Sunday, 15 December 2019

The cost of keeping Gibraltar

The cost of keeping Gibraltar

Roy Adkins
Festival Hub

YOU would have to be a history buff with a specific interest in colonial wars to know that part of the American War of Independence was fought between England and Spain in the western Mediterranean.

In 1779 France had joined the war on the side of the American colonists, closely followed by its ally Spain. But Spain was more interested in reclaiming land it had lost on its own doorstep — Gibraltar and the island of Menorca — than colonies 3,000 miles away. So it laid siege to Gibraltar, a siege that was to last four years.

I’ve heard Roy Adkins before and read his quarterly blog on things historical, and this time — with his wife and co-author Lesley indisposed — he both read from his script and quoted from the book and letters that Lesley usually narrates.

The British garrison, under General George Augustus Eliott, held on heroically for all that time, as the troops and civilians succumbed to diseases like smallpox and scurvy — 500 children died.

The soldiers and the civilian population were ravaged by hunger; people ate all manner of domestic animals (except the monkeys). Only one relief convoy got through because of the Spanish siege.

Mr Adkins tells a good story and his book will shed some light on a little known corner of British history.

He neglected to tell us the theory that defending Gibraltar from the Spanish cost Britain the loss of their American colonies as troops and supplies were diverted to the western Mediterranean. But that’s another story. And not all history buffs subscribe to it!

Ian Black

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