The page to post your memories. (DON'T FORGET THERE IS A FORUM AS WELL)
Send me your memories and I'll post them up on this page. I have so many and will add some now and again as my memory allows. Well I am 61 now with a family history of Alzheimer's so give me a break! Don't forget to include your name and a title for the memory.
If you have any documents relevant to the RAF in Malta please scan and send them to me and I will publish them for everyones enjoyment. If you can't scan let me know and you can post to me and I will return after scanning.
I've had a few people asking if long lost friends can be found so I've created a new category on the FORUM so please post any 'Where are they now' requests there. Requires registration but only so we don't get 'spammers'.
Remember this? Advice for Passengers - Malta -
Reproduced with kind permission from John Twinn Sr.
Nearly 55 Minutes of family cine film from 1967-69 Yes, it's long, quality isn't great as it looks like the cine films have themselves been filmed to digitise them, hence the 2006 date, but there are some fascinating scenes including a royal visit by HM Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. Lots of building has taken place since then of course and there are some great shots of the camps, aircraft, ships, etc. as well as scenery and the family themselves. Thanks to Angela Weatherill for sending me the link.
A few links to historic and informative videos of Malta. Thanks to Carmen Pizzuto for sending me the links.
Did you know there was a railway in Malta? I had no idea and I wish I'd seen this video before I walked up to Floriana, I had walked from Sliema to Valletta. There are some scenes in this video that I passed and had no idea they were connected to an historic railway system.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8OlMnpZvtQ&feature=related
Many more video films about Malta are available on You Tube when you are viewing the above.
Request for Info - Cheshire Regiment in Malta during WWII
This is an Uncle of Mick Cundy, Captain Richard Roy Cundy. who was 1st Battalion Cheshire Rgt. 49776 and served in Malta with the Cheshire's during the siege of Malta.
Mick is looking for any information that may be available about this period of the Cheshire Regiment history.
Could anyone with any information please let me know and I will pass on to Mick. Thanks very much Dave Rose
Martin 'Mitch' Hankin - Memories of 1151 MCU
I was on the MCU for a total of 5 years, and many times we had to work CW (djr- Morse Code for the uninitiated!) with Luqa especially when we patrolled the west side of the island, UHF and VHF signal seemed to be very poor, we went on one sortie on a night para exercise, we had to recover about 40 paras who had jumped from a Herc into the sea. They had night lights attached to their legs and were recovered firstly by our Gemini liferaft and then transferred on the TTL. We got them all .... did not loose a man even though it was pitch dark.
Another exercise we did was to take a Navy Officer out about 10nm where he dropped a sonic mic about 40 Fathoms deep, it was connected to a small box of tricks which housed a telephone, to our amazement he started talking on it, we later found out he was in contact with a sub but we did not see it ... not even a periscope.We also did some target towing for the navy using a skid which had a large sail on it, it was towed about 1 nm behind us and we had a couple of navy ratings on board with us giving instruction to a warship stationed off Gozo .. again we did not see the ship as it was over the horizon but we did see the concrete filled shells land near its target, can only say I was glad it was a mile behind us
The official version of 'The Last Man Left in the Air Force'
This poem was written by Peter Wyton [pen name] when he was serving at RAF Wyton in the early 70s. There is no objection at all to the poem being circulated but please ensure that it is always attributed to Peter. More info about him at www.myspace.com/peterwytonpoet The poem often turns up in a rather muddled form, the correct form is copied below. Regards L. Fisher [Peter's manager].
THE UNKINDEST (DEFENCE) CUT OF ALL
I'm the last man left in the Air Force, I've an office in M.O.D. And a copy of Queen's Regulations Which only apply to me. I can post myself to Leuchars And detach me from there to Kinloss Or send me on course to Innsworth Then cancel the lot - I'm the Boss.
I'm the last man left in the Air Force But the great parliamentary brains Omitted, when cancelling people, To sell off the stations and planes, The result is, my inventory bulges With KD and camp stools and Quarters, Plus a signed book of speeches by Trenchard That I keep to impress the reporters.
I'm the last man left in the Air Force, I suppose you imagine it's great To be master of all you survey but I tell you, it's difficult, mate. I inspected three units last Thursday As A.O.C. (Acting) of Strike, Then I swept half the runway at Laarbruch And repaired Saxa Vord's station bike.
I'm the last man left in the Air Force, My wife says I'm never at home, When I'm not flying Hercs I'm at Manston, Laying gallons and gallons of foam, Or I'm in my Marine Craft at Plymouth, Shooting flares at the crowds on the Ho, Or I'm Orderly Corporal at Uxbridge, It's an interesting life, but all go.
I'm the last man left in the Air Force, I'm A.D.C. to the Queen, I'm Duty Clerk at St. Mawgan, I'm the R.A.F. rugby team, Tomorrow I'm painting a guardroom And air-testing several planes, The day after that I'm for London To preach at St. Clement Dane's.
From Clive Micklefield - Interview about The Folk Club.
Text from Clive - "I have dug out a recording I made at home in Attard of an interview with Sgt Bob Reed who used to host the Malta Folk Workshop at Safi. The recording is not brilliant but you can make out enough information from it. The recording includes myself and a guy called Roger Petitt (not sure of spelling of surname). Have a listen and maybe include on the page with all the other related info about the Malta Folk Workshop at Safi. I do have a poster somewhere for this 1974 concert but I cannot find it, will keep hunting. The recording is a straight forward .wma file, so should open with Windows media player. By the way, you can hear my children now and again in the background of the recording which was made on a real cheap cassette recorder - that's all I could afford in those days, he he!
My mum Beatrice Borg a young widow during World War II met an RAF Squadron Leader named Billy Brenton from Plymouth England However she called it off since he was a Protestant and in Malta at that time granting a marriage to a Protestant would not have been allowed. I was about 8 years at the time...Billy went on numerous flights (missions) to Germany..Though my mother have passed on, I the daughter have always wondered how Billy Brenton fared.........Did he survive....Have small pictures of Bill (which my mum saved) of himself and with other fliers taken in Malta.....they are small 1 1/2 inc by 1 1/2 inc in my position.....Any information about him will be so appreciated. We migrated to the USA in 1948.....I myself a married woman (widowed) with 3 grown sons live on Long Island New York. Hope to hear from you. Vivienne Borg Laferla (maiden name) Vivienne Critelli is my married name.
George Pace - 1969 - 72
I enjoyed the best RAF Posting of my life as a young Dog Handler 1969 - 1972 at RAF Luqa. My daughter Barbara was born at Mtarfa Naval Hospital and I have wonderful memories to this day of participating in the local culture of these kind genuine people. Yes I used to shoot Bunnies on nightshift mobile patrols with Sgt Sultana on the Hal - Far airfield, and accompanied Maltese friends trapping wild birds. Later on in 1989 - 91 I went to work as Dog Trainer for the Maltese Police at Floriana. I hold and cherish deeply the kind Maltese people whom I have had the pleasure to have known. Johnny Frendo who worked in ground photo section, Carlie Mallea and Joe Buttagieg RAF Malta Police to name but a few. As a footnote we won the RAF NEAF Dog Trials in 1971 with my GSD Air Dog SIMON which I am sure Johnny Frendo remembers.Thank you for this opportunity to contact friends too many to record on this page but what a nice walk down memory lane it has been for me . It beats a night down Strait Street
Derek Gare - One of the lucky '2 Malta tours' gang
I was stationed at Luqa from 59 to 62 then again from 65 to 68 and lived in Hamrun on the first tour and in Paola on the second. I was with 39 Sqdn on both tours. I remember with fondness the Attards of Qormi who owned and ran a lime kiln and whose kindness to me and my family I shall never forget. I Look back with fondness to the time my wife and I spent in Malta.
Gerry Linstead - Just when he was settling in we were all chucked out !
I was posted to Luqa in September 1971 in the trade of Air Camera Fitter working on both 13 and 203 Sqdn's. I had a very nice flat in St Julians bay overlooking the Med and was looking forward to what had the makings of a good overseas tour. It didn't take long to suss out a few local bars, acquire a taste for the famous Hop Leaf and generally find my way around the island on its amazing bus service. . I met some great people, enjoyed working on the squadrons and was generally settling into what looked to be a great way of life for the next couple of years. This suddenly changed in January 72 when the then Maltese Prime Minister Dom Mintoff had the British removed from the Island and I suddenly found myself and 13 Sqdn in Cyprus. Although 13 returned to Malta a few months later I stayed in Cyprus for the rest of my tour but did manage to scrounge the odd flight back to Malta to visit old mates and old haunts. I have some very fond memories of Malta and hope to pay it a visit again sometime.
Wyndham Grech - (Grandfather of Chris Grech)
My grandfather, Wyndham Grech was adjutant at Hal Far during WWII. I don't know the dates. He was Malta's first pilot and flew with 24 sqdn in WWI and went on to become squadron leader in WWII although he worked mainly for the Army legal Service and was one of the military judges at the Ravensbruck womens concentration camp trials after the war.
Brian Crook memories
I was a Nav. enjoying my first tour on 39 Squadron Canberra PR9s at Luqa 1966-1968, then was lucky to be posted back on No13 Squadron Canberra PR7s 1976-1978. We were the last RAF Squadron which served in Malta - a history stretching back to 1918, and before that with the RFC/RNAS. I married a Maltese girl (Francesca Fenech ) from St Julians in 1966 at St Patrick's, Sliema, our daughter went to school at 2 Site, RAF Luqa when she was 6, 7 and 8 years old, and we go back every year to remember happy times on that glorious island. I attach a few photos which might be useful (39 Sqn Canberra PR9/13Sqn Canberra PR7/Recce film-KD shorts 1977 13Sqn/ Malta and Gozo from 40,000ft 1976 before new runway/getting married 1966/Going back - Holiday-Dingli Cliffs 2009)
The Fog Lamp, Birzebbuga - Anyone know what happened to it? - from Bruce Robinson
When I returned to Malta a few weeks ago I was obviously eager to find as many old haunts as possible. I went to Birzebuggia in the hope I could find the Fog Lamp and hope beyond hope it was still there with Moira in command behind the bar. I stood on the beach at Pretty Bay and tried to pinpoint where it used to be. I went into the nearby Labour club as I thought it looked a bit like my memory. I was told however that The Power Bar further down the road is where The Fog Lamp used to be. Unfortunately it was closed and I was unable to investigate further. I was hoping some of your new readers to the website could throw any light on when it ceased to be the Fog Lamp and what happened to Moira. Most of the RAF at some time during their stay in Malta would have visited the pub. I remember Moiras mother Beattie, who owned the place, often sat in the corner and little Mary from Gozo who worked behind the bar. N.B. - We have since learned that Moira still lives in the flat above 'The Fog Lamp' (now the Power Bar) and we hope to make contact at some time in the future.
Hal Far renovation - Dr Ing Chris Micallef
We have a Sick Bay Shelter at Hal Far which we intend to refurbish and bring up to specs. We intend to equip it with WW2 equipment, photographs, Gloster Gladiator models to make it as if in those times. This is at the Employment and Training Corporation at Hal Far. I trying my best that this mini project succeeds.
Emanuel Muscat looking for information regarding RAF Qrendi.
I have read your letter in the Times of Malta about your very interesting website.Although I never spent time within the RAF in Malta I am particularly inerested in RAF Qrendi Station which was used as a WWII airfield in 1942/43 and later as the RAF Met Office till 1975.Perhaps some of your readers have information about RAF Qrendi will share it on your website.
Webmaster - If you can assist Emanuel could you please email him by clicking here.
Did anyone know Joe Bartolo?
my father worked for the RAF for over 35 years and spent most of his time at the Families Office Luqa - Does anybody remember Joe Bartolo - As a kid we enjoyed several xmas parties and swam at the K-Club. Would love to contact anyone who knew him. Please email me here Denis Bartolo
Joseph Zammit - RIP - Joseph passed away on 11th December 2009
My father Joseph Zammit was a civilian who was employed with the Royal Air Force as metalworker and he served at RAF Tal-Handaq, RAF Maritime Section Marsaxlokk and lastly at RAF Luqa before the British Forces left the island. His last job was to restore the Gladiator "Faith". My father now is 86 years and he used to live at Birzebbuga before he went to stay in an old persons home. John Zammit.
Civilian Career - Joseph Mizzi
I served in the Raf as a civilian from 1966 till the withdrawal in March 1979. I served at the Raf Headquarters in Floriana between 1966 and 1967, then I moved to Luqa and served in the RAF Malta Records Office (Above the Sick Quarters). In 1971 I got promoted and moved to the Air Movements section and we were extremely busy during the withdrawal in 1972. In 1974 I was transferred to the MT Servicing Section at Safi and in 1978 I moved to the Officers Mess Luqa till March 1979. My post was always an administrative one. Before I joined tha RAF in 1966 I served at HM Dockyard from 1944 to 1966. >My best time in the RAF was at Air Movements and at the MT Servicing Section at Safi. Im am now 83 years of age and completely retired.
Bryan Hyland - Memories from the early 1960's
Back in the early '60's I was a Cpl Armourer on 38 Sqdn (Shackletons) at Luqa. I certainly remember that "Shack smell". Mixture of Avgas, oil, stale cooking, urine and sweat. One of our aircraft had a particularly weird smell and legend had it that it was one of a couple of our a/c that were used to ferry back a number of RMA bodies after a Beverly crashed in Idris. The story was that one of the casualties was a member of the Malta Labour Party, which I think at that time offended the Malta Catholic church. The local priests refused to bury him and eventually an RAF RC padre did the honours, but he had to be off the island himself within 24 hours because of local pressures. On the other hand, that kind of smell often came from a pack of green furry sausages nicked from in-flight rations by one of the flight signallers, hidden under one of the nav desks and then forgotten. So maybe this story was rather more legend than history ! I remember several of the RAF Malta airmen from that time quite well. Sammy Sammut ( electrician), Charlie Coliero (Plumber) and Charlie (?) Zammit. The latter guy, for a few bob, did a nice little portrait of my wife taken from a photograph and painted in oils on the lid of a cardboard box. I had it framed and it still hangs here in my study. Another guy, "Ellul" I think his name was, knocked the tail cones off three Shacks in a row on the back pans while driving a runaway tractor. As a "Plumber" myself, I used to spend ages waiting for a licensed tractor driver to tow bomb trollies out to the pan for us to load up. I had never driven myself at that time but eventually I got so sick of waiting that I got onto one and soon found how to get it going. After that, I never looked back and always drove for myself. One day there was a station purge on unlicensed drivers but somehow I ended up on a short list of approved tractor drivers. From then on I seemed to spend half my life towing aircraft and doing compass swings. So that really backfired on me; but they never did realise that I had no license ! Air Eng Jimmy Drew springs to mind as one of the most colourful Sqdn characters of the day. Also at that time there was a wonderful printed booklet of Shackleton-related cartoons doing the rounds. That was the work of one of the NCO aircrew, and I wish I still had my copy. I wonder if it is still around ? A memorable 24 hour Duty Crew I did started at Luqa, panic move to Nicosia when the Turks threatened invasion and a second move to Akrotiri when they overflew Nicosia. All in one 24 hour duty. Those were the days. Good times too. A weekend round trip via Libya to Kenya ( load the panniers with fresh pineapples - the heaviest bomb load I ever loaded) and then to Aden for duty free shopping. I still have a little 35mm camera (and a receipt for £4) from that trip. Not used these days since digital came in.
General memories of Malta - Dave Rose
Lack of Birds I remember landing during September 1972 and wondering what was missing. I soon realised it was the sound and sight of birds. The Maltese (some Maltese) are in the habit of shooting anything with feathers, or capturing it to keep in a cage. As malta is on a major migration route this is quite a big problem for migrating birds. I remember an article in the Times of Malta showing a very proud Maltese bloke with a huge bird of prey (can't remember the type now) which he had shot. it was the first one that had been spotted in Malta for about a decade, and maybe never since I suspect!.
Ham & Eggs I loved the island although many thought it small and boring I had regular haunts that I enjoyed very much. Every time I have Ham, Egg & Chips it reminds me of a small cafe that was at St Pauls bay. Myself and Bruce used to frequent the place for this meal and it's one of those things that have stuck in my mind.
Zonqor Point Flat When Bruce and I moved off the RAF Luqa camp into a flat at the end of Marsaskala bay, Zonqor Point, it was terrific. When I asked about flats for rent 'Pop', the barmen at the sailing club in Burzibugga, pointed me in the direction of Reno Grech. Reno worked at the Marine Craft Unit and had the flats at Zonqor Point. As we would stay there all year round we agreed a rent of £20.00 a month (well, it was only 1973). Nevertheless, this was an incredible bargain and I snatched his hand off. During the interview with Wing Commander Admin, who was also a member of the sailing club, he mentioned to me that the Grechs came from Pheonicia. I said no, I think he lives in Zabbar. He must have thought I was a really think prat! Anyway, he approved the move after Reno got a workman in to move the gas boiler out of the bathroom and into the kitchen. There had been a number of deaths with people getting into the bath with the water running and the gas boiler exhausting all of the oxygen out of the room. Used to get up in the morning, walk to the side of the bay, swim across and back again, shower and off to work. What a life eh!
Signals Christmas 1973 There was the combined Terminal Commcen / Siggiewi Christmas party at a hotel on top of the hill outside Zabbar. I had my new Ford Escort 1300GT, in Daytona Yellow, which Bruce and I set off home in at about 0400. Coming down the hill I managed to get a ton out of the car before hitting the bends of Zabbar. After hitting a raised manhole the back end left the road and smashed itself against a lampost! I remember Bruce saying we should stop and have a look. 'Little point' I replied, or words to that affect. Next morning I woke and thought I'd had a dreadful dream until I saw the rear side of my car which was flattened from behind the offside door right back to the lights and the chrome bumper at a right angle to where it should be. Luckily this was not on the petrol tank side. Couldn't believe the repair that was carried out by a brother, or cousin, of my landlord (Reno Grech). You would not believe the car had been damaged at all apart from a small nick in the chrome bumper and all for £30.00.
Chasing French Submarines! - Dave Rose
With the Nimrod crews coming to the commcen to give us their confidential reports of shipping sighted in the Med there was always the opportunity to ask for a 'Jolly'. I did this and was asked to report to the ops room at 0430 for a take off at 0530. The Nimrod was taking part in a NATO exercise 'CASEX' with a French Submarine off the island of Pantalleria, near the coast of Libya. We duly took off and I had one of the greatest experiences of my life, for 9 hours! While in Masirah I did 13 hours in a Shackelton but they are such different aircraft it was a totally different experience.
We did some manoeuvres and dropped sonobouys in a pattern, which is tracked by the tactical navigator. We found the sumbarine half a dozen times in that 9 hours, each time he was found we would go off and give him a chance to change course and try to hide again. At the end of the exercise we circled the submarine with the captain waving from the conning tower saying, over the radio of course, 'Zank you RAF, we felt rarzer like a clockwork mouse'. All in all it was an interesting, and exciting, day even though it was a long day. Thanks 203 Squadron, I enjoyed the trip.
Maltese Spitfire recovery - Dave Rose
While I was in Malta a Spitfire was recovered from Marsalforn Bay in Gozo. I remember the engine being displayed with red pencils stuck into the holes that had caused it to crash. The German cannon fire had damaged the glycol tubes which caused the engine to overheat and seize. I couldn't remember where it was on display but there is an excellent article on the 44th Boy Entrant website at http://www.44th-entry.org.uk/SCL4.html Not only gives detail of the find by the sub aqua team but the whole history of where the Spitfire was built, shipped to the Med, the pilot, how it was brought down and even the German pilots name, the Maltese who brought the pilot ashore etc.... It's a really interesting web page, with Photographs as well, which is copyrighted by Kevin Patience.
Royal Navy sees off Libyans
In February 1973 I went to Valetta Grand Harbour to watch HMS Ark Royal steaming into harbour, what a magnificent sight. I'm sure I took 35mm slide photographs but can't find them to post on the site but I will if I come across them. Consequence of the aircraft carrier being in harbour is that the Phantoms cannot take off from the deck so they were deployed to RAF Luqa on detachment from 23 Feb to 06 March.
While working on the Flight Watch I had a MAYDAY call from a C130 (Hercules) aircraft saying he was being escorted by two Libyan fighters. They were trying to make him turn around to fly to Libya and land there as they were accusing the C130 of acting in a photo reconnaisance role. The C130 steadfastly plodded on it's course away from Libya. Operations were right next door and they were patched through to speak directly to the C130. Two of the Ark Royal Phantoms were scrambled to go to the C130's assistance and that was quite a site to see the Phantoms taking off in anger and rapidly becoming tiny specks in the sky until they dissappeared completely. Unbeknown to the Libyans these Phantoms were unarmed, not a single cannon shell, air-air rocket, nothing. Nevertheless, when the Libyan pilots had the Phantoms on visual they immediately turned and headed back to Libya. I don't for a second suspect they were frightened of combat but more frightened of the political fallout of a confrontation with the Royal Navy. Exciting times though, and well done Royal Navy.
KLM Hijack & El-Fatah threat - 1973
During the latter part of 1973 we had threats from El-Fatah against the airbase and naval base in Malta. As a result we had armed guards on the airfield to protect the Nimrods and Canberras'. I took part in the guarding of the Canberra aircraft, they didn't trust us RAF 'erks to look after the Nimrods so they had the Marine Commando (43?) regiment on top of hangars and patrolling the pans. Problem with the Canberra was that when it was raining you couldn't even shelter beneath it because the rain ran over and under the wing dripping off right in the middle!
During these times of guard duty the hijacked KLM Boeing 747 'Mississippi' landed at Luqa airport late November. It had been hijacked by three young Arabs while on a flight from Amsterdam to Tokyo with 247 passengers on board. The hijackers threatened to blow up the aircraft as no-one would allow them to land until they tried Malta. The Prime Minister, Dom Mintoff, was hero of the day after he argued with the hijackers that, due to the short runway, the aircraft could not possibly take off with both Passengers and fuel payload. Pointless without fuel so the hijackers were eventually persuaded to release most of the passengers and some of the cabin crew. The aircraft continued on to Dubai where the hijacking ended peacefully without any injury. I remember it taking off and just about clearing the perimeter fence, PM Mintoff was not bluffing when he argued with the hijackers, it was plain fact but this does not detract from his efforts as they did not have to believe him.
RAF Luqa Sick Quarters - The Fur Glove!
During my working life I didn't often have time off sick but one morning I woke up, stretched and 'CLICK' went my neck. I found I could not turn it to the right so I turned it to the left. I still could not move my head to the right so I was now stuck looking sideways to the left! I shouted for Bruce Robinson, flatmate, to come to help me. When he managed to stop laughing he called the camp sick quarters and they said they would send the field ambulance (Landrover job) to pick me up. I asked Bruce to help me get dressed as I could not bend, or move very much at all. He put my shorts on me - up to the knees because he would not pull them all the way up, thanks Bruce! I managed to get dressed sufficiently and off we went in the ambulance. I then spent the next 3 days in RAF Luqa sick quarters. Being the only patient I had the undivided attention of the medical staff, particularly one Maltese nursing sister who gave me heat treatment and - massages with a fur (mink?) glove. It was heavenly and, being a huge James Bond fan, made me feel like I was at Shrublands being administered to by Miss Patricia Fearing (played by Molly Peters) in 'Thunderball'. The administrations did stop at the massage of the neck and upper back but it was the best time off sick I've ever had in my life.
MCU a Nimrod a TV Crew & Seasickness!
Conversing with the 203 Squadron group recently reminded me of an exciting trip I had with the Marine Craft unit. We had some problems, on the flight watch, with losing VHF/UHF radio voice contact with the MCU RTTL (Rescue and Target Towing Launch) once it got out of the harbour from Marsaxlokk. We had to revert to CW (using morse code) and I arranged a trip out to see if I could verify any problems with the radio. This coincided with a film crew, which I believe was from Anglia Television, making a documentary about the RAF in Malta. We set off and soon extended the 'skid' which is like a sled which sends up a plume of water that looks like a conning tower on radar. We had a couple of passes from 203 Squadron Nimrod and then stopped to winch in the skid. We had been travelling at some speed to produce the effects required but once we stopped the corkscrewing started and, not being the best of sailors other than in dinghies, I started to be violently sea-sick along with one of the production crew. One of the MCU crew gave us a canvas bucket to share which he swilled out over the side of the launch. We were fed with dry cream crackers, to make sure we had something to be sick with otherwise we could cause internal injuries. We continued to vomit and as if this was not bad enough we looked up and saw the cameraman sitting in the rubber dinghy, on top of the cabin, with the camera firmly focussed on the two of us! I could just imagine my friends and relatives watching this documentry thinking they might catch a glimpse of me working in Malta and they see me in this state. Wonderful, thanks Anglia !!
If anyone has any idea what happened to that documentary please let me know through the contact us page.
El-Fatah and the AOC's Radio
When we received threats from El-Fatah, in 1973, the OC of the commcen asked for someone with a car to go to the AOC's residence to man his radio. Against all of the advice people give about volunteering I stick my hand up, grabbed a radio log book from the flight watch and off I went. When I got to the residence I immediately got on the wrong side of the butler by knocking on the front door, an erk like me, can you imagine the insolence! He showed me to the AOC's study, which was plushly furnished in, what looked like, Sanderson furniture if I remember correctly. It was a very 'posh' study that could have come straight out of an old English film.
The radio was a simple PYE radio but there were no instructions regarding operation, call-signs etc. so I was completely in the dark. I needed to find out what the call-sign for the AOC was so that I could respond to radio checks, and in case there was any trouble of course. Operation was fairly simple and I could hear calls between other stations but had no idea who, or what, they were.
There was a black, Bakelite, telephone on the desk but no dial on it. I picked it up and it was almost immediately answered with a crisp 'Yes Sir'. They thought it was the AOC on the other end, not SAC Rose Telegraphist! It was the operations room, which was right next to the flight watch where I normally worked anyway. Because of this call I had information sent up to me with knowledge I needed so I could join in the radio checks and banter.
When I grabbed the log book and left the commcen I was told I would be relieved after a few hours. It was actually 24 hours, and a couple of phone calls from me, before someone did come to relieve me. By that time I had a couple of names, I can't remember who they were, and I'd knocked up a 3 shift rota for us to go by. It was a looonngggg 24 hours and I had to keep walking around during the night or I would have fallen asleep in those large, sumptuous chairs.
During the night the RAF Police Dog section would be patrolling the grounds and they would pop in through the French windows and I'd get him a cup of coffee while the dog lay on the carpet. I remember one dog, it was a large, almost black, German Shepherd dog called Satan. Satan never took his eyes off me and I was told it was OK as long as I did not make any sudden movements - I moved around that room in slow motion like the Million Dollar Man !
Countdown to 31 March 1979 - Paul Higgins
My Father, Squadron Leader Bernard Higgins was posted to RAF Luqa in February 1977 as OC SSS and served there for 2 years. At the end of his tour he had the distinction of handing over RAF Luqa to the Malta Government a few days before we officially pulled out of the island on 31 March 1979. At the time I was at boarding school in Surrey, but was always very excited about my school holidays in Malta. Although my Dad had spent a lot of time on detachment in the Middle East during my younger years, this was his first accompanied overseas tour. Indeed my first trip to Malta was only the second time I had ever been abroad and the first time I had ever been exposed to a non Northern European culture and way of life. It was also the first time I had ever been anywhere truly hot and there were many times I would look at the British tourists on the island and reflect on how lucky we were to be living somewhere that our compatriots paid good money to visit on holiday. After living for a few months in Birkirkara, Mum and Dad moved to a lovely flat in Marsascala, right on the water front close to the water polo club. With the brightly painted Luzzu fishing boats moored directly in front of us it was a beautiful and quintessentially Maltese scene. “How do you ever manage to drag yourself away from this to go to work in the morning?” a visiting relative from the UK once asked my Dad as he sat on our balcony taking in the magnificent view of the bay. I felt much the same way when I had to get on a plane back to cold, wet, dreary England at the end of each school holiday and subsequently shed many a tear at the airport at Luqa before embarking on the flight home. Having said that, Malta wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea and I recall that one girl at my boarding school whose Dad was also stationed at RAF Luqa absolutely hated the place. In some respects I can see why, because my first impressions of Malta were that it was dirty, dusty and ramshackle, with piles of rubble and potholed roads wherever you looked. There were also the smells, particularly when the “honey wagon” called to collect the sewage - driving that thing around had to be the worst job in the world. Once collected, all the islands effluent was presumably pumped into Sliema harbour, judging by the appalling aroma that always pervaded the place. One of the other things that puzzled me about Malta was why the only names you ever seemed to see on shop fronts were Mifsud or Zammit. Were Mifsud and Zammit two spectacularly successful entrepreneurs or were there only two Maltese surnames in existence? But notwithstanding all that, I quickly fell in love with the place. I was fascinated by the character and rich history of the islands that was so redolent in places like Valetta and Mdina, I lapped up the climate and perhaps above all I adored the deep blue Mediterranean Sea that was never much more than a couple of miles away (well the bits of it that weren’t full of raw sewage that is). I particularly remember those blazing hot summer days spent swimming at Marsascala, St Thomas’ Bay, Peter’s Pool or at the Kalafrana or Rob Lido beach clubs. The summer of 1977 was a particularly special time, when my best friend from England came out to stay and we spent much time hanging out with my Mum and Dad’s long standing RAF pals Lily and Stuart Chapman and their sons Simon and Miles who are much the same age as me. There were so many happy times, but I remember a day trip to the Blue Lagoon in Comino on the Captain Morgan in August ’77 with particular affection. I recall the traditional British Xmas day swim in Marsascala Bay with rather less affection! There were also the trips to Gozo, where we stayed in the Grand Hotel overlooking Mgarr harbour, run seemingly single handed by a young pocket dynamo called Maria. Looking back on it now, living as I do in Canada, able to keep in touch with home through internet, email, , cable TV, telephone and text messages, one of the things that amazes me about our time in Malta was just how isolated we were. We had no TV or telephone in our flat and of course there was no Internet or satellite TV in those days. One of our daily highlights was walking down to the newspaper kiosk in the main square to buy the previous day’s newspaper that had just arrived from the UK. BFBS Radio was subsequently a bit of a lifeline for us all, though for a time we didn’t even have that when Prime Minister Dom Mintoff took exception to something they broadcast and insisted they close down during the summer of 1978. Unbelievably, Jim Callaghan’s Labour government of the time agreed to it, which didn’t go down at all well with the forces in Malta who felt that they had been hung out to dry and resented the slight to our national pride. For us of course Dom Mintoff was the Prince of Darkness. He had instigated our departure and there was something very sinister about his authoritarianism and petty vindictiveness, as exemplified by the private army of thugs that were regularly set loose upon political opponents by his nasty sidekick Lorry Sant. To us it seemed that Mintoff aspired to turn Malta into a one party, hard-line socialist state and getting rid of the Brits was just one step in the process. Mintoff’s good friend Gadaffi, was widely presumed to be behind much of Mintoff’s agenda, particularly when it came to stoking up hostility towards the Brits and there was little doubt that Mintoff was being bankrolled by substantial amounts of Libyan money. Amongst other things this cash enabled to get by without the rent he was foregoing by ejecting the British military bases. Quite apart from the impact upon us, Mintoff’s poisonous domestic politics undoubtedly polarised Malta and the Maltese people that we knew and befriended were all Party National supporters who both feared and detested the man. We never really did hear the opposing side of the argument, but that was no coincidence, as the Malta Labour Party lot didn’t seem to want anything to do with us. I somehow doubt that Maltese politics has ever recovered from this toxic, divisive legacy. When we arrived in Malta the British military presence was still quite significant. There were the Canberras of 13 Squadron and 203 squadron’s Nimrods at RAF Luqa and although Safi and Hal Far were no longer flying stations, the RAF still retained the properties. There were also RAF some Air Sea Rescue vessels at Marsaxlokk, the Royal Marines’ 41 Commando Battalion were at St Georges Bay, there was the hospital at Mtarfa, the signals unit at Siggiewi and various other military installations and recreational facilities dotted across the islands. Moreover, whilst the days when the ships the of Mediterranean Fleet were lined up bow to stern all around Grand Harbour had long since gone, the Navy retained Fort St Angelo and received frequent visits from transiting warships, including HMS Ark Royal on her last voyage in 1978. Needless to say there was something terribly poignant about Britain’s last fully fledged aircraft carrier bidding farewell to one of the Royal Navy’s great historic ports, just a few short months before our military presence in Malta was also due to be consigned to history. But it was all part of a recurring theme as the 31st March 1979 approached and with each subsequent visit I paid to Malta, our presence had visibly receded. The Nimrods went home at the end of 1977 and the Canberra’s followed in the autumn of 1978, the latter heralded by a spectacular display by the Red Arrows that my Dad witnessed from an Air Sea Rescue boat in Grand Harbour. By Christmas 1978, celebrated in the Officers Mess at Luqa, there really weren’t many of us left and the “End of Empire” atmosphere about the place only exacerbated the sense of national decline we felt as we heard reports of the winter of discontent back home, courtesy of BFBS, which was back on the air by this time. One of the other things I remember from our final Christmas in Malta was my Dad packing up a crate full of surplus RAF furniture that he had acquired and was going to ship home. Indeed my Mum and Dad’s house is still full of the stuff! However, this all had a slightly macabre twist, as the crate was in a hanger at RAF Luqa, surrounded by the mangled wreckage of a Canberra that had crashed on take-off a couple of months earlier. The pilot and navigator had managed to eject safely, but a passenger in the jump seat couldn’t get out. As duty officer my Dad had been one of the first on the scene that day and arrived in time to see the poor chap’s charred body smouldering in the aftermath of the crash. I arrived in Malta for my final school holiday on the island on 17th March 1979, exactly two weeks before the big day. Malta had gained its full independence from Britain 15 years earlier, but Mintoff was clearly trying to make political capital by dressing up the 31st March 1979 as the new official Independence Day. One of the more ridiculous aspects of this charade was the widely depicted allusion to doves of peace flying in to chase away those nasty warmongering British soldiers. We all thought it was a rather pathetic and unedifying way for the Maltese to represent the end of our long association, but by this stage we had got used to just shrugging it all off. In fairness, not all Maltese felt that way. A good many were not only saddened by our impending departure but were also apprehensive about what the future would hold once we had gone. I suspect this was particularly true of the war generation, who could recall standing shoulder to shoulder with the Brits as a besieged Malta endured a pitiless bombardment and near starvation before playing a pivotal role in the defeat of the Axis forces in North Africa and Italy. Those last few days were hectic and there were many events and images that stick in the mind, such as listening to the final broadcast by BFBS Malta. Moving out of our beloved flat in Marsascala was a sad day, although staying in the Phoenicia Hotel in Floriana for the last few nights of Dad’s tour was a nice way to end it. One of the sadder occasions came when we had to visit the Officer’s Mess at Luqa after my Dad had handed over the station. The Mess was dark, locked up, empty and utterly forlorn. I reflected on all the happy times experienced by generations of RAF servicemen and their families in that Mess and pondered how saddened they would all be to see the place in this abandoned state. It really brought home to me that we were at the end of an era. Another memory concerned a visit my Dad and I paid to a Royal Marine Officer friend who was embarked upon the RFA Sir Lancelot in Grand Harbour, which had been sent to pick up the few remaining Marines and their equipment from the island. Three years later Lancelot would feature prominently in the Falklands War, particularly during the San Carlos landings where it took a hit from a UXB. Hence for me Sir Lancelot will always represent a symbolic connection between two important divergent events in our history: the departure from Malta marked a notable milestone in the inevitable and at times positively apologetic retreat from Empire; by contrast the Falklands heralded the end of our cringing withdrawal from the world stage and the start of a period of national rejuvenation. My principal impression of Lancelot back in 1979 was its narrow, claustrophobic corridors and when I heard news that her sister ships Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram had been bombed with much loss of life at Bluff Cove in 1982, I could picture for myself how terrifying it must have been for the poor souls trying to escape the inferno and the smoke filled confines of those stricken vessels. A couple of days before our departure we attended a concert at the Manuel Theatre, featuring both British and Maltese performers, including the Band of the Royal Marines. For the most part it was a moving and dignified occasion based on mutual respect, an event that was suitably reflective of the long and harmonious relationship between the British and the Maltese. Having said that, we couldn’t help but roll our eyes when we were subjected to the specially commissioned and desperately dreary Maltese “Peace Song”, with it’s embarrassingly clichéd, anti-British, “Mintoffian” narrative. My most vivid memory of the withdrawal has to be 30th March 1979 when the last RAF VC10 left Luqa. My Dad was on that aircraft, but my Mum and I were due to fly out the following day on a civilian flight. As we stood on the tarmac waiting for the plane to depart, the Air Commander’s wife unfurled the Blue Ensign and enlisted my Mum’s assistance in holding the flag together whilst they posed for a photograph in front of the VC10. For all the sadness we felt it was a proud moment for the few members of the RAF family who were in attendance. As the VC10 taxied away, a Libyan Airlines plane landed carrying Gadaffi and Arafat, who were Mintoff’s honoured guests for the ceremony being held to mark the British departure the following day. It was all clearly choreographed to rub our noses in it one last time. Gadaffi and Arafat were presumably the “doves of peace” we had been told would be flying in as we were on our way out! The following day my Mum and I flew home and a few hours later the ceremony was held at Grand Harbour to mark the departure of the British forces. By all accounts the anti-British rhetoric all got a bit too much for outgoing Air Commander Des Hall, so with the words “I am not listening to any more of this” he threw a wreath he was holding into the sea and stormed off. His Naval counterpart apparently did likewise. Good on them both, even if it was an unseemly but all too predictable finale to almost 200 years of history. It was 18 years before I returned to Malta as a newly-wed in June 1997. It was fun taking my wife to all our old haunts, although as is usually the way with people who have had no association with service life, she was rather mystified by all my nostalgia. The flat in Marsascala was exactly as I remembered it, albeit looking a bit sad and run down. Ditto much of the old British military infrastructure at places like Luqa, left pretty much as they had been, but all in desperate need of maintenance. The other thing that struck me was that Malta seemed to have done pretty well after we left. The place was certainly a lot more prosperous, developed and commercialised than it had been the last time I was there and the Maltese had clearly confounded the rather supercilious belief held by us Brits that they were incapable of surviving without us. I never thought I would say this, but I have to give Mintoff some credit for his vision. I think he realised that the Maltese would never stand on their own two feet whilst the Brits were around. Sure prior to ’79 they had all the trappings of independence, but somewhat in the manner of grown-ups living at home with their parents. Well in metaphorical terms they have fled the nest now and in so far as I could see they were doing just fine. Mind you, they still hadn’t filled in the potholes on all those roads! On a personal note my Dad retired from the RAF as a Wing Commander in 1992 and died on 3rd October 2009. He had returned to Malta with my Mum and their great friends the Chapmans just the previous year, a few months before he was stricken with the cancer that would take his life. Shortly before he passed away we talked about how much fun we had as a family in Malta and on a professional level I know that this tour was one of the highlights of his 30 year RAF career. If anyone out there, either British or Maltese, remembers him I would love to hear from you.
Avro Vulcan XM645 Crash, Zabbar footage, 14 October 1975