JOHN AGIUS WAS A CIVILIAN CLERK WORKING FOR THE RAF THROUGHOUT THE SIEGE OF MALTA.
JA: In August 1942 we were literally dying of hunger. And that carried on until Christmas Day 1942. In less than a year, the whole thing changed completely. As if somebody had a master switch and changed it. Because all depended on what was the codename for Alamein? Lightfoot. El Alamein was in October 1942 and that really turned the tide and we followed it not day by day but minute by minute because every time there was a news bulletin from BBC there was something
J: This would be on the radio?
JA: Of-course. We didn’t have anything of the sort that we enjoy today electronic-wise. Radio. And we didn’t have a radio. We had a wired system all over the island: rediffusion. And two programmes. One was BBC, the other one was local.
J: Would people congregate beneath the speakers?
JA: No, we had it at home. You can have it outside on public squares and in the evening they would give the news in Maltese, perhaps in the morning and in the evening.
J: So on the rediffusion service you could also have it in your own house?
JA: Oh yes.
J: What did it look like?
JA: A loudspeaker just wired in and of-course my brother had another one, downstairs we had a spare loudspeaker because during the war you heard the air raid warning when you were asleep they would go â€œAir Raid Warning, Air Raid Warning again and again. I slept almost fully clothed for about a whole year at least. And I would love to go in a bed in between the sheets with nobody to disturb me. I wished that. It’s something that very few people nowadays can realise what it means to sleep in a comfy bed. No sex, just sleep. So that turned the tide and as the Eighth Army advanced
J: But a lot of the reason that Alemain was successful was due to what had been happening in the Mediterranean, submarines operating out of Malta cutting off Axis supplies.
JA: The position is Malta saved the Eighth Army and the Eighth Army saved Malta. Because Malta saved the Eighth Army due to the fact that the planes were here and submarines were here and we were continually bombed because of these things. And naturally it was less material for the German and Italian armies to go and attack Montgommery. And coupled with that the â€œUltra[?] which was at Bletchley Park and they had the messages continually here giving the time and date of departure of ships from Naples and Palermo. Now they never went to attack immediately. They just sent reconnaissance planes and told the pilots to show themselves to the shipping so that the shipping, when they are torpedoed, they would say â€œthat blasted fool must have spotted us. Otherwise they would be giving the game away. That’s how it went. We didn’t know these details, they came out later. But then we realised what was happening. The Eighth Army covered from Alamein to Tripoli from 23rd October till 23rd January, in a matter of three months. It was colossal. And naturally, Tripoli being the main port and 120 miles from Malta, and they knew that there were many Maltese people from time to time living in Tripoli, things worked out, there was a lot of interest. Although many of them were in Italian prison camps.
Then the ships carried on coming in and we realised that if these ships are still coming in, more ammunition is being unloaded day in day out, more transport offloaded. Well something must be brewing, and it couldn’t be anywhere except Sicily, the nearest spot. There is this story of the man who never was and they fooled them that he is going to land in either Greece or Corsica or Sardinia. But we, on the spot, realised it was going to be Sicily. Then of-course as the day went on, nearer and nearer, the King’s arrival. It was on board the same warship that created havoc with an Italian convoy only just under a year before. That was terrific. It was the Aurora, Penelope Lance and Lively. Aurora and Penelope were two cruisers. Lance and Lively were two destroyers. And this big convoy, what was known as â€œForce K sank them all including the escorting Italian warships. And when they came in the harbour, they came in with guns pointing upwards, ready, and the band playing. And of-course the people realised what happened, that there must have been a victory. Submarines used to hoist the Jolly Roger. They did! I saw submarines coming in with the Jolly Roger.
J: Can you tell me a bit about where you were brought up and how you came to join the RAF?
JA: I was at school until 16. Then I carried on studying by myself commercial subjects hoping to be able to either sit for an exam as a postal clerk or a customs officer. And all of a sudden, within a matter of a month I had two interviews. One for a job as a clerk with the Union Club at Valetta. And unfortunately there were only two candidates and the other candidate, his father was a clerk already at the Union Club so I was the loser. In the same week there was a notice in the paper which I still have, and the RAF wanted a clerk with a good knowledge of shorthand and typing. So I went for this interview. Like a young man I said to this Chief Clerk, â€œI am interested, but what happens?. He said â€œWell, if you are interested we will give you a test in both shorthand and typing within the next few minutes. I said â€œDo you work in the afternoon?. I said I had to go home and get my pencil and paper. He said â€œDon’t you think we have pencil and paper here? He said he would give them to me so I said â€œOK, I’ll take the test now. And he called somebody and asked them to dictate and he opened the King’s Regulations and quoted some particular paragraph. He said â€œHe’s going to dictate it, you write it in shorthand and then have a transcription on the typewriter. I did know how to do shorthand but it wasn’t very great speed. I did as best I could. They said they would let me know.
J: This was in Valetta was it?
JA: Yes. The building is still there. It was the RAF Headquarters in Valetta. 3, Scot Street. That’s where I started work. That’s where the war started, on 21 September 1939. That’s where war started on 11 June 1940, and that’s where the war ended on 8 May 1945. And I worked there for quite a long time in various positions.
J: Can you remember when it was that you applied for this job with the RAF?
JA: It was October 1936. I started working on 24 October 1936. So about a couple of days later I received another letter. I realised it wasn’t an original, it was a carbon copy: â€œWill you please call at such and such a time and date for a further interview and test. I didn’t like it very much. I said â€œThis is a carbon copy, not an original so there must be other people. But I thought I’d go and see what happened. And there was a Squadron Leader, I still remember his name and initials: M.W.C. Ridgeway. His daughter eventually married a pilot officer of the flying boat squadron that we had in Malta. And this pilot officer ended up as an Air Vice Marshall and he was stationed in Malta in about 1954/55 as Air Vice Marshall McKinley and he was the AOC of the headquarters there. And I used to hear this gossip from the AOC’s personal driver. He said you know he was here as a pilot officer.
J: To go backwards even more, when you were brought up?
JA: I was in boy scout movement, I never played football. I didn’t have any money. Absolutely nothing.
J: What did your father do?
JA: He was a dispensing chemist. But he had a large family. He had mainly six and at times there were seven surviving children. But eight altogether, but two of them died in infancy.
J: Was that common at that time?
JA: Oh yes. Standard. My brother was studying to be a doctor and he eventually qualified as a doctor. And in those days there was no free education, so my father had to support him to become a doctor. And then he had to qualify, specialise in England and he went there for two years. The first year, he went out of his own pocket, the second year he was sponsored by the government because the post was guaranteed for him provided that he qualified.
J: You were the third?
JA: I was number four. In 1936 there was a great change. Because my eldest brother started working with a sort of permanent job: he was a health inspector. Prior to that he was in the Merchant Navy as wireless operator. My sister started teaching in June 1936 and I of-course in October 1936, so three of us working and one in England.
J: Where was your father’s pharmacy?
JA: In Valetta.
J: You lived in Sliema did you?
JA: We lived in Sliema and worked in Valetta. The greatest connection was in Valetta. To carry on with Husky, as the day came nearer, my youngest brother – he was conscripted in the RAF and he was working in the mechanical transport section, a clerk in the mechanical transport section – he said they are working overtime, the fitters are working like mad people. Do you know what they were doing? Extension to the exhaust pipe and the long pipe that went over the canopy of jeeps so that when they land in the water, the exhaust would be above the water line. He said all of them were like that.
J: If he was working for the RAF, why was he doing work on jeeps?
JA: As I said he was the clerk in the mechanical transport section and of-course the mechanical transport section in those days, they would have 30 vehicles and you would have to keep records of when they are due for servicing, what petrol they were using. Because I have experience of work, 42 years. The longest stretch of my work was always personnel. Whether it’s airmen, officers or civilians. From time to time I had two years on the MT side, I had about three years dealing with stores, all stores coming in and out of Malta whether by sea or air. So I learnt a lot. I once was on the Clyde in Scotland and talking to two fellow passengers who were on an excursion as I was and I told them, â€œDo you know what that sign is on that ship?. They said â€œWhat is it?. I said â€œThat’s the plimsoll line on the side. If the ship is loaded and that plimsoll line is beneath the water. They said â€œWere you involved with the Merchant Navy? I said â€œOnly lightly, in Malta, the harbour, the ships coming in. You ask one question one day, another question another day, you get to know these things.
So anyway, the second interview, the Squadron Leader said, â€œWill you take a seat? I was the third one to go in. So I thought that wasn’t very nice. He said, â€œWill you take a note of what I’m going to tell you? He said â€œWrite it with that pen. He said, â€œWill you write it in plain language with your pen? And he asked me a few questions: where have you been to school, what does your father do and all that. He said, â€œYou can go, we’ll let you know. Thank you very much, good-morning. Up to this very day I don’t know why the judgement was that I was to start the next day. How they picked me out of those three I don’t know. One of them is dead for certain, but one of them was a very good friend of mine as well. He died a good ten years ago. Eventually we did work together.
On 24 October 1936 I started work.
J: How did you get to work?
JA: In peacetime through a ferryboat service which was much quicker and more frequent. One leaving Sliema and the other leaving Valetta and they would meet half way through, passing through destroyers which were anchored
J: So you would walk down from your home, down to the harbour?
JA: Down to the ferry place and god knows how many times I have gone down the steps of Scot Street. And I used to go running down the steps as a young man.
J: As a clerk did you have to wear an RAF uniform?
JA: No, I was a civilian. And even during the war I was well, when conscription came, the authorities, they decided, a certain nucleus of civilians who had been there working for a fair number of years, they are to be retained, because it would be more expensive to put them in uniform. Because I had been working six months before 3rd September 1939, I wouldn’t get one-and-six a day as the airmen were getting. I would get the balance of civil paid. If I was paid two pounds a week I would still get two pounds a week and the increments. So that’s a moot point. To me it didn’t make much difference because I was there and I carried on and so did a lot of others. There were some who volunteered to go in uniform. It’s up to them. There is an old saying in the service: â€œNever volunteer for anything because you might be killing yourself!. If you are ordered to do something, do it, but don’t volunteer for it.
J: Can you remember when war broke out?
JA: Yes. War broke out in Malta in 1935 because there was so much Italian propaganda. Mussolini screaming his head out and saying â€œMalta, Tunis and Nice, that they expected that he would declare war and he would try an invasion. So here, immediately one of the greatest things was anti-gas precautions. Thank god, and even in Britain that never came. And that never came in Britain because Churchill once warned Hitler, he told him, meteorologically the wind was against him. If you throw gas at us, we’ll throw much more and the wind is in our favour. In Malta, it never came. But one: anti-gas precautions; two: everybody was training in first aid, in anti-gas precautions. We didn’t have any shelters. Black-outs, mock air raids, this happened from 1935 onwards. Then also we had in 1936 they created that wall, a concrete wall, which they had in England as well, which is about 50 feet high by about 250, 300 feet, in a curve like that. So here a man who is landing on the beach, it had a number of rooms and some instruments. You can hear the traffic, if you go near that thing, and you hear cars passing on the coast road, you hear them. And then they’ve got a special stone where you talk and you hear your own echo. And that is unique. And it’s camouflaged in such a way that in 1975/77 one of the Canberra pilots told me â€œWhere on earth is this thing? We are told about it before we come during our courses and I haven’t seen it. And I explained to him on the map, this is where it is, and you should be able to find it. â€œTomorrow is Saturday afternoon, I’ll meet you on the coast road (North-East coast, facing Sicily). He came along with a big envelope with a photo of the thing. He said â€œI followed what you told me from the air. And he had a strip of about five photographs and one enlarged. He said he’d found it. I said â€œNo, that is the earth station, the one with which they communicate directly with Australia, a huge ditch. And they have erected it there and they have a brass plate on the wall of the sound locator saying what it is. Thank god they haven’t demolished it because it is a good memorabilia of WWII. And it was erected in 1936. But, with the advent of radar, it was never used during the war, because radar was more detailed. We only had one radar station at the beginning of the war on 3 September 1939. But then I think a few months later, three more stations came.
J: Were you aware at the time that Malta was a bit under-defended?
JA: No. We knew we were up to scratch. The position is a lengthy one. The Navy at all costs wanted to retain Malta. Cunningham was the greatest Admiral they had since Nelson. And for Malta he was the greatest pillar we had. And the other two imagined that immediately the Maltese hear a bomb falling, they’ll go whah! The more bombs that fell, the more people wanted to fight. As a matter of fact, with very little difficulty, there were five artillery regiments and four infantry regiments, all Maltese. That means about 9,000 Maltese men. Other than the ancillary ones, medical, signals. We were doing our bit and we couldn’t refuse to work overtime or do anything that we were ordered to do. And we were doing our job as much as anybody else.
J: Once war was declared in 1939, did you all think the Italians are going to start bombing us?
JA: It was a question of time. When? We knew it was coming. We didn’t know the time. But the more shouting went on in Italy, we knew it was approaching day by day. As a matter of fact, strangely enough, on I think the 9th June – I was very much involved with the Boy Scout movement, not as a boy scout, I was already 18 and over all that – at Gzira of all places, a place which was bombed heavily on the first day of the war, we went there in a public square and gave a demonstration of first aid and how you deal with casualties, making mock stretchers and carrying patients from one place to another and put him on a bed and things like that. Two days later, it wasn’t a mock, it was the real thing. But we knew it was coming. What happened on 3 September 1939? 3 September 1939 till June it was a very quiet period. As a matter of fact I was down with scarlet fever in the isolation hospital in Manoel Island in January/February 1940. But before that for instance, when the Royal Oak was sunk, we knew there were a number of Maltese ratings on board. And that was really a shock to us. The young English airmen clerks said, â€œOh we have plenty of other ships. We Maltese thought differently. We wouldn’t say, â€œBritain has lost the Royal Oak. We had lost the Royal Oak as if we are keeping that ship out of our own pocket. It’s ours. â€œWe have lost the Royal Oak. 14th October 1939. As if we are subsidising the maintenance of thousands of men on board that warship plus the maintenance of that ship. So one of us had his Uncle as one of the stewards on board. He was recalled. He was a reservist and he was recalled for service at the outbreak of war. He wasn’t a swimmer. He said, â€œWhatever happened? I’m sure my Uncle drowned. He doesn’t swim and if he was below deck he would have been drowned. If he was above he would have jumped overboard and would be lost. As a matter of fact he was lost. A very big man, terrific size.
J: When did that happen?
JA: Round about 23 October 1939. It was within a few days of the war I’m almost sure. I might have it here. But it was early in the war.
J: This was a big shock to the Maltese?
JA: Big battleship, one of the big ones. At Scapa Flow.
APB: It is still sitting now on the seabed. It is classed as a cemetery and nobody is allowed to get anything out of it. Nobody can touch it.
JA: That was the first thing. Then immediately I came home from hospital in February 1940, I think it was 17 February, there was the news at 7 O’clock in the evening when I went home, of the Altmark[?], that the Altmark has been boarded and all those prisoners have been freed. The HMS Cossack (tribal class destroyer) went close by and the boarding party, they told them â€œThe Navy is here!. And of-course it was great. That was 17 February 1940. Then Italy came in the war.
J: Just to go back to Italy, from 1935, you were mentioning that high up there was a lot of pro-Italian feeling in Malta, but generally speaking.
APB: Half and half. There were two parties. One led by Rizzi, they were really pro-Italian. And one led by Lord Strickland. Very British. The Italians sang louder than Strickland did and as soon as war broke out they were interned.
J: By the outbreak of war, was Malta generally pro-Britain?
JA: Let me remind you. In the elections of 1939, it was either you are pro-British or you are pro-Italian and out of 12 seats, the Constitutionals, who were pro-British, got a majority of nine against three, something like that. So they made a clean sweep. People voted for the British.
J: But the pro-Italians must have known that being pro-Italian meant being dominated by Mussolini?
JA: Let me tell you one thing: I am not an academic man but my brothers were academic people. So they read books and newspapers. And especially my brother, who travelled to and from England via Italy – you couldn’t do otherwise – by train. He said it was impossible with the Italian propaganda that there was in Italy that they won’t get hold of you. Now there were a lot of Maltese people studying art, painting, sculpture and all these things who were stationed in Italy, doctors and all sorts. Now those people, most of them I would say remained in Italy. A number of them, when they were told to surrender their British passport, they said no. They said, â€œWe will put you in prison. They said, â€œAll right, put us in prison tomorrow. And they were surrounded and I wouldn’t say put in prison but their movements were very limited. And one of them wrote a book. His father was a photographer. And these people, the others who remained, some of them returned to Malta just before the outbreak of war because they realised that they are going to be caught there so they came a fortnight before Italy declared war because it was a foregone conclusion, going in for the war and they think they will be against Britain. That’s in the beginning. Then as I said, the Army and the RAF were I wouldn’t say against, they thought that Malta was untenable with the Italian air force so close at hand. But as things worked out, they were wrong. And then we had a few Hurricanes brought in and later on things developed. Even in 1941. But the Hurricanes were no match for the Messerschmitts and that was a very sad thing.
J: The 109s were already coming up against 109Fs and 109Gs. But can you remember the first raid?
JA: Of-course I do. The first day. Not bombing, there were bombing raids but mostly there were a lot of reconnaissance raids. And the sirens went all day. There were about eight air raid warnings. The heaviest one was in the evening, on 11 June. That was the heaviest. Round about 6pm or 7pm. I was in the middle of the street in Sliema, ignorant of the fact that there were bombs falling. I was watching the barrage going up. It was terrific. There were guns blazing all over them. But then you hear later what happened and who were the people who got killed or not and injured. We had a certain information office that was supposed to issue a bulletin of what actually happened but these were absolutely not worth the paper they were printed on because they were really camouflaged in such a way not to upset the people, the morale of the people.
J: Can you remember feeling shocked that the bombers had arrived?
JA: No, I wasn’t shocked. We had a scheme in the RAF, and in the scheme for all the island that in certain areas round about the three cities, the naval base, the dockyard where the warships were undergoing repair and under anchor. The civil population living there were supposed to go in other parts of the island. It was ridiculous. Because the island is very small and if you were near guns on this side you moved this way but there are guns on this side as well, so wherever you go there is a military objective which could be easily attacked. But people moved even from Sliema. Sliema, a town of 20,000 people, within two days it went down to 2,000. As a matter of fact the police said to the grocery shops, â€œYou’ve got to come three times a week to open up for the people who are left behind.
J: What did your family do?
JA: We lived in Sliema right through. They used to hear me coming down the road because the streets were absolutely deserted. The grocery shops opened up and so did the butcher because the supplies were still there in the beginning. So the evacuation of the civil population took place. Many of them voluntarily and people arranged to go with relatives or friends or if they had some contacts somewhere, to Zebbug, Rabat and various places. The RAF, the Navy, had all their families in St George’s Barracks, and the RAF had their families in Parisio Palace at Naxxar. It’s a big palace which belonged to one of the richest people on the island whose family has almost dwindled down to two ladies, one in Paris and the other one in Malta. She is a widow now. Other than that, the two boys he had, both of them died and most of their property has death duties had a million pounds when the old man died. It was quite a lot ten, twelve years ago
[break in tape]
AB: In 1935 there were already clouds because Mussolini had already invaded Abyssinia. And the British started building the Mediterranean fleet. And it was not very difficult to join the navy at that time. And as soon as I made application they took me in. They asked me what I had done before
J: How old were you then?
AB: 20 when I joined the Navy. 18 when I was in merchant navy, not exactly merchant, I had training, I was employed as a cabin boy.
J: Did you always want to go to sea?
AB: I joined the Navy when I was 20 because at that time they would not take you before you were 20. I suppose from my mother’s side they were sea-going people. My brother was in the merchant navy. He was on the P&O.
JA: P&O was one of the biggest lines. They used to pass through Malta Sunday and Wednesday. They were either going from Britain to India or on their return journey. 04Coming back they would call at Malta, some of them at Marseilles and then to England. And then there were the BISN (British India and Steel Navigation Company) which are a subsidiary of the P&O. They are cargo boats that go to India and beyond, to Japan, Yokahama and back, all the Malay states. And also there was another shipping company: Aberdeen and Commonwealth Line, or the Bay Boats. And they used to be named, all of them, Jarvis Bay, the name of Bays. And they used to go from England to Australia. And they used to carry passengers and meat from Australia, not many passengers, about 50. And of-course in-between they used to call in at Malta. So shipping in Malta was quite a thing. There was a great change in 1869 when the Suez Canal was opened because the business of going round the Cape finished altogether
[end of side A]
J: Where did you grow up in Malta?
AB: My parents wanted me to go to the dry dock, working in the dockyard. So they sent me to school to go in the dock. My father was an engineer in the dockyard.
J: Where did you live?
AB: I lived in Vittoriosa next to the dockyard. From our window I could see the ships. We lived on the Bastion.
J: When were you born?
AB: 1915. 7th March. My father didn’t like the dockyard. He wanted us to get something, I did examination to go to the dockyard and I was at the back and they gave me job as a ++ which I didn’t want. I was about 18 and then I went to this ship as a cabin boy for about a year. After that, when I was 20 I tried the Navy and they took me. As soon as I joined the Navy, there were no courses at that time, they asked me what I had done before. I joined the Navy on 2 September, and the next day, on detail, I was on a ship going to Alexandria, not knowing anything about the ship. Even I didn’t have the full uniform. It was H.M.S. Searcher[?] she was built, one of the old destroyers. But we were attached to The Glorious. We used to run after the Glorious in case of a plane having an accident (JA explains that smaller ships followed larger Aircraft Carriers in case of accidents as they could manoeuvre quicker. Said accidents were very frequent, particularly of planes). If the plane had crashed we had a small crane and we would try to keep the plane afloat while we got the pilot out.
JA: Not just keep it afloat, because they had the certain type of Walrus planes. They used to land on sea and when they came very near the ship they would lift it up.
J: You would take off on the aircraft carrier?
AB: Yes. You had to take off in headwind. A few days after, we went to Alexandria because there was Mussolini trouble there when he was taking Abyssinia. Then we come back. I was still on the Glorious. Then they found that H.M.S. Searcher was too old, there was not even a bathroom for the officers. They had to be broken up in 1936 and we went to another destroyer but doing the same job: H.M.S. Comet. In 1938 the Comet was sold to the Canadians. In March 1939 I joined the Bulldog, the famous Bulldog that captured the Enigma machine. I was on the Bulldog when the war started in 1939. I was in the Indian ocean with the Glorious.
J: You were on the Bulldog and you were still attached to the Glorious?
AB: I was on the Bulldog until I joined Dolphin in August 1941.
JA: Dolphin was shore-based wasn’t it? A land station.
AB: Dolphin was for submarines. I went there for submarine for training.
J: Where was the Dolphin?
AB: Gosport. When you go to submarine they put you as ++.
J: So you were away from Malta for all that time?
AB: All that time, yes. And then they sent me to Midway, which was another submarine depot ship to join the First Flotilla in Alexandria. And I went on the Porpoise, but before I was on the Porpoise I was on a tea-boat in December, only to relieve one steward to go on Christmas leave. In January 1942 I was sent to the Mediterranean. We didn’t call at Malta we just went straight to Alexandria to join the First Flotilla submarine where I joined the Porpoise in January. I was on the Porpoise till July 1942. It was very hard in submarines. We lost quite a few in April. They kept me at the base because the Commander said you have the experience of submarines. I had done my course of-course in Blythe, near Newcastle. Then I stayed as spare crew in-case one of the stewards got sick. But at the end I went to General Service. That was the end of 1942 when the Alamein push was on and they didn’t want any more big submarines in the area. At my time only big submarines take stewards. The small ones only had seamen. All the tea-boats which had big submarines, they were sent to the Far East. In early 1943 at the invasion of Italy then they wanted only small submarines.
J: What class was Porpoise then?
AB: A minelayer submarine.
J: Where were you laying mines?
AB: At the end of January, the Suda Bay in Crete. Then we did runs when Malta was really needed in early 1942, April, March, we were doing runs. Magic Carpet service from Alexandria to Malta.
J: Could you describe to me a typical trip?
AB: I did four trips. One of the trips, before we left Alexandria we went to No.6 Jetty in Alexandria. We were ordered to load aviation fuel in containers instead of mines. We took the mines out. And medical stuff (drugs, bandages etc), we took one of the ++ off, instead of three, we filled one of the ++ with high explosives in a case and they were all in a case these shells, and unfortunately one day we were carrying them and one of the sailors dropped one and instead of a shell, some rubbish fell out. And we were supposed to go out at 5pm. And the Captain, Leslie Beddington said â€œI’m not going to take this rubbish. So he made us go through all the boxes, there were about seven of them with rubbish in them, pieces of iron, no shell. I don’t know how the error happened. I remember that there was a little panic and we had to make a report on the incident.
In submarines, you used to have breakfast at 6am before you dived, dinner at 12 at night and supper before you surface in the morning. Because we never surfaced during the day. I’m talking about February, March, April 1942. When we checked everything, and I remember we had got everything aboard. I remember three or four items where aviation spillage, where the mail anti-aircraft shells and we had even some passengers too.
J: Did you have any means of defending yourself at all?
AB: No, nothing.
JA: But the submarines carried a gun as well.
AB: Yes, but usually we used to go out before it got dark, about 5pm. Then we used to dive. By the time we dived, about two hours, it would be dark, then we surfaced. You surface at night time. At night time we used to do about 14 knots on the surface, but when we were submerged we used to do from 4 to 6 knots. Very slow. It used to take us from about 8 to 9 days from Alex to Malta. It’s a long time.
JA: When one submarine, I don’t know which particular one, it took 17 days from here to Gibraltar, because at night time they are on the surface and they charge their batteries and all that, in daytime they are below surface.
J: How far below surface would you travel?
AB: 60 feet. I tell you why. If it’s a clear day, then periscope depth was 34 feet on our submarine. If you were at periscope depth a plane could see you. So we used to travel 60 to 80. We surfaced when it got dark. I remember Captain Beddington, when he used to go on the Conning Tower — he used to have very dark glasses on when he was below so that when he goes up his eyes were already trained to see. Before I had Captain Beddington as Commander I had Commander Pizey. He was six foot and he used to get in a rage and when we’d get in action He was with us in January when we went to lay mines in Crete and as soon as we went out, one of the Italians or somebody had one of our mines and the charges started coming down. We were quite away, but some of the sailors took the rum out and started drinking it when we were still at action stations. And he said â€œMy god! What are you doing? He was a very nice man. Beddington was a First Lieutenant at that time, the second officer. He was made a Commander and he went to H.M.S. Maidstone. Beddington took over. Both of them were very good submarine captains.
J: So what was your role?
AB: I was a steward. You have to do everything: cooking, serving the officers. When you say the cook, what I had was a small cooker with three plates just to warm things. I used to have a tin opener, nothing special. You are allowed to put the cooker on at night on the surface but when you submerge you don’t use anything.
J: What were your living conditions like?
AB: You had plenty of food, in tins. Water we used to have tanks, was not so bad. But for sleeping it was terrible. Because I used to sleep on the deck. There were not enough places to hang your hammock. Besides that we used to carry passengers. Not many, about six passengers, and sometimes when the Greek submarine was sunk in the harbour in 1942, we took her crew over to Alexandria and they had a spare crew of this Greek submarine, and they were complaining because there was no room, we had to put them in one of the empty batteries and they were complaining because they were below deck. Submarines in those days only had one deck and the battery cells were below deck. Hard life on a submarine.
JA: Did you get extra money for being on a submarine?
AB: Oh yes. In those days I think I had about seven and six for submarines and two and six for the minelayer.
J: Presumably you weren’t doing much mine laying in Porpoise?
AB: Only one time because in January we went to drop the mines and then we left them on No.6 jetty the other mines. Because they told us to do these runs from Alexandria to Malta.
J: What sort of mines were you laying?
AB: On top of the Super ++. It’s a pressure hole of a submarine, but they were outside the pressure hold. There was casing there, they were covered, there were rails and they were tied from
J: Were they long cylinders?
AB: Yes. I have a photo of Porpoise. But they were not seen, you cannot see the mines, because there was casing on top of the pressure hole. Usually they used to do it at about 3 O’clock in the morning when it gets light.
J: Were they surface mines?
AB: Yes mostly.
J: Where would you put them?
AB: Outside enemy harbours. You’ve got the charge, you locate and chart them when you lay them and you know the depth of the ship and the depth of the sea. Because there used to be mines tied up with a block
JA: They were anchored.
AB: You’ve got an iron block here, the wiring is along there, I don’t know how many feet, and floating mine on top. If the charge depth is 50 feet, they had to have 46 feet of cable, about 3 or 4 feet under the surface. They used to know everything because they used to plan before. They would do it when we were surfaced.
J: When you were doing the magic carpet service and you arrived in Malta, how did the unloading happen?
AB: I came in four times. Once we went to the torpedo depot in [?]. The second time we went straight to a pier in Birzebuggia (an inlet on the South), the Giorgio Pier. The third time we went Marsa, Kalafrana, and the fourth we went to Hamilton Wharf in the naval dockyard in 1942. Underneath us was the Pandora. She was sunk, the submarine that got hit on 1 May. We came in on 28th May. But it used to take us two nights. Because in the day we used to go out of the harbour and dive
JA: And to go out of the harbour it was an operation because they’ve got to open the boom defence which was slung right across the entrance of the harbour
AB: For instance we used to come in, approaching Malta, we used to go to a place to await the clearing of a passage through the mines.
J: So before you got near the harbour, you’d liaise with a surface minesweeper?
AB: Somebody who would sweep. Now one of the things that happened during the war as well, we got short of minesweepers. In May there were no minesweepers and the submarines they had to go out in 1942. The Tenth Flotilla went to Alexandria because I was on the Medway when she went down on 30th June. In June 1942 they made us go out for the convoys: Vigorous from Alexandria, and there was another one
JA: The idea was that two convoys would converge at the same time. Six from Gibraltar, and eleven from Alexandria. The idea was excellent. But those from Alexandria, they wasted so much ammunition that they had to turn back. And from the six that left Gibraltar, only two arrived. So we were really stuck. Harpoon from Gibraltar and Vigorous from Alexandria.
AB: After we supplied Malta, we didn’t go back to Alexandria, we went to Taranto Bay, watching for the Italian Fleet. We had only six torpedoes.
J: When you were unloading in Malta, was everyone very twitchy?
AB: When we used to come, about 10 O’clock at night to unload, and then they used to ask the infantry, they used to know we were arriving. And they used to be prepared to unload. The army would unload the things. If something collapsed I used to serve dinner at 12 O’clock, and by 1 O’clock I used to finish serving dinner so I used to say to the Captain, â€œCan I go home and return tomorrow? He said â€œYes, but I had to come in again the next day because there were other things to do. So I used to go and see my mother. And when I came back, I didn’t go to the same place, he used to tell me where to go. Then I used to go there, wait for the submarine to surface, join them again and the next day – we never took more than two days, two nights to unload.
J: When you’re doing the night time unloading, were you allowed to put on any lights to see?
AB: No, no lights. They had their officers in charge and everything is laid down. Lorries there.
JA: If you had a torchlight you had to have a piece of blue hand carbon, you can light it. But very limited. You get used to the dark. If there is a clear sky. If there is moonlight, much more.
AB: We used to go out in total darkness to the air raid shelter which was down the road.
When the war started I was on the Bulldog. I joined the Bulldog in March 1939. I was always in the home waters, not the Atlantic. We went to Dunkirk and then I went from the Bulldog to Dolphin. The Bulldog went on general refit in the dockyard from 1939 till the end of 1941. Then the Captain said those who want to go to Malta – there were only four of us I joined the Dolphin submarine on 2 August 1941. Then in December I was in Blighty. I had to go for training. In January 1942 I was in Malta. I was in Medway in the Mediterranean.
J: Did you have any narrow escapes?
AB: Oh yes, quite a lot.
J: Was it frightening being on submarines?
AB: It’s not like being on destroyers. On the Bulldog, after Dunkirk, we used to go out from Portsmouth at night and drop a smokescreen in the English channel. Then they sent us to the western approaches, we were sent to Iceland. That’s where we captured the Enigma, when we captured the U110. We were told to say we sunk it. We captured it. I didn’t know it was Enigma. They gave it to me to put it on the cushions. I wondered why they were looking at this typewriter. I thought it was funny. It wasn’t a three-row keyboard, it was a four-row. They also brought cipher papers in foolscap — I was in charge of them – wrapped in raincoats. They brought them in the whaler. They were ordered to put them in raincoats so the Russian water would not touch them. And they brought them down to the wardroom and most of our crew were up on deck looking at this submarine. They were a different colour, made of rice, dark blue, dark red, dark green and I think dark yellow. They said don’t let anyone come near them with drinks. I separated them by colour. And I got fed up in the wardroom by myself but they wouldn’t let me. The whaler went to the submarine to get stuff from it four or five times I think. We tied her up and tried to tow her up to Iceland but the next morning, we were about 300 miles on, she started sinking from the stern and the Captain said release her and she went down. But we brought everything up. She sank. When we went to Iceland, the Captain sent a signal to the Admiralty, the Admiralty people came by plane to Iceland and they came down and I was serving drinks. And one of them said â€œMy God, we’ve got so many things! They started taking photos of them. And one of the officers said â€œWe’re not going to take them with us, we’re only taking the photos. And he was about two hours taking photos of everything. And they went back in a plane and they ordered us to take the prisoners from the submarine (three German officers). We put them all below decks. They saw nothing of what happened. I was told to give the officers the same food and drink as our officers. I was allowed to go in and sit down and chat to them. One of them said to me â€œDon’t worry, the Germans are going to win the war. He asked me for a postcard that he could write on. He was a Nazi and he thought I had looked after him very well. It was so that if I got captured by the Germans I would have this postcard saying I looked after him well. I had the postcard with lots of photos in Midway. I didn’t want to send them home because I thought if I die, I don’t want my family to remember me, so I wouldn’t like anything to be left at home. I took them all on Midway. So I went out on Midway, the next day, three torpedoes, I had to swim for it. And everything went with it.
J: That must have been frightening?
AB: No, I’ll tell you why. Because we were about 1,600 people on board the Midway and it took about 10 minutes while she was sinking. There was some panic but we had three destroyer escorts plus a cruiser around us. 30th June 1942. I went over forward and I didn’t jump, I just slipped. Then I swam to the Zulu, about 40 yards away, not far.
We had trouble on the Porpoise so Captain Beddington said â€œWe will go to Port Said for repair. He said he wanted only a skeleton crew because they were preparing to blow Alexandria. He said the other crew could join the Midway and I was one of those who joined the Midway on 28th June. On 29th we went out. On 30th she was sunk. I landed in Haifa with the others. From Haifa they sent us to Beirut to open a submarine base there. They called it Midway II. I was a spare crew there in case one of the stewards got sick. In August, my submarine came in, the Porpoise, they repaired it. And I went to see Captain Beddington. He said â€œWe’re going to the UK. I’ll take you to Malta to have your relief. So I went back on the Porpoise until we arrived in Malta. Then he said â€œDo you want to come to the UK or stay here? I said I would like to see how my mother is. He said alright and gave me a letter for my leave. I went St Angelo, the naval base in Malta, and they gave me 14 days. But after the 14 days they said â€œCome and report here because Midway wants you back. I went back and by then the Americans were in Malta. They sent me to Luqa with a chit to go back to Midway in Beirut. And I went in the tail of the plane. I woke up in the morning and we had landed in Cairo. From Egypt they sent me to Beirut.
J: Leave in Malta must have been depressing to see the bomb damage?
AB: Yes, it was. But my family were in shelters. First they went to Rabat, but my mother wanted to come back to Vittoriosa and in the ditch they built shelters.
JA: They dug shelters in the rock and in front of the entrance of the shelter which was about 3 feet by six and a half, they built a huge stone wall: what we used to call double wall. It’s not just one brick but two of them together. And that would be enough to avoid any blast going in. And the shelter was never a straight hole.
JA: So he used to have a diary of main events. And it went back many years. Sort of historical events. So that showed he had an aptitude for these things (my father). We more or less inherited some of these things as well. Because during the war it was impossible to jot down anything. And if you were caught, you would be in serious trouble. God knows how many papers have passed through my hands when I say papers, for instance every pilot if they arrived on the island, had to have an arrival report filled in. That arrival report would give them the usual paraphernalia of name, age and date of birth, religion, next of kin, schooling, all sorts of things. So you knew that person. Those were filed in alphabetical order. But the greatest sensation as far as I’m concerned, Flight Lieutenant Lord Douglas Hamilton! Good Lord! He is a titled person. And his other brothers are all in the RAF. And they were all Wing Commanders or Squadron Leaders. I have a book written by his wife. I remember in particular a chap called Anthony Desmond Joseph Lovell, DSO, DFC, won in Malta. He was a night fighter pilot. He went to England. Very soon after, he crashed and died. I remember him in particular: Roman Catholic which was strange.
J: Do you remember a pilot called Raoul Daddo-Langlois?
JA: Yes, I think he was a Rhodesian wasn’t he?
J: No he was English and he flew with 249 squadron at Takali and then he came back the following year and he was here for the invasion
JA: He got killed here.
J: I’m trying to get more information about him. The information sheet that they’d get on arrival, do those still exist?
JA: I don’t know. There is nothing in Malta for certain. Because in 1979 when the base closed we didn’t have a single bit of paper that belonged to anybody in the service. Most of the documents were transmitted to England, depending on their value, where they should go. For instance at one time, my own papers, I’m a pensioner, they sifted what is necessary for my pension. The rest have been thrown away. Our pension is linked to England and we are paid in Maltese money. It is Ministry of Defence pension.
JA: These people, this is as I said earlier, some of them returned immediately, say a fortnight or so before the war was declared (Maltese in Italy), some of them remained, and some of them were interned in Italy because they did not surrender their British passports. Now I’ve mentioned a particular one who wrote a book about his experience in Italy who remained in Italy, who didn’t surrender his passport and he was in prison. But I’ve never managed to find his book. And Antoine told me he’s living in Malta now. I haven’t come across him yet. He was a very great friend with a cousin of mine. His name is Dr Cassar.
J: During the war did you regularly read a newspaper?
JA: No. What we had is one sheet, four pages of the Times of Malta. Newspapers were like mail. When we got it, say about three months later, it was hopeless. We read the Times of Malta, yes, but not The Times of England. No British newspapers. There was only one paper in Malta, the Times of Malta and the equivalent of it called Il Berka which was a Maltese translation.
J: I’ve noticed in the Times of Malta, there seemed to be funds going on all the time?
JA: The fighter fund at one time was thought to be in the beginning of the war about £6,000 to buy a fighter and we bought two. We never got them. But there were two and they called them Malta and Gozo. I don’t know what happened to them. Frederick did a lot of research on what happened to those two planes. My main research was about the people who died during the war. I started first with the civilian population of which there were about 1,548 registered. Eventually I found in the register there weren’t everybody. Hard as it may sound, a Doctor would not issue a medical certificate of a dead body unless he saw the actual body. So there were people – for instance on one particular occasion there was a naval craft, which was supposed to repair the boom defence. When it didn’t return after a days work, it hit a mine, at 5 O’clock in the evening and the whole ship went up carrying 29 people on board. Only one survived. The Moor.
J: When was that?
JA: I think 28th April 1941 or 8th April.
J: So those 28 people weren’t registered?
JA: Some of them are listed. Perhaps eight or nine of them. The other, I don’t know what happened. They were blown to pieces in such a way that no doctor could swear that that person is John Brown.
J: Did you lose any family or good friends?
JA: To think of it instantly I can’t remember. There might have been people that I knew that died. I know of people who died. For instance, there was the typist who was in the same office, just across from me. I was on this side writing out work and I would pass them on to her to type. Her name was Ada Kelly. Irish origin. Her father was Irish, her mother was Maltese. She died on 24th April 1942. She died through her own fault [see the end of transcript for end of this story].
the membership here (Union Club) was to be very restricted to officers of HM Forces and nothing else. Or, say school teachers of the naval or army school. Now, there are none of these people available.
J: Were you sorry to see the British go?
JA: It was a very sad event as far as I’m concerned. Because we lived with them, at least I worked with them all my life. There were the good and bad naturally. Generally they are very nice.
I was going to mention the evacuation of British families to Palazo Paricio[?] in Naxxar, that’s beyond Mostar. We had even a trial run the Sunday before! To take all the families there.
J: Around 8/9 June?
JA: June 1940. By the time we went to knock at their door, there were four of us with buses. I had a bus and I had a list of addresses to go to and tell them, not immediately the Sunday before because that was 9th June. So I had to go probably on 2nd June. â€œTomorrow, I will come and collect your family and taken them to Naxxar.
J: Was this part of your job with the RAF?
JA: No, it was on the RAF side as well. And we took them. But the moment that Italy declared war, the following morning we went and we found nobody there because the officer concerned had his own car and took his family to Naxxar. That evacuation centre functioned for about 3 or 4 months but they quickly folded it up because the women between them were having a lot of arguments and quarrels, you know what women are! There was a mixture of officers wives and there were a lot of clashes and naturally they didn’t like it. But Marquis Scicluna who owned this place, gave it to the RAF free of charge. And eventually, instead of the family
J: Was it known as the Scicluna Palace?
JA: It was known as Paricio Palace. And eventually he passed it on to the RAF and it was used as billets. At one time fighter pilots billets from Mosta airfield, Takali airfield, and they took great care of it. They put linoleum on the floor so that they wouldn’t damage the marble floor and they did look after it very well. And Marcus Scicluna gave a Leika camera to Adrian Warburton who was the mad pilot.
J: Did you know him?
JA: I knew him. He used to come into our office fairly frequently. And he was a mad hatter. He couldn’t care about uniform. He would wear anything that was comfortable for him and he couldn’t care. And the authorities concerned knew that he did the job.
J: Did he wear these things because he was eccentric or to break the rules?
JA: No, he was eccentric. It wasn’t showing off. He was a very nice fellow. That book about the Warburtons written by Tony Spooner. The first time I met Tony Spooner, I didn’t know him when he was here in the war, I went to Luqa airport like all these people who look after the tourists, with a piece of cardboard, because we corresponded before, and there he was. I gave him a lift. We talked and he was writing that book about Warburton. I told him what I know. And eventually he wrote another book, the latest one was â€œSupreme Gallantry, and he gave me a very good note on the book and another very nice letter. He is older than me.
J: We were talking about the evacuations, because after the first flurry of bombs, things seemed to quieten down?
JA: Then they started the evacuation from the island altogether. Some went, some wouldn’t leave their husbands, some wouldn’t venture to go to Egypt, not knowing what they were going to find. Some stayed on. But by June 1942, practically they were all gone.
J: Can you remember your daily routine in those first months of the war?
JA: Not in the first few days. Throughout the whole war. Because we used to work, half past seven in the morning till one O’clock.
J: So what time would you get up typically?
JA: In summer it’s early. And again from 2 to perhaps 5 O’clock or later if there is some bit of extra work to be done. Or earlier if you can manage it. But not much earlier. Not earlier than 4.30 unless there is a phonecall from some telephonist saying you’ve got to go to Sliema, you’d better make it snappy because there is somebody else trying to get over. And before you know it the siren goes so we are stuck in Valetta.
J: So you’d walk from home down to the ferry, go over on the ferry.
JA: Then again, the ferries are working as long as there are no mines in the harbour. Sometimes they used to go on two days not running until they cleared them, until they swept them away.
J: Were the ferries old launches?
JA: No, steam boats. It has a cabin at the back but that’s about all. I didn’t worry too much about the ferries, up to the time that I had a pushbike, but that only lasted me until 7 April 1942 because as soon as I got home on that day I used to get my bike underneath the stairs of the house and leave it there. When the house was hit, the bicycle got like that. It was a very good bicycle because I bought it for £3, 5 shillings. Chromium plated. It was a Phillips. But that is the price, immediately during the war. Bicycles were at a premium. £36 is the least bicycle you can get hold of. And you’ve got to be careful, you’ve got to lock it with a chain and a lock because somebody else would steal it when you went away.
J: When you were cycling to Scott Street, would you chain it outside?
JA: No I would bring it inside into the yard. I then locked it in case some silly fool might venture in.
J: What sort of clerical work were you doing?
JA: When you had a thousand men, officers, airmen and civilians, the civilians, what we used to call them â€œoccurrence report generally once a week. In other words, if there are any changes, if there are new people coming in, even for two days from Kalafrana or Hal Far or Luqa, it could be because there was an officers mess and they might get a couple of extra waiters or the other way about, send a couple of natives from headquarters to Luqa or Kalfrana. You have to make a note that this man is not here so that his pay would follow him. The airmen is a different thing. We had 101 changes. Anything affecting his records would have to go. What is termed: a man is an AC2, the first rung of the ladder. If he becomes reclassified to AC1, his pay would go up, so immediately that he is reclassified AC1 with effect from that date and that goes in. And the accounts people have got to take action on that reclassification. If he is an ACH (ACH is the least job that there is available), if he has been reclassified/remastered, he might have been remastered a driver if he is capable of driving, or an equipment assistant, or a telephonist, or 101 things, you have to show that this man has been remastered. If he is promoted Corporal, this is another item that has to go in. And there would be amongst 400 men, there is bound to be quite a lot. There were a lot of clerks. Clerk accounts, clerk general duties, clerk special duties which means like the blotters and things like that.
J: How many people were there in your office doing a similar thing to you?
JA: It varied. In this headquarters unit for a long time I was alone. Then when conscription came into force, they brought along two others. One of them adapted himself to the work and he used to help a lot. The other one, I used to tell him â€œGet that file subject or number and I used to get half a dozen files. And this man at the end of the day, I’d tell him â€œNow put them in numerical order and file them away. He said â€œI’m not here for your servant. I am here to do a job. I said â€œYes, and you’ve got to learn the job. That’s why you’re here and that’s why I’m asking you. One day I said â€œYou are not my servant you are servant of the King. If you don’t like it you’ve had it. He got on my nerves. I went to see the Warrant Officer, I don’t know what his name was. I said â€œThis problem has cropped up. It’s either him or me. I knew it was going to be him, not me. The other one was an ex-Malta government civil servant, because he had experience of working in an office. He said â€œ2 O’clock, tell him to report to me. So he came in. I said â€œTake your hat and go and see the Warrant Officer. You’re finished from here. I should say it is very rare that such a thing would happen.
J: When did this happen roughly?
JA: Roughly in 1941, some time late in 1941, June, July, perhaps August. He was a stupid fellow. Coming straight from school I had to learn the job. I never forget the fact that twice it happened, the word Ruislip, I didn’t know it. I started pronouncing it wrong. So one of the old hands said John, be careful that word is pronounced differently. Another time, it happened. We had a Wing Commander Dalziel. So I rang up his office and I said â€œCan I speak to Wing Commander Dalziel?. â€œWho are you? â€œMy name is John Agius. I said â€œI’m in the Civil Admin officer. He said â€œMr Agius, that word is pronounced Dalziel (Diel). I said â€œThank you very much for helping me! I never knew that. It’s one of those funny English words. You learn. The point is that there was a Wing Commander: Admin was his job. The senior administrative officer, not the commanding officer, because in the RAF its the administrative, the operations, the equipment, or the technical. Anyhow, generally it’s three-prong: air, admin and technical. The technical would embody a bit of the equipment people. So this Wing Commander Admin was all right. â€œAnything you want John, come and see me right away. And one day I rang up this Squadron Leader Freeman and I told him that I want to move someone from his section. He said â€œNo. He said â€œCivilians in my office are my own people and nobody else will touch them. I said â€œI am the civil admin officer. On civilian side I am directly the CO’s representative including movement section. He said â€œNo bloody fear! I said, â€œBe careful how to speak to me. He started using very heavy language. I said â€œI am telling you right now that I am going to report you. This is a formal warning that I am going to report you. So I rang up this Wing Commander and his secretary answered. I said â€œMy name is Agius, can I speak to the Wing Commander? I went in to see him. I said â€œI am very worried. He said â€œDon’t let anything worry you. I told him the story. I said â€œI have a lot of battles with the Trade Union people but to have trouble from a Squadron Leader instead of helping me, and I said â€œHe used very abusive language[end of side].
JA: Incidents of that nature were very rare. I should say hardly any.
J: Did you enjoy the work?
JA: Very much. Continually on the move with something to do. It was quite all right. I don’t regret it. We had a dozen men who would always create trouble. And if you see them coming from the window you know there is going to be trouble. And this chap would say â€œLook I’ve sold a wrist watch to an English airman. He hasn’t paid me. I would say â€œThat’s nothing to do with me. He said â€œYes it is. I said â€œIf you want to be in trouble, don’t tell me, because you’re not supposed to sell watches on the station. You’re here to do a job, not sell wrist watches. If you don’t like it you can leave.
J: Did you find when you were at Scott Street that every time an air raid went you would have to rush into the shelter?
JA: I told you yesterday, we used to go to two different shelters, either one or the other. Except in the first few days when we thought that the basement was strong enough. It wasn’t. It was the coal cellar, very dirty. They cleaned it but it was too small.
J: It must have been very disruptive to your work?
JA: Of-course. At the height of the war when there were, when the air raids were frequent, it was very disrupting. I will tell you another incident: when you were on your pushbike and there is an air raid, the police didn’t encourage the people to walk about. If you wanted to go, you go. And then once I was with a friend of mine who had another pushbike as well. And I told him, â€œWhat shall we do now? Barrage opened up. â€œShall we stop? And in those few brief minutes we were talking, the bomb has fallen. You could either be walking into it or driving into it. If you stopped it will hit you. What do you do? Risk it. Cycle as fast as you can. And then when you came to a downhill, good lord we got sort of but it was terrible. And then a bomb landed in Floriana and killed amongst the crowd one of our airmen. It was lunchtime. He just happened to be there, or perhaps billeted somewhere there. Because many times they used to be billeted with families on their own. They used to get an allowance and they would find their own quarters. George Boorman was the man. He was a very quiet chap.
J: Usually bombs came in a stick of several or so?
JA: There might be one, two three. It depends. The one landed definitely in Floriana. The two might have landed in the harbour because it’s not very far from the harbour, from the water. I don’t know every detail! I always used to say I know a little about a lot, but not everything.
J: Did you get used to the bombs?
JA: Used to them to an extent. No I can’t say I got used to it.
J: You didn’t get bomb happy or anything?
JA: When we were bombed at home it was terrific. We lost everything. That is the most crucial thing. Compensation, they won’t give you anything on works of art, if you had a painting, or jewellery, very antique furniture, no. Just the value of the contents. But you can’t exaggerate. As a matter of fact my brother always told that we had a painting, 3 feet by 4 feet of a Morillo painting (a Spanish painting) but not a cent. They won’t pay for that sort of thing. Beds, tables, furniture, bicycle not how much you replace it, how much you bought it.
J: Where did you go after that?
JA: My goodness. In the air raid shelter we were living for a few days. I’ll tell you the story quickly. The neighbours had all their window panes blasted, no windows, nothing. There were eight of us. And who can accommodate you. There was a gentleman who was very rich. He talked to my father. â€œMr Agius, he said, â€œtomorrow morning you are going to have breakfast in my house. He said â€œIt’s going to be draughty because there are no window panes but you will sit in my house. And we went to him but we couldn’t do that every day. So my mother and my two sisters would go to some lady’s house, one of the neighbours. Like every other person, they’ve got to go and wash their face and do the necessary things that a person would do. With us men, I don’t know what my brothers did, but my father, fortunately there was a chemist shop down the road and he being a chemist, and the other man is a chemist, used to go there, used to go to the toilet there. I used to go to a fellow up the road who I knew through scouting days. He was older than me, much older. He was a telegraphist. And I used to go to him and he and his wife knew me very well. And I used to ring the door, and when his wife answered I said â€œCan I go inside? â€œBy all means John, carry on. She knew what I was going in for. Eventually we got a small house which was really very small and not much of a house in Sliema. That was the first few days. And incidentally, we used to get two extra days leave to sort of rehabilitate yourself if your house was blown up. And we saw a house which was â€œto let further down, much bigger than the one we had provisionally. And to apply we had to go to Balsam where my elder sister was teaching in a school. So she said alright I’ll go and see him. She told this gentleman â€œI’m the daughter of Mr X. He knew who we were. â€œYou have a house in Sliema?. He said, â€œHere are the keys of the two houses, you go and see them, see which one you like. I am not coming down to Sliema. He was horrified. â€œI am not coming down! We saw both houses, and we saw that they were only six beds, not eight. And the next day she told him, â€œYes the house is alright but there aren’t enough beds. He told her â€œLook, I’ve told you that I’m not coming down to Sliema. Take whatever you like from number 78, put it in number 80. Do what you like! Take whatever you like! So that’s what we did. And we lived in that house for about 8 months. It was quite handy. By that time it was December 1942. We saw another house much nearer to the ferries and everything and we moved.
J: Were you not worried for your family being in Sliema?
JA: I was of-course. I was terribly worried.
J: Did you ever advise them to move out?
JA: Not to go to the villages. Early in the morning you hear there was a big raid over Sliema, and you go over the bastions near Hastings Garden, and you see that there is a lot of dust going up, the dust clouds keep on going up for quite a while, good lord that’s Sliema Police Station somebody said. That could be my elder brother in that. I know his business always took him to the police station. You ring up the office, â€œIs Jo there? â€œYes, he is. I said â€œAlright, that’s all I wanted. â€œThere were a lot of people killed in Sliema this-morning. â€œThat’s what I’m ringing for. â€œNo, but I am alright he says. Two policemen killed in the police station and a number of children who were in a queue waiting to collect kerosene for their house. And these children got killed.
J: Where were you when your house was bombed?
JA: Down in the shelter.
J: What time of day was that then?
JA: About half past six in the evening. April, which was still a bit light. There was a lot of light when we came out. And when I heard the explosion earlier in the afternoon I had heard an explosion where I was sheltering in Valetta, and I could realise that the explosion was very near. So when I was in Sliema and heard the explosion near the house I said to myself, if the explosion happened up, our house is gone. If it’s down probably we have no doors and windows. And it was up. There was no house. There was a lot of dust going up.
J: What was it like being in the shelter where you used to go in Sliema when there was a big bombing raid on. Would there be dust in the shelter if a bomb crashed nearby?
JA: There could be dust. When I was in Valetta there was a lot of dust, the lights went off. There were a lot of soldiers. The soldiers themselves were I wouldn’t say worried, but they said be careful what you do. I said don’t light a match! Because if there is gas.
J: Did that ever happen?
JA: I think it happened in Mostar where people got burnt out. There must have been something. There was as very big raid and a lot of casualties in Mostar once. I don’t know what date it was. Round about April, end of April. And the people got burnt inside. Some people said there was somebody who stored kerosene and it caught fire. A lot of stories but the shelters were about 16-18 feet below the surface and it was rock. And we used to go down no problem.
J: When your house was blown up, as soon as the air raid passed, presumably you rushed out to see the damage?
JA: I saw the damage and saw as well that the neighbours, when the police came I said I’ve accounted for all the neighbours, don’t worry, there’s nobody who got killed. I could check in no time.
J: What was the name of the street?
JA: It was called Victoria Terrace. It is no longer now called Victoria Terrace. It is called something like Princess Poussiatine[?] Street. She was a Russian Princess who was a famous ballet dancer in Malta. But why on earth change it form Victoria Terrace when she never lived there. So that was that.
J: Can you remember feeling very upset?
JA: I was very upset and I started shouting. There were two priests I remember and another person who my brothers thought I was going to punch because we knew he was pro-Italian. I said â€œIt’s all your fault for being friendly with Mussolini! and anything I could think of. Because priests naturally, their education was mainly in Italian, so it’s not because they were pro-Italian, they were brought up in that environment. Naturally we tried to retrieve what we can. Fortunately, we had a cat that was buried for three days, but we saved him. We loved this cat. I don’t remember his name. My brother sort of pulled him up. He was trapped behind a door in a triangular hole. But then we had a sort of kneeler, and this is a very valuable piece of furniture. It costs between £3,500 (I had an estimate), because it’s very old, which is all engraved in wood. And one auctioneer told me I can give you £3,000 right away if you want. That we used to have a lot of cutlery in it which was supposed to have silver handles, knives, forks, spoons and some other things. And then one of the people who had a very large house, he said look for tonight you can’t salvage much because night was coming, but from tomorrow you can put on that corner â€œThe Agius Family, and all of us had a corner and we used to get the stuff as we fished it out in respective corners. The house is now empty and they want a fabulous sum of money. Where our house was, instead of a house they built a block of flats.
J: And the smell of cordite?
JA: But cordite and dust is one thing. And when there are dead bodies you know that people died there. I wouldn’t say it would scare you but it’s not a pleasant thing. Because one chap was a clerk to Saccone and Speed, wines and spirits merchants, based in Gibraltar. They had a branch in Malta. They even had a small launch to distribute spirits to the naval ships. And it used to be Saccone. He is a clerk to them, this typist of ours. There was the only Norwegian subject. There was a lady, I saw her in the middle of the street, length-wise, face down, her back was open like that. She must have run to the shelter and didn’t make it. Poor thing. The only Norwegian subject in Malta. She was caught up here, she was living with a Maltese chap I knew. The sons knew he was friendly with this woman. Her name was Dingstad. She is listed with the Commonwealth list of people who died. There was a chap who was a greengrocer, he was on a mobile cart with a donkey, I don’t know if the donkey died but he died, this man. I remember another thing. You know how uniforms are, and if you have a belt here and there is threat I saw a Maltese chap who had his RAF uniform, all the threads busted and his jacket was falling down over the belt. He was alive but he was so near that all the threads had shredded.
J: What was your closest shave?
JA: Those two days, 24th and 26th April I was the closest possible. And, of course, the house wasn’t too far away either. But the house was further away.
J: Yesterday you were mentioning how you made shoes of rubber tyres.
JA: If you went to a shoemaker and he didn’t have any leather to put in the soles he said I’m going to put a piece of tyre. Eventually it got rotten the top part, but the tyre was still there.
J: You must have lost weight?
JA: I didn’t lose much because I was never very heavy. That’s me [showing photo] This chap was my boss. He was a very meticulous man. I liked him although he died. And he liked me as well. And I am still in correspondence with this chap. George Porter. He is in England. That’s about 24 or 25, I think 1943.
JA: Certain amount of inconveniences in the way of sickness.
J: Malta dog?
JA: Malta dog was a very common thing and it wasn’t much
J: Presumably that was largely caused by lack of food?
JA: No, people could have had fruit without washing it properly. It’s a slight infection that causes several visits to the loo and it gives you trouble with your tummy.
J: But does it give you a high temperature?
JA: No, I don’t think so. It’s more of a diarrhoea. And there was one chap who was flying and the controller knew that he had diarrhoea and he said, â€œHow’s the dog up there? He said, â€œNot too bad. â€œBut is he barking? he said. He said, â€œNot so far! He said, â€œIf necessary, get him down to the kennel. That’s in a book.
J: [reading]. Wartime typhoid epidemics. Gosh, 998 cases of typhoid in 1942 with an almost 10% death rate, 99 deaths. 1943, 1,567 cases with 202 deaths. That’s an awful lot isn’t it? You see here, August 145 cases, 9 people died. September 243, 18 die. October 201 cases, 18 die. November 93, 18 die. Why so high at this time of year do you think?
JA: That happened because there was a sewer leakage and some people said it doesn’t matter, we’ll use it on the agricultural fields. My brother Noel, he’s a doctor (a bacteriologist), put up a very stiff resistance to it. He said you’re going to have a typhoid outbreak. He said because man’s excreta is not good for the fields. That is probably a result of feeding agricultural fields with man’s excreta. This is because pre-invasion, in 1943, they used bulldozers in Malta, the first time we had seen bulldozers. They bulldozed some fields. And some of the manholes, which are oval in shape, fell down in the sewer, the sewer overflowed, there was a water reservoir at Takali, at the airfield, and it seeped through into the reservoir. And within a matter of a few days the whole thing blew up. And in August it was the highest peak of the epidemic.
J: Coming particularly badly after the successes of Operation Husky and then you have this?
JA: No, because it was the height of summer. Everybody was happy in a way. For instance my youngest brother who had joined the RAF as an airman conscript in March 1943, in August 1943 was in hospital with typhoid, on 15th August. And he came out on 21st November. Because typhoid has the peculiarity that you can be pronounced fit and immediately you are leaving hospital or two days beforehand, fever would blow up again and you start afresh with the whole illness. A lot of people died and strangely mostly they were young people who died, young teenagers, young men. I had typhoid fever when I was about eight or nine years old, I and my sister. And then you are immune from that particular disease. But they didn’t know it or they didn’t remember it and when they inoculated everybody they inoculated me. And consequently I was at home in the middle of summer with a heavy temperature and shivering with cold.
Scabies is a different thing. It is caused by lack of fat underneath the skin and then it’s contagious and a lot of people start scratching and it’s a very annoying thing. Fortunately I think in our family only one person had scabies. It was common. And they used to paint them with some liquid something, medical stuff. And his hands violently painted. And then polio. In January 1943, that is reputed to have been imported by Mauritian troops. They were Pioneer Corps who were brought here and it is reputed that it is a very common disease in Mauritius. And there was a whole regiment of them. And it’s a very dangerous thing. It could attack your heart or your lungs, your feet or your hands. There were a lot of people who couldn’t walk properly.
Now that ship came in at the time of the Illustrious, fully loaded with ammunition and potatoes and everything. S.S. Essex. It got hit. And 25 of its crew, 18 crew and 7 Maltese stevedores were killed on that day. Obviously if 25 were killed, somebody must have got injured. But what happened? This chap who was on board this ship, James Lynch, died, but he died on 1 March 1942. How do you explain that from January 1941 to 1 March 1942, where was he, what was he doing? My contention is that he got multiple injuries and as a result he could have stayed in hospital for a long time. He is a New Zealander. He couldn’t have gone back to England and then New Zealand, so he may have lingered quite a long time in hospital. If he was steady on his feet, they used to delay, because there weren’t so many planes in those days to leave Malta, and he was living in Floriana, that’s outside Valetta, and he died in a big air raid on 1 March 1942. So the first thing I did was I went to the Public Registry and asked for a death certificate. â€œBirth not known, 26, died of general injuries sustained on an air raid at No.2 Strada San Tomaso, Floriana, on 1 March 1942 at 2.45pm. Buried in the Royal Navy Cemetry at Calcarro. So the school he went to, a boys high school, wrote to a friend of mine in Malta, a lady who puts flowers on the war graves every year, and she received a letter from them which said he is one whom we know nothing about, can you give us details. Immediately she rang me up. She said, here you are John, can you answer this letter? And I answered it to the best of my ability. They have 255 names who went to this New Plymouth Boys High School, New Zealand, 227 men, and they don’t know anything about Lynch. And I told them what I assumed happened.
And like this I have a number of letters like that. Some people want to know where their fathers were buried, how did he die and all that.
If you care to take a note about these three persons: Mrs Philippa Szymusik, 24 Wesley Avenue, Peverell, Plymouth, PL3 4RA; George W. Porter, The Old Farmhouse, Goodworth Chatford, Andover, Hants, SP11 7RE. And Doug.
searchlights that way and another set of searchlights from the other side of the harbour so when they caught them like that there was no difficulty of pumping all their guns into them. The Italian news bulletin that came out, they said that there was a massive attack on Malta harbour, all the ships are on fire, and the operation was carried out successfully, all our men are safe and all that. And we kept on saying â€œYou liars, you buggers! They imagined that the operation that was laid down on paper has been carried out. When of-course it was a complete flop. In the morning, naturally when we went to work, everybody was talking. Some said we heard it, some said we have seen it. Others who lived at Rabat said we heard the noise but we didn’t know what was going on. I don’t know what rediffusion said that particular day. Everybody was jubilant. The night before there was a convoy because that was the idea, that there was a convoy of about 6 or 7 ships that came in. And the idea was that they would go in, sink the ships and out again. But unfortunately where the mainland joins the breakwater there used to be two bridges to complete the viaduct. With the explosion that happened at the base of there was a huge pillar in the middle retaining part of the bridge and the second part of the bridge. Where it hit that, part of the bridge gave way. Over the years, it was built in 1903, and rust and everything, came down with the net hanging. And it blocked the entrance. No trouble whatsoever. Nobody is going to go through that.
J: Can you remember when the Ohio came in?
JA: Three ships came in on 13th. One on 14th, the Brisbane Star, and the fifth one, the Ohio on the 15th. The Brisbane Star is the one who fooled the French authorities and came in although we had almost a mutiny on board. He had a terrific time, but he was an Irish master, an old sea dog, and he managed it. He won the day. And the Ohio, the same thing. It was very much touch and go. There are unfortunate incidents. Because they left the Ohio derelict in the harbour. It would have meant a lot as a war memorabilia nowadays. It would have been wonderful. But most unfortunately it is somewhere on the bottom of the sea around Malta. There was a Dominican Friar who wrote about it and I supported him. And I said although these things, they are looked upon as being impossibilities, perhaps in many years to come they would not be and there would be ways of lifting it, but we won’t be here to know about it. The Brisbane Star: we bought in the War Museum, two or three huge frames with all the history of the charts of the Brisbane Star, the decorations of the Captain of the Brisbane Star, even a scout lifesaving badge for saving a girl from drowning. It’s really wonderful. That cost us about £3,000 from Australia.
The Ohio, the Captain did a marvellous job. It was abandoned about two or three times because they thought they wouldn’t make it but they made it.
There is a very small story that I want to mention about Mountbatten. He was on a destroyer, Captain of a destroyer, I don’t remember the name. They had two Maltese stewards. One of them died fairly recently. He used to anchor in the harbour and he used to send half the ship’s company, not crew, ashore, and the other half would remain on board. But he being the Captain was on board all night. He said in his book I was never more afraid than night time in the harbour in Malta. And naturally I had to be on board because if the ship got hit and sunk and they said where was the Captain, Lord Louis Mountbatten, and they say he was in the shelter, it wouldn’t have looked nice. But for that he said I paid for it with my fear of the bombing.
J: Did you go to look at the Ohio coming in?
JA: I saw two of the five ships that came in. I saw the Brisbane Star in the afternoon with a hole in the bows
J: Were people cheering on the Barracas?
JA: I was one of them waving a handkerchief, yes, on the Barracas. The Barracas was not as it is today because the whole balcony was blitzed and the whole thing was gone. You went as far as the archways. The balcony was finished. I saw the Ohio at 7 O’clock. It was by the breakwater by the harbour entrance. At 9 O’clock I swooped down from the office, you will find everybody from the office, and it was in front of St Angelo. To take that small bit took her two hours to be pulled in. And then it went straight to Paralatario wharf, it’s part of the dockyard, for the whole ship to be emptied, pumped.
J: Were people cheering?
JA: I don’t know because the people who would be cheering would have been down the road and I’ll be quite honest, I was at work. I saw what I did. I could see it properly.
And then there was nothing from there until November.
J: So it was still quite tight?
JA: Quite a long time. I know what I wanted to tell you. One day my brother came in. He said, â€œI got a loaf of bread today. I said, â€œWhere is it? He said he’d go and get it. He said, â€œBut it’s inedible. I said, â€œWhat do you want to get it for then? He said, â€œWe should see what we can do with it. I said â€œWhy? He said, â€œBecause it has been baked with flour which is contaminated with engine oil. On board ship when it hit some water would go in, with some oil, anyhow it was contaminated with engine oil. He said, â€œIt smells awful. We got it, we sliced the loaf, we put in bits and pieces of wood furniture on an open fire, with a piece of wire and put this bread. And no butter and no jam and nothing, just to eat that piece of bread. So I had a slice or two. And the result is I am here today. It didn’t kill me. When you were hungry, if you had a rat you would eat it probably. That was June 1942. June 1942 to Christmas Day 1942, I was hungry morning, noon and night. There was food but so little and so ridiculous that when you are 24 year old you would want to eat 10 times as much. Not half a dozen pieces of macaroni floating in some pink liquid and they say that that is tomato sauce. That’s rubbish! But you can’t help it. With the November convoy they gave everybody candles, beans and a bar of chocolate. Per family. Of all things beans! But we had them. My mother boiled them, mashed them. She boiled the bar of chocolate, mixed it up with everything. I think she produced some sugar from somewhere and there was quite a nice pie. And then how I don’t know, but on Christmas Day in 1942 when I went home she said, â€œI’ve got something which you don’t like normally. I said, â€œMum, I like everything. She said, â€œI’ve got a fresh cheese pie, which is Ricotta which is fresh cheese, done with milk, and of-course you put some flour and you make it into a pie. And it’s the first time in six months that I went to bed not hungry. And from January 1943 onwards, in every ration that we had every fortnight, they always used to increase something else, and started increasing bit by bit. Not everything all of a sudden, in bits and pieces. We started uphill. Slowly, but uphill.
J: Did you ever think that Malta would have to surrender?
JA: Well, if the Germans and the Italians launched the attack, they would probably have won the day. Because everybody was tired, everybody was hungry. Ammunition was getting scarce. The proportion of enemy is about 3 to 1. They wanted to launch 100,000 men against 30,000. So what else can you think of? We didn’t know details. Details we knew after the war. But probably the authorities concerned knew. We had a certain identity card: permit to enter Valetta. It didn’t mean that if the Germans were here I would say look I’ve got a permit to enter Valetta. It meant that if there is a fight and Valetta is closed and the British are inside Valetta, then to let you in, you say have you got a special permit, and they say right you can go in. But I had about half a dozen identity cards. Another one to travel during weekends on the buses, because buses used to run for say an hour and a half in the morning and then an hour and a half: half past four until six.
J: Once you lost your bicycle, how did you get to work every day?
JA: Whatever you can do. Either by bus or on the boat. On the boat, once the ferry boat did not leave from Valetta (I was going to Sliema). So there were a number of stations which hoisted the red flag. There was one in Valetta and one along the point here, there was a tower, and if they hoisted one which is black and white squares, it means fighters. And ten of us said, â€œright. The Dhai said â€œLet’s go to Sliema. And we went to Sliema. Boarded the Dhai. Half way through, the red and white flag went down and the red flag went up. And the guns opened up all over the harbour from all points. About half a dozen different batteries. So there was one man rowing and five of us on each side with our hand in the water. You had to. Because a splinter from the anti-aircraft shell comes down on the boat. As it is red hot, it would pierce the boat and then you would see us floating in the sea with all your clothes and everything. We reached Sliema thank god. And somebody got a hat or a cap and said â€œCome on, for the Dhai. And we paid our fares and everybody ran through to go and seek shelter.
Husky: Malta was block full of ammunition. Transport of all kinds. Mobile cranes, bulldozers, ambulances, everything. And where were they parked? They were parked in football grounds, military football grounds, parade grounds which they had, St Andrews, Tigne Barracks. So when they came out in convoy to go onto the â€œhards they used to call them, not quaysides. And then from there they would load onto the barges and off they’d go. In the meantime, all the few buses that we had would stay put so that they wouldn’t hamper the operation. And it would take an hour to empty a whole football ground with all these vehicles, moving them slowly with chains and everything. That happened not once but quite a number of times. Because they used to be going out. Then if you were on the ferry and the invasion barges, they had several, they had invasion barges infantry, invasion barges anti. They had invasion barges, I didn’t know what they were at the time. They were a contraption which was sideways to the barge with a terrific structure or sort of terrace, sideways. Where they’d fire rockets. If there were these going out of the harbour, the ferry boat would stay there and we’d see the troops going out, the troops waving us as they’re going out of the harbour.
J: Can you remember seeing any of the leaders?
JA: I saw Montgomery once in an open car. Cunningham I had seen. But not during Husky. I saw him before Yalta Conference. They had a conference at Montgomery House in Floriana. There is a building now occupied by Middlesea Insurance. It’s on that big square where are the granaries. And they used to have meetings there. There must be photos somewhere. At 1 O’clock they would stop. They would go into the Union Club of Valetta, not here, and they would go and have lunch there. And immediately Cunningham appeared there, the crowds recognized him and gave him a good cheer. And he stood on the steps of the club and saluted them. He had been in and out of Malta all his life on destroyers.
When I was writing my book on Malta with Captain Bailey in England. And once he rang up and said â€œI have been on destroyers all my life and I reckon that when a destroyer hits a mine, there are bound to have been some casualties. This Polish destroyer, Cuzavac[?], no names have come up. Can you find out something? So I turned to my brother who was very meticulous. He said â€œWe’ll go to the library, look up Whitaker’s Almanac and find the address in England. I said â€œI am going to write a letter to the Polish Ambassador, London. Within three days I had a letter asking me to address my letter to the Naval Polish Association, London, and he gave me the address. So I did likewise. They gave me a list of the sailors who got killed. I sent a copy of the list to Bailey. He said thank you for the list but didn’t know where I had got it from.
J: Tell me about Ada Kelly?
JA: She was a bright spark. She was older than me. I was 24, she was 26 or 27. She used to go on top of the bastion and to flirt with a dental officer and some other officers. â€œOh I’ve seen a terrific raid! Oh what a nice show! What was she doing that for. To show off? The point is as I told you, I wasn’t afraid to die, I was afraid to be suffocated underground. Or to remain blind or lame from a leg. There is a chap who had his arm amputated. What’s the fun of it. You are doomed for life. Then when she didn’t return back to the office after the famous raid of 24th April 1942, my boss said â€œYou’d better go to the Air Raid Precaution Centre to see (what you in England call Civil Defence) whether they can tell you anything about her. So I went there. Fortunately I knew the man who was in charge because he was a scout as well. I said, â€œWhat have you got about this girl? â€œNothing he said. He said â€œAll I can give you is there are three sackfulls of bits and pieces of people. If you want to have a look at them I’ll get somebody to open them one by one. I said, â€œThank you very much. I am not her father or her brother, I don’t want to see any bits and pieces. All I can say is that the shoe that she had came up from on top of the bastion, St Johns Cavalier, where we had the Meteorological Office at the time, that is hers. I am positive. It’s in stripes, blue and white. That’s her shoe for certain. So then they rang her father or her brother who worked for the RAF at Kalafrana and they told them that their sister is missing and some of them came down to see about it. That’s as far as I know. But she asked for it. The Norwegian subject who ran and probably didn’t make it because she left it late, she died. But this one used to do it every day. And she was asking for trouble. Just to flirt with the officers, to tell them your job is not to be there, you’re job is to be taking cover. Because you’re increasing work for other people. And you’re exposing people to danger in trying to save your life. Because if a person gets hurt or fractures his leg, somebody has to lift him, to take him to hospital. You are adding work unnecessarily. If just by chance you become a casualty, it’s just luck.
J: You must have heard the bomb that hit the Opera House?
JA: That was on the 7th April, the same raid that bombed our house. In the evening. And it hit the Times of Malta, it hit the Palace it hit the market. It hit the whole of Valetta on that day. It was a massive raid. It hit one of the Auberges of the Knights which was called Auberge de France, where today there is a block of flats and the Trade Union headquarters. I wasn’t here. The only thing I saw of it when I came two days later, on Thursday, was rubble in the middle of the street, all over the place, police clearing stones away. On that same day the Times of Malta got hit. My sister lost her coat and money and everything. It was a very total war.
Talking about the bombing and the houses, there is something to do about food as well, on the night that the house was bombed. â€œWhat are we going to eat tonight? So my eldest brother said I don’t know if you know them but we have pastissi they call them perhaps in English cheesecakes. It’s soft cheese and a bit of dough and it’s baked and it tastes wonderful. He said â€œWe’ll get three pastissi each and somebody will provide us with a cup of coffee. And every 7th April we kept a tradition that on that night we have Pastici. So that’s what we did. And every year we do it, even now.
J: Where did you get them from in 1942?
JA: April 1942, food was still available. It wasn’t available from June when restaurants and coffee shops were all closed. When Gort came he said, â€œNothing of the sort! We have to conserve what we have. So one chap wrote too books about Gozo in wartime. One day, about two or three years ago, I had a telephone call and he told me â€œMy name is Charles Bezina. He said, â€œYou don’t me but you knew my father. He said â€œMy father died and he tried very hard to remember your phone number but he couldn’t. Anyhow I found it because I found a lot of letters from you which were addressed to him, and I would like to tell you that as a legacy I am going to write the two books which my father wrote at greater length and in greater detail and I wonder whether you will help me? I said, â€œI helped your father, and I will help you. Eventually as things moved on, he wrote a book of about 490 pages (his father’s was about 150 pages), quite detailed. All in Maltese. And I told him â€œDon’t write it in Maltese, write it in English. Anyhow. So when he came to launch the book, he said â€œI want you to come over and say a few words at the launch about the book and about my father. I said I would. He gave me accommodation at the hotel there, for me and May and I said a few words and there are a lot of churches in Malta which are small chapels and eventually they build a bigger church, and eventually the big church would embody the small church and the small church disappears. So I said, â€œMany of you know Mostar church in Malta, and Chokiya[?] church in Gozo. And that’s exactly what our friend Charles here has done. He has demolished his father’s books and embodied them in a bigger book. I told them, â€œThere is one thing for all of you to remember. 7th April. That’s the day we lost our house and that’s the day every day, on 7th April, what we are eating, pastissi. Because that’s what we did on that night. And they had quite a laugh.