- Contributed by
- People in story:
- William Rickard, his parents and brother
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- 31 January 2006
In those extraordinary times the adults at St Georges barracks — mostly evacuees from the bombing themselves — worked hard to give us children ordinary experiences. We had a rudimentary school and this Robin Hood scene is from an entertainment organised by Mrs Oakford in 1941. I am second from the left.
Schooldays during the Malta blitz. Bill's story.
I arrived in Malta by boat, with my mother and little brother, in January 1938 and lived in a flat in Senglea. My father, who was an engineer, had arrived about six months earlier to take up a post in the Malta Dockyard. When the war really began there in June 1940 we were told to go to the Dockyard School, where I was a pupil, up on the bastions behind the Three Cities. It would be safer there as we could shelter in the underground storerooms that seemed to us like dungeons. We had already rehearsed this some time previously and thought it was a joke, but this time it was different.
One evening a heavy raid was in progress. My father and his friend were having a drink on the way back from work when a bomb dropped across the road from the bar demolishing a house and trapping a mother and two children, but fortunately they only had cuts and bruises. My father and his friend released them and brought them to our ‘dungeon’. A few days later we were moved to St George’s Barracks further up the coast, away from the dockyard area, where school was infrequent, about three days a week, but swimming was high priority! Some months later we moved back to Senglea. The raids were not too bad until January 10th 1941 when we watched the aircraft carrier Illustrious glide in, knowing that it had been in a battle as we could hear the gunfire earlier in the day. Then the German planes arrived and the raids got heavier and more frequent.
January 16th 1941
On the 16th I was at school in St Georges Barracks at around 2pm when the alarm sounded. We went to the shelter which was a roofed-over slit trench but as usual we children sat on top of the sandbags round the entrance to watch the dog-fights. It was when the planes were over the Grand Harbour that we could see them peel off and dive down one by one. We knew that they were Stukas and what they were after. They were determined to finish off the Illustrious. We were sent home in the lull between air raids, dropping children off the bus on the way until my journey finished at the Dockyard gate.
When I got to Senglea it looked as if every house had been hit and as I climbed over the rubble in Two Gate Street I feared the worst as my mother and brother were there and they didn’t always go to the deep shelter round the corner, but this time luckily they had. Our flat had been hit and there were big holes in the roof and balcony. Dad arrived and said "Take what you can carry, we are off to St Georges again." He then went back to work and we never saw him for three days as he was working on the repairs to the Illustrious. By some miracle the ship was not hit again and she slipped out safely on the Sunday night. The raids continued, four and five a day, long and heavy but we still swam most days for the next five months!
July 26th 1941
I was woken before daylight one morning by gunfire although no warning had sounded. I looked out and could see tracers from the ack ack battery at Spinola going across towards Grand Harbour in the distance. Thinking that I would see more I climbed up a tree in a field just in time to see a terrific flash and debris flying into the air. We later found out it was Italian fast boats packed with high explosives trying to breach the breakwater and boom defence to let midget submarines into Grand Harbour. But none of them made it.
That tree was still there in 2004! The raids continued but were not so heavy.
The Germans were back with a vengeance, regular as clockwork, day after day, punctually at breakfast, mid morning, lunch, afternoon tea time, then it was the night bombers' turn. It seemed that a form of carpet bombing took place which culminated in the St George's barracks being attacked on a Saturday around 26th April which was my brother's birthday. Our room was blasted so we had to pick up whatever we could salvage, but my piano had been destroyed. We were allocated another room in another barrack block and the raids eased off again.
Some days we helped the gunners nearby, filling the bren and lewis gun magazines with live ammunition — two bulls then one tracer, two bulls one tracer, perhaps 30 rounds.
My father was informed that families were going to be evacuated and that we had to be ready at a day's notice. So one afternoon he arrived "home" and said we had to be prepared to leave that evening. A car came and we set off for Luqa airfield. After about 2 hours an RAF officer told my father that the plane had not arrived so it was back "home" again. Some time later we once more set off but this time it was postponed due to a heavy raid which lasted nearly to daylight, so back "home"! The third time we boarded the plane and got settled, then a fuel leak was discovered so once more it was back "home" yet again. Attempt four, no problems. We took off in a Lockheed Hudson, a medium bomber, landed in the desert somewhere to refuel then on to Heliopolis, Cairo. We stayed there for two or three weeks then went to Port Tewfik for another two weeks. There we boarded the Monarch of Bermuda, sailed round the Cape, and after stopping at various ports ended up at Gourock in Scotland in August 1942 when I was 12 years old.
Sometimes we were frightened but usually the excitement took over. We did things that no children today are allowed to do, but then we were fireproof weren’t we!! Looking back to those days I feel privileged to have lived in Malta at that time. It taught me about war, the good times and the bad but mostly the stupidity of it.
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