Last time on Nostalgia Album we visited the coast at Malta’s Ghajn Tuffieha. Pictured on the road nearby is my father’s cousin, Anne, at the front, with her parents Lil and Bob standing behind her, and a Navy friend to the right. With the use of Ford Prefect, Maltese registration number 1081, when Lil, Anne and Bob tired of beach life they could tour the island and take in some of the sights. A rather eclectic experience according to the surviving late 1940s photographs.
Judging by the background, this is taken on the coast road about two-thirds of the way between their home in Sliema and the town of Bugibba which sits on the southern shore of northern Malta’s St Paul’s Bay. In modern times, the coast road, or Tul il-Kosta, is a dual carriageway but the wall to the right of the Ford Prefect has either survived or been re-built in its original style during the construction of the new road. Via the marvel that is Google’s Street View, you can stand at approximately the same spot.
The view towards the hills may look unfamiliar but is close enough given the differing perspective-bending properties of a modern-day Google car compared to the button lens of a Box Brownie seven decades ago. One also has to bear in mind that, as the wider dual carriageway was constructed around the contours of the coast, it took a chunk out of the hillside.
The giveaway is the tower to the left of Anne, just to the right of the car, jutting into the sea view. This appears to be St Mark’s Tower, another of the De Rehin towers we’ve previously encountered. Built in 1658 by the Order of St John, St Mark’s is within sight of Ghallis Tower to the west and Madelina tower to the east, and was part of a defensive and communications line that encircled the island.
Used off and on since, in 1741 a fougasse was built nearby. As every Puffin knows, a fougasse is a stationary mortar. Instead of having a tube, you dig a hole into the ground at an angle, pack it with explosives, place a projectile on top and light the fuse when needs be. In 1792 the tower was armed with a 3-pounder gun.
A clincher for the identification is the lower flat building to the right. This is a guard room built during Crown colony times, subsequently reduced to rubble. St Mark’s was restored in 1997 and looks well.
Mention of St Paul’s Bay reminds us that Ghajn Tuffieha’s Riviera Martinique Hotel, formerly a military training area’s Upper Barracks and subsequently a ruin undermined by clay cliffs, boasted the telephone number St Paul’s 26.
All those years ago, a captive en route to Rome, St Paul was shipwrecked on an ‘unfamiliar coast’ which turned out to be Malta. According to the Acts of the Apostles, safely ashore, St Paul healed the sick, performed miracles (including surviving a snake bite), stayed for three months and while doing so brought Christianity to the island. He also left behind many placenames.
As well as St Paul’s Bay and St Paul’s telephone exchange, there is a St Paul’s cave, a St Paul’s Island where his ship was wrecked, St Paul’s Street in Malta’s Rabat and a St Paul’s grotto whose limestone deposits are used as a cure for venomous bites. Cynics who point out there aren’t any poisonous snakes native to Malta can be reassured that it was St Pauls’ presence that caused them to lose their venom.
The caption on the back of this photograph was difficult to read and looked like ‘Ilela Maria’. Checking the coastline and realising the curly ‘i’ and ‘l’ to be a capital ‘D’ took me to the Delimara peninsular at the very south of the island, about 8 miles from Sliema. Hereabouts there are numerous bays bounding the Mediterranean and showing a similar landscape to that in the background of the photograph.
On this Street View scene, if you pirouette you can even see even a pool style ladder attached to the rocks. This bay is a called Il-Ħofra ż-Żgħira, but there are so many of them it would be nieve to say this was the place where Anne was diving. More distinctive is a nearby interruption to the coast with a large natural harbour at Marsaxlokk. In the modern-day, it contains a freeport, power station and oil storage tanks as well as the town of Marsaxlokk and the Pretty Bay resort.
As a reminder of Malta’s importance in wartime, slightly to the west sits the former RAF Hal Far, now an industrial park, and just to the north, RAF Luqa which has become Malta International Airport.
Much closer to their Sliema home, only five miles to the west, sat RAF Ta Kali beside the township of Attard. Although the above photograph is captioned ‘Attard’, judging by the foliage and outnumbered by the ladies, Rob had been dragged away from the aeroplanes and had to traipse around the gardens. Albeit probably the 16th-century grounds of the San Anton Palace, originally belonging to Grand Master of the Knight’s Hospitaller, Antoine de Paule, and now the summer residence of the Maltese President.
These days the latterly abandoned airfield has been redeveloped and contains such things as adventure parks, picnic areas and Malta’s national stadium. There is also an aviation museum with various bits and pieces including Hawker Hurricane Z3055 which crashed into the sea off Malta on July 4th 1941. In 1993, the fighter was located at a depth of 40 metres off the coast at Wied Iz-Zurrieq. In 1995 the plane was raised and has been restored.
In Rob’s day, Ta Kali was a Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm establishment called HMS Goldfinch and used as a Fleet Requirements Unit. As a mark of how exciting life was at Goldfinch, the following 1947 letter was the only cutting to emerge during this conscientious reviewer of photographs comprehensive investigation of the newspaper archives.
Sir, Having read the “Burton Observer” regularly during the last six months, and having been a frequent visitor to your town in the past, I feel l would like to further my acquaintance with it. Could you please insert in the columns of your paper a request for a female pen pal to brighten the leisure of a lonely sailor? A photograph would be greatly appreciated–Yours, etc., L. A.M.(E.) W. I. STEEL. L/FX. 682209, 2 mess, H.M.S. Goldfinch, c/o F.M.O-. Malta.
One assumes in this context ‘lame’ to mean Leading Aircraftman (presumably with the additional ‘e’ standing for electrician or engineer) then again, given the context and a hint of desperation in the text, it might be that strange thing called forces humour.
As well as lonely hearts, those that are married deserve our sympathy as the ladies subsequently dragged Rob to Bosketta (or Boschetto) gardens, misspelt on the reverse of the photograph as Bucket Gardens. In the picture, the girls seem to have helped themselves to some cuttings or a possie each. The ladies are standing at the edge of the gardens with the valley behind them showing a big white blob which will be the quarry at Zrar Ta Zuta.
Something that even the most eagle-eyed of Puffins or reviewers of photographs will not have seen in our Maltese Nostalgia Album photos is a tree.
The Boschetto is one of the few wooded areas on the island and was used by the Order of St John for game hunting. The adjoining fertile valley is known as Wied il-Luq. The actual woodland and gardens cover about 75 acres with the hillside being topped by the Verdala Palace, another official residence of the President of Malta.
The palace was built in 1586 by Hugues Loubenx de Verdalle as a hunting lodge. The 51st Grand Master of the Order of Malta, Hugues was later appointed a Cardinal-Deacon by Pope Sixtus V and is buried in the Cathedral of St John in Valetta – more of which later.
Having suffered the gardens, Rob exacted his revenge with an impromptu guided tour of a quarry. This may have been of interest all the same as the local quarries extracted marble as well as limestone.
Finished examples of the stonework can be seen in all their magnificent coloured and inlaid glory at the tombs of the Knights of St John that cover the floor of their Cathedral of St John in Valetta.
The next album photos proved more difficult to place and, after exhaustive enquiry, take us to another coastline as we trail in the wake of Rob, Lil and Anne’s wanderlust, well beyond the range of a Ford Prefect.
Until then, and with another image from St John’s Cathedral, Valletta, I must take this opportunity to wish Puffins a happy and spiritual Easter.
© Always Worth Saying 2022