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Siege of Malta

by iandcooper

Contributed by 
iandcooper
People in story: 
Reginald Cooper
Location of story: 
Malta
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
A2011230
Contributed on: 
10 November 2003

I was born in 1947 - one of the post-war baby boomers. Although I myself served in the RAF for 14 years, the closest I came to conflict was in Aden 1966/67. I survived those 2 years in one piece - several of my friends didn't.

However this story is not about me but my late father who served in the RAF from 1938 until 1960. He was not a flyer, but a humble cook, and remained so until his discharge. Although he was promised that he would be able to follow his chosen preference in peacetime, that of airframe mechanic - the powers to be at that time appeared to suffer selective memory syndrome. I am sure he was not alone.

He and my mother who at the time was in the WAAF, were married in 1939. They were both stationed at RAF Halton, Buckinghamshire.

In 1940 my father, along with several other airmen were ordered to report to Portsmouth dockside with full kit. Naively, as it turned out, they were informed that they were to act as "ballast" in a submarine that was to undergo "sea-trials".

After several days at sea, and without being permitted "topside", my father was beginning to believe they may have been told a "porky". This was indeed the case as when the submarine docked and the airmen disembarked, they found themselves in Valetta Harbour, Malta.

To the day he died, my father shamedly failed to suspect a "plot" even though those airmen drew tropical kit the day before departing Blighty!

There my father remained until late 1943.

The first my mother new of this was when she received a heavily censored letter from my father. They never even got to say their farwells.

It was very difficult to tease information from him about those years during the "Siege", but there was one bright spot, if that were possible under such conditions. Due to his interest in aircraft, his mechanical skills plus the shortage of suitably qualified airmen, he was seconded from the kitchen to the aircraft maintenance line where he was closely involved in keeping the three Gloster Gladiators "Faith, Hope and Charity" in the air.

Even this wealth of experience failed to stop the RAF sending him back to the kitchen after the war.

My mother who's geography at that time, left a lot to be desired, felt she had to do her bit to keep up his morale. Wondering what she could possible do for their first Christmas apart, she knitted him a pair of gloves!
Something a young man should never be without.

Dad never got to have his photograph taken wearing woolen gloves with tropical kit - Mr Hitler's Luftwaffe sent them to the bottom of the Mediterranean.

My father died in 1981 from a brain tumor. In his final days, and in less lucid moments, he thought he was back in Malta, in Valetta hospital. Seeing the fear in his eyes and listening to his traumatic words it became crystal clear to me why he would not talk about those times. It wasn't so much that he wouldn't, but he just couldn't - it was far too painful for him.

As a young boy, on Remembrance Sundays I would hold his hand, and look up to see tears running down his cheeks - the only time I recall Dad ever crying. Now it is me that attends every Remembrance Day Service at the local war memorial, proudly wearing my father's medals alongside my own - and it is down my cheeks that tears now fall.

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - Malta

Posted on: 27 November 2003 by paul gill - WW2 Site Helper

Ian, I liked your story. Thankyou.
I'm gradually writing my father, Reg Gill's WW2 story, most of which was Malta and I'd be flattered if you looked at it.

Your dads story backs up what Reg says that 'information' was only ever given gratiously to deceive! Do you know what submarine he was on?

At least the RAF made good use of your dad's mechanical skills. They didn't really need cooks as there wasn't any food, just carrion.

When Reg's ship the Leinster ran aground off Gibraltar, he was told they were going home on survivors leave. No chance! As always the ships were bombed on arrival.
Reg was also trapped on Malta without home leave for 3 and a half years and was only demobbed in 1946!

Reg worked as a radiographer in the 45th General hospital which was very close to the Grand harbour. It might have been the one your father was in. Although Reg has been back to Malta once, his memories are fear and hunger and Messerschmitts.

My father in law was totally unable to talk about capture at Tobruk though he had regular nighmares about it. Sadly when very seriously ill he imagined he was back there.

Medicine moves on and hopefully the psychiatric treatment of war victims is far better now that it was.

 

Message 2 - Malta

Posted on: 09 February 2004 by gildas

It is amazing how the siege of Malta is little recognized in the bigger picture of the history of WWII. My father, who died in 1994, served with the RAF during the war and spent three years keeping the seaplanes flying from Kalafrana as well as filling in bomb craters on Hal Far and Taqali. Unlike the other writers he arrived on board a Royal naval cruiser, the Newcastle.

He has recounted some aspects of his stay in Malta and has even shown me the places were some of the events occured on the occasions when we returned for a nostalgic visit on at least three occasions. One was the tale of a Wellington that crashed into the waters of Marassalokk Bay after mistaking the landing lights of the seaplane base for those of Luqa. Another was watching the Germans and Italians attempting to sink the aircraft carrier Illustrius as she lay up in the Grand Harbour. A third was the arrival of the remains of the Pedastal convoy which saved the island from complete defeat. Another was watching with great trepidation the sight of the Italian fleet approaching Malta when it surrendered, but at the time they were not told that that was what it was doing. It was only when they saw flotillas of Royal navy destroyers weaving in and out of the great line of ships was there some sort of relief. Finally there was the day when Lord Gort arrived with the famous George Cross, a fitting tribute to an island, its people and all those who lived and died, British, Maltese and other allied servicemen and women, through a period of great trauma. They need to be remembered just as much as those in other and just as vital theatres of the war. Yet if it was not for Malta, well it does not bear thinking about does it.

 

Message 3 - Malta

Posted on: 10 February 2004 by paul gill - WW2 Site Helper

Hi Gildas. There are some quite good stories on Malta if you use the search facility. Helen has written the historical view
A1144946

I'm no historian but it seems capture of Malta would have made it easy for the Axis to win the war. whilst control of the Meditteranean would not win the war for the Allies.

Could I be very cheeky and ask if you could read Reg Gill's story.

A1310536

He has a photo of the Italian Fleet sailing past Malta.

Have you actually written your dad's story yet? I'd like to see it.

I've still got a very large chunk to post on Malta.

I also like

A1985088

and as a survival story on a nightmare flight
A2104363

Finally

www.killifish.force9.co.ukAbout links

has some good photos.

Paul

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