Some might ask what would an American know about Gibraltar and its Spanish neighbour? Well, Don Cook was thoroughly conversant with all things European as he worked almost his entire 45-year career in journalism in Europe. Cook’s obituary in UK newspaper The Independent of March 13th, 1995 began:
“Don Cook was an outstanding American journalist who covered all the main events of post-war Europe and knew personally most of the statesmen that shaped them. He recorded faithfully not only what happened but explained perceptively how it happened. He arrived in London as a young war correspondent for the now defunct New York Herald Tribune in 1945 and later as the European Diplomatic correspondent of the Los Angeles Times.
A friendly and amusing man with a host of friends in London and Paris, Cook began his newspaper career as a copy boy in Florida, then joined the Trans-radio Press Service in Philadelphia. The New York Herald Tribune engaged him in Washington in 1943 and transferred him to Britain in 1945 as a war correspondent. He covered the entry of the Allies into Paris and the end of the war in Europe.”
Cook worked for the Herald Tribune for twenty-two years and then joined the Los Angeles Times in 1965. He had been the Paris bureau chief for the Times for four years when he wrote his article about Gibraltar in November 1969.
In the article, headlined Blockaded Gibraltar Couldn’t Care Less, Cook wrote that Franco’s Spain had turned Gibraltar into a virtual island. Cook points out that the blockading of Gibraltar was a gradual process taking place over several years.
“The slow closing of the new blockage, beginning with a tightening of frontier restrictions in 1960 and 1964, instead of making the Gibraltarians anxious or susceptible for negotiations or agreement has simply produced an adjustment to the new realities.”
The blockage began with the tightening of controls against duty-free goods and then in October 1966 the Spanish closed the road border with La Linea to all automobile, lorry and bus traffic. The ferry from Algeciras continued to operate, however, and there were still some 4,500 Spanish workers crossing the border on foot to their jobs in Gibraltar. Then on September 10th, 1967 Gibraltarians, in their first ever referendum, sent a resounding message of rejection to Franco by voting 12,138 to 44 to remain British.
In June 1969 Franco had the Algeciras ferry service shut down and in October the same year closed the border to all traffic. This caused much hardship for the Spanish workers and their families, but the result in Gibraltar was increased prosperity. Instead of crossing into Spain to shop and dine out, Gibraltarians stayed home and spent their money. Tourism was up 10% over 1968; goods, food stuffs and workers were imported from Morocco; freighters continued to stop at the Rock; and cruise ships, which had been avoiding Gibraltar the previous two years, returned in, totalling 120 visits in 1969. The Royal Navy also increased its presence; there were five frigates and a nuclear submarine in port when Cook visited. He wrote that, “The only notable hardship seems to be the sad fact that there is not a cow on the Rock, and the 25,000 inhabitants are therefore reduced to drinking reconstituted milk.”
One of the curious things mentioned by Cook in the article was that Russian seamen liked to play the slot machines at the casino often using kopeks which were the same size as a shilling. The Russians were also known for purchasing large quantities of Sloan’s Liniment. “Apparently it is used by the sailors as a kind of toilet water, to tone up the skin in Arctic waters on whaling voyages.”
Cook finished the article, “Spain seems to have lost a peninsula and Britain has gained another island – and it can go on this way for quite a long time, even without fresh milk”. The border reopened to foot traffic on December 15th, 1982 but not to automobile traffic until February 5th, 1985.
Cook retired from the LA Times in 1988 and died of a heart attack on March 7th, 1995 aged 74. He wrote several books including, Floodgates in Europe, Forging the Alliance (the formation of Nato 1945-1950) and a biography of Charles de Gaulle.