Many of the roads were built by Republican prisoners

The inhabitants of the Campo de Gibraltar still benefit today from the work carried out between Conil and Estepona by Republican prisoners, who were used as slaves. They built, with their own hands, a network of roads along the coast and into the countryside which are still in use today. Thousands of people drive their cars, motorbikes, lorries or vans along some of them: the one from Algeciras to Getares beach and the lighthouse at Punta Carnero, for example; the ones which connect the N-340 highway to Bolonia and Punta Paloma, in Tarifa; the stretch from Jimena to Atajate on the San Roque to Ronda road; and the one from Castellar to Sotogrande. All these roads and others are the legacy of the work carried out by men who were punished for the single crime of defending democracy, justice and freedom. Let us not forget that, or them.

Life in the concentration camps was extremely harsh. The bad nutrition, deaths from starvation and non-fatal illnesses, the lack of hygiene, the cold, the lack of warm clothing, are all documented. Testimonies from survivors speak of lashings, corporal punishments and also a system of spying and informing among the prisoners themselves which was set up by the army, which euphemistically called it a Special Service of the Workers’ Battalions. With this system of informers those in command knew what was happening with the prisoners, their ideas and plans, with sufficient time to stop any attempt at escape or organised collective response to the harsh living and working conditions to which they were subjected.
For attempts to escape, the orders were clear. This is what an order from the Generalísimo’s headquarters said on 23rd May 1938: “As well as the barbed wire which must be used to enclose the settlements or places in which they are kept, build a trench and if anyone tries to leave without permission through anywhere other than the entrance, they are to be shot with no warning. I order that the greatest rigour be used with the prisoners, within the strictest discipline.”
These living conditions were those suffered in the Campo de Gibraltar by the 30,000 prisoners who passed through here. Up to 15 different battalions worked in this area. Each battalion contained between 700 and 1,000 prisoners. These battalions, in turn, were divided into companies and sections. A company had an average of 200 workers, and each section between 20 and 70. At the head of each battalion there was a commander, a captain, four lieutenants, one of whom had to be a doctor, five subalterns, a brigadier, 20 sergeants, 52 corporals, a cornet and 68 soldiers.
Below, we detail the places in which these different battalions of workers were to be found, on 1st September 1941, according to documentation from the military archives in Ávila, Guadalajara and the National History Archive:
Battalion number 1. Bolonia Port. El hoyo del Álamo (Tarifa).
Battalion number 2. Puertollano (Tarifa).
Battalion number 6. Ensenada de Bolonia. Ranchiles (Tarifa).
Battalion number 7. El Tiradero. (Los Barrios).
Battalion number 8. Cortijo de los Palos (Algeciras).
Battalion number 9. San Roque.
Battalion number 10. Los Puertos (La Línea).
Battalion number 11. Toril de los alelíes (San Roque).
Battalion number 15. Puerto Galis (Jerez de la Frontera).
Battalion number 16. Santuario Nuestra Señor de La Luz (Tarifa).
Battalion number 22. Campamento el Cobre (Algeciras).
Battalion number 23. Alto Aragonés (Algeciras).
Battalion number 27. El Camorro (Tarifa).
Battalion number 35. Punta Paloma. Las Rozas. (Tarifa).
Battalion number 46. Los Tornos (Tarifa).
In addition, at the same time there were other emplacements for companies and detachments of these battalions in the following places:
1. Cerro del Rayo (Algeciras).
2. Pelayo (Algeciras).
3. The powder magazine of the Torre del Almirante (Algeciras).
4. Guadarranque (San Roque).
5. Punta Mala. Guadalquitón (San Roque)
6. Carretas. Opposite the crossroads at the entrance to Betijuelo (Tarifa).
7. Zahara de los Atunes. Zahara-Tarifa.
8. Hoyo Moreno (Tarifa).
9. Las Majadillas (Tarifa).
10. Area around the cemetery in Tarifa.

And on 1st April 1942 the existing battalions were in the following places:
Battalion number 1. Punta Paloma (Tarifa).
Battalion number 15. Punta Paloma (Tarifa).
Battalion number 6. Punta Paloma (Tarifa).
Battalion number 11. Guadalmesí (Tarifa).
Battalion number 16. Nuestra señora de la Luz (Tarifa).
Batallion number 23. Alto Aragonés (Algeciras).
Batallion number 9. Campamento Las Eras (Algeciras).
Batallion number 10. Los Puertos (La Línea).
Batallion number 17. Jimena de la Frontera.
Batallion number 22. Venta Ojén (Los Barrios).
Batallion number 2. Punta Mala (San Roque).
Batallion number 27. Rota.
Batallion number 54. Conil.

Although every battalion was assigned a definitive base, the companies and detachments were sent elsewhere, depending on where they had to work or the area in which the works were progressing. The prisoners didn’t have a uniform as such, but in accordance with the slavery system of work every prisoner was given a white cylindrical cap, white shirt in strong material with the letter P on it, khaki trousers and canvas shoes. Every man had his prisoner number painted on his chest in indelible ink. There was very little food and it was poor quality, so the prisoners who did not receive food packages from their families were practically condemned to die from starvation. Many died because they had eaten poisonous mushrooms or other plants. In some companies the prisoners organised themselves communally and shared everything that they received from their families. This meant that many survived who would otherwise not have done so.

The overcrowding was extreme and there was a total lack of hygiene. The living conditions and survival of the prisoners often depended on the style of governing which each commander applied in his battalion. Some robbed, and permitted some of their subordinates to rob, the provisions or materials which were meant for the camps, to sell them on the black market, and others didn’t. Some imposed a more severe, authoritarian and vengeful regime than others. In some cases, beatings and corporal punishment were frequent, and in others they weren’t. All this meant that some battalions differed from others, and in some the prisoners survived, while in others it was more difficult to escape death.

On just one day in 1941, forty-one prisoners from the battalion at Punta Paloma died because they had all eaten poisonous mushrooms. Wherever a company or detachment passed through, the lizards, mice and all types of small animals disappeared, as did any grass or roots which could be used as food.

Most of the prisoners were from outside Andalucía because the regime applied a policy of dispersion and social uprooting. This punished not only the prisoners but also their families, and it prevented them contacting people they knew in the area to organise escapes or rebellions. The only consolation was that each battalion was made up of prisoners who were mainly from the same area. For example, in Castellar nearly all of them were from Asturias, while in San Roque they were from the Basque Country. In Tarifa, in the Punta Paloma area, there were numerous Catalonians, while in Guadalmesí nearly all were from Galicia.