The Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia marked the 70th anniversary of the explosion of the RFA Bedenham in Gun Wharf this morning by laying a wreath together with His Worship The Mayor John Goncalvez MBE GMD, and the heads of the Airport and Gibraltar Fire Rescue Services Nicky Vinales and Colin Ramirez. A wreath was also laid on behalf of the Civil Defence Association (UK).
The RFA Bedenham was a naval armament carrier. It had arrived in Gibraltar on 24 April 1951 and on the morning of 27 April, exactly 70 years ago, was unloading depth charges at Gun Wharf to a lighter (a shallow-draft boat or barge used in the unloading of larger ships). A depth charge ignited while in the process of being unloaded. This caused a fire and an explosion in the lighter which then spread to the Bedenham itself. Brave attempts to contain the fire proved to no avail and the Bedenham too exploded violently. The explosion rocked Gibraltar. Its force was such that parts of the vessel were blown out of the water onto the actual quayside and elsewhere.
The explosion killed 13 people, injured hundreds and caused extensive damage to property. Windows shattered all over Gibraltar and the Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned, the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity and the Convent were particularly badly affected.
The Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia said: “The explosion of the Bedenham was a before and after moment for that generation of Gibraltarians. Everyone could remember where they were and what they were doing when the ship blew up. My own grandfather worked in the ammunition stores in the dockyard at that time, and although he was not directly impacted by the explosion, it did have a profound effect going forward. I know that many families lost relatives and it was very fitting to see some of them represented in the short ceremony today.
“This was a tragic accident but the truth is that it could have been much worse. There is a theory that Gibraltar’s defensive structures and city walls actually helped to deflect some of the force of the blast away from the town area. Today we mark those who lost their lives and we honour those heroes who gallantly fought to contain the blaze and who selflessly assisted the injured – and we do so precisely on the eve of Workers’ Memorial Day.”