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15 October 2014
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Saved by a Wellington Bomber - a Malta Story

by ElderlyEsmerelda

Contributed by 
ElderlyEsmerelda
People in story: 
Linda Tilbury, her sister Clare and their parents Harry ('Tilly') and Margery
Location of story: 
Malta
Article ID: 
A9032087
Contributed on: 
31 January 2006

A Wartime Adventure experienced by seven year old Linda Tilbury

When the WW2 broke out my family was living on Malta. My father worked for Barclays Bank (D.C.O.) and we lived on the seafront in Sliema. My younger sister and I went to Chiswick House School which was nearby. From our house we could watch brilliantly painted cargo boats sailing to and from Gozo, and the great variety of naval vessels going in and out of Grand Harbour,Valletta.

The years leading up to the War were very happy for us, as life in Malta was pleasant for civilians as well as those in the Services. Once Italy entered the War however, things changed rapidly as the fight for Malta began. From our house we watched dog fights in the air, the dramatic sight of a Gozo boat being blown up, a German pilot parachuting slowly down into the sea just off-shore, and most exciting of all one morning early, a famous chase of German E-boats out of Grand Harbour.

Our larder was sandbagged and made into a shelter, and we kept the Rediffusion on all day for the early air-raid warnings. I can still remember the staccato "Signal-al-attaqit mil aiero", or so it sounded to me, with the relief of "Aieroplani tal-ado adaou" as the raid ended.(Forgive my poor Maltese).

One day in February 1942, while my sister and I were at school, our house received a direct hit. Both my parents were at home, and luckily, apart from shock, were unharmed, but our neighbour, an elderly retired headmistress called Miss Yabsley had been standing at her front door, and she died from the blast. The bomb sliced through our house and hers, leaving a great gaping hole. There was generally very little fire damage, so we were able to salvage most of our belongings and store them.

From that day for the next three months we moved from place to place, bombed out each time. First we went to the Plevna Hotel, and spent our nights in the nearby old ammunition tunnel at Tigne Barracks. It made a safe if damp and dismal shelter.

The Plevna too was hit, and we searched the rubble for passports and suitcases, and moved to another barracks up the coast at St. Patricks, where we had a quarter above a NAAFI and had to use the nearby slit trenches when there was a raid...horrid and unsafe. Once more this quarter got a hit, and by now my father was getting anxious about our safety. Food was very, very scarce, and unvaried..I can only remember pork, cauliflower, tomato paste and Halva-ta-Turk, the sweet nougat-like paste made of sesame seeds and sugar water. School was out of the question as the raids were so frequent.

Our last move was to another Hotel, the Metropole, in Dingli Street, in front of which was one of the deep shelters dug into the rock with small niches off a central corridor for families to have bunks to sleep in. Luckily we had a friend who had paid for one of these cubicles.. airless and humid, but safe at least.

Meanwhile my father must have been busy seeking some way to get us away from Malta. The award of the George Cross to Malta in April 1942 was encouraging, but it didn't stop the continual noise of heavy artillery, the whining of shells and bombs, and the worries about food and safety for everyone.

There was no way we could leave by sea, as all civilian shipping and air transport had long ceased. Somehow my father was offered the chance of a lift from the R.A.F. at a time when increasing numbers of Fighters and Bombers were coming through Malta to refuel en route to North Africa.

One night at the beginning of June we were told to get to Luqa immediately. We walked out to the runway where a Wellington Bomber was parked and there were hasty goodbyes as we climbed in and flew off into the night. I cannot imagine what my parents must have been feeling at that moment. My father went back to his job, and waited for news..he had to wait 6 weeks to know if we had made it or not.

What happened in the next few hours was clearly momentous to a lively girl of seven years old. By great good luck, the carbon copy of the letter I wrote to my father from Cairo within days of our safe arrival has survived. It described our flight and the kindness of the crew, and the excitement of a huge English breakfast. My father must have shown my letter to the person who had helped to get us away, and it was at Luqa that it was typed out and the top copy pinned on the Notice Board there. The carbon copy, which I treasured for years, is now in the Imperial War Museum, along with a photo of my mother, sister and me in Cairo not long before we were lucky enough to get passage to safety in South Africa.

The troopship was The Monarch of Bermuda, and it took three weeks to make the journey as far as Durban, where we had to disembark. I have since met by chance a woman who with her sister and mother was also on the troopship, and has letters from her mother back to her father in Cairo describing the journey in the great heat of July and August 1942.

There is more to this story should anyone wish to contact me, as there is not room today to quote the letter I sent. The war certainly made a huge difference to the lives of children like us, as we adapted to new places and went without any formal education sometimes for months on end. I am conscious of having been most fortunate in my parents, and of the privileges of being British at that time.

Linda Tilbury

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