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Gibraltarians of the Great War: Part 2

By Lt Col (Rtd) F Brancato OBE JP

See Part One Here!

When the two resident infantry battalions of the garrison were withdrawn in August 1914 and despatched to the Front, they took several young Gibraltarians with them, amongst them Privates Henry Balloqui; John Cerisola; Charles Picasso; Ernest Rice; Leonard Risso and Julio Wink who all enlisted with the Middlesex Regiment.

Battle of the Somme WWI

Privates Leopoldo Bossano and Francis Pirie who both joined the Royal Fusiliers were tragically killed in action. Leopoldo (an uncle of Sir Joe Bossano) during the battle of The Somme in September 1916 and Francis a year later at Arras.

Felix Benzimra originally enlisted as a clerk with the Army Service Corps in Gibraltar in February 1915, but he soon transferred to the Infantry (Dorsets) and by 1916 was a Lieutenant in the MGC with whom he earned the MC.

Others joined Regiments with Gibraltar connections like the Dorsetshire or Bedfordshire Regiments who had the “Castle and Key” on their capbadge or their father’s former unit like the Ross brothers who enlisted with the Seaforth Highlanders.

Rifleman Kenneth Forbes was another. He distinguished himself whilst in action with the 4th battalion of The Rifle Brigade at Hooge from 9-11 May 1915 and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) – second only in merit to the Victoria Cross for gallantry.

Forbes survived the war and returned to Gibraltar where he was well known for his work as a caterer/steward and within local Masonic circles. He died in 1949 and is also buried at North Front cemetery.

Many others joined whilst working or studying in England like Joseph Patron (later Sir Joseph Patron MC OBE JP, Speaker of the Gibraltar Legislative Assembly 1958-64) who enlisted in the Imperial Yeomanry (London Rough Riders) whilst at university.

Captain Joseph Patron World War One WWI Gibraltarian
Captain Joseph Patron

He was later commissioned and transferred to the MGC. He was awarded the MC whilst in command of a mounted machine gun detachment providing covering fire for the cavalry advance at the Battle of El Mughar during the Palestine campaign.

He was shortly afterwards shot by a Turkish sniper through the throat but survived to fight another day! Incidentally his elder brother Alfred who was a Captain with the Bedfordshire Regiment was seconded at the time to the Egyptian Army in Cairo.

The story of Lieutenant Solomon Benzecry Royal Fusiliers, the “hero of Bourlon Wood” is relatively well known and his memorial inside the Lobby of Parliament rightly takes pride of place at all our Armistice Day commemorations.

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What is not that well know is that his younger brother, Abraham also took part in the war and was decorated with the MC for his gallantry and initiative in pushing his machine gun section forward under heavy fire to support the infantry’s advance at the engagement at El Tireh in Palestine in September 1918.

Abraham Solomon Benzacry World War One WWI Gibraltarian
Solomon and Abraham Benzecry

When war broke out, Percy Baglietto Cottrell (of the Saccone & Speed family), was in Athens at the time, (he was studying Classics at Oxford) immediately returned home by train and tried to enlist as an officer but was rejected because of his poor eyesight.

Undeterred, he enlisted as a private in the Royal Fusiliers but was later commissioned in the same unit. Deployed to Salonika as an Intelligence Officer and Greek Interpreter (he was born in Corfu where his father was the British consul) he undertook numerous special missions for which he was made a Chevalier of the Order of the Redeemer and awarded the Greek Military Cross by HM King Constantine.

Percy Baglietto World War One WWI Gibraltarian
Percy Baglietto

On the 18th of September 1918 he was hit in the side of the chest by a bullet during operations to the East of Lake Doiran, in the Salonika Front and died later of his wounds. He was posthumously awarded the MC.

He lies buried at the Sarygol Military Cemetery in Greece. His elder brother Arthur (the youngest of the three Baglietto Cottrell brothers Edward, later Sir Edward was Chairman of Saccone & Speed and British Vice-Consul in Algeciras during WW2) was a regular officer in the Royal Artillery seeing service with the BEF in France and Belgium as well at Gallipoli.

WWI

He went on to receive the DSO and three MiDs as well as the Order of the Serbian White Eagle with Swords!

Private Francis Arriza was working as a bookkeeper in Bradford (his family home in Gibraltar was in King Street where his parents lived) when he joined the Kings Edward’s Horse (Royal Overseas Dominions Regiment) made up in the main of Australian, Canadian and South African “expats” living in England and considered an elite cavalry unit.

Francis was “A” squadron trumpeter and fought with them throughout the war. He was wounded in action at the battle of Vielle Chapelle in April 1918, where the unit fought dismounted and famously defeated an assault by the Prussian Imperial Guard.

Captains Frank Porral and Bobby Sheppard-Capurro also served with the cavalry – in their case with the 22nd Cavalry Regiment (Sam Browne’s) a prestigious Indian Army unit. Bobby was Honorary ADC to many post war Governors and later commissioned into the GDF as a Major. He was also an Honorary ADC to HM The Queen.

See Part One Here!

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