Memoir. Barbara Miller
Malta 1961 – 1963
An earlier version of article appears in The Army Children Archive
In early March 1961, the Miller family travelled from the UK to Malta.
We stopped off at Naples and this is the family boarding the plane for the last part of the journey to Malta.
We arrived in the dark and I can recall encircling Luqa airport prior to landing and seeing the lights below. I remember thinking – this looks rather different from Germany! Although it was still only March, as we descended the steps from the plane, the warm air was quite noticeable. We lived in quite a nice apartment in Sliema for a couple of months and then we moved to a brand new apartment block in St Julian’s Bay. This really was a lovely home with tiled floors, a balcony on the front looking over the sea and another balcony at the back. The apartments were built around a central inner well and neighbouring kitchen windows were opposite each other across this central region. Steps led up from the entrance hall to the roof and my sister and I seemed to spend quite a lot of time up here trying to get a tan.
Me on the roof looking out over Sliema
My parents employed a maid who came to our apartment for a couple of hours each day. I recall Maria arriving very excited one morning saying that there had been this fluffy white stuff falling from the sky and was this snow?
This is Maria. My mother and Maria still
exchange greetings every Christmas, 50 years later!
My sister and I started at Tal Handaq, The Royal Naval School, Malta
The school was some way from where we lived and during term time in the warmer weather, we caught a special school bus at 7.30am to arrive at school for an 8.00am start and returned home for 1.00pm. During the winter, school hours were similar to those in the UK.
I was placed in form 4BG and this was the same level and grade that I had finished off in at Prince Rupert School. I recall entering the classroom and it seemed very strange, mainly because everything looked beige. The boys wore beige shorts and shirts and the girls wore beige dresses. The teacher was a Naval Officer and he wore the white shorts and shirt summer Naval uniform. Fortunately, I had befriended a girl called Jane Henderson who lived quite close to me and we used to sit next to each other.
The school buildings were all sandstone coloured and were dotted around a fairly large site. Everything was there – the classrooms, science blocks, hall, gym and library. Some of the buildings were on 2 floors with steps up the outside to the upper floor.
This was one of my sister’s teachers (Mr Fuller) – there were some civilian teachers but most of mine were Naval officers
This is a group of my sister’s friends in front of the flagstaff. This photo would have been taken during a winter term as the girls are wearing navy skirts and white blouses.
Starting a new school near the end of the Spring term and nearly 2 terms into the first year of two to prepare for GCE ‘O’ levels, for me, was not a good thing for my education. English, Geography and History didn’t seem to be too difficult, but Maths, French and Biology were a real problem. In Biology, I had missed two terms of a 2-year course and I was always trying to catch up. I didn’t ever feel that I settled into Tal Handaq but before I left, I managed to get 4 ‘O’ levels.
During the warmer terms, in the afternoons, I used to spend quite a bit of time on the beach – I didn’t particularly enjoy swimming but it was nice to take frequent dips to cool off.
My friend, Judith, on the right, and I on the beach at Sliema
Looking back on my time in Malta, I know that I didn’t really make the most of my time there. 15 and 16 is a difficult age for a girl and sometimes I did things with my parents and their friends and at other times I wanted to be with people of my own age. My parents didn’t always approve of my friends and I don’t think I was very happy.
These photos were taken on Gozo – I had joined my family and some friends on this occasion and we had an enjoyable time
I started to go out with my first boyfriend in Malta and he was a prefect at the School and I was a mere forth former. Vivienne Shepheard was a girl friend in my class and Peter was her brother. It was all very innocent and after a year, Peter and his family returned to the UK and then it all ended – I was heartbroken at the time!
The Shepheard family leaving Valetta harbour to join a ship to return to the UK
In the second summer in Malta, my parents swapped homes with a NAAFI colleague who worked in Tripoli. My father’s area included Tripoli, Benghazi and Tobruk as well as Malta and he was abroad fairly frequently. Away from Malta and recently departed boyfriend, life seemed to brighten up and I met up with some friends I had known at Prince Rupert School and we spent most of our time on the beach at The Picolo Capri Officer’s Club.
There wasn’t much else to do and I recall turning down the offer of a trip to the ancient Roman ruins at Leptis Magna in preference to doing nothing on the beach.
One evening at the Club, the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s was shown outside on the terrace. It was dark, warm and a very memorable occasion. Every time I hear the music from this film or see the film, I revisit that dreamy occasion.
This photo was taken at The Picola Capri Club and my father is on the far right with my mother and I standing to his left.
While I was busy attending school and studying and generally socialising, my mother was deeply involved with the Brownies on the Island. She was Brown Owl of the St Andrew’s pack and spent a lot of time attending meetings, rallies and training.
Brownie excursion March/run-past in Valletta
After completing my ‘O’ levels and spending a few more months at school, there wasn’t going to be time for me to complete the 2 year A level courses and my parents decided that I should return to the UK and get a job with some sort of training. I started to work at a Dr Barnardo’s residential nursery in Essex and trained as a Nursery Nurse and stayed there for 3 years. I then worked at a London Day Nursery for a further year and met my future husband. We settled in Reading in 1968 where we had 2 girls. Ever mindful of my ‘incomplete’ education, I went to the local college and acquired an ‘A’ level in English. A few years later we moved further west, just north of Newbury where we still live today. Our children were both at school and I now had time on my hands, and, what did I do? I set about to teach myself maths – the subject that had been so dreaded throughout my education. I could never get my head around the type of problem – ‘if it takes 2 men a certain amount of time to dig a hole how long will it take 7 men?’ I used to just shut off as no teacher had ever taken the time I needed, to sit down and explain how to solve mathematical problems. However, at last I managed to work this out and then I could work out anything! My husband helped and guided me and I applied to take ‘O’ level maths as an external student at a local college and passed with a really good grade. At the age of 30, with 5 ‘O’ levels and an ‘A’ level, I applied to go to Reading University as a mature student and 3 years later I graduated with a BA hons. in Sociology. For me though, my biggest achievement was to get the Maths ‘O’ level – it was the one subject that had played such a negative part in my education and I got there in the end!
Postscript on The Royal Naval School Tal-Handaq
In 2001, from trawling around on the Internet, I discovered that there was an organisation for ex-pupils and staff from Tal-Handaq. On joining and receiving the list of former pupils and staff who were there at my time, I was amazed at just how many people I could remember. My sister and I attended our first Reunion in 2001 and I was thrilled to meet 6 of my former classmates, the Headmaster, a couple of staff and my first boyfriend Peter. Tal Handaq Reunion
Also, Chas Ducat, who had lived in the same apartment building in St Julian’s came and introduced himself to my sister Rosemary and I.
I really had not given much thought to my time at Tal-Handaq or in Malta since I had left in 1963 – life in the world of work had been so different from school life and I had just ‘moved on’.
I have now attended 4 Tal-Handaq reunions at 3-year intervals, the last being at Bath University in 2010. Two of my friends, Jane Henderson & Alison Bigden had decided to live and work in Malta many years ago. In 2007 they stayed at my home prior to going to the Reunion in Warwick. Two years before this, my husband and I were on a cruise and spent a day in Malta. Jane Henderson met us at the port and took us on a tour that included visiting the old school and where I used to live. This was an amazing experience and the school site was just as I remembered it and is now a local senior school. We were made most welcome and could wander over the site. We were not allowed in the school hall as examinations were in progress – this took me right back to 1962 when I took my ‘0’ levels in this same hall!
Barbara Steels (née Miller).