Today Dad describes his time at Hal Far Malta and joining 805 squadron.  He also describes a break and the purchase of a green suit which was very much against Navy rules.

About a couple of weeks late and I am one of my colleagues in the section Neville Booth were required to attend the Admin Office to see Lieutenant Holland.  We saw him separately and he gave each of us a draft chit.

Back in the section I looked at mine.  I had to report to the store ship Fort Colville some three days hence.  Fort Colville a store ship went to sea occasionally but spent most of it’s time alongside the jetty in Grand Harbour.   I conferred with Neville.  Where was he going?  HMS Ocean!

Now Neville was a conscript into the Navy and whilst he was content to serve his time he had no ambitions other than to become a Methodist Minister when discharged.  I pointed out that For Colville  was just the cushy number he needed and so he agreed if we could arrange a swap drafts he would let me go to Ocean.  Back we went to Dutchy Holland who as I said before was quite easy-going.  He said that he would see what he could do and he must have spoken to the Drafting Officer up at Hal Far for within a day or two Neville was away to Fort Colville and I was packing not to go there and then to Ocean but to transfer up to Hal Far and to join 805 squadron of Seafire Fighters who had been flown off Ocean to locate at Hal Far.

This was something that happened if Ocean had to go to the dockyard for some maintenance or for replenishment of stores  The Squadron were flown off to Hal Far so that flying could continue and then they would fly back on board when the ship was ready for a major exercise as I later found out and will describe later.

At Hal Far I joined the squadron personnel and was billeted in Nissan huts a semi-circular,  a semi-circular corrugated iron structure both ends of which were finished off with concrete or timber.  In England they were like ice boxes in winter and greenhouses in Summer.  In Malta they were like greenhouses all the time but that didn’t bother us much because when we were free in the evenings we spent time until “light’s out”  sitting outside smoking and yarning.

hal-far1940-1945

A couple of times per week  young Maltese girl would come round and she would take any laundry one had and her family would wash and iron it and return it next day for a charge of only a few coppers.  This, to me, was novel because like most Navy men in my previous 2 years’ service I had always had to wash, dry and iron my own clothes.  There was an acute shortage of water in Malta and therefore it was rationed simply by turning it off.  Thus the water was turned on at 7am until 8.30am.  Then back on at 12 noon until 1pm.  On again at 5pm until 7pm then off until 7am the next morning.  It was a system you got used to.  This was continuous at Hal Far Winter and Summer and was the same in all military establishments on the island.

Meals were god at Hal Far.  In fact, throughout my service in the Navy food was always good.  There was also a decent NAAFI canteen.

I had hardly got settled in when I was told that I was entitled to four days in a rest camp.  I didn’t know that I needed a rest but wasn’t going to pass up the chance of something different.  The first thing I did on my next visit to Valetta was to buy a civilian suit, a green silk suit, for a few shillings.  The readers will not understand what an adventure this was.  Naval personnel were forbidden to have any clothing other than what could be obtained through the Naval stores.    Certainly it was a crime to own much less wear any item of civilian clothing.

And so I went a few miles up the road to the village of Sezzuwi where about 20 matelots all complete strangers to one another were billeted in a Nissan hut (!) and left to their own devices for a few days.

It was a change rather than a rest.  There were no officers or Petty Officers on our tails.  We could do as we liked which meant we patronised the couple of bars in the village but generally just lazed about.  The evenings were the best because when it dropped dark we could don our civilian suits and daringly go into the village and pretend we weren’t sailors but obviously all the village knew we were.  One night there was fiesta with a procession through the village accompanied by a band and with the letting off of fireworks.

Returned to Hal Far on the fourth day the same man as when I left, put my green suit in the bottom of my kitbag and never wore it again till I left the Navy,

How do we ensure we have happy days or at least happier than not?  It is often as simple as looking at the positives in our worlds.

What are my reasons to be cheerful this week?

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1.  Have you seen it?  I am over the moon to have a fancy pants (literally!) header five years after I started my blogging journey.  I would love to know what you think of it.  We all see these things differently so all feedback is welcome.  It was produced by the incredibly talented and extremely patient Helen.  If you are looking for a blog design doing, head her way.

2. We have had some lovely meals this week mainly prepared by Chef Him Indoors.

3. My youngest son got Star of the Week at school for managing to write more than usual.  He is like my other son in having a brain full of ideas but not always the speed and capacity to get those thoughts down on paper.

4. My daughter is developing a very feisty spirit.  This can be challenging but on the positive side will probably serve her well in the future.

5. My oldest son keeps treating me to cuppas, drinks or goodies from the shops.  I think this is pretty good for a teenager.

6. My holiday in France is confirmed for the end of the month in a lovely cottage in the countryside.  I am so looking forward to getting away from it all for a few days.

7. I am really enjoying playing around with Instagram and seeing the images pop up on my blog sidebar, Facebook and Twitter.

Now about that header design? Do you like it?  What does it represent to you?  Do you like the quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson?  Did you spot the quotes from my late Mum and Dad?

Yes, dear readers, today I am totally obsessed with how I look or how the blog does anyway.

Have yourself a great weekend.

Today my Dad remembers life at Kalafrana and how he wanted to join HMS Ocean.

oceanrp_IMG_1483-e1404054219292-225x300.jpgLife went on at Kalafrana.  We repaired and packed a few parachutes and dinghies, we swam and we sailed.  By now we had coaxed Bill Cant to let us take out a Navy whaler a rowing/cum sailing boat that we could on a free afternoon take sailing miles off Malta.

We had some chores to do but even these did not prove irksome.  We seaman of the SE branch had done a fire fighting course at Portsmouth.  I did mine in 1945.   Eight of us were required to exercise once a week with the only piece of fire fighting equipment Kalafrana had, a two wheeled trailer onto the square and practised fighting an imaginary fire in various buildings.

Another duty allocated to us seamen was a nightly guard duty along the slipway and the jetties.  Two of us would be joined by two Maltese sailors for the night on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary.  At that time there was a bit of a Nationalist movement in Malta and there was just the cautionary thought that they might vandalise the Kalafrana base.  I don’t think we in Kalafrana took it too seriously but we had to do the guard bit.

We also did a 4 hour guard during the day time on the only gate leading out of Kalafrana which meant donning white belt and gaiters and presenting arms with rifle and bayonet when any officer passed which was rare because hardly any officer bothered visiting us.

Evenings were left to our own devices.  Perhaps a game of cards or Ping-Pong in the NAAFI.  Even a pint or two if cash resources ran to it.  Otherwise time would be spent smoking, yarning or reading in the dormitory.  Lights out was at 10pm when you got into your bed under the compulsory mosquito net.

Reveille next morning over the tannoy would be at 7am.  The first thing I did then was turn my boots upside down because it was not unknown for scorpions to get into them.  Scorpions (and lizards) were quite prevalent.  Because of the heat we left the dormitory door open at night and from time to time the odd scorpion came in. I could put up with most livestock but I hated scorpions.

During this period at Hal Far I was issued with further items of kit.  Coming out from England I was already formally issued:- one working blue serge suit with red badges, two pairs of white shorts and white shirts , one Duck suit with blue badges and one non-issue Duck suit in white cotton.  Whilst up to now a blue serge suit with red badges had been a sailors everyday working rig it had now been decided that whilst this suit would be retained we would use a more practical outfit for work wear and so we were now issued with two pair of a navy blue gabardine trousers and two lighter blue cotton shirts with open neck collars.

A few weeks later probably with the thought in mind of the forthcoming very hot weather of the Summer we were issued with two pairs of khaki shorts and two khaki shirts.

I now had a variety of 10 different suits; I will not say at my disposal because I could not dispose of any of them (apart from the non-issue Duck suit) because the dress to be worn for the day was announced over the tannoy at Reveille and that was the outfit to be worn.

Thus wherever you went in the Navy, shore establishment or ship reveille would be followed by the announcement “Dress of the Day No ….”  Each suit would have a number and you wore the suit applicable to that number when instructed.

One day in March I was working in the section building packing a parachute.  The window was open and the shutters back for coolness and looking out of the window I saw anchored in the middle of the bay the aircraft carrier HMS Ocean.  How I wished that I was on that ship instead of where I was. Little did I know my wish was to be fulfilled.

Today Dad describes nights out in Valletta and the joys of beer, brothels and British chocolate.

So typical “run” into Valetta went like this. One o’clockish set off, catch a bus in Biryebuggia (the same buses that we used as tourists in the 1970s) and get off in Valetta. Walk around for a while, go up into the Barracca Gardens and watch the movement of ships in Grand Harbour. Maybe walk down into Sliema and have a beer in a bar and walk along the seafront. Sailors, sailors everywhere. Back up into Valletta. 6pm long trousers on. Walk round a bit more, shops are coming to life. Look at the bombed out Opera House on King Street. Find a suitable bar where food is cheap, order steak (steak was horse meat) egg and chips (almost the staple request), have a beer.

Then mid-evening make your way to Strait Street known as “The Gut”. This is one long street of bars and brothels parallel to King Street. All the Fleet is here most just sightseeing, those with money and no sense partaking. Girls in the doorway offering their wares. The drinks are extortionate. The girls are supposed to be contortionists. This is no place for sailors like us except for sightseeing.

Come out of Valletta into nearby Floriane, find a bar and have another couple of beers and then by 10pm-1030pm catch the bus back to Kalafrana when the few shillings you have left has to last another two weeks.

Back home in England most commodities were still rationed. Naturally being fed by the Navy, we were well provided for but nevertheless in any visits to Valetta we enjoyed being able to buy British chocolate and sweets plenty of which were available. Probably because of the hardships suffered by the siege, there was an effort to let let the Maltese have a taste of good fortune which was not available at home.

Looking to a tie when I should return to England, I made of point of from time to time buying foodstuffs (tinned) that I knew my parents were going short of at home. Corned beef, tinned ham, tinned steak and tinned fruit and saving them up to take back with me whenever that would be. There was no indication of what length of time I might serve in the Mediterranean. Peacetime sailoring before the war meant that a sailor drafted to a ship on commission would serve in that ship until the ship’s commission was completed. This did not apply to shore stations as service in them was more or less a transitory arrangement. This was the case at HMS Falcon. We knew at Kalafrana that we Safety Equipment men were being held as a reserve and that we could be transferred at any time to a ship in replacement of men who had returned home for demobilisation.

    Today, my Dad remembers idyllic days as a sailor in the Forties in sunny Malta.

    Life at Kalafrana was idyllic. The accommodation was in two stone built single storey blocks each containing twenty four iron beds and lockers. These bordered onto a small parade ground across from which was a canteen for meals and a small NAAFI for drinks and recreation. Apart from us Safety Equipment ratings there were a number of other personnel responsible for the stores in the hangars, also the cooks and administrative staff.

    In over all charge was Lieutenant “Duthchy” Holland an RN regular who was blatantly homosexual and was quite easy going discipline wise. Despite his obvious sexual leanings there was not a whiff on impropriety. If there had been he would not have been tolerated by his superiors. There was a Petty Officer in charge of discipline but he too was easy going provided you did not go too far. Thus the climate was good, the sunshine every day, the food was good as was the accommodation The working day was roughly 8.30am-4.30pm and with twelve of us the workload was low.

    Our officer Bill Cants was laissez faire and would take off up to Hal Far in mid-afternoon and you wouldn’t see him next day until turned 9am. We worked Saturdays but this was only a token showing. We would lounge around in the sun on Saturdays onlyy being in earshot of the telephone in the workroom in case someone rang. Sundays were a day of rest. In the Navy attendance at a Church Service on Sunday was compulsory but as there was not chaplain at Kalafrana we were excused,

    Alongside the slipway was a short jetty and it was common for us to slip into swimming trunks and sunbathe then to swim in the deep clear water of the smally bay known as Pretty Bay. It was fascinating that octopus came into Pretty Bay and you got quite used to swimming there with hundreds of small octopus below

    Previous personnel at Kalafrana (it was an ever-changing population) had built some small boats from packing cases that were available. These were small rudimentary boats but with home made oars or small sails of both. They would change hands for about 10 shillings as one owner left and another came along. I bought one that had been owned by a friend of mine Bernard (Barney) Hunter who had just returned to UK. I used it in my free time to potter about in the main bay Marsa Seitrrocco when weather allowed.

    A favourite jaunt for two or three of us with these boats was to sail about 1 and a half miles across the bay to the wreck of the SS Brecondine lying in the bay. The Brecondine was a ship carrying ammunition which had been bombed by the Germans approaching Malta in 1943 and had sunk in the bay. We could sunbathe on the upturned hull and swim off it but we were always careful as there were some pretty big octopus living in the wreck.The nearest village to Kalafrana was Birgebuggia about half a mile along the coast. We would sometimes go along there for a drink but there was only one small bar called Ciro’s which apart from a gramophone did not offer much entertainment. Maybe on a Saturday, after payday (once a fortnight) we might catch the bus to Valetta or into Sliema. It was a bit of a bind in some ways because Navy regulations said that personnel must wear long trousers after 6pm (because of mosquito or sandfly. Sandfly fever was particularly prevalent). If you set off at say 1pm on a weekend it was so hot you wore white shorts and keen length stockings. If you did not intend returning to base before 6pm you had to carry with you all day a pair of serge bell bottom trousers to put on over the sorts as the clocks struck 6pm. It was an irritation you had to put up with as Valetta did not really “get swinging” until after 6pm.

      Cuddle Fairy