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Wrens return to Malta to remember the good old days

The Wrens during their visit to the revamped Whitehall Mansions. From Left: Christine Jones, Rona McCarthy, Sue Mason and Shirley Kennedy with Maggie Hunter (standing). Picture: Chris Sant Fournier.

The Wrens during their visit to the revamped Whitehall Mansions. From Left: Christine Jones, Rona McCarthy, Sue Mason and Shirley Kennedy with Maggie Hunter (standing). Picture: Chris Sant Fournier.

Malta means many things to many people who live abroad. Some have got married here and others have raised a family, and there is a significant number who come back to rekindle their memories of the good old days.

That is precisely what four Wrens posted here between 1952 and 1954 did last week when, together with another friend who was here in the 1960s, they came here for their 50th year reunion.

Wrens is the acronym for the Women's Royal Naval Service.

Sue Mason was a pay writer at Manoel Island between 1952-54.

"I liked it then and still like it. Some things have changed and some haven't and I hope they don't, like the bus service which was super and still is.

"The roads have been built up a lot. It is really still as nice," she said.

Shirley Kennedy came to Malta in 1953 and worked in Lascaris on Lord Louis Mountbatten's staff.

Mountbatten, as Fourth Sea Lord, was commander of the Mediterranean Fleet between 1952-55.

Just three weeks after her arrival, Shirley met her future husband, Gordon Eyres, who was in the Australian Air Force, while he was stationed at Ta' Qali.

Six months later they were married in St Paul's Anglican Cathedral in Valletta, followed by a reception at Whitehall Mansions. They lived in Birkirkara and Balzan, and Shirley gave birth to a daughter.

Many of the Wrens married Australians because they were "very persuasive", she laughed.

"There was a wedding nearly every Saturday at Whitehall Mansions, which were the living quarters of the Wrens who were employed in various places all over the island. At any one time there were some 200 Wrens at Ta' Xbiex.

"We had a wonderful and exciting social life. We were always invited out to parties and ships' dances.

"It took me a while to get used to the heat. But once I got acclimatised, I loved it and had a great time. Looking back, they were two of the happiest years of my life.

"There have been enormous changes. I came back in the 1970s with my family and all these hotels had started to go up.

"Well, we expected it but it was so different - more cars and much busier. It's not a place if you want solitude, but it's a nice holiday place to come to."

Rona McCarthy had to leave the Wrens when she married Sid, another Australian airman, and was stationed on the island. They lived in Rabat and she now lives in Connecticut, US.

The McCarthys stayed in Malta for a year.

"I went to see the apartment which is still standing and took a picture of it.

"Rabat was lovely and very quiet. I used to do my grocery shopping in a tiny store. I don't recall the name of the store or the owner but if I bought a bag of potatoes, a child was made to carry them for me.

"I used to go home followed by two or three little children carrying my groceries, which was not really what I wanted but they said they should do this.

"We had a lovely apartment and I used to go into Mdina every week to pay the rent.

"We had a motorcycle because it was the easiest way to get round the island. We rented a car fairly often from Lucky Garage in Rabat but it's not there anymore.

"We found everybody on the island just wonderful and so polite. You cannot get over the politeness, especially when you are used to going to New York fairly often."

Christine Jones was a pay writer on Manoel Island.

"I thought Malta was the most exotic place and still think that. It's a beautiful island.

"I remember the major part Malta played in the Second World War."

She married George from Liverpool who was stationed at tas-Silg with the RAF. They later emigrated to Ottawa, Canada.

"We came to Malta on holiday but could not find the tas-Silg station. An elderly gentleman said it had been turned into a dog sanctuary which my husband almost had a fit about," she said.

The four Wrens had a reunion in Christine's house in Canada in 2000 to mark their joining the Wrens in 1950.

"It's still exotic and the people are still wonderful. It was absolutely marvellous walking into the Busy Bee and seeing those great big photographs on the wall showing the Wrens.

"The Busy Bee was a big part of our lives. Every two weeks on pay day we used to go down there and buy our bits and pieces and have coffee.

"We would have loved to have talked to the owner who we were told passed away last year."

Maggie Hunter was in Malta in 1966 for 10 months when she was private secretary for the commanding officer at Hal Far. She came back in 1967 for five months.

She had come to visit her brother Richard Stoker, who was chief radar technician at RAF Luqa.

"I enjoyed it so much and asked if I could get a job. I had 'secret classification' and there were certain things the British did not want the Maltese to do in those days. I stayed at Hal Far for 10 months."

Later she worked for five months for the deputy assistant provost marshal in Valletta.

"HMS Forth, the mother ship for the submarines, was berthed right outside Whitehall Mansions and the men often watched us through their binoculars.

"There were six men to every woman in the services so we had a good time.

"Valletta fortunately is still the same and Gozo is more traditional in the style that we remember," she said.

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