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A Mediterranean Year

Fort Ricasoli;  RNAS Falcon at Hal Far

Operation Elba Isle - Jan-March events being reported

Msida Creek,    HMS Forth.   1st Submarine Squadron, Jack Etheridge Slaughter DSO in command.  
Boats:- HMS  Seneschal, (Lt Cmdr Hamlyn),Sentinel, Sea Devil?, Talant, Tudor  Tempest , Totem, Trenchant

Royal Naval HQ Malta in Fort Lascaris overlooking Grand Harbour with variously HMS Vanguard, battleship;  HMS Glasgow. HMS Bermuda, HMS Gambia – Cruisers ; HMS Eagle Aircraft carrier; HMS Surprise – Royal Yacht. C-Class  and other Destroyer   HMS St Kitts,  Chevron, Chaplet, Chieften, Comet

Daring Class Destroyers:- HMS Daring, Decoy  Delight, Diana, Duchess, Diamond

Sliema Harbour.
5th Frigate (A/S Frigates) Squadron :- HMS Whirlwind, Wrangler, Wakeful,  Wizard, Roebuck and some Minesweepers

In early January 1974 I reported, turned out in my new rig and pussers’ green suitcase as a young Midshipman (S) RNVR,  to Googe Street deep shelter in Tottenham Court Road.  An improbable entry point to the Mediterranean. Whisked by bus to Northolt airport for an uncomfortable RAF Viking flight to Luqa in Malta and delivered by  Royal Naval blue minibus to Fort Ricasoli at the mouth of Grand Harbour seemed far more like magic carpetry than the start of an exciting and eventful  year that followed.

My superior officer at Ricasoli was having problems it soon became clear and my role was to support his semi-inebriated self in keeping the funds and records in order. Ricasoli was the main emergency trans-shipping point for ratings with “compassionate” leave permissions, comings and goings  and was a place continually to expect the unexpected and cope with it.  Not only emergency funds to be supplied but the right victuals provided and service records to be rapidly and efficiently updated. It was an interesting initiation to the life of a very junior and raw officer.   

The roaring sea continually crashing on the great sea wall of the Fort and sea-bird life made the feeling  like that of being on a lighthouse. We were of course that as well, marking the southern entrance to Grand Harbour.

Before very long, I received a new posting to HMS Falcon, otherwise Royal Naval Air Station, Hal Far situated near the cliff edge on Malta’s South Coast near the town of Birzibugia. The station was shared with the US Air Force which had a base on the northern side of the runway while the Navy kept to the South. There was practically no social contact and entrances were separate. The only thing apparent was the comings and goings of their long-winged and near black-painted Jupiter aircraft which shared the use of the runway and flight controls.  

My new job was to learn and practice the arts of ordering , receiving and accounting for all the necessary spare parts to keep our Seafires and Sea Venoms flying.  As National Service junior officers and still very green we were under continual instruction and well cared for by very experienced and capable Chief Petty Officers.  I had a great respect for their good will in putting up with us who must have seemed young upstarts. More interesting arrivals by air were the  large number birds of the Spring migration flying north into Europe from Africa.  Birdwatching, of the feathered kind, was already a hobby. Hal Far was rather remote for wider exploration of Malta on weekend short leaves of absence from duty. However the well-known archaeologist John Evans was studying the Megalithic monument of Mnaidra and that was within range and excited my interests through several visits and lucky meetings.

Midshipmen had to keep regular Journals and these were turned in to the Commander for examination and evaluation at regular intervals. They were expected of course to recall all the Service events of interest day by day; weather, important visitors and the coming and goings of ships, though not of aircraft. My Journal did these things dutifully enough I suppose but I also reported significant  bird sightings, such as large numbers of Golden Plovers flying in, and  I drew sketches of Neolithic dolmens!  I do regret that on later becoming a sub-Lieutenant my Journal was removed from me to I suppose the Naval Archives if not the Shredder.   

While one day on a walk on the cliffs some little way West of the end of our joint runway, and to be precise with a special whistle, given to me to attract Golden Plovers, I stumbled upon a remarkable cache of papers apparently stuffed into a hole in the rough coral limestone of the cliff top. I still have the whistle, but the papers were really very much more unusual. Being both observant  and inquisitive I consciously looked all around to ensure I was unobserved and bent down and pulled out the papers – lots and lots of them, and all with red  classification ‘stamps’ at the top and bottom ranging from SECRET to that which I knew to be the very highest NATO security  ‘stamp’. (COSMIC TOP SECRET). Again checking I was unobserved and frankly a little shaken, I put some with a mix of classifications in to my rucksack, returning the majority carefully as nearly concealed as before, to their place of discovery, and then set off back to base taking very careful geographical note so as to be able exactly to describe where the the rest of the cache was deposited, and as I presumed, intentionally hidden by somebody for an improper purpose. That seemed, and I hope was the wisest and safest course. The dropper may well not have recognised  that his cache  had been found and raided.  The cache was in fact very near to one of the few places along the top of the cliff where it might be reached by a stiff climb from the seashore below and that seemed possibly but speculatively to be significant.  

I reached the duty Commanding Officer’s desk before very long and with proper salutations placed the papers on his desk. He blanched. He really did!  ----“Where Midshipman Leakey did you get those papers?”.  Full explanation and details he duly had and of how to find the rest if that was what was to be done, or to observe and intercept any other collectors.  My instruction was clear. This was not to be spoken of again.  For very many years it was not.  I heard no more but was sensitive enough to observe some funny looks from top brass in my direction, or so I imagined.  Only  very much later that year , as I shall explain, did the probable significance of the location upon which I had speculated become more solid.  Nobody ever spoke to or questioned me about the event. Silence reigned.

Naval air stores accounting was not my favorite national service accomplishment and I was glad soon of a third posting to add new experience to my growing Service c.v.    I was to be assistant to the Captain’s Secretary in HMS Forth, the depot ship of the First Submarine Squadron.  This posting was far more interesting as the job involved reading and ensuring dispatch to the appropriate officers of all except the most secure paperwork. We had a rather , by now very!, primitive copying system involving a wet process with alcohol transferring ink onto some sort of shiny duplicating paper. I can just about recall its characteristic smell now. All the main officers around the Fleet were known by their acronyms, Our Admiral was FOSM , Flag Officer Submarines
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