, a total of 150,000 women and children had left London and southern England for safer areas further north and concerns grew as to whether the Gibraltarian evacuees were again going to be left behind.

Ireland camps evacuees yearning to return home

As was to be expected, many Gibraltarians were by now feeling extremely homesick and longed to return home once and for all. Pepe Roman’s moving song ‘Llévame Donde Nací’ soon became a rallying cry for all Gibraltarian communities scattered around the world. Pepe Roman had originally written this song in the early 1930’s describing the experiences of those Gibraltarian families who had emigrated to the Americas in search of new job opportunities, but were instead faced with the hardships of the Great Depression. The song reflects the disillusion, anxiety and homesickness of these immigrants who missed their homeland and wanted to return home. During World War II Pepe’s song became a popular anthem for those Gibraltarian evacuees yearning to return home after years away from their beloved Rock. ‘Llévame Donde Nací’ strengthened the Gibraltarian’s resolve to stand up for their fundamental rights increasing the pressure on the British authorities to step up the repatriation process. As frustrations grew it quickly established itself as a national anthem sung with huge pride and affection by all Gibraltarians scattered in far off lands. Unfortunately for Pepe Roman, his dream of returning home one day was never fulfilled; he died and was buried in Jamaica just a few months before the evacuees were finally repatriated.

Evacuees demanding to return home from camps in Northern Ireland.

Evacuees demanding to return home from camps in Northern Ireland.

By 1944 the first repatriations to Gibraltar finally began, with 4,500 evacuees finally returning home; the remaining 7,000 Gibraltarian evacuees faced an uncertain future. These evacuees demanded to go home too but the Normandy invasion had meant that all available crafts were urgently needed to ferry troops and equipment instead and could not be spared. In any case they were not enough houses in Gibraltar to cater for all the returning families and new housing projects would have to be built first. On the 18th July 1944 the evacuees were informed that they were to be transferred to new camps in Northern Ireland, pending repatriation . After travelling to Liverpool they were then shipped to Belfast and from there divided into the 17 camps across Northern Ireland. Their new accommodation was Nissen Huts , originally built as emergency shelters for civilians in case their homes were destroyed by air raids. The huts were later used by America Troops before they moved to Southern England to take part in the Normandy Invasion . They were designed for short-term use and were cold and uncomfortable, especially for the children and the elderly. Although the Gibraltarians were very well treated in Northern Ireland, their frustrations grew at the terrible conditions of the camps. In their increasing desire to return home, their protests became more vocal. Women wrote to their husbands complaining of the bitter cold and Spartan conditions in which they lived and this naturally created further resentment and protests at home. Most had expected to stay in Northern Ireland for not more than a month; instead some, despite the terrible conditions, would have to wait a further 6 years before finally returning home!

Corby Bridge memorial plaque in Ballymena, Northern Ireland.

A memento from Ireland