- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Suzanne Kyrle-Pope
- Location of story:
- Malta and Oxford
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 26 July 2005
This story has been written onto the BBC People's War site by CSV Storygatherer Alison Lear on behalf of Suzanne Kyrle-Pope. The story has been added to the site with her permission. And Suzanne Kyrle -Pope fully understands the terms and conditions.
At the beginning of the war I was 18 years old living with my parents in Malta where my father was a naval officer in HMS Hood.
Nothing much happened in Malta until June 1940 when Italy came into the war, but the garrison had been on a war footing since September 1939.
I belonged to the Malta Amateur Dramatic Society and we put on a series of concert parties to entertain the army units which were deployed around the coasts and airfields of the island. They lived in squalid conditions such as goat sheds, barns and under canvas. Stages were set up with planks on oil drums and we sang and danced and travelled from one site to another in army lorries in all weathers.
I married an army officer in April 1940 after which my mother returned to England following my father who had been appointed to the Home Fleet. I was therefore alone in Malta, where all army families had been called into the regimental barracks whilst the inevitable Italian attack was expected. This did not develop and so after 3 months we were allowed to return to our homes.
I had nowhere to go so went to a residential hotel in Valletta which was a very old building where I had a room on the top floor overlooking the internal courtyard. I started work in army intelligence working on coding and decoding in the Auberge de Castille which was 10 minutes walk from my hotel.
Serious bombing did then begin by day and night. Under my hotel was a huge natural cave where all occupants of the bulding slept every night. During this period I discovered I had chicken pox. There was a young mother with a baby staying in the hotel so I thought I'd better avoid them as much as possible.
The padre of my husband's battalion, a wild Irishman called Johnny White, suggested we got out of baby's range and go off on cycles out into the country. It was a glorious day and we were able to watch the dogfights over Valletta and the airfields. Suddenly we heard the scream of a fighter engine behind us and the next thing we knew was we were being strafed by a Messerschmidt from behind which peppered the deserted road we were on; we must have been his target. Johnny yelled "Quick jump into the ditch!" where we were able to take refuge in a concealed culvert under the road. The pilot must have thought it great sport. We emerged shaking but safe.
The Germans found that the Italians were not achieving the aim of knocking out Malta which was of strategic importance to them as Malta was midway between Italy and North Africa, and so could control the seaway carrying supplies to the German campaign in Africa. They therefore took over the bombing of Malta, and life on the island became grim and no longer musical comedy.
The structure of buildings in Malta is of huge blocks of sandstone cut like butter from the island itself. These were impervious to bombs so the Germans started dropping landmines which had greater blast effect, literally blowing the buildings down.
My hotel was hit one night while all of us were in the shelter beneath. The exit was blocked and the air filled with the dust of the sandstone. We could hear gas escaping so we put what we could over our mouths, I was the only one with a gas mask which I took with me to the shelter every night. We were trapped for only two or three hours and then could hear sounds above us. We shouted and eventually were heard and the rescuers started moving the big blocks of rock away from our escape route. It was wonderful to see faces looking down on us and the stars above.
Three sides of the hotel, which was built around a central courtyard, had been demolished leaving the side on which my third floor bedroom balcony was overhanging the rubble below. When we returned in daylight to look at the bombsite I could see a vase of flowers and a bottle of scent still on my dressing table.
Johnny White said he thought he could organise a team of sappers to salvage my belongings, so a few days later on a sunny but windy day the men arrived, roped up and scaled the walls up to my room. They opened draws and my wardrobe and threw out my trousseau which sailed down to us standing on the boulders below. When they came to the underclothes drawer there were shouts of glee as they flung out silk bras, panties and nighties which filled with the wind as they ballooned down to earth.
By this time a crowd had gathered who were all enjoying the spectacle and I was delighted to get my trousseau back almost intact.
I then had to find a new home and finally found a ground floor/ semi basement flat close to Valletta. It had a garden with orange and grapefruit trees.
I had many friends in the submarine base and knew the staff and officers of the 10th Flotilla well. I was in their air raid shelter with them one day and said to Shrimp Simpson who commanded the base, that I would like to make marmalade for the boats' crews but I had no sugar. Rationing was biting by then. "That's all right " said Shrimp "we'll give you a sack of naval sugar."
To cut a long story short a naval jeep collected about 200 pounds of marmalade from my flat which were distributed among the submarines.
I became unwell and it was decided to evacuate wives who were ill in the Wellington bombers which were stopping in Malta at night to drop mail and medical supplies. One woman was carried in each bomber to an airfield in the dessert thirty miles outside Cairo. I went the first night with 5 other women, one of whom was pregnant. I was told that we would be met by an Army Movement Control with details of our accommodation ,local currency and onward transport to England. On landing we were greeted with amazement by RAF ground control personnel who knew nothing of our evacuation. They provided a tent and a magnificent meal of scrambled eggs and bananas which we hadn't seen for a long time.
The next morning we were driven in and dropped at army HQ in Cairo where we arrived about 11 o'clock. I was told to find the Military Control Office to get assistance for us. The others were left in the NAAFI. I ran round endless corridors on the 3 or 4 floors of HQ, but though all the offices had little notices outside saying the designation of the occupant I could find no sign of Military Control.
I knew HQ closed down at 12.30 when everyone went off for lunch and their afternoon sport. I heard voices shouting "Goodbye old chap. See you at the club at 2.30." I was desperate and eventually saw the sign on the door saying Brigadier .....MC. I burst in and cried "At last I've found you. Why the hell weren't we met when we landed last night from Malta?............ You are Military Control aren't you? You've got MC on the door? Oh God " and I burst into tears.
The Brigadier of the armoured forces,(there were photographs of tanks all around the walls) had not won his Military Cross for nothing and soon sorted us all out. Two days later we were posted on to the UK from Port Tewfik ( the southern end of the Suez Canal) in SS Viceroy of India, by then a troop ship which was sunk by torpedos on her next voyage. We landed at Liverpool at the end of April 1942.
The seige of Malta was relieved by part of a convoy carrying supplies in August and finally by a larger convoy in November that year.
Continued in Part 2 - 'Snapshots to Normandy Landings' - Story A4567025
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