Luis Alcaide, in Madrid | A century ago, a British exercise of evacuation took place with curious links to the Spanish Civil War. In fact, at the very beginning of WWII, when the British government forecast air attacks, it tried to avoid the German Luftwaffe bombs in the town of Guernica: in Britain, a vast plan of evacuation from cities to the countryside was developed by the Ministry of Health in 1939. About 2 million children were evacuated and many of them to lived with strangers.
Dunkirk was another sign post of the British effort on evacuation. The film ‘Miss Miniver‘ produced a big impact in Spain. The cause of the Allied became popular in the days of the Franco regime. The film was about an English housewife who takes care of a wounded German soldier and helps her husband and neighbours to prepare their motor boats to cross the Channel to rescue British soldiers from Dunkirk.
The admiration for the British evacuation efforts was enhanced in 2006, when EU nationals and American citizens were blocked in Lebanon. Roads to escape were unavailable. A British aircraft carrier and other warships left off Gibraltar for the Lebanese coast. The mission was a success. Among the evacuated there was a Spanish man, Javier Solana, our current EU Foreign Policy Commissioner.
All those remarkable memoirs about evacuations remained in the minds of the Spanish people until the stupid declaration of Evacuation of British Citizens in December 2011. The Sunday Times quoted a civil servant of the Foreign Office in dramatic terms:
“the main Spanish scenario involves thousands of British without money stuck in the harbours and airports of Spain trying to go back to their motherland”. The baroness Lilian P. Neville Jones, a Tory and former-Minister of the David Cameron government, made a statement declaring that “Spain is a vulnerable area.”
The Spanish public opinion was astonished, as were the one million British residents in this area of land north of Gibraltar called mainland Spain. The sun is shining in this mild winter while banks remain open and any citizen can change sterling pounds for euros at a very convenient exchange rate for the British currency. Restaurants and hotels continue to offer meals with their Mediterranean variety, as well as British Pubs sell any kind of beers while punters watch the football matches of the Premier.
In the spring of 2011, a German officer accused Spanish cucumbers of being poisoned. The market for Spanish vegetables was closed in the EU. There was not poison at all in the Spanish cucumbers, but in some German farms. However, no apology came from Germany, only a cash compensation for the Spanish farmers thanks to the budgetary provision of the UE.
British citizens are enjoying a wonderful winter in this country chosen by one million of them, who can enjoy life and have the coverage of the Spanish Health Service in case of illness. Shall the British newspapers and personalities who declare Spain a dangerous place to live or visit indulge in their pathetic gaffe?
Many people in Spain are waiting for an act of courage: will they say sorry?Otherwise, the respect for the British proud evacuation tradition will become an embarrassment even for the British residents in Spain.