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15 October 2014
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War Recollections From Malta

by cornwallcsv

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Mary Whitley
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02 August 2005

This story was entered onto the Peoples War web site by Rod Sutton on behalf of Mary Whitley, the author, with her full permission. She fully understands the terms and conditions of the site.

I was born in Malta three years before the second world war started, but I have vivid, unpleasant memories of some of the things we went through in Malta during the war – in fact, to this day, I cannot and will not watch a war film. Also, a lot of things my parents did at the time seemed strange to me.

The first strange thing I remember, soon after war was declared, was dad digging up part of the back garden – going quite deep and lining this big hole with waterproof sheet. A few days later the garden was back to normal with shrubs where the big hole had been. I asked a few times why the big hole and when did dad cover the hole but I never really knew why until after the war. Mum said they had to try to stock up on imported items like tinned food and matches and kerosene as all the Maltese knew that Malta would be heavily involved, being a British colony and strategically positioned, and we would not be able to get any imports. It became illegal, in Malta, for people to have large stocks of imported items in the house and a government inspector did go around the housed checking for large stores of food etc. Of course, ours were not discovered. Dad filled in the hole with stores of household needs, at night, while my brother and I were asleep.

As predicted, everything became scarce and rationing was introduced. We had to queue for hours at every shop we went to because the rationing cars had to be checked etc. etc. Foodstuffs became very scarce – even locally grown vegetables, as a lot of farmers were disrupted by the constant bombing. During meal times my mother always pretended she was not hungry, so dad and the children would not do without.

I remember one other incident, which, to me, did not make sense. Mum accidentally knocked a pot of soup off the stove and she cried and sobbed and made such a fuss, which to me seemed totally out of proportion. What I did not realise at the time was that the pot contained all the meat and pasta etc. that we had before the next rationed allowance was due. I can even remember the dress my mother wore then as she cried. Luckily, my dad had very good contacts with army officers (he was attached to the REME as a civilian) and he would bring home tins of bacon – I can still see this bacon which came out of the tin like a small kitchen roll. Dad also brought tins of ship’s biscuits and bars of chocolate. Mum used to melt the chocolate and use it instead of butter on the biscuits for a packed school lunch. Of course, other pupils would not have a lunch pack and my brother used to have his stolen from his satchel nearly every day, and he would be brought to me at break time so that I could share my biscuits with him. I used to keep mine in my desk even though that was against teacher’s orders. The cries of hungry children is with me to this day and I now get so much pleasure from watching children eat.

School was more a series of ‘in and out’ of air raid shelters, especially towards the end of the war, when Malta was being bombarded day and night. Public shelters had a few small rooms (no doors) and people could hire a room. My dad hired one of these rooms and he put bunk beds in there so that my brother and I could sleep at night. Most nights were spent in the shelter. I must have slept quite well on my bunk because I do not remember much about the nights in the shelter. I remember a lot of prayers being said by all the people packed together in the main area. There was no seating, but most people took seats from home to the shelter to sit on during these nights.

I also remember my brother being punished for leaving the garden door open once, when we had lights on in the room. We had to black out all doors and windows, so nothing was visible form outside after dark.

As service bases, airport and harbour areas were so heavily bombarded that the residents were evacuated and were sent to live inland with other families. We lived inland, so we took a young cousin of dad’s and her husband and they used my bedroom as it was next to the bathroom. Naturally, I did not like that and hardly spoke to the couple when they were in the house. The girl spent a lot of time with her mother during the day, so they only came in to sleep after the husband finished work and I would not speak to them because they were going to ‘my room’. I felt very deprived.

One other sad thing I remember is my father coming home from work and saying that there was no more food left on the island as the ships with provisions were all being targeted by the Germans and sunk off Malta. Dad could not have realised that I was listening. This frightened me so much and I must have thought we were all going to die soon. I told all my friends at school and the teacher was very angry with me for saying such things. I asked my mum what would happen if we did not eat for a long time. For days I waited for mum to tell us that she had no food for us. Fortunately it did not happen and when, at last, a ship with provisions managed to reach Grand Harbour with little damage, there was so much jubilation in the street I was, once again, baffled by the behaviour of the grown ups.

As there was no winter clothing left in the shops, people were making coats and jackets out of blankets and old army greyish/khaki blankets were much appreciated by any family. My father managed to obtain a white blanket from the army and my mother made me a coat out of it. She put lots of embroidery on it to camouflage the material and big sky blue buttons and a matching big ribbon below the collar. I remember her threatening to punish me if I told anyone it was made from a blanket. I also remember my mother making us summer sandals from rope and bits of old heavy cottons. Dad made the soles from a piece of rope stitched together and mum made cotton straps for the top of the sandals. I did not like them at all because the tied up straps hurt my legs. They tied up like Roman sandals and sometimes the criss-cross straps pinched my toes.

By the time war was over a lot of school children were ill from malnutrition and I even have the sad memory of one of my class mates being injured when a bomb went through their house before they had time to go to the air raid shelter. It was a long time before things returned to normal because of the effects of all that devastation and deprivation, both physically and mentally, on the population of Malta.

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