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Watch: First woman to join Civil Defence in the 1950s honoured at War Museum

Mary Debono, now 86, taught air raid protocol

Video: Chris Sant Fournier

The first woman to join the Civil Defence in the 1950s has been honoured at the Malta At War museum at Couvre Porte, Vittoriosa, with photos of her time lining the wall.

Mary Debono, 86, met with people from the museum during a short visit to Malta from her home in Australia, where she had moved in the 1960s.

Ms Debono, who was 20 when she applied to join the corps, said she submitted her application without realising the field would be so heavily male-dominated.

“I just needed a job and I saw an advertisement on the paper and I applied,” she said.My aunt, who happened to spot the photo, came rushing to my place accusing my mother of letting me loose among men

“I never though in a million years I would be the only woman to do so.”

Following the hard lessons learned during World War II and the onset of the Cold War, the Maltese government decided to establish a permanent formation of dedicated volunteers trained in civil defence practices.

The newly formed Civil Defence force was to be made from a small regular element of professionals and part-time volunteers. The corps was tasked with a nationwide education of the masses in all aspects of civil defence.

As a volunteer, Ms Debono, then Ms Cutajar, taught first-aid courses and air raid protocol.

“I used to teach things that made common sense – that you should turn off the lights and find cover during an air raid for instance,” she said.

“The army personnel trained us in how to save people from burning buildings, climbing walls and emergency protocol,” Ms Debono added.

Although Ms Debono said she never experienced any form of sexism, she remembered a time when her aunt accused her mother of letting Ms Debono “loose among men”.

Mary Debono was the first woman to join the Civil Defence in the 1950s. Photo: Chris Sant FournierMary Debono was the first woman to join the Civil Defence in the 1950s. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

“I remember we had a big function in Floriana and photos were taken and published the next morning in the Times of Malta newspaper,” she said.

“My aunt, who happened to spot the photo, came rushing to my place accusing my mother of letting me loose among men,” she joked.

“I told my aunt to mind her own business and stop meddling in our affairs,” Ms Debono adds.

Ms Debono said her time at the Civil Defence made her more independent and determined.

After spending around three years in the Civil Defence, she left Malta with her family in search of work in Australia.

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