There has always been an interest in Gibraltar by countries much bigger than us. This majestic limestone Rock, an icon which we call home, has been featured on many TV channels across the world for several reasons but mainly due to our unique historical links with the UK and a neighbouring country which has designs on our future and wants
to absorb us into its geography.
Recently local historian Tito Vallejo was interviewed by TV Arte on the subject of ‘Operation Copperhead’ the official military name for a brilliant deception ruse by Dudley Clarke for British Intelligence during WW2 which fooled the Germans into thinking that General Montgomery was here on 26th May 1944 (and in another location in Africa later).The successful operation later spawned a war film called ‘I was Monty’s Double.’ The operation involved Australian actor Miles Mander who posed here as the British General so that spies would report his whereabouts and mislead the German commanders in the days immediately preceding the Normandy landings. Tito takes me over the story which he told TV Arte for ‘Invitacion au voyage’, a cultural TV magazine which airs in France and Germany.
“The Operation worked out beautifully and I think that British actor David Niven, who was a military commander, was also one of the architects, as you have to remember that Churchill had a double who was used to hide the whereabouts of the real Winston Churchill. The fake Montgomery was only here on an overnight stay and was invited to a Governor’s reception at the Convent so that he would be seen by spies here. The Governor played out the charade with ease because Mander was such a good double. From here he was flown to North Africa to direct attention away from Monty’s real location.”
Tito was kept busy on location by the TV Arte film crew mostly talking about ‘Operation Copperhead’ outside the Convent where at the time of the wartime operation the British wanted Monty’s double to be seen, and they also filmed at the airfield where he had landed and taken off purely for the benefit of the German spies operating in the area. “They fell for it hook, line and sinker because as we all know the British are masters at that sort of deception. They also conducted a similar operation with ‘The Man Who Never Was’ when the body of a fake military man with a briefcase full of fake secret documents washed up on a nearby Spanish shore, again with the sole purpose of fooling the German high command with false intelligence about the British and Allied military operational intentions.”
Directing the Gibraltar filming for TV Arte was French producer Camelia Encinas who previously directed a similar five minute magazine segment on the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of the wedding on the Rock of Beatle John Lennon and Yoko Ono. On that occasion my name had been put up for it and I took the TV crew to the airfield for the backdrop of their iconic wedding photograph and to the Law Courts forecourt where the old registry was located to show them the location where the famous Beatle’s wedding took place just over fifty years ago. I have a copy of the travel TV Arte magazine ‘Invitacion au voyage’ programme in which the Rock and its popular tourist attractions like the apes and cable car are featured and although it’s dubbed in French it can be appreciated as a high quality culture and travel segment on another more recent aspect of our history. That one was screened early last year and the ‘Operation Copperhead’ feature with Tito Vallejo will have been screened on June 11th as the producer confirmed to me last month. I have every reason to believe that it will be worth watching out for because she sent me a link to see the edited TV segment.
Coming back to my recent chat with Tito I was struck by his infectious and light hearted approach to our history, which importantly is always backed by photographs of what he talks about. His mobile was chock-a-block with pictures that bring many a great story to life and he has things in the pipeline which will be a joy to see and hear stories about. He regularly lectures at our University, in our schools and in the Campo schools too, with frequent invitations to lecture further across the border. His talks (he prefers that term to lectures) he tells me are always richly illustrated with the wealth of photographs he showed me as he told me many stories that describe the pictures.
“You know that we have such a vast pool of history here that is really interesting like the ‘human torpedoes’ and the diver mother ship ‘Olterra’ anchored in the bay, from where they operated. A film was made about that called ‘The Silent Enemy.’ Operation Tracer, Stay Behind Cave, Operation Torch and many other stories and their locations should invite us to do a lot more about selling our rich history. It hasn’t got to be totally serious and it can all be backed up by humour, photographs and released secret documents.” We have all been duped at some point in our travels abroad when we go on historical tours which don’t even begin to compare with the richness and heritage that we have here.
At this point he shows me official Spanish identity papers belonging to Spanish prostitutes who used to work here when the Gibraltar Governors had to pay more attention to the ‘recreational’ needs of the several thousand troops garrisoned here and, more importantly, when the home fleet came in and there simply had to be more busy ladies entertaining in New Street and in the cabarets dotted along our Main Street. He showed me some spectacular photographs of the Spanish dancers of the day and of himself as a very young boy on a little tricycle inside the ‘Winter Gardens’ (taken in daytime of course) which was then among the top cabarets in town.
Tito Vallejo lives and breathes local history and you will regularly have seen him with the History Re-Enactment Society marches which give the tourists and our Main Street great character and photo opportunities, providing historically themed entertainment on Saturday mornings. Next time you see one of his talks advertised at the University or anywhere else, don’t miss it because you will be enriched by great stories and the great pictures he has which back them up. He should publish a book soon just to get all this material off his chest.
He will find a ready market for it here I’m sure. Should he not do so soon, this writer will be chatting to him again and will bring you snippets and teasers that make our history truly come alive. The French producer said in her email to me … ‘Well done Tito’. I want to add that as soon as he agreed to participate for the ‘Operation Copperhead’ segment, I knew I had put her on to a winner and the finished TV segment richly illustrated with archive film and Tito’s commentary (dubbed in French) is definitely a winner.