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Their skills helped to defend Malta

Reme Workshop civilians at the carpenters` shop, 1943

Reme Workshop civilians at the carpenters` shop, 1943

During my enjoyable visit to Malta last April, as a member of the George Cross Island Association, I very much appreciated our discussion regarding your publication of my letter under the title "The Buffs in Malta".

I have enclosed two photographs showing groups of Maltese civilians who were employed in the REME Workshops at St Andrew's during World War Two, together with a little information which may be of interest to some of your readers who might recognise a relative or, possibly, even themselves.

Following Italy's entry into the war in 1940, considerable reinforcements arrived in Malta, consisting mainly of infantry and artillery units, for the island's defence against possible invasion. This called for increased workshop facilities, provided by the RAOC to deal with repairs to vehicles and larger items of equipment, some of which were being damaged or destroyed by enemy air attack.

The Workshops were based at the MIRA building (then Mamo's), Gzira, and at a site adjacent to the Army barracks at St Andrews. The RAOC, who provided most of the Army's tradesmen, were considerably under-staffed, having received very few reinforcements from the UK.

Some servicemen with special skills were on loan from other units such as the RE and RA. The Buffs, being a territorial battalion, had a few skilled tradesmen who had been called up in September 1939, and eight of these, of which I was one, were transferred to the RAOC permanently.

There was still too much work for the Army personnel to cope with, so the gap was filled by employing civilian tradesmen who were becoming available. These men had a variety of skills, many having worked for local firms, or perhaps had their own small business, but had seen their place of work and their equipment destroyed in the air raids.

Some were semi-skilled and carried out important work under the supervision of the military personnel. Even a few young lads, on leaving school, were found a place, eager to have the opportunity of learning a trade. All of this enabled the Workshops to increase their efficiency and widen the scope and type of work undertaken. Having the plant and the skilled staff, it was possible to manufacture certain items for vital equipment for which replacement parts were no longer available.

The Workshop at Gzira employed about 40 civilians, including the office and stores, and dealt mainly with vehicle repairs and overhauling engines, with two small sections for radio and electrical repairs. Any major work on anti-aircraft guns was carried out by service personnel on site.

The St Andrews Workshop employed about 80 civilians, covering almost every trade. There was a machine shop, carpenter's shop, and sections for armourers, blacksmiths, tinsmiths, fitters, welders and others, with even a small section repairing and rebuilding bicycles, an important means of transport during a severe fuel shortage.

The Buffs had an Army issue bicycle for almost every soldier, over 800 of them, and Lord Gort, VC, the island's Governor, was often seen cycling to his office. The Anti-Aircraft Workshop, dealing with searchlights, sound locators and generators, was mainly staffed by Army personnel.

On October 1, 1942 the RAOC Workshops became part of the new Army Corps, the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME). The two photos show only a few of the team of civilian tradesmen who made a valuable contribution to Malta's defence, at a time when they and their families were suffering hardship and were exposed to danger, in the true spirit of the George Cross Island.

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