Fifty years of Malta’s Sea Cadet Corps
The Sea Cadet Corps (SCC) in Britain originated at the time of the Crimean War (1854-56). Its Maltese counterpart this year is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
The Training Ship (TS) St Paul was commissioned on February 8, 1962, at HMS Phoenicia, Manoel Island, where the Royal Navy had a large establishment, including HMS Talbot, a former submarine base, a minesweeper flotilla and tender, slipways, barracks and fleet clearance divers.
The unit knows its birth to the insistence of W.T. Haworth, an Admiralty civilian officer employed at the Royal Navy’s wireless station in Dingli. Mr Haworth was from Newby, Scarborough, and had previously served in TS Scarborough with the rank of Lieutenant (SCC) Royal Naval Reserves.
By mid-August 1961, the prospects of forming a unit in Malta was still bleak although the Admiralty didn’t object, provided the Naval Votes incurred no expenditure. Neither was there any objection to the officers and instructors receiving RNR (SCC) appointments provided that the Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean was willing to give the necessary naval supervision.
Vice-Admiral Sir Peter Cazalet, chairman of the Navy League, wrote to the Governor of Malta (Admiral Sir Guy Grantham) and the C-in-C Mediterranean explaining the situation in detail and asking for their support.
The Malta Unit would be in very much the same position as the new units in Jersey and the Isle of Man, in which the local governments took the place of the Admiralty in the UK and supple-mented local finance with government grants.
Capt. Roddie Casement originally suggested using the available title TS Penelope of the Blackpool Units, but the Sea Cadet executive committee suggested that a name with a “Maltese flavour” be chosen instead.
The number of cadets was to be limited to 30 and a waiting list was to be drawn up. Lt Haworth was referred to contact the Maltese youth officer from the Education Office. A civilian committee was to be formed, mainly of officers’ wives, which was already functioning and raising funds.
Both the Governor and the C-in-C Mediterranean finally approved the formation of the Malta Unit in late 1961; however the Treasury could not fund the unit, so funding had to be sought locally.
On December 5, 1961, Vice-Admiral Cazalet wrote to Mabel Strickland as owner of the Times of Malta and leader of the Progressive Constitutional Party, asking for her help to obtain support for the unit; copies of his letter were sent to the Governor.
This was election time in Malta, yet not only did Ms Strickland support the Sea Cadet Corps Malta Unit but she also showed her approval for the unit to hold its first parade, subject to the Governor’s final approval.
Approval arrived in 1962, and February 8 was set to be the official date. Officers and instructors would not be paid, as these were all to be volunteers. Lt-Cdr (SCC) E.G. Merredew, former commanding officer of the Kingston Unit, arrived in Malta to assist and advise Lt Haworth as its first CO, with Sub-Lt McMichael as his second-in-command.
Officially known as Unit 505, the unit was to be based at HMS Phoenicia, then the flagship of Admiral Sir Douglas Eric “Deric” Holland-Martin. The name Training Ship St Paul was decided for the SCC Malta Unit, which held its first parade on April 4, 1962.
TS St Paul’s first Admiralty inspection was held during April 1963 by Cdr O.G.N. Hutchinson, Commanding Officer of HMS Phoenicia, acquiring the Admiral’s tribute.
Until then, Joseph Ebejer was still a new young face with no previous naval or military training. His father was one of the Maltese aides to the Governor, much trusted and praised for his work, especially his war service. In late March 1964 Cdr Crosbie authorised Sub Lieutenant (SCC) Ebejer to attend a course in the UK.
Although the Malta GC Unit was never a pre-services training body, statistics show that during its first 12 months, 12 cadets qualified to join the Royal Navy and one the Royal Marines, while more were awaiting acceptance.
The SCC Malta GC Unit was present during the Independence celebrations of 1964, and had lined Independence Arena during the visit by Queen Elizabeth II in 1967 and was reviewed by the Duke of Edinburgh.
Other events included the Armistice Day parade, a visit to Greece by six cadets on HMS Surprise for the wedding of King Constantine and Princess Anne-Marie of Denmark in 1964, and trips on minesweepers.
Lieut-Cdr (SCC) D. Wigglesworth’s farewell parade was held on July 14, 1967, and Lieut. Joseph Ebejer became the new commanding officer. One of Lieut Ebejer’s earliest parades as the new CO of TS St Paul was held on November 15 at San Anton Palace, where it was reviewed by Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, as Admiral of the Sea Cadet Corps.
TS St Paul continued functioning at HMS Phoenicia, but in 1965 it was transferred to the former Royal Navy’s Wireless Telegraphy Training Centre on Manoel Island. In 1969, the establishment closed down and the property was ceded to the Maltese government.
The unit moved to HMS St Angelo and was given prominent quarters on the Lower Deck. By then, a band section was raised from among the cadets, although they continued to be taught maritime skills and navigation, drill, first aid, leadership, wireless and telegraphy as well as rifle practice in the tunnels beneath the fort.
The 1972 Services rundown nearly meant the end of the unit, but it later continued to grow and increase its activities. The officers were Lt Cdr Ebejer, Lt Charles Cilia, Lt Leonard Bowman and Sub Lt Saviour Baldacchino.
In 1974 girls were admitted under the guidance of Female Administrative Officer Sylvia Young.
Late in 1978, a few months before the Anglo-Maltese base agreement was to expire, TS St Paul paraded for the last time at HMS St Angelo and moved out of the fort in December of that year.
Now homeless, most of the unit’s equipment and furniture were stored in an old farmhouse in Siġġiewi.
In March 1979, the Malta Unit received instructions from the Office of the Prime Minister that cadets cannot continue to wear their uniform in public for a period of six months.
The unit was also told that due to its affiliation with the Navy League in Great Britain, the name Sea Cadet Corps could not be used, while the Royal Navy uniform, ranks and word of command in English were not accepted either. Even the cap tally with ‘TS St Paul’ was drawing some criticism. All this had a devastating effect on morale and attendance and the unit’s future looked uncertain.
An old warehouse at Ras Ħanżir, Marsa, was acquired but was deemed unsuitable. The next home for six months was the gymnasium’s dressing room at De La Salle College, Cospicua, where the complement was down to two officers and four cadets and training programmes were non-existent.
In June 1980, the Department of Education granted two rooms at the Nautical School in Hay Wharf, Marsa, as a base for the unit.
In November 1982, the unit won a tender to occupy a two-storey garage in Senglea which was damp, inadequate and lacked toilet facilities.
By now, the unit had grown to 16 cadets and staff – Lt Cdr Ebejer, Lt Bowman, PO L. Camilleri and PO C. Seychell. Both officers had to resign their commission in the Royal Naval Reserves earlier and their uniform changed to straight lace surmounted by a Maltese cross.
During May 1983 there was a move to change the unit’s name to Kadetti Baħħara, and although this was resisted, it succeeded.
PO Lino Camilleri was commissioned as a Third Officer in June 1984 and became its PRO, starting work on regaining the Malta Unit’s status in relation to the Sea Cadet Corps in the UK.
Between 1984 and 1988, the unit continued to grow and reverted to its original name of Sea Cadet Corps, but all uniform insignia remained unchanged.
In September 1989, Lt C.L. Camilleri and Sub-Lt J. Davis were invited to attend the Officers’ Acquaint Course at HMS Osprey where they discussed the possibility of the Malta Unit returning to the original Sea Cadet Corps. This happened on May 1, 1990, and the unit’s officers reverted to wearing the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserves wavy stripes.
After 25 years of commanding the Malta Unit, Commander Ebejer retired in September 1990 and was replaced by Lt Camilleri, with Lt Davis as First Lieutenant. Malta then joined the Eastern Area SCC of the UK Sea Cadet Corps and was placed in the South Humberside District.
In October, Lt Camilleri and Lt Bowman were awarded the Cadet Forces Medal during an inspection by Captain R. Howell, RN, while the Unit was awarded another efficiency pennant.
A milestone in the unit’s history occurred in May 1993 when Sea Cadets HQ and the Commandant General Royal Marines give their consent for the formation of a Marine Cadet Detachment within the Malta Unit.
A special badge in limited numbers was designed to be worn on the Green Beret, comprising the standard ‘Globe and laurels’ of the Royal Marines but with the Maltese cross replacing the British crown and lion.
The annual inspection became a regular event. In October 1993, TS St Paul was inspected by Lt Cdr B.J. Murphy; this was the last inspection to be held in Senglea.
Learning that the former powder magazines at Rinella Bay in Kalkara had been vacated, Lt Camilleri held meetings with minister Francis Zammit Dimech, and later with parliamentary secretary Stanley Zammit to see whether they could be acquired by the unit.
Being an NGO, the unit succeeded in acquiring these premises, where it has been based since 1994 and where it has even hosted cadets from other UK and EU units.
When Lt Camilleri retired as CO in 2002, he was replaced first by Capt. (SCC) P. Camilleri and later by Lt (SCC) J. Zahra Davis, with Lt Camilleri holding the post again for some years in between. The current Commanding Officer is Lt. (SCC) D. Montebello.
Exercise Phoenix 2010 was another milestone for the unit, while this year, the RM Cadets Drill Team won the Eastern Area Sea Cadets RMC 6+1 Armed Drill Competition held in the UK.
Lance Corporal Jean Paul Buhagiar was awarded the trophy for best Guard Commander.
On April 14, TS St Paul, Sea Cadet Corps (Malta) officially celebrated its 50th anniversary and a week later British High Commissioner Louise Stanton presented colours to the unit at St Paul’s Anglican Pro-Cathedral, Valletta.
For more details, visit: www.sea-cadets.org/malta.