Today, Dad’s memoirs see him arriving to serve in the Navy in Malta.
Three more days of sailing in Mediterranean sunshine brought us to Malta. Part of the time on the first of those day was sailing for hours off the Spanish coast now known as the Costa del Sol. We sailed mile after mile with empty Spanish beaches interspersed from time to time with small fishing villages. The Sierra Nevada mountains formed a backdrop to this almost deserted coast. What a different view it must be now with skyscraper hotels and traffic running along the busy coastal road.
We moored in Grand Harbour about 3pm in the afternoon of 14th February . The temperatures must have been in the high 70s and we sailors who had to disembark were still in British winter uniform. Personnel off the ship were going in various directions from the ship. Quite a lot were remaining on board who had another five weeks to endure on SS Mataroa but we were glad to see the back of it. About then of us Naval Ratings were en route to HMS Falcon. A boat arrived to take us off the ship and with all our kit were were taken across Grand Harbour towards the shore.
We couldn’t help but gaze in wonder at the majesty of the great harbour and also at the visible results of five years of bombing it had sustained. It was a big ignonimous when our boat bumped to a stop and we were ordered to get off and found that we had moored alongside a half sunken coal barge next to the jetty. We had to clamber over the wet coal to get ashore where a wagon was waiting to take us on the final stage of our journey streaked with coal dust.
This was the first time that I am my companions had set foot in a foreign country. On the journey to HMS Falcon I took in all I could see around me. The first impression was of solid looking buildings of a honey coloured stone that had been there for centuries but at the same time there was evidence on every hand of the runined buildings resultant from the bombing. The devastation was most visible from our starting point around the dockyard area and the homes of the people who lived in close proximity to it. Work was going on all around to repair the damaage but there was a lot to be done. The work was labour intensive because mechanical aids were rudimentary then.
It was obvious observing the people that they were poor not just because of the effects of the war but because the island had little in the way of natural resources and the people existed on work resulting from the British military presence on the island. There were several British Army battalions stationed there, the RAF had several squadrons of aircraft but by far the biggest presence was the Naval one.
This was evident as we drove along. Most of the traffic was Navy vehicles. Civilian traffic was minimal and even this was probably off duty military/Naval personnel stationed on the island. Tourism here was something for the distant future. As we moved out of the less populous area it was evident how barren was the island. Malta is mainly rock and where there is soil its depth does not seem to be great. There were few trees. People, men and women, were working in the fields and donkeys seemed to be the main mode of transport.
The journey from the dockyard to HMS Falcon was about 6 miles and the lorry deposited us in front of a red brick building which was the Administration building for the base. This was the main Naval Air Station known by the local name of Hal Far. The civilian aerodrome used jointly by the RAF was at Luca but because during the 1940-1945 siege other airstrips has been built to enable aircraft to be dispersed thus in fact although Luca and Hal Far were four miles apart with Kirkop airstrip between them planes could be taxied between the two airfields. There were two other airfields one at Krendi now disused and one towards the North of the island at Ta Kali which was still available to the Navy but only used in emergencies. Hal Far was on the top of the cliffs which were quite steep at the Southern extremity of the island.
Part of HMS Falcon was a detached section on the coast at Kalfrana about 1 and a half miles downhill from Hal Far via a winding country road. This had previously been an RAF seaplane base and consisted of a couple of barrack blocks, an Admin building, three hangars and a slipway into the sea. The slipway entered the sea at Kalfrana Cove on each side of which was a short jetty.
Of the dozen on so newcomers thus deposited at Hal Far we were now split up. At Hal Far was located 726 Naval Air Squadron, a training squadron. Also there were two or three flights of miscellaneous aircraft used for reconnaissance. photographic work and for us by VIPs! Most of our group were allocated to these and remained at Hal Far but three of us, George Bishop, Ted Versheys and me, all Safety Equipment ratings were despatched to Kalafrana. At Kalafrana was a Safety Equipment Unit under a Sub Lieutenant Comt who were responsible for the maintenance of parachutes and dinghies for the personnel up at Hal Far. There were about twelve of us in this unit although with the inevitable movement of personnel there were changes over a period of time. I did meet up with a couple of chaps with whom I had done my initial training back in 1945 namely Stan Davies and Ken Wheeler.