Tal Handaq, Verdala & other Service Schools in Malta.
History of The Royal Naval School
by Captain M F Law
I am frequently asked by visitors to the school as well as by parents, how and when the Royal Naval School came into existence. The service population of Malta contains a considerable number who received their early education at the school in pre-war days (two old pupils are now on the teaching staff) but for the majority who know nothing of our history, this excursion into the past may be of interest.
The education of the children of people whose work takes them away from the UK has always been a problem. In many colonies the answer lies in private schools. Long ago, however, the Admiralty realised that not everyone could afford private school fees, and some sort of provision was made by them as long ago as 1880, when a 'Dockyard School' was started in an old Dining Hall, just inside the main gates of the Yard. Here some 30 to 40 children, mostly Maltese or Anglo-Maltese were taught the rudiments of arithmetic and English. The Dockyard Officers who were sent out from England continued to send their children to private schools and in those days few naval people brought their families to Malta. Most of those early pupils neither spoke nor understood much English when they entered the school, but they were taught so well that many won their way to good positions in the professions or in Government Offices.
Even fifty years ago there were problems concerned with the growth of the School. By 1904 it had outgrown its room in the Dockyard and new premises (an old prison!) were taken over in Prison Street, Senglea. About this time one of the school staff (and later its Headmaster) was Naval Schoolmaster W Candey. In fact, the Education Service of the Navy has always provided the school's head and, until recently, all the male teaching staff.
In Senglea the school grew steadily to about 250 children. Children entered, as now, at the age of 5 and left at 14, when the boys took the examination for entry to the Dockyard. The school's troop of Sea Scouts started about 1910, very soon after the movement began. The old records show that up to 1918 most of the children entering the school were Maltese, but from that time the proportion of English children grew appreciably and as they increased the character of the school changed. In 1925 the level of instruction went beyond the Apprentice Examination and an 'Oxford Junior' class appears in the records for the first time. This was the beginning of a serious effort to run the upper part of the school on secondary school lines as opposed to a preparing ground for Dockyard apprentices. By this time, too, the school had ceased to cater for the children of locally entered Dockyard employees and had assumed its present function of providing education on English lines for children who would normally have gone to English schools. There were now many naval, as well as Dockyard children.
Verdala appears on the scene in 1929. By then there were once again too many children for the Senglea building to hold and an old Royal Marine barracks and ex-prisoner-of-war camp at Cottonera in St Clements Bastion was taken over. This we now know as Verdala School. Here were buildings which would hold 350 children, but the records for 1932 show only 150 boys and 70 girls attending. This number increased steadily to 530 in 1938, when there were three classes of infants, five of juniors, and six secondary. Boys and girls were taught separately in the secondary school in those days. The school also catered for the education of the Dockyard apprentices in the evenings. Top storeys were built on the main Verdala Blocks, in 1938. In those days school lunches cost 6d, and the tuck shop sold lemonade at ld a bottle. The houses for the boys were the same as at present, but the girls had their own houses named Anne, Victoria and Elizabeth.
The school entered its first School Certificate candidate in 1932. He failed, but in 1938 ten certificates were won. This story of growth and development was sadly interrupted by the outbreak of war in 1939, and eventually all English wives and children were evacuated from Malta. The school struggled on in yet another home at St George's Barracks, but eventually shut down completely in September 1942.
During the war the Verdala buildings were badly damaged and the main hall was destroyed. Part of the School was used as a prison, and another part became HMS Euroclydon, and was used to house the crews of submarines.
After the war English families started to come back to much damaged Malta and education again had to be provided for their children. Early in 1946 the old Headmaster was sent out to see how much was left of the old school equipment, after the bombing. He found seventy five desks (we still use them) and some moldering books most of which are now museum pieces, but this was not a very encouraging start for the re-opened school. Re-open it did on 16th May 1946 with 55 children, in two requisitioned houses on the water's edge at Ta' Xbiex. The staff were two Instructor Officers and their wives. Children under seven couldn't be accepted because no one could teach them. Soon after the school opened it became clear that the two houses in Ta' Xbiex would very quickly become inadequate and another search was made for a new building. Various country houses, hotels, etc all proved unsuitable but in September 1946, a disused Army Barracks at Tal Handaq was discovered. This had been built during the war to resemble a Maltese village, in order to give camouflage from the air. However this unpromising and remote spot had room for lots of children and so work began to fit it out as a School. So in January 1947 the Dockyard School (children's section) came to Tal Handaq and ever since there has been a continual race between the Civil Engineering Department of the Dockyard in preparing new rooms and children coming along to occupy them. In 1947 the name of the School, now completely separate from the Apprentices' School, was changed to Naval Children's School.
The Headmaster's report for 1948 said that no
more children could be crammed into Tal Handaq (150 extra have been put
in somehow since then!) and in 1949 the old School at Verdala was
repaired and restored as a school. The rebuilding of the hall was not
completed until 1951 and meanwhile the present hall had been built at
(End of text by Cdr Bellamy 1953.)
A recent appeal in the local press has brought me a number of letters of reminiscence (at least one of which appears elsewhere in this magazine) as well as one or two useful leads to original sources of information, and in this respect I am particularly grateful to Mr W Bellizzi of Balzan and to Dr Depasquale, Librarian of the National Library, Valletta.
The following notice appeared in the Malta Government Gazette of 31 May 1820:
British National School
Burmola 20 May 1820
Wanted: A Governess to instruct the female children of this Institution in Needlework, reading, writing and the rudiments of arithmetic.It is likely that this school was a semi-private venture but it Is noteworthy that it was situated at Burmola (Burmla) better known to us as Cospicua. When it was started, I do not know, but since by 1804 there were already 28 English craftsmen in the Dockyard it could have been very early. In a magazine article D. Degiorgio tells us that it was situated near the first Dockyard Chapel, beneath the Sta Margherita Arches, and that it was later moved by Rear Admiral Sir Lucius Curtis to a drawing office (already converted for use as the 'War Game Room') under St Michael's Bastion. It was about this time that a proposal that a Schoolmaster be appointed from England was made by the Dockyard Chaplain, the Rev M Tucker. Admiral Curtis does not seem to have been strongly in favour ('never having been consulted on the subject') but he concludes his forwarding letter, dated 10 January 1846, by begging 'strongly to recommend that the person sent should be married, as from experience I too well know that the temptations are so great that very few single men escape the baneful influence of liquor, which is so cheap that they soon become inveterate drunkards.’ The most interesting of my finds, however, has been the following Article in The Malta Times dated Tuesday 19 October 1858:
The friends of education will be
glad to learn that arrangements have been made by the Lords
Commissioners of the Admiralty for the establishment of a school in
Malta for the use of children (boys and girls) of all persons employed
in the Her Majesty's Dockyard and Naval Establishments in this Island,
and an afternoon and evening school for apprentices.
I think we can take this as firm evidence of the opening of the first official Dockyard School (and direct forerunner of Tal Handaq School today) on 1 November 1858, making the school almost 120 years old. In the preceding article, Commander Bellamy took up the story from the move of the school (originally in or near the Chapel by the sail loft in the Sta Margherita Cospicua, area) to the old dining hall. I now continue where he left off.
You may have noticed that although he mentions Verdala he still talks about the 'school', in the singular, because at the time there was just one all-age RN Children's School, housed on two separate sites, some but not all of the primary children being at Verdala. It was about 1954 that it proved possible to house all the primary section at Verdala and also about that time a separate Verdala Headmaster was appointed, although he was still responsible to the Headmaster, Tal Handaq.
The huge total of 1470 pupils, referred to by Cdr Bellamy, was for the two sections of the school combined, only700 of them being at Tal Handaq. He might have been surprised had he known then that in 1960 the numbers were to reach 1050 at Tal Handaq and 1200 at Verdala, those at Tal Handaq being housed in buildings which were expanded from a theoretical capacity of 600 in 1958 to 800 in 1960. I was on the staff at the time and although I can't really remember where all those pupils went, I do know that there were a few 'floating' classes with no rooms of their own. Tal Handaq has always quietly got on with the job of achieving what most people would think of as impossible without making a fuss about it.
In those early days besides being all-age it was also what newspapers today describe as 'all-in', although not strictly speaking comprehensive in the usual sense of that word. The school was divided into separate grammar and modern sections but even in those days transition from one to the other was quite easy. As early as 1964 the school was reorganised on comprehensive lines, which meant that the grammar/modern division was removed altogether (although some streaming remained) and from the fourth year upwards pupils had individual timetables with a wide range of optional subjects which they could take at a combination of different levels, as they do today. This change, when it came, was comparatively small and undramatic, in sharp contrast to the upheavals going on in the UK system. 'Comprehensive' is in some ways what Tal Handaq has always been (and could only be) and the word does not have the unpleasant overtones with which it unfortunately so often seems to be associated at home.
In the sixties, after the closure of HM Dockyard and with Malta's approaching independence and the consequent British run-down (yes, it's been going on for a long time!), numbers began to decline, but never as fast as predicted, and in late 1966 there were still nearly 900 pupils at Tal Handaq. The Sixth form was larger than ever, although still small by UK standards, and examination results in CSE and at 'O' and 'A' level improved steadily in both quality and quantity, reaching 433 'O' level subject passes in 1967 and 80 'A' level subject passes in 1968. Even up to 1971, with numbers in the range 700 to 800, there were regularly over 50 'A' level subject passes a year, and remember this was in a comprehensive school which was notably 'bottom-heavy' (seven first-year forms but only three in the fifth year) and to which parents frequently (and not surprisingly) did not bring out their older and more academically inclined children.
1969 saw the demise of single Service schools and the formation of a joint organisation called the Service Children's Education Authority. This was something else which had comparatively little effect on Tal Handaq as ever since the war it had been the only Service secondary school on the island and, although run entirely by the Navy, it catered for the children of parents of all three Services as well as Government civilians. Its only effects were to take away the Headmaster, Instructor Captain Malkin, to become a full time administrator (as Officer in Charge, Service Children's Schools, Malta, Naples and Tripoli), replacing him by an Instructor Commander (myself), and to change the name from Royal Naval School to Service Children's School.
The rest is comparatively recent history, but mention should perhaps be made of a little hiccup during the Christmas holiday 1971 when, a few days before term was due to start, it was announced that all Service dependants were to leave Malta within two weeks and the schools would not reopen. I can perhaps leave the effects of this short notice closure to your imagination (they were described in the 1973 magazine), but we certainly did go home and the school was reduced to an empty shell in Malta, a vast number of ominously rattling packing cases at Bicester, several large boxes of documents at Eltham and a staff, still technically on the strength but dispersed all over the UK, somewhat plaintively enquiring what was to happen to them next. Pupils were scattered to the four winds and regrettably there was little we could do to help them.
Two terms later, in September 1972, we reopened, somewhat reduced in size and with about 50% new staff and 75% new pupils. Numbers reached 600 by September 1973 and stayed about this level until early 1977 when the final rundown began to bite, causing numbers to decline steadily to the final total of just over 300.
Finally, as my main source of material for this article has been old school magazines, and particularly Headmasters' Annual Reports, I should like to pay tribute to former Headmasters by recording here as many of their names as I have been able to discover.
A brief history
Originally published in the SCEA Bulletin. British Families Education Service / Service Childrens Education Association
Captain M F Law MA RN,
Officer-in-Charge, Service Children's Schools, Malta and Naples.
WHEN British Service personnel finally leave Malta in 1979 it will have been a major British base for almost 180 years. It therefore seems appropriate to mark the occasion with a brief history of Service Children's Schools in the island - and where better to publish it than this excellent Bulletin, which in the short period of its life has carried a number of articles with a Malta dateline.
Much research needs to be done and one of the purposes of this opening article is to appeal for help from anyone with recollections of single-Service schools in the island, or who knows of any other sources of information. I should be most grateful if they would write to me, Officer-in-Charge, Service Children's Schools Malta, BFPO 51. I should perhaps explain that records in Malta seem to be almost non-existent, partly because the Navy didn't seem to take over any Army records when it assumed the administration of the Army Schools in 1969, and partly because such records as did exist were either destroyed or (more probably) returned to UK during the 1972 withdrawal. I will nevertheless sketch in such information as we have already.
Probably the first British Serviceman to serve ashore in Malta, and certainly the first British Commander in the island, was Captain Alexander Ball. Royal Navy, one of Nelson's 'band of brothers', He came to assist the Maltese in ridding themselves of the unpopular French garrison left by Napoleon and which was at that time under siege in Valletta. His assistance was at first in the form of a blockade by British ships but in December 1799 he was joined by the first detachment of British troops to be sent to the island. The French Commander, General Vaubois, finally surrendered to the British on 5 September 1800, mainly as a result of Ball's blockade, and British Service personnel have been continuously based in the island from that day to this. The last one, likely to be another Naval officer, Rear Admiral O N A Cecil, the Commander British Forces Malta, is scheduled to leave on 31 March 1979, Malta's 'date with destiny'.
No information has come to light as to when the first Service Children's School was opened in the island but there can be little doubt that it would have been one of the Army's regimental schools which, by War Office Circular 79 of 27 December 1811, were established in each battalion or corps, presumably including those overseas, 'for the instruction of young soldiers and of the children of soldiers'. Such schools were presumably integral parts of the battalions concerned and moved with them round the world. They could not therefore be said to be permanently established in Malta. It is hoped that research may bring to light more information on these regimental schools in Malta.
The writer, being a Naval officer and having twice served at Tal Handaq School (1958-60 and 1970-74), has more access to Naval information and records than to those of the Armv, which in any case have long left Malta, so it is not surprising that the majority of the information available so far has a distinct Naval bias.
An article in the RN School (Tal Handaq) Magazine for 1953 by the then Headmaster, Instructor Commander (later Instructor Rear Admiral) A J Bellamy, is a useful secondary source of information and tells us that the Admiralty opened the Dockyard School, Malta, in 1880, in a dining hall just inside the Dockyard gates. It catered for 30 to 40 pupils, mainly the children of Maltese Dockyard personnel who were prepared for Dockyard Apprenticeships, but it was undoubtedly the direct predecessor of Tal Handaq School today. In 1904 it became too big for the dining hall and moved to an old prison in Prison Street, Senglea. It is interesting to note that the daughter of the Headmaster of about this time. Naval Schoolmaster W Candey, who subsequently herself taught at the RN School, is still living in Malta.
SCS Tal Handaq. Most of the ground outside the buildings is farmland not belonging to the school.
In Senglea the school gradually grew to about 250 pupils and from 1918 onwards the proportion of English pupils grew steadily as it began to concentrate on the children of British Dockyard Civilian and Naval personnel and to prepare pupils for the School Certificate (or Matriculation) examination as well as for the Dockyard Apprentice Entry Examination. New premises were required and in 1929 the school moved to St Clement's Bastion, adjacent to Verdala Barracks, Cottonera, to buildings which had already been is use as a Malta Government School since 1925, and which eventually became known as Verdala School. The school was then still known as the Dockyard School and from that time onwards it seems to be confused in people's recollections with the Dockyard Apprentices' School (subsequently the Dockyard Technical College) which, of course, remained within the Dockyard until its closure in 1960.
The children's school flourished at Verdala until by 1938 there were 530 pupils, so that upper storeys had to be added to the buildings. In this year ten School Certificates were won. It even continued after the outbreak of war in 1939 but in 1940, after Italy's entry, it was hurriedly evacuated to St George's Barracks, further along the coast to the North West and away from the Dockyard target area for enemy bombers. It struggled on here until 1942 when it closed until after the war.
On 16 May 1946 the Dockyard Children's School was reopened in two semi-detached villas in the fashionable waterside residential area of Ta' Xbiex (rather easier to pronounce when you know that 'x' sounds like 'sh'). The new Headmaster was Instructor Lieutenant Commander (later Instructor Captain) A H Miles, Royal Navy, who had been on the staff of the school before the war and who later returned to Malta yet again as Fleet Instructor Officer. He was awarded the OBE for his work at the school and he remains the main source of first-hand information about the pre-war school.
In those days, both before and after the war, the school was staffed by a nucleus of Naval Schoolmasters and Naval Instructor Officers, supplemented by Locally Entered Teachers, who were recruited from the wives of the large numbers of Service personnel then in Malta. In 1946 the reopened school had 55 pupils and Lt Commander Miles's staff consisted of two Instructor Lieutenants and their wives, with Mrs Miles as School Secretary, very much a family affair.
From then on expansion was spectacular. In January 1947 rising numbers (270 pupils and 11 staff) forced a move to disused wartime Army barracks at Tal Handaq, built of scattered flat-roofed single-storey buildings so as to appear from the air like a typical Maltese hamlet (a characteristic which has proved difficult to shake off) and on 15 July 1947 the name was changed to Naval Children's School. Numbers leaped to 530 by December 1948 and 735 in 1949, a year during which 500 new pupils were admitted. It thus became essential to find yet more premises, and it was in April 1949 that Verdala school was reopened as a subsidiary to Tal Handaq to take some (but not yet all) of the Primary pupils. Thus Tal Handaq continued to be an all-age school, with the Secondary department organised on bilateral lines.
It was about this time that Miss J Yule joined the staff as a Locally Entered Teacher. She later became Senior Mistress and was awarded the MBE before her retirement in 1971. Happily she remains in Malta as a good friend of the schools and is another useful source of first-hand information.
In 1950, with numbers over 500, staffing policy changed and for the first time the Admiralty recruited and sent out seconded teachers from UK, to the extent of 12 out of a total staff of 36 in 1950/51. In 1952 (numbers at 1470) there was another change of title to 'Royal Naval School', and it seems to have been in 1954 that it proved possible to house all the Primary section at Verdala, where a separate Headmaster was appointed, although the schools were still officially two separate parts of one whole. Both Headmasters were Naval Instructor Officers and there were up to five other Instructor Officers on the staff of Tal Handaq during this period.
Throughout the fifties numbers increased steadily, reaching a maximum in 1960 of 1050 at Tal Handaq and about 1 200 at Verdala. Even those who were on the staff at the time find it difficult to understand how buildings designed to cope with 600, or eventually 800, sufficed for such numbers, but there were certainly a few floating classes with no classroom to call their own.
In the sixties, with Malta's approaching independence, numbers began to decline but never as fast as predicted and in late 1966 there were still nearly 900 pupils at Tal Handaq, which had been reorganised along comprehensive lines in 1964 (a comparatively small and untraumatic change). The Sixth Form was larger than ever (although still small by UK standards) and examination results in CSE and at 'O' and 'A' level improved steadily in both quality and quantity to the point where there were regularly about 50 'A' level subject passes each year.
On the formation of SCEA in 1969, Instructor Captain H C Malkin, the Headmaster of Tal Handaq, became the first Officer in Charge, Service Children's Schools Malta, Naples and Tripoli and took under his wing (in addition to Verdala) the Army Schools at St Andrews, Tigne and St Davids (Mtarfa) and the RAF School at Luqa (with an Annexe at Safi), as well as small schools in Naples and Tripoli. This was clearly an unsuitable burden for a Comprehensive School Headmaster to bear so in January 1970 the present writer relieved Captain Malkin as Headmaster so that the latter could devote all his attention to administration.
Tigne School closed in Summer 1970 and after that the next major event was the sudden withdrawal of all British Service personnel and families from Malta in 1972. This has already been described in an earlier SCEA Bulletin and all that need be said here is that all staff and pupils left the island within two weeks of the first announcement and all the schools were cleared of equipment (except furniture) and closed. As is now well known they were subsequently reopened, the Primaries late in the Summer Term and Tal Handaq in September 1972. About one quarter of the pupils had been in Malta before and roughly half the staff, but at the planning stage there was practically no information available at all, even on pupil numbers. However, the resilience of Service Children, and of the teachers, won through and the schools were soon back into their stride, the worst sufferers having been those pupils who were forced into an unplanned school change just over a term before they were due to take public examinations.
The rest is very recent history indeed, with a planned rundown during the years 1972 to 1979, theperiod of the Military Facilities Agreement. St Davids Infants School Mtarfa closed in July 1975 and Verdala a year later, so that at the time of writing the schools are reduced to three: Tal Handaq (Secondary) and Luqa and St Andrews (Primary). All will close in July 1978, to coincide with the official end of family support facilities in September 1978. No Serviceman will be allowed to bring his family out to Malta under official arrangements after March 1978 and any who retain children in Malta after September 1978 will have to make their own arrangements for schooling at local schools, as in any other extra-command area.
It will be seen that the preceding account lacks any sort of information on Army and RAF schools before 1969, although we do know that those mentioned, St Andrews, Tigne, St Davids, Luqa and Safi, had all existed for many years, and that the date on the St Andrews School building is 1908. What is mainly lacking, therefore, is information on other schools which are known to have existed at various times and it is hoped that the article will produce some offers of information.
Service Children's Schools in Malta A Brief History - Part 2
Captain M F Law MA RN
Officer-in-Charge, Service Children's Schools, Malta and Naples
I trust my khaki-clad friends will forgive me it I begin this second article by adding just a little more to the Naval side of the story, a fuller account of which can be found in the 1978 edition of the Tal Handaq School magazine. A recent appeal in the local press has brought me a number of letters of reminiscence together with several useful pointers to original sources and I am particularly grateful to Mr W Bellizzi of Balzan whose information finally led me to the Malta Times of Tuesday 19 October 1858 where I found the following:
Dockyard School in Malta The friends of education will be glad to learn that arrangements have been made by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty for the establishment of a school in Malta for the use of the children (boys and girls) of all persons employed in the Her Majesty's Dockyard and Naval Establishments in this Island, and an afternoon and evening school for apprentices. An excellent schoolmaster, Mr Sullivan, has been appointed who is already arrived from England and the school, we hear, is to be opened on the first of November next — . The Admiral Superintendent is appointed Visitor and the Committee of Management is to consist of the Master Shipwright, the Superintending Engineer and the Chaplain, who will be charged with the immediate superintendence of the school, and will take it in turn monthly to visit the school daily, if possible, to see that it is properly conducted. No female child will be permitted to remain in the school after the age of fourteen years, nor any male child after the usual age of apprenticeship; and a payment of six pence a month is to be made to the Crown for each pupil for the use of stationery, books, slates etc. The method of education is to be that adopted by the National Society in their schools and in those of Her Majesty's Dockyards at home, as nearly as found practicable.
[The office of examiner] will be performed bythe Naval Instructor of the Flagship, or the Senior Naval Instructor present, and in the event of the fleet being absent, by such other properly qualified person, either a clergyman or a graduate, who will be called upon to draw up report upon the school for transmission to the Admiralty Inspector of Schools England.Thus 1 November 1858 appears to be the definitive date for the opening of the original, official. Admiralty-sponsored Dockyard School, although there seems to have been an earlier unofficial one.This makes Tal Handaq, its direct descendant, by farhe oldest of our remaining schools, just short of its 120th birthday. It was very far from being the first official Service School, however, as we shall see, neither does it occupy the oldest remaining school building. The next edition of the Malta Times adds the information that the Revd B Howe, Chaplain to the Yard, had 'the honor of first proposing the school to the Admiral Superintendent in March last. Admiral Stopford readily took up the suggestion and forwarded Mr Howe's letter to the Admiralty, supporting it with all his influence'. However, this was not the first attempt by a chaplain to put the schooling on a proper footing. Some twelve years earlier the Revd M Tucker had proposed that a person from England be sent to fill the vacant appointment of Clerk of the Chapel and also to undertake the duties of schoolmaster. Rear Admiral Lucius Curtis ('never having been consulted on the matter") did not seem to be strongly in favour, but concluded his forwarding letter (1) dated 10 January 1846, by saying that, should their Lordships be pleased to approve the proposal he begged 'strongly to recommend that the person sent should be married, as from experience I too well know that the temptations are so great that very few single men can escape the baneful influence of liquor, which is so cheap that they soon become inveterate drunkards - -- '. At this point I should perhaps confess that I first came to Tal Handaq as a bachelor.
The site of the school is more difficult to establish. Various reports (2) indicate that it may have been originally in a sail loft, then the War Games Room then an old dining hall, before moving to the well remembered site in Old Prison Street, just inside Isola Gate, Senglea. These last buildings were old Army Barracks, first converted to Naval or Dockyard use about 1899 (3). The issue is confused by the existence of an earlier, and presumably unofficial, school called the 'British National School' in very much the same area (near the Sta Margherita Arches). The only original evidence I have found is the following notice in the Malta Government Gazette of 31 May 1820. British National School Burmola (4) 20 May 1820
Wanted, a Governess to instruct the female children of this Institution in Needlework, Reading, Writing and the Rudiments of Arithmetic.
The date of its opening and the length of its life are not clear but there certainly could have been a need for it as early as 1804, when there were already 28 English craftsmen (5) in the well established Dockyard. However, Admiral Curtis, in his earlier quoted letter (1) refers to an unsuccessful attempt to start a school based entirely on voluntary contributions, in 1819.
Having got back to 1804 let us now transfer our attention to the Army who have usually been well ahead of the Navy in the matter of looking after families. In the last article I mentioned the arrival of the first large detachment of British troops while the French were still under blockade and siege in Valetta and the three Cities. They landed on 10 December 1799 at St Paul's Bay, having sailed from Messina in HMS NORTHUMBERLAND and HMS CULLODEN, and consisted of the 30th and 89th Regiments of Foot (later 1 East Lancs and 2 Royal Irish Fusiliers) under the command of Brigadier General Thomas Graham (6). The force comprised 64 Officers and 888 men, accompanied by 62 women and, astonishingly enough, 15 children, who must surely have been the first British Service Children to come to Malta. They are hardly likely to have had a school but it is not impossible that one of the Regiments would have had a Schoolmaster on the strength, whose duties would have included the teaching of children as well as of young soldiers, although the regiments concerned have no evidence that such a man was on the strength.
For further information on early Regimental Schools readers should refer to Colonel N T St J Williams's excellent and informative book 'Tommy Atkins' Children" (7) from where we learn that, although regimental schools had been in existence for many years (on an unofficial basis), in 1811, by War Office Circular 79, it became a requirement 'that in each battalion or corps a regimental school shall accordingly forthwith be established". I am afraid it has not been possible from Malta to do the detailed research into regimental histories which would doubtless provide information on the many such schools which must have existed in Malta from 1812 onwards but in any case the next major development did not occur until 1850, and for what follows I am greatly indebted to the pupils of Verdala School in 1975, under the guidance of Mr Denis Sanderson, for obtaining from the Public Record Office copies of a long and very fascinating correspondence (8) on what they clearly thought would turn out to be the foundation of their school. They must have been bitterly disappointed to find that it was not, but what they acquired was an absolute mine of information on a very significant development in Army education. They were professional enough to leave their correspondence and facsimiles with Mr Roger Vella Bonavita, of the History Department of the . University of Malta, and he has kindly made them available to me.
The planned building of Verdala Barracks (for 800 men) caused the Secretary at War the enquire, in a letter dated 2 August 1849, 'whether a School room on the new system has been included in these arrangements'. After a first fairly glib reply (that 'as the rooms are equally well adapted for the purpose, one or more can be so appropriated without any inconvenience except that of decreasing the extent of accommodation for Troops by 12 men for each of the Rooms so disposed of), it became apparent that a chapel was also needed and a proposal was soon forthcoming for the building of one of the Chapel Schools conceived by the Reverend G R Gleig, Principal Chaplain and Inspector General of Army Schools 1846-1857 (9). A survey of existing schoolrooms and the disposition of the various barracks was called for, and so we learn that in 1850 there were in existence six schoolrooms in all, situated in Upper St Elmo, Lower St Elmo (2), St James, Isola Gate (the barrack that was later to become the Dockyard School) and Floriana. All were unsatisfactory in various degrees, 'being usually a Soldiers' casemate room, lighted only from the door, or small windows near it, and from the solidity of the buildings, incapable of alteration." (10) To cut a long story short it was decided to build two Chapel Schools, one on each side of Grand Harbour, to which the majority of the men (the children apparently not being considered to any great extent) would have sufficiently easy access. They were to be modelled on the one at Preston (but with no ceiling, like the one at Cork) and the first specifications and plan for the one for Verdala Barracks were produced in April 1851, the first estimate of cost being £2527-4-51/4. It subsequently suffered a reduction in length, increase in height, reduction of cost (by reducing the thickness of the walls, amongst other things) and no less than three changes of site, being finally completed at Sta Margherita Square (just opposite the Vittoriosa Bus Terminus today) almost exactly four years later in April 1855. An exact twin to this Chapel School was completed at the Upper Baracca, Valetta, a year or two later, having first been proposed for the site of the Auberge d'Angleterre, where the Opera House was eventually built.
These two buildings. therefore, were the first purpose-built (or more accurately, dual-purpose-built) Service schools in Malta, that at the Upper Baracca being still in existence today, but as a GPO sorting office, as shown in the recent photograph. Most people remember it as the Valetta Garrison Church but not one person has mentioned its use as a school so I conclude that its scholastic function ceased at, or before, the turn of the century. In more recent years it served as the Vernon Club.
The Sta Margherita School, however, although completely demolished during World War II (walls too thin?!) is remembered by many people as a school and I believe it must have closed in the early 1920s. Mr J Galea of Zabbar even remembers it in 1914 in its dual-purpose form divided into classrooms during the week by curtains, but its use as a church ceased about this time. The photograph shows it as it used to look, identical to that at the Upper Baracca. Mr Galea and others remember travelling to the various Army Schools in horse or mule-drawn waggons or ambulances, even as late as 1934 at St Andrews.
It is ironic to read in a report dated July 1858 (11) that 'whilst two of the regiments are provided with magnificent schoolrooms in the two newly-erected chapel schools, rooms indeed far beyond their requirements, the others are labouring under every possible disadvantage in carrying on their duties in barrack rooms but ill suited for the purpose - - -.' Gleig's aim of concentrating the schooling was thus not achieved, someone having decided that the travelling problem was too great in the heat of the Maltese summer.
It seems that the first single-purpose-built Service school in Malta may have been that at the English Curtain, below the Anglican Cathedral and opposite the Auberge de Baviere, Valctta. Confusingly enough it is described on the original plan (12) as St lilmo Adults' and Infants' School although it is not actually situated at St HI mo, where there was another school at the same time. The school at the English Curtain still stands today (see photograph), much the same as when it was opened in 1905, although it became the Provost HQ during the last War and has not been used as a school since. It was long ago handed back to the Malta Government. The Floriana Garrison School, in a building now used by the Inland Revenue, also seems likely to have been purpose built and to have opened in the first few years of the century, and it continued in existence at least until the beginning of the Second World War, but I have no exact dates. As mentioned earlier, St Elmo had a school within its boundaries at least up to the First War and probably Riscasoli did too, but I have no exact dates and no information as to whether either of these was purpose built.
The most recently used barracks are St Andrews, St Davids (Mtarfa) and Tigne. The school at Tigne was originally hutted, but at the time of its closure in 1970 in was in permanent buildings adapted for the purpose. I am afraid I have no knowledge of the history of St Davids School, closed in July 1975, but to St Andrews goes the honour of being our oldest purpose-built school still in use, having been completed in 1908 and used almost continuously since then.
No account of Army schools in Malta would be complete without a reference to those mainstays of Tommy Atkins' Children's education, the Queen's Army Schoolmistresses, who often provided the backbone of the school staffs, sometimes in circumstances much more difficult than those of today (13). At least one former QAS and former Headmistress of Tigne School, Miss M C Clark MBE, is still living in Malta today, and with Miss J Yule MBE (former Senior Mistress of Tal Handaq) and Miss L Harris-Candey (who not only taught at the Dockyard (later RN) Children's School but was educated there, her father having joined the staff in 1902, later becoming Headmaster) provide a seemingly inexhaustible fund of information and personal reminiscence.
Finally a very brief word on RAF schools, on which, in spite of the Editor's valiant efforts, information has remained very scarce. Luqa School, on its present site, is certainly purpose built and is believed to have opened in 1952, and for a considerable (but uncertain) period it had an annexe at RAF Safi. Luqa Airfield itself was not built until after the outbreak of war in 1939. The first RAF base in Malta was a Kalafrana (a pre-1914 RN seaplane base) and I am told by Mr Gregory of Mellieha that a school was built there, probably just after the First War, and was situated near to Octopus Creek. It probably continued as the only RAF School until 1939, catering also for children at RAF Hal Far.
In summary, therefore, at the time of writing we are about to bring to a close probably 170 years, or even more, of British Service Children's Education in Malta. We salute those who have gone before us and who laid the- foundations for the flourishing school system with which we are proud to be associated today. We like to think, as no doubt all Service School teachers and authorities do, that our schools have been characterised, above all, by a concern for the interests and problems of the individual child and family, a concern which has sometimes, but regrettably not always, been echoed in correspondence with schools in the United Kingdom. Comments from parents and pupils certainly encourage us to believe that we have succeeded in this aim and they leave us in no doubt that they will be leaving this island with as many happy memories of the schools as we ourselves shall have.
(1) Appendix 10 to 'HM Dockyard, Malta' by W A Griffiths, typescript in National Library Valetta.
(2)a. Griffiths' paper (Note 1) b. 'L-Istorja tat tarzna' by K Ellul Galea, Il-Hajja 1973c. Article by D Degiorgio in magazine 'L-Ideal'No 58 Nov 1970 page 22
(3)Conversion plans in National Museum, Valetta
(4)Burmola or Bormla or Cospicua
(5)Appendix 3 to Griffiths' paper (Note 1)
(6)Brigadier A Samut-Tagliaferro: History of the Royal Malta Artillery Vol 1 page 11 (Lux Press Malta- 1976)
(8)Public Record Office Reference WO44 596 x/k 21 18
(9)'Tommy Atkins' Children' page 46
(10)Letter from GOC Malta to Secretary at War dated 25 November 1 850 (note 8)
(11)Appendix 1 No 7 to Report on Army Schools 1862
(12)Plans held in National Museum Valetta
(13)See Mrs Carter's story quoted in Tommy Atkins' Children pp 144/5
A Whaler Makes For The Open Sea.
THE STORY OF TAL-HANDAQ SCHOOL (From the 1974 School Magazine)
I do not claim that this is an accurate history of Tal Handaq but as far as possible the facts are correct. It is, however, a sincere account of my memories and impressions of twenty-two years on the staff of what I joined as the Royal Naval Children's School, Malta and which in 1969 became the Service Children School, Tal Handaq.
Few, on arriving at the door leading to the Administration Block, notice on the opposite side of the driveway the date 1950 engraved above the door of the Assembly Hall. It is a landmark :n the history of the school as it sets the seal on the achievement of the first post-war Headmaster, Instructor Lieutenant Commander (later to become Instructor Captain) A H Miles, who in 1946 had been appointed to re-open 'HM Dockyard Children's School'. Lieutenant Commander Miles was the right man for this job as he had been on the staff from 1934 to 1940. It is perhaps worth quoting from his foreword to the first postwar school magazine, dated July 1847:
'This magazine marks the beginning of a new era in the life of the Dockyard School. The 'Old School' began life in what was then known as the Dining Hall in Sheer Bastion during the year 1903. There it remained for seven years until, in 1910, a large house (later to become the Dockyard Subordinate Officers' Club and subsequently destroyed by bombing) near Isola Gate in Senglea, was taken over for use as a school. In 1928 still larger quarters were required and the school was moved to Verdala where it continued until, with the entry of Italy into the war in 1940, it was hurriedly evacuated to St George's Barracks, to carry on, in spite of great difficulties and dangers, until September 1942.
Presumably in those days the school was of the standard 'Elementary School' pattern prevalent in England before the 1944 Education Act, taking pupils up to the then school leaving age of 14. Lieutenant Cdr Miles opened the 'New School' (still known as the Dockyard Children's School) in two semi-detached villas, 'Sunshine' and Seafoam', in Ta' Xbiex on 16 May 1946. It was an all-age school with 95 pupils and five staff, the other four being two Naval Instructor Lieutenants and their wives. Mrs Miles was the school secretary so it was a fairly close-knit organisation.
Numbers increased rapidly and in January 1947 they moved to a disused emergency Army Barracks at Tal Handaq, with 270 pupils and 11 staff. How many realise that the tombstone-like slab by the flag-staff is a memorial to the Royal Artillery battery which was stationed at Tal Handaq during the war years? On 15 July 1947 the school's name was changed to the "Naval Children's School'.
When I joined the staff in September 19419 the school was physically much as it is now from the top gate down as far as the Assembly Hall, which was then in process of building. Some of the blocks were still only one-storey buildings and the gym and all other buildings now beyond the hall did not exist.
It may interest readers to know that Tal Handaq had been built in the form of one-storey buildings in order to hoodwink the enemy into thinking it was an innocuous Maltese village instead of an anti-aircraft battery. Traces of the Army's occupation were to be seen in the many bars still at the windows and it was rumoured that the Women's Staff room had formerly been the Guard Room.
During the first years the school had been an all-age one but with the re-opening of Verdala School in 1949 the infants and juniors gradually began to be absorbed into what became Verdala Junior Naval School, although the Tal Handaq Headmaster remained in charge of both.
During the first few years the school grew apace. It was in June 1950 that the first UK based teachers were appointed. Previously that staff had consisted of the Headmaster with several Royal Naval Instructor Officers and locally entered women teachers, many of whom were the wives of Service personnel. This resulted in frequent changes of staff and so, in order to introduce greater stability and academic continuity, it was decided to appoint from England experienced teachers, originally on a three-year contract. The first to arrive were Heads of Departments and the school is especially grateful to Messrs Edgell and Ruoff (History and Geography respectively) who each remained for at least nine years.
Instructor Commander Miles (who was awarded the OBE for his work at the school was succeeded as Headmaster In January 1951 by Instructor Commander A J Bellamy (later to become Instructor Rear Admiral and Director of the Naval Education Service). Total numbers in the two schools had by this time risen to over 1000 and were still increasing. Commander Bellamy was succeeded by Commander Instructor Commander B J Morgan, who was promoted to Captain in the job and who (as Instructor Rear Admiral) is the present Director of the Naval Education Service.
During these years the building went on apace. Firstly, second floors were added to most of the single-storey buildings and then what had been part of the field blossomed with Romney huts (present blocks 13 to 16 and 21 to 28). The Music Room was the last to be completed, shortly after Captain Morgan had been relieved by Captain Mannering in 1959. It was also about this time that numbers reached an all-time high with 1050 in the Secondary School alone.
At first the school was Bi-Lateral and in 1949 there was one Grammar and one Modern class In each year. The Grammar candidates sat for the Oxford GCE and the Modern took the RSA examinations.
Tal Handaq already had a couple of tennis courts and cricket practice nets but it was in Captain Mannering's time that extra tennis courts were built. Before the "'Agreement' in 1972 the Services provided pitches for Rugby, Soccer and Hockey. Now some of these have been handed back to the Malta Government.
Until the closure of HMS Ricasoli the swimming sports were held at the Fleet Lido there, just inside the entrance to Grand Harbour and I think it was then, with Fort St. Angelo and Bighi in the foreground, that we most felt we were part of the Royal Navy.
Captain Mannering was succeeded by Captain Broad who had the sports field at the top of the lane resurfaced. Unfortunately this ground has been rarely used, chiefly on account of the fact that the sheds meant for storage of equipment were constantly broken into and valuable contents stolen. Also the distance curtailed the time spent on games (the field could not be approached by bus).
With Malta's approaching independence the numbers of pupils at last began to decline during the run-down of the early 1960s, and in 1964 it was possible to allocate two classrooms to form what is now the library. Later, when Captain Malkin was Headmaster, others were converted into the Cinema and Language Laboratory and the Science (Laboratories were further improved and expanded. Since then there have been no new buildings but various improvements in the layout of specialist rooms have been effected and modern educational aids have been installed.
Academically the school has kept pace with her counterparts in Great Britain. With the introduction of the CSE it was decided to be affiliated to the Southern Region and the Tal Handaq representative has attended their meetings at Southampton. In 1962 the school became comprehensive: the first, second and third years were virtually streamed but the fourth and fifth years were setted and allowed to select their subjects from a list of options. The Sixth year was divided into those taking A Levels and those who wished to continue at school but had not the qualifications to embark on an A Level course. They were, however, able to continue at O Level and CSE and had opportunities to follow vocational courses.
At three-yearly intervals Her Majesty's Inspectors have visited the school while for the last ten years or so two Careers Officers from England have interviewed the senior boys and girls.
The School has always shown a very keen interest in Dramatics and for many years the end of the Christmas term was celebrated by either a straight play or a Gilbert & Sullivan production, all of which reached a high standard. These productions were an example of the excellent coordination of the various departments and much credit can be given to the Art, Woodwork, and Needlework departments who contributed so much to the visual effects.
As with all schools, Tal Handaq has had its ups and downs but few can boast of literally arising phoenix-like from the ashes. I had myself retired in July 1071 but I assisted in the "close down" in January 1972 for I helped in the business of packing up practically everything that could be packed. The school was virtually stripped of everything that could be squeezed into the packing cases. These were dispatched to Bicester and for the most part returned in July 1973 intact.
Commander Law, the present Headmaster, had the responsibility for this sad task and when I said goodbye to him I little thought that the school would re-open again. However in September it did.
The present Tal Handaq, though much depleted in numbers, nourishes and preserves the same spirit that has helped to make it a happy progressive school for both staff and pupils.
See also - Memories of Malta