What a place for kids to grow up! Malta - a beautiful, historical island, set in the Mediterranean sea. You couldn’t ask for a better childhood!
While we lived on this gorgeous island, we children went to school, of course. Katrina and I attended the Royal Naval School (Service Children's School) Tal-Handaq, whilst Philippa went to one of the three British primary schools on the island. These schools were mainly for the education of British military children up to the age of 18, but they were also attended by the children of those who worked on the oil rigs or of the many teachers within the military education system or civilians attached to the military and who were based on Malta. Tal-Handaq (pronounced 'Tal Handak' or, more properly, 'Tal Handa') was a former British military camp and was located in the village of Qormi (pronounced 'Ormi'), situated not far from RAF Luqa (pronounced 'Loo-a', where Philippa's school was situated.
In the summer, school started about an hour earlier than in the winter and would finish around 12.30pm so that students didn't have to study inside during the hottest part of the day. Of course, we would be given a fair amount of homework to be done in the later cooler hours of the day, to make up for the lack of school hours, but it was good not to be at school all day. Often, we would take our school books to the beach, or just lie out on the verandah or on the flat roof of our house doing our homework. In the winter, we started at around 8 or 8.30am and finished school at around 3pm, if memory serves me right.
School uniform was an absolute must - one had to wear it - school rules ruled, eh? ;-) We had two different school uniforms: summer and winter. The summer uniform for girls was simply a beige gingham checked dress, with white socks and sandals. The lads wore an khaki/olive green shirt and matching shorts, with beige socks and sandals. The uniforms could be worn with a school-issue belt in the colour of your school house.
In the winter, the girls' school uniform consisted of white blouse, navy blue skirt (or pinafore dress), navy blue cardigan and white socks. Boys wore long black trousers, white shirt, grey jumper. We all had to wear a tie as well, but we had a choice of two. We could wear the silk tie, which was navy blue with red and white stripes (indicating we were students at a British military school on the island), or we could wear a hessian-type tie of the colour of our school house. I had both types of tie and would wear whichever came to hand first when getting ready for school.
At Tal-Handaq, the houses when we were there were: Tedder (Red); Alanbrooke (blue) and Cunningham (green). Katrina was in Tedder house and I was in Alanbrooke. The houses at Luqa Primary School had different names; Pip was in Cheshire, which was red.
As for hobbies, sport was of course big on the island and swimming was our thing, so we were often to be found down at Valletta pitch or St Julian's pitch (a pitch being a swimming pool that is actually built in the sea), or at the Mellieha Bay Hotel, which had a heated swimming pool and was our winter training location.
The Maltese Swimming Association had approached Dad and asked him if he would let us girls train and swim with the famous Dowling boys - Dirk, Kim and Kurt, who were the youngest sons of Emmanuel 'Budgie' Dowling, a Maltese businessman, and his wife Jean, whom we grew to love and call Auntie and Uncle out of respect for them. So we would go down to Valletta for training sessions; we would take part in many galas and we would basically have loads of fun swimming. We got to know lots of Maltese people this way, and our knowledge of the local language grew, too. It wasn't too long before we girls could confidently speak some Maltese - a language that is really difficult to learn; it's the only Semitic language written with Roman letters.
We did gymnastics, too, and joined the Gymnastics Club on RAF Luqa, the main RAF camp on the island, which had loads of clubs and facilities for the many military families on the island.
I had also learned to play hockey when we had lived in Scotland, and I loved it, so I continued to play when possible at Tal-Handaq and I took up netball too, and I was happy to be selected to play both sports for my school house and for the school as a whole, when we played against visiting teams, local youth teans or the Malta Ladies' Team. We used to have hockey practice on weekends down at the Corradino pitches, which weren't grassed at all. They were gravel pitches and caused pain and awful burns/sores to the hands, arms and legs when players fell.
It was great fun having all these extra-curricular activities available to us, with transport provided by the school, be it after school hours during the week or at the weekends.
When I was old enough, I joined the RAF Combined Cadet Force. Our unit was based at Tal-Handaq school and, if memory serves me right, it was the first WRAF CCF contingent anywhere outside of the UK. We did tons of things in the cadets but the best that spring to mind were rock climbing and building dry-river crossings. We took part in training sessions with 41 Commando Group of the Royal Marines, which was all extra help in preparing them for service depending on where they were deployed. We were supposed to go on a camping session over to the old RAF camp of Hal-Far, but sadly this didn't happen, so we had two day trips over there and did the training with the Commandos during the day, instead of overnighting there. I think this had something to do with us being underage and female and the lads also being there, but I'm not sure.
We cadets were invited to go on board HMS Hermes, too. We girls must have looked older than our years (we were all still schoolkids at this point) as we were invited to join the sailors in the Mess bar (drinking club) but sadly, we had to decline that invitation.
I also got to fly with the RAF. I went on board a real, working Nimrod aeroplane - nickname 'The Mighty Hunter'. I forget its registration number but if and when I find my Logbook, it'll be on there and I'll update this site with further details.
We took off from Luqa and headed south. All in all, we flew for 5 hours and 40 minutes. We circled, flew in straight lines and circled some more. It was absolutely brilliant, just being airborne for that length of time - my flight to Malta had been my first ever time aboard an aircraft and I had loved it, and I enjoyed this trip with the cadets immensely! On heading south towards the North African coast, the aircrew pointed out to us several of the supposed Russian trawlers and we noticed that many of the boats had very strange aerials and radio masts (of course, they weren't trawlers at all!)
On turning for home, dinner was served; my colleagues (two other cadets) had felt rough on the way out and had not enjoyed the flight thus far like I had. However, they were perking up now and devoured the steak and chips offered. I, by this time, was feeling a little rough, so I declined dinner, instead opting to sit quietly and just enjoy the flight as much as I could. Wonderful memories!
When we had lived in Scotland, Dad had given up his hobby of angling, so that he could afford the time and money necessary to drive us girls to our various swimming galas around the country.
As Malta was that much smaller, however, Dad could have a hobby of his own and still take us swimming. He had started building a model aeroplane in the loft of our house at Kinloss, with me helping out occasionally, but he (we!) finished building it in Malta and Dad's hobby grew as he got more interested in building and flying model aircraft. It was a proud day for him when his plane first took to the skies above the old RAF airfield at Ta' Qali (pronounced 'Ta Ali'), near Mosta where we lived, which was where the Model Aircraft Club met.
We would go there mostly on Sunday mornings; Mum and I would sit in the car (if my sisters weren't with us) and listen to the various radio shows on the British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS) radio - 'The Archers' was one of our favourites.
Other times, I would join Dad chatting to others flying their aircraft, waiting for his turn to fly his. When his turn came, I would stand with him and we would share the controlbox. There were occasions Dad's plane crashed and we would run out to get it from wherever it had landed (or ended up!) hoping and praying for there not to be too much damage to it. Ta' Qali airfield holds such wonderful memories for me of really good quality time spent as mother and daughter, and also as father and daughter. I loved my times at Ta' Qali with my parents: the occasions shared, the words spoken, and the hopes and dreams discussed. They were truly special times.
After we had been on the island for some years, Dad was posted back to England. We had a choice of where we wanted to go - RAF Newquay (down in the far south-west of England; RAF Kinloss (up in the far north of Scotland); or RAF Wyton (in the east of England)... we, as a family, chose Wyton.