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.
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,