An article ‘A Memorable Holiday’ by Margaret Roberts, a founder member of both St Vincent Local Luncheon Club and Friends of Gosport Museum.
A Memorable Holiday By Margaret Roberts 2007
When I was 10 years old in 1933, I had a marvellous memorable holiday abroad when my mother, younger sister and I went to Malta to be with my father. It lasted for 4½ months.
He was in the Navy serving on HMS ‘Despatch’, a ship based in Malta for 2½ years.
We set sail on the ‘Jervis Bay’ a ship belonging to the White Star Line , from Southampton. Mother’s father, Grandfather Martin, came with us in a taxi to the ship. He has been a yacht skipper before he retired and had worked for the Chairman of the White Star Line so he was pleased to find that the officials of the companyon board were ones he knew.
We discovered that we were sharing a 6 berth cabin with the NAAFI Manager’s wife and two children. After saying goodbye to grandpa we settled in with them.
Amongst the other passengers, many of whom were bound for Australia, were a group of young sailors. They had just finished their training and were taking passage to Malta to join their first ships. Soon after we left Southampton , the weather worsened and none of us passengers were allowed up on deck. Some of the mothers took to their bunks already suffering from sea sickness, their young children were capably looked after by some of the young sailors. Us older ones were kept busy by other sailors teaching us the many card games they knew.
When we got in the Mediterranean, the weather improved. I remember many of us passengers enjoying a film show up on deck in the evening , we never did see the end of it. A sudden shout drew us to the rails to see the lights of Gibraltar.
When we reached the dockside in Malta Grand Harbour, the schoolmaster’s wife, Mrs Hawkins, was there to meet us. Our ship, HMS Despatch, was out on a cruise, luckily it was due back next day.
Mrs Hawkins took us back to her flat in Valletta for a meal and a chat. Then she took us to the hotel in Sliema, used mostly by us English. We dumped our gear then walked along the esplanade which was very pleasant at this time of the day.
The next morning, Mrs Hawkins took us down to the harbour to watch for our ship to come in. When it arrived, father thanked her for looking after us and said goodbye. He took us round to the other side of the harbour to a little village called Casa Paula. It was near the dockyard at Cospicua, where father’s ship, HMS Despatch, was based.
He had rented a small bungalow there. It was one in a road of them. Only the landlord who lived on the other side of the road had a beautiful garden. The bungalows were fairly basic . The bathroom had a big bath in it but no water supply. We had to manage with a small tin bath . Poor mother had to do the cooking on a Primus stove which she took a while to get used to.
Father gave us lessons up onout flat roof in the mornings. We often played up there too. Some afternoons, we went out sightseeing but more about that later.
A baker, who sold tinned milk and a greengrocer, came round with their donkey carts regularly. The only thing we bought in the village was meat. Mother didn’t like the idea at first, however, she soon realised they could understand English and were very helpful.
Father took us into Valletta very soon on a special mission. Poor mother’s feet were very sore due to the rheumatic fever she’d had. He had arranged for her to see a Maltese cobbler who would measure her feet and make her a pair of soft leather shoes. We went in again a week later for her to try on the new shoes. Mother liked them and and wore them home.
After going into Valletta with dad, we had no difficulty finding our way without him. We caught a little bus which stopped for us in Casa Paula village and took us to Vallett’s big gate. Once inside the gate we saw a bridge going up over the houses and realsed that went up to the NAAFI. Almost immediately we saw a huge hall. the fish market. It was fascinating seeing so many strange fish as we walked round. Nobody minded that we hadn’t bought any.
We decided then to make our way up the bridge to the NAFFI for a drink. What a great disappointment it was after such a long climb. A drab very old building which, on thinking about it, was I reckon part of the old towns fortifications.
A family friend was out in Malta at the same time as father. He was a Shipwright Officertoo on another ship. His family lived just round the corner in Strathmore Road, Gosport. He helped father sometimes by taking mother, Elsie and I out sightseeing some afternoons. He always spent Sundays with us when not on duty and came to the service at the dockyard church in the evening. Our route took us through the big Casa Paula square. On Sundays it was swarmin with Maltese people playing tombola organised by the priests. At the side of the square was a large church being built. Each Sunday, takings from the tombola were used to pay for the work on the church in the following week.
When we gotto the dockyard church, we enjoyed the familiar service. However, a bridge used by the Maltese people outside the dockyard led over the church so, during the service, you usually heard goat bells tinkling as the goats went across which added to the atmosphere.
Mentioning the dockyard church reminds me of another trip into Valletta. Mother’s mother had been a governess before her marriage and she made a lot of Elsie and me so she gave mother the paper patterns for our blouses to bring to Malta. We found an Indian shop in a step street nearby. It was full of the most gorgeous silks and satins. However, Elsie and I had to settle for a rather drab shantung silk.
One day, not long afterwards, mother was pinning the patterns on the material down on the clean floor when the vicar of the dockyard church came to see us. A very nice man, he could see mother was busy so he didn’t stay long.
Now to recall some of the sight seeing we did in the afternoons. Father took us to San Anton Gardens. There was an old woman at the gate selling blood oranges grown there. Once inside, were amongst a variety of tropical trees, bushes and plants.
After a look around, we went across the road to the Sunset Hotel for afternoon tea. There were little low seats and tables and we enjoyed the honey sandwiches, dainty cakes and cups of tea. I especially liked the honey as it was scented by the narcissi growing wild everywhere.
Mr Cheer took us to Mdina, the old capital of Malta, high up on a hill. Although there was a church service in progress in the cathedral, we were allowed to walk round the magnificent interior. My eyes were drawn to the wonderful painted ceiling.
From Mrs Carmelina Grech’s book “Malta” I discovered that the cathedral is one of the most ancient in Christendom. It was considerably enlarged and embellished between 1420 and 1679. It was completely rebuilt in 1697.
Mr Cheer also took us through part of Mdina to see the catacombs. We had to go though an area which was where the rich people lived. They were large houses mostly with balconies and impressive large front doors. I remember being very interested to see the variety of large brass knockers on the doors.
It was very dark when we went down in to the catacombs. The guide gave us each a torchlight and warned us to keep with him. Howevery Mr Cheer disappeared down a side passageonly to reappear back with us before we had time to get alarmed. I guess he had been down there several times before.
It was strange to see the rock shelves with separate areas containing three scooped out hollows for father, mother and child. I didn’t find out how old the cave was however Mrs Grech, inher Malta book, tells us that thefirst Maltese were late Stone Age farmers who migrated to the island from Sicily some time before 4000BC.
Father took us to St Paul’s Bay by car. We didn’t need to get out of the car as we could easily see the shore area without doing so, a restful trip for mother.
Here is the account of Paul’s shipwreck from Mrs Grech’s book ‘Malta’. In AD58, when Paul was a Roman citizen and himself a prisoner; he was sent by boat from Syria to Rome with other prisoners to appear for trial before the Emperor. According to Acts of the Apostles and local Malteses tradition, on the 14th night of the voyage, the ship was caught in a storm and struck the rocky island called Melita in what is now known as St Paul’s Bay. The prisoners swam ashore and local people lit a fire to warm them. It is said that a snake came out of the fire and fastened itself to Paul’s hand. This, people took as a sign that this man is a murderer but fate will not let him live though he escaped from the fire. Paul, however, shook off the snake without being hurt so the onlookers changed their minds and thought he was a God, they brought their sick to him to be healed and the acts of healing converted the islands to Christianity.
Mr Cheer took us to a deserted bay with only a small opening to the sea. It was a warm and sunny day and we enjoyed the peaceful scene. I’ve no idea where it was.
Now to an unusual trip we made to a cemetery in Malta. We had got, friendly with an elderly lady and her daughter who had come to live on the opposite side of Peel Road. She told us about her husband who had been dead for some years. He had been a bodyguard to Queen Victoria. She had his uniform and regalia in a room which she showed us.
When she heard of our holiday in Malta, she asked mother to do something for her out there. Apparently, while there with her husband, they had lost a child and she was still paying so much a year for the grave to be looked after. For some time, she had a friend who visited Malta quite often and checked for her. However, he had retired so she asked mother to check instead.
So, one morning we caught the little bus from Casa Paula and got out at the cemetery. On enetering, we could see on the right hand side some very ancient children’s graves. They were very overgrown with no space to walk between them. So we ignored them and looked at later ones but we couldn’t find the one we were looking for. I do wonder as I am writing this account so long afterwards whether we should have looked more closely at the sides of the oldest graves.
When we came out of the cemetery, we were quite near Valletta Gate so we walked along th ewide pavement on the left hand side of the road. It was bordered by flower beds, grass and bushes. Across the road was a narrow pavement, obviously not used very much, then iron railings. However, to ouramazement , on the far side was a Royal Navy ship obviously moored in water. Mother was able to tell us it was the ship the Duke of Kent was serving on. He was marrying Princess Marina of Greece in London in 1934.
When we got to Valletta Gate, we were pleased to see our bus waiting there. It was almost ready to leave as it was nearly full. I should explain that the bus didn’t make the return joutney until every seat was taken.
Now, I must tell you about a very enjoyable occasion when we were ivited to tea with Mr and Mrs Hawkins. They made us very welcome and, after tea, produced a camera. Father insisted on taking a photograph so that they could both be in the picture. However, it was only a very small printand, sad to say, that although it got brought home, it got forgotten. I found it again onl;y a little while ago when I was looking for something else. What a surprise I had on taking it to my printers in Stoke Road. His enlargement produced a row of happy smiling peole. I’m only sorry mum and dad didn’t see it.
By now, it was getting nearer to Christmas and Elsie and I were looking forward to going to dad’s branch chidren’s party. In Malta, his branch had taken over a large private house with an indoor courtyard. we had been to a couple in Portsmouth in earlier years which had been excellent. This proved just as good.
When we arrived, we saw filing a lot of the space was a slide into the courtyard. We soon climbed up the steps to the top of the slide which was near the ceiling. Before we got on, each time the man in charge put chalk down. This didn’t do ourparty frocks much good but makes us slide down more quickly. After a while, they had two sailors, one on each side of the slide, to stop us going in to the now rain washed courtyard.
I’m sure we had a marvellous tea too but the thing I remember was the orange jelly served in orange peel. I thought that was such a good idea. As home time drew near, we all received presents. Elsie and I had pigskin handbags with several compartments and a zip fastener which pleased us both. On the way home to Casa Paula in the dark we passed the Duke of Kent’s ship again with all its lights on. It was a magical sight.
Our next memorable occasion was on Christmas Day. While mother stayed at home cooking the Christmas dinner, father took Elsie and me on board his ship. We had been invited to do rounds with him and all the other officers and families round the different parts of the ship. We were welcomed everywhere and plied with sweets and chocolates, soft drinks for the children and stronger ones for the adults. We enjoyed mother’s Christmas dinner too. She had become quite an expert with the Primus stove.
I had my eleventh birthday on 25 January. It was agreed that we would not celebrate the event until we were back home with out family friends. It wouldn’t be long to wait as were already getting ready to Malta in February.
However, my eleventh birthday was a special one as regards our journey home, the White Star Line considered we became adults at 11 so father had to pay full fare for me. Of course, I didn’t mind as I could join the grown ups at mealtimes after escorting Elsie to hers.
Looking back all those years ago before the Second World War. I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to visit the old Malta. It was a facinating place.
I have a copy of ‘Malta the Unconquered Isle’ written by Ian hay in 2943. It shows the awful bomb damage everywhere. It also reminds us of the sad loss of life. I’m glad though that Malta was rebuilt after the war and now has many visitors again.
Malta, its history and old photographs by Carmelina Grech published by A Sutton in Gloucestershire 1989
George and Marina, the Duke and Duchess of Kent, by Christopher Warwick published by Macmillan Education 1986
Below are the acknowledgements for the photographs in the printed vertion of the article. I have only included the photograph taken by Margaret Roberts father as there is no permision to add the other photographs to this web site. (Editor Ian R Jeffery)
My thanks are due to my neighbour, Mr Tom Fayers for allowing me to have copies of pictures of Malta from his family photo album.
Also to Mr Chistopher Toyer, a neighbour’s son, who found some Malta pictures on the internet for me. Margaret Roberts 2007
For more history items see the Friends of Gosport Museum website
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