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15 October 2014
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Memories of the Malta Siege

by cambsaction

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Edith Tyrrell
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Royal Air Force
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22 December 2005

Malta was of strategic importance: it stood near to the route to Rommel’s army and it was imperative that it did not fall to the Germans. So it was decided to defend it at all costs.

My husband ( who was then my fiancé ) was posted there in 1940. He was sent out to replace men whose time had expired. He arrived during an air raid, with a band playing a welcome even though under fire from the Italians. His job was ground control — to talk pilots in to land and to warn of enemy approach. When radar came in, he switched to that.

First of all, it was the Italians but then the Germans took over and it was relentless: they bombed day and night. As an aerodrome was bombed, so they moved on to another one and tried to repair the first. They couldn’t get planes off the ground, the runways were so badly hit. The British were unable to get any supply convoys through, for months, so food and ammunition ran very low. My husband was 5’ 8” and 12 stone when he went in to Malta and when he came out, he was about 9 stone. In fact, we have photographs of him, before and after the siege. Everyone was in the same position. My husband said that when he went there, there were donkeys; but over time, they disappeared (for food); to begin with he had been able to go out and buy food but later on, there was simply nothing to buy. They survived on those hard biscuits and corned beef for rations. There wasn’t much water either: they had a mugful per day and they could wash with it or drink it, so, of course, they drank it and washed in the sea.

Eventually, the food situation got so bad that they estimated that they would have to surrender in fortnight if they could not get any convoys through — they were in a very bad way. They were waiting for the Ohio, which was a big American tanker with petrol and food supplies — but it was bombed so dreadfully that it almost sank. Then two battle cruisers lashed themselves to the Ohio and somehow they managed to get into Valetta harbour by propping it up on both sides. When they realised what was happening, the Germans mounted a heavy attack but they managed to unload because everyone, simply everyone, lent a hand. So the arrival of the Ohio was in the nick of time.

Much of this, I learned afterwards because he couldn’t write about it in his letters. But he did bring some photographs home, of aircraft crashes and all sorts. My daughter-in-law mounted them in an album and I’d be happy to show it to the BBC, if they wanted to look at them.

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