MALTA DIARY: Brexit turmoil in the UK; Brexit concern in Malta; recollections of a boyhood spent under the Union Jack
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The inseparable links between Malta and Great Britain stretch back to the late 18th and early 19th Centuries and although Malta has been independent since 1964, and there have been new generations, the links are as strong as ever.
Inter-marriages have left a plethora of British surnames in a Maltese telephone directory, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. For people in my age-group and even younger, it is automatic that following any new international development one of the first steps is to investigate how this will affect both Great Britain and Malta.
Brexit may be causing turmoil in the British Isles but it is also being looked at with considerable concern by Malta and the Maltese. It is estimated there are about 15,000 people holding British nationality resident in Malta and an equal number of Maltese and more, resident throughout Britain.
Commercial and entertainment links are still strong and British tourists are a major source in the Maltese tourism economy. British goods and British medicines, as well as medical treatments occupy a high agenda.
A case in point reflecting the really strong ties, last Friday the actor Richard Swift passed away, the actor who played Richard, long-suffering husband of Hyacinth Bucket (Bouquet) in the comedy series ‘Keeping Up Appearances’. The death made headlines in all Malta media outlets, the series being much-loved and much-followed in Malta. The same can be said for productions like ‘Only Fools and Horses’, ‘Last of the Summer Wine’, ‘Fawlty Towers’ and many, many others.
The Malta Government has drawn up various contingency plans of how to deal with the situation when Brexit eventually materialises. This includes a ten-year residence guarantee (renewable) for all British residents, a continuation of medical services and a plan to tackle euro/pound sterling differences in the tourist sector.
All these meanderings have recently caused me to reflect back on my own boyhood and what it was like living under the Union Jack in those days, particularly coming from a family which had strong links with the Royal Navy and my own father being an Officer in the Royal Air Force.
Two memories that have remained strongly highlighted have been two gigantic naval ships that I grew up with. The context is that Malta has been a seafaring island since time immemorial and has inseparable bonds to its surrounding sea. When I was a boy every port and creek teemed with Britain’s Mediterranean Fleet and wherever one looked Royal Navy sailors.
HMS Forth was one of the giants that occupied and dominated Pieta’ Creek which was the RN’s submarine depot and the Forth was the depot ship. Pieta’ was en route from Sliema – where we lived – to Valletta and back – and therefore the frequent bus trips to the capital and back meant a splendid view alongside the ship which had an overall length of 500 feet (151 metres).
Day and night it was a beehive of activity with scores of sailors teeming about in their various duties, loading supplies, unloading submarine parts and the various aromas of foods being cooked for the hundreds of sailors throughout the day.
The Forth was commissioned a submarine depot ship in 1939 and initially served at bases in Scotland, Holy Loch and the Clyde. During World War II it was stationed in Halifax in Canada to service the transatlantic submarines.
In early 1950 it was relocated to Malta and in 1953 took part in the Fleet Review to celebrate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The Forth spent the decade in Malta and spurred my determination to become a sailor in HM’s naval fleet, a determination instantly and continually quashed by my mother who said she absolutely forbade my EVER becoming a sailor because sailors were womanisers and therefore unreliable!
By the end of the decade my family had relocated to the UK and the Forth left Malta to be modified to support nuclear submarines.
Meanwhile, at my London school I had joined the Cadet Corps and one day in 1961 we made a day-trip to Portsmouth and of course a trip around Portsmouth Harbour. And there, lo and behold, was HMS Forth in all its splendour. Seeing it brought tears to my boyhood eyes.
The other giant was HMS Ranpura, a fleet depot ship. This giant had started life as the SS Ranpura, a passenger and cargo carrying ocean liner which had been built by P&O at Newcastle upon Tyne and launched on 13th September in 1924.
At the onset of World War II it was converted into an armed merchant cruiser and completed on 30th November, 1939 with the addition of eight six-inch guns (152 mm). It was used as a convoy escort vessel to engage German surface ships.
After the war it was stationed in Malta and remained there to the end of the 1950s, anchored in Ta’ Xbiex Creek, where I often went fishing with my father either off his boat or from the rocks. Its vastness occupied the creek and like the Forth on the other side of the creek, it teemed with life, sounds and smells day and night.
So many years have gone by. Both of these giants were long ago scuttled of course but in my dreams they are still here, teeming with life and every time I go past the spot where they used to be moored I see the activity, hear the sounds and smell the aromas all over again.
“The older he gets the more foolish he becomes”.
The antithesis of the maturity and wisdom of growing old