I’ve lived in El Médano for around five years – not all at the same time, but when I put all the bits together that’s what it amounts to. Not the longest I’ve lived anywhere (in bits or no) but thinking about it now, at the beginning of this shiny, new year, it’s the only place I’ve actually ever chosen to live…..every time – I came here because it was where I wanted to be, not because it was handy for work, or schools or the property was cheaper, but simply because I fancied living here (well, it may not exactly have been first choice,but most affordble and so it will do). Reasons for moving away have been varied, and, because I’m odd that way, I’ve never missed it that much either, but the place does have a pull I can’t quite put my finger on……….or can I?
No less than 3 times in the last week interesting stories about this wee town have come my way, and although 2 of the 3 are myths, you have to recognize that this is a town which revels in the weird and the offbeat, even those good old boys watching the sunset down on Playa Chica (one of whom asked me out for breakfast the other evening) like to think this is a town apart, and it surely is.
Much as I love to preach about appreciating where we are, discovering the unknown within our familiar surroundings during the times we cannot be in motion, and much as I go on about the electic mix of folk which makes this place so unique and interesting, I had missed the wealth of stories that a village of less than 7,500 can nurture. Here is the first (I will be writing about more), and it’s a true one:
A few years back I read that the worst thing anyone had ever said about…..wait for it…..George Bush …..now isn’t your mind racing to guess the answer????…… was that he was incurious. Won’t go there, of course (we don’t have all day, do we, and it’s all history already) but giving the comment some thought I absolutely understood it, and I deserve a kick in the pants for not being more curious about the odd and yet familiar structures which dot El Médano’s beaches.
They are familiar, basically, because I’m a BabyBoomer, a first wave BabyBoomer at that, some of my earliest memories involve leftovers of World War 2; my father’s RAF uniform hanging in the wardrobe, ration books, the eerie ruins of bombed buildings in Liverpool, and – bunkers.
I lived very close to an airfield, and although it must have been of minor importance, there were bunkers hidden amongst the hillocks surrounding it. They were things of mystery – grown-ups were then reluctant to talk much about the goings-on of recent history – but in typical childhood fashion our imaginations were soon distracted by other things, horses which moved into a field opposite, the newly-available (when sugar ceased to be rationed) candy in the corner shop and, of course, television. And so bunkers became just a part of the landscape.
I guess this was why, when I first saw bunkers on the beach at El Médano I didn’t see them as anything out-of-the-ordinary, until I realized that Spain had avoided involvement in World War 2, since it was recovering from a devastating civil war. So why were there bunkers on this beach?
We know that Franco was pro-Hitler, or at least that he owed Germany a debt, since the Luftwaffe had been an important ally, not only in dropping bombs (most famously Guernica of course) but also in providing transport for Franco’s initial leap from North Africa to the Spanish mainland, yet he managed to walk a tightrope from 1939 to 1945, declaring Spain at first non-beligerant and eventually neutral.
It seems that relations between the two dictators weren’t as pally as we might assume, each making demands of the other which were unacceptable, perhaps because they were both really doing a balancing act, and had more interest in maintaining the status quo between the two countries. Reportedly one of Franco’s demands was German aid to fortify the Canary Islands. In fact, it seems that Hitler, one stage, at had plans to invade both the Canary Islands and the Azores, the strategic positioning of each achipelago being obvious, but was disuaded by his navy who thought the stretching of supply lines to maintain the islands was too much, but in the war’s early years the German navy did visit Canarian ports.
It was, then, logical to assume a potential invasion by Allied Forces, and bunkers were constructed throughout the islands, although I have the impression that the ones in El Médano remain in better condition than those found elsewhere. I stand to be corrected there.
It wasn’t the first time Tenerife had girded its loins against possible threat from Britain’s navy. There had been the most famous attempt at the Battle of Santa Cruz in 1797, where Lord Nelson suffered the only real defeat of his career and lost his arm in the process. Historians dispute whether that was really an attempt at invasion or a distraction, but Santa Cruz’s fortifications stood the test. More than a hundred years before that, in 1657 the “father of the British Navy” Robert Blake had destroyed 16 ships at Santa Cruz during the Anglo-Spanish War, which, ironically, followed close on the heels of Britain’s own Civil War; and the first Battle of Santa Cruz in 1706 had suffered a similar fate to the later one.
In fact, Britain had drawn up invasion plans code named Operation Puma, which were, allegedly, to be put into operation should Spain (or presumably Germany) invade Gibraltar. Germany, in turn, had plans to invade Gibraltar, code-named Operation Felix, which were shelved in 1941 due to lack of support from Spain.
And thus it was, that despite drawing up of plans, strategic dithering by Franco and President Roosevelt’s concerns that possible U-boat refuelling in the islands might make the islands a “springboard” for Atlantic agression, the bunkers were never, really needed.
Today they provide some interesting photo ops at sunrise, and act as windbreaks for sunbathers and a reminder of what might have been, as Spanish, English, Germans and Italians all play and mingle happily on El Médano’s beaches.