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15 October 2014
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Malta Upbringing

by edmund_paul

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Paul Fuller, Albert, Joyce and Barbara Fuller
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26 January 2006

Paul Fuller in Sea Scout uniform at the end of the seige in Sliema

Chap 1
World War II started, for me, in July 1939. My mother in shock and tears, Dad serious but concerned with his next action. We had just arrived in the UK on holiday from Malta and almost immediately Dad was recalled to his job as Sperry gyrocompass specialist in the Admiralty Dockyard there. He was off at once, first to a technical Sperry course, which meant that when he finally sailed in early September. Mum was convinced he had gone down in a ship torpedoed in those first few days of war.

I was eleven and my sister six so we remained in Sheerness until my mother could arrange a trip overland to Malta in December ’39. She, courageously and determinedly, led a group of four adults and three children across France and down through Italy. Crossing the Channel, three of the ladies put their lifejackets over their fur coats until a seaman told them they would sink like a stone. I have never seen women change so fast! Travelling through Italy down to Rome I stood in the corridor and found that a group of German officers, ostensibly at war with us, were in the next compartment. They were very kind to and friendly with a young English boy, pointing out the various sights. From that moment I distinguished between Germans and Nazis. Arriving in Malta, our war was quiet for the next six months and then life changed.

Mussolini declared war on the 10th June and early in the morning of Tuesday 11th we had the first air raids. We lived at Margherita Square, Cospicua and a busload of people stopped outside our house and took shelter with us. Two things stand out in my memory. Someone sounded the gas warning and that was the only time I wore my gasmask — a claustrophobic experience. Secondly, with the passengers I watched Faith, Hope and Charity, the Gloucester Gladiators, doing their stuff almost above us - actually they were over Valetta and Grand Harbour — but it was exciting to watch.

Later that day the UK community around Cospicua was taken to the underground corridors of Verdala — my old Dockyard School — where we stayed for a couple of days with bombs dropping at Verdala. Soon we were on our way to the evacuation camp of St George’s Barracks, northwest of Sliema, where all naval and dockyard families were now billeted. This was to be our home for the next two years, at first crammed into G and H blocks with about twenty families to a barrack room, separated by blankets on ropes; then given our own family room in A block. I went with my father to salvage what we could from Vittoriosa — our furniture and belongings had been stored but had received a direct hit so there was not much left.

Life became a strange mixture of war and peace. The authorities restarted schooling, attempting normality. There was tombola and ad hoc concerts and community feeding in the hall opposite A block. The large white dining hall in the centre was not used for feeding, but, together with the slit trenches around the barracks, was used as an air raid shelter in the ground floor storage bays. School was constantly interrupted by air raids though in time we did not go to the slit trenches (deep trenches bridged by sandstone blocks and covered with earth) until the guns started up. As they stopped, the master would stick his head up and call out that shrapnel was no longer falling, but some boy would throw stones on the tennis court and hold up lessons for a few more minutes!

I had been a choir boy in St Paul’s Cathedral, Valletta before the war and continued to attend where possible by bus from St Georges’, travelling by myself. The shortest route was through Strada Stretta (Straight Street, known to every matelot as “The Gut”) but there was never any trouble for a young boy. However the raids became increasingly heavy and after some particularly unpleasant experiences and one occasion when the bus stopped in Floriana as buildings around were being hit and we took shelter in a house, it was decided that I would stop going (or the choir ceased — I cannot remember which.)

I think this occasion was part of the ‘Illustrious’ blitz. In January ’41 the aircraft carrier limped into harbour for repairs and remained for about ten days. Although I did not know it at the time, part of her trouble was damage to the Sperry gyro compass and my father worked on her day and night for most of time she was at Parlatorio wharf. For this he was mentioned in dispatches. Another of his narrow escapes was only told to my mother long after. He was working against the clock with his mate on a submarine (I think it was the Pandora) in French Creek in April ‘42 when his mate realized he had forgotten a key tool or part. My father was annoyed but they decided to go back for it and have lunch at their workshop near No.1 dock. Returning after lunch they found the Pandora on the bottom. It had received a direct hit.

As a Sea Scout, I was involved in several types of war work. Most of my Scout troop had moved to St Andrew’s Barracks from Senglea [later in the war ( summer ’42 onwards) many UK boys had been evacuated from Malta, so I helped to restart the troop at St Andrew’s and became Troop Leader]. But earlier we became part of coastal defence and observation, visiting Palace and Castille towers for training. Hands-on work was lowly, being on duty and working the hand siren after telephone warnings — usually unnecessary because the planes were already overhead.

In March ’42, our Scoutmaster, Corporal Doug Baldwin was killed, clearing airfields I think. I went to the funeral at the cemetery just above St Patrick’s Hospital on the coast. It is one of my most traumatic memories because as we stood at attention through the service at the graveside, I looked out over St Patrick’s and the sea and watched rows of Junker 87s and 88s coming straight towards us as the guns opened up. I have never wanted a funeral service to end so quickly.

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