One significant development during the war years was the formation, in 1942, of an organisation called the Association for the Advancement of Civil Rights (AACR). This body was to play an important role in the fight for greater self-government after the war. It was founded by the trade unionist, Albert Risso and a young Gibraltarian lawyer, Joshua Hassan . This association was responsible for setting up a scheme to allow Gibraltarians serving on the Rock to be able to visit their families in Britain and elsewhere. They were also responsible in playing a major part in facilitating the repatriation of the evacuees as they trickled back to Gibraltar towards the end of the war. There were rumours circulating that Gibraltar would remain a Naval base after the war and that the Gibraltarians would be dispersed throughout Britain and not be allowed to return home. Whether the rumours were true or not, the AACR would have none of it and pressurised the Governor to speed up the repatriation process and bring all civilians back home. By December 1945, 12,295 had returned to their beloved Rock, but the shortage of housing, rather than shipping, became the limiting factor now determining the speed of Gibraltarian repatriation.
City Council 1945.
The Military Town Planning Scheme , which began in 1946, moved many servicemen out of the city and into the southern parts of the Rock. Many returning evacuees were housed in former barracks converted into temporary houses for the local population. It was a slow process which meant evacuees could only return home when housing became available for them. As a result it was not until February 1951 that the last party of refugees returned home. In total 16,700 had been repatriated. Even then, many families were forced to live in Nissen huts in the North Front area (similar to those in Northern Ireland) whilst new accommodation was being built. A new school, St. Anne’s, was opened at the Glacis area in the early 1950’s to cater for the many children living in the huts nearby. Bishop Fitzgerald School was also opened in 1958 to cater for the children now living at the Alameda Estate and town area. Another middle school, St. Mary’s, was opened in Johnstone’s Passage. In 1981 it was transferred to Sacred Heart changing its name to Sacred Heart Middle School in 1985. This school changed again in 2015 to the old Colonial Hospital and so did its name. Today it is called St. Bernard’s Middle School. Other schools opened soon after World War II included a new government secondary school at Loreto Convent and a secondary school for girls at Plata Villa. Plata Villa would later house St. Joseph’s First and Middle schools before it too moved to its present location at South Barracks in the early 1990’s.
The first major housing project completed after the war was the Alameda Housing Estate consisting of 472 flats. Glacis, Laguna and Moorish Castle Estates and finally Varyl Begg Estate would slowly follow. By 1969, over 2,500 flats had either been built or were by then under construction. The Gibraltarians’ new sense of identity had been forged by their experiences in the war and, whilst most of the former European colonies opted for independence from their former colonial masters, Gibraltarians opted for closer ties with Britain whilst, at the same time, pushing for as much self-government as possible. Many Gibraltarians had learnt English during their time in England and English speaking had been strictly enforced in schools. The Gibraltarian people who emerged from the war were more pro-British and even more anti-fascist than ever before.
Children and mothers returning home, Hospital Ramp.
Gibraltar at the time had no elected government; it had a City Council instead. In 1945 it held its first elections since the outbreak of the war and Joshua Hassan, as leader of the AACR, won all the elective seats and became its Chairman (later Mayor). Women were given the right to vote in 1947, and in 1950 a Legislative Council was established. Hassan and the AACR, among others, had been instrumental in pushing for full internal self-government which was finally achieved in 1969 when he became the first Chief Minister of Gibraltar, but such democratic gains came at a cost.
Return of the evacuees.
Two years previously on the 10th September 1967, 12,138 people had voted overwhelmingly in a referendum , to retain their links with Britain, whilst only 44 had expressed a wish to pass over to full Spanish sovereignty. In 1969, Gibraltar finally adopted its own Constitution and acquired self-government, the Gibraltarians had, at last, come of age. These developments, however, greatly angered General Franco who had believed Churchill’s unfulfilled promises to reward him with the return of Gibraltar for having remained ‘neutral’ during the war. From the early 1950’s onwards relations between Gibraltar and Spain became more and more strained and restrictions at the frontier slowly increased leading to full closure in 1969. As a result Gibraltar would remain isolated and cut off from the rest of Europe for 12 years long years.