Interview with Mary Stuart


Interview with Mary Stuart


Mary Stuart, nee Atkins, was the youngest of nine children who lived during the Second World War on the island of Malta. She tells of her love of aviation and how she spent time on the roof of her house when Spirfires flew over. Mary recollects wartime hardships, German strafing and bombings and their effects of civilians (including an incident when people drowned in a shelter), her encounters with soldiers on the island as well as doing washing for the Royal Air Force. Mary also tells of her father, who was in the Malta Police Force, her grandfather, in the Irish Rifles, and finally her brother, who served in the Royal Air Force. The interview includes anecdotes about Robert Baden-Powell.
Finally, she talks about Joseph Bassani, a family friend who was an Italian spy, the American supply ship Ohio, and the Victory in Europe celebrations that took place on Malta.




Temporal Coverage

Spatial Coverage




00:54:45 audio recording


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MS: My name is Mary Stuart, nee Atkins, and I've got this pleasure today to say a little bit of my story. Thanks to [pause] recording for me, this is from the International Bomber Command Centre. What's the date?
Mick Jeffery: The date is the ninth.
MS: Ninth of, er
MJ: Hang on [inaudible] . Now.
MS: I am at the moment living in Grimsby, Grimsby Town. [background noise]. As a little girl in Malta, I remember it very, very, as if I'm thinking of it today, I've got such lovely memories. Little girls think the war was like a party sometimes, so when the air raid used to start, as a little girl, I used to run on the roof, and I lived next door to the church in Luqa, Luqa village, where obviously all the planes land, and it's very, very interesting. So the air shelter was just outside our doorway, and the bells used to go like mad from the church, [chuckles] as we're living next door to it, and of course I used to run to the top of the roof, lay down, and every, every Spitfire going over my head, I could nearly touch 'em, one after the other, and it was such a pleasure, I used to love it, and to me it was just a holiday really. And it was at times that I went down after the air raids, and I was covered in oil, some kind of spray off maybe one of the planes, a Spitfire, that maybe showered a little bit of oil over me, but that was a pleasure, and there's such a lot of little stories I could tell. My sister also lived in across the harbour, and that was Rickarsley, it was an army barracks. [background noise] and well she, she was married and she was living in quarters there, and their shelters in Rickarsley was also-, at the top of the shelter was the searchlights, so of course me being so into planes and everything, I just wanted to see the planes with the searchlight, I used to sneak up and have a look. But going across to my sister was a little dicer, they're called a dicer, a little tiny boat, and as we got in the middle of the harbour we could see this big German bomber coming in, and of course, as you maybe heard before, that they couldn't fire it, at it, because they used to come low over the harbour, and by doing so they would have been damaging our, their own place. And all I could hear was such a ‘flop, flop, flop’ all the bullets going around this little boat [chuckles] and I can't, I can't imagine how we got away with it. There was hundreds of bullets, all you could hear was ‘flop, flop, flop’, you know, and the water coming up. We was soaking wet. Anyway we made it through, we got to Rickarsley. And was on the way, you had to go back home, getting dark and everything, we was terrified in case there was another German bomber, but as there was a lot of planes coming in, back in from where they'd been, and we used to be terrified to get over and done with and get over the other side. So, that's one, isn't it? [background noise]. Now then, back home to Luqa, I'm just looking at the picture now, actually, where I said we lived, near the church. All the back of the church was a long street, it was a garden, and it was all our garden. My mother was lucky because she had about forty orange trees alone, and potatoes galore, because as she took one out she put another one in, so we was alright, and on one occasion there used to be some soldiers walking round and sat on doorsteps, and me mum was making chips and calling me to go and give them some chips, in a, you know, and they was so shocked when I gave them a paper full of chips, and then she said [inaudible] how many more is there, and she was frying these chips all the time [chuckles], and then there was me running in and out, in and out with chips, bag of chips down this little street where we lived, so that was another one. But on one occasion in Luqa, this is another story which terrified me as well, but I'm so happy doing this because it's taking me back, looking at my planes again, which I love, and it was one occasion I followed my brother, he went to a lady called Mananee and she used to make these cheesecakes, and dried tomatoes outside on a hut, and of course my brother used to go and she used to give us some, and half way getting there, there was a little bird watching place where they was watching birds, and this big German bomber came down, and I remember the name of the fellow that called us in quickly to get in that hut and his name was Patacco, from Luqa, and he took us in and he said 'what you doing here, your father will go mental?', you see, so he took us in and by then the bomber came right over us, bullets hitting this little hut, which was made of stone, and luckily we got away with it. But then, he told us to get home, and when we got home that bomber has bombed in front of our house, which was a club, and the house was upstairs, they used to have a gun, they had some gunnery going on there, and of course it got bombed, and killing a family of nine, one of them that used to be on our house all the time, Giovanna, twelve years old, was one of nine children, and even a little baby. The father died with them as well, and he was to be, he was a policeman with my dad in the police there, at that square, as well, and of course it was very, very hurtful, and it was devastating, losing friends like that, but oh, when we got from that er, as we got in the square from what had just happened to us [background microphone noise] which wasn't far [inaudible] it was, I could see the gunnery, a soldier, jumped off the roof, left the gun and what he was shooting, he just jumped off, I could just see him falling over, and down into the square, and this was behind the Maltese club there, you know, St Andrew's Club called, and it was dead opposite the church, that was. The bomb had gone down, and it, it hit a well, and the shelter got full of water, and they’ve all drowned, the whole nine of them in the family, they was all drowned, even the baby. That was terrible. That's another story. But you do m-, I was only young myself, but she was twelve years old, that one, she was a friend of my sister, of course I'm youngest of nine of us, and it's, it's very, very, you know, confusing, but, back to my house again, I still used to go on the roof many times, but my dad found out, 'Where is she, where is she?' and should have been down the shelter and couldn't find me, and he got to know that I was laying on the roof waiting for the Spitfires coming in [chuckles], and anyway, he, he nailed the door, to the roof, he nailed it so hard I couldn't get out on to the roof any more [laughs] so, anyway, the, our roof, when the Spitfire used to come through they used to go sideways to get, to get out to the other side, so what they have done they have put our house, down, by about fifteen foot. Easy fifteen foot, I should say, and you can see it in this picture, if you ever see it sometime, they, about thirty foot wide, and they took, and then they used to come in straight across, instead of going, you know, instead of going sideways, they used to come straight [emphasised] over, ‘vroom’. One after the other, and the feeling, it was so -
MJ: And so what was the reason for them taking the wall away?
MS: Yeah. That was the reason our wall came down, just for the Spitfires to come down, and as I speak I feel such a thrill because I love it, I loved every minute of it [laughs], war or no war [chuckles]. And er, shall we stop for a bit? [microphone noises] Right, still living in the house near the church, but not for long, I'm afraid, because my father thought, 'it's time to move, it's getting a bit dangerous', you know, with all the planes coming right over us, so near the house. He said it'd be time, 'it's time to move, we'll just go somewhere, not very far'. So we went to live in another street, Valletta Street, er there, a narrow street, but we managed it, and there was a lady in front of us there, she had a shelter, just in her house, in the cellar. She had all these enforcements to hold this roof up, all big [chuckling] wooden, everywhere, but we managed down there in the war, and my other friend, Wizz, was who I went to, we used to wash for the RAF. RAF uniforms used to come in, and the socks still standing up [chuckles], and she used to give me a little pinny, and Auntie, Agniesa, Agniesa, her name was, and my Nanny, the one, she used to do all the washing. There used to be bags and bags of washing arriving in Rovers, and there she used to say 'come and help me', she used to be doing something, and then I'd be, she gives me the socks to do, so I was scrubbing these socks with her, and that was very interesting, she was very nice lady, she kept me happy with some whatever she got, and every time she'd say, 'can I come tomorrow and do some more washing?'. 'Yes you can, there'll be another load coming', another RAF uniforms coming in. So there you are, that's the RAF, how many socks I'd washed, maybe could have been one of yours. [laughs] That would be very nice if you had the name on, you know, in them. But life is so, so short, and yet there’s so many things you do in your life, and that was something I enjoyed. So, now we've moved in this other house and it wasn't the same because I missed it, I missed me other one, but there you are. So, we didn't stay there too long [clock chimes in background] and we moved to [slight pause] we went to Hamrun. We moved away from Hamrun, and my sister just met a soldier, she married a soldier, and he was at Lackrewood, and there they had, they had a big family as well, and she couldn't stand, this comes afterwards, though, this has come after the war [background voice]. Is it alright? Well just after the war she couldn't stand when I was with her in the quarters. They got St Andrew's quarters in Tas-Sleima, so I was with her there, and she had a little window and she could hear her husband shouting at these men, and she couldn't stand it, she said, 'what you doing, leave them alone, what are you shouting at them for?', but you see [chuckles] they had, it's er, you've got to learn them, don't you, young soldiers, it's for safety reasons, innit, that he was shouting telling them what not to do and what to do right, because it could cost them their lives if you don't, if they don't listen to them, and of course we, she couldn't see that, my sister could not, couldn't stand it, she couldn't, he was an RSM you see, and of course, being an RSM he's got to do his safety jobs to do, and his order was to train these soldiers the right way, but she will not have it. She would open that window, of the quarters, in a square [interviewer chuckling in background], and these poor soldiers, lined up, and was 'grrrr' shouting, and she said, 'I don't like him any more mum, I don't like my husband any more, he's so cruel, you should hear him shouting at these poor soldiers'. She said, 'I'm not having it', she said, 'when he comes home there's no tea for him, he can make his own tea. That is it', she said, ' I'm not having it'. And she went for days and days not speaking to him. Anyway, he had to move her out. He moved her somewhere else, got another place, he got another place, down Msida, [inaudible] Msida, and that one was alright, and er, this is, I was growing up then, I was nearly fifteen, when I'm talking about this. I was growing up then [chuckles], and of course there used to be these soldiers, I couldn't get out the door, as I got on my bike, and they were whistling at me. I had a few dates for dancing [chuckles], that was nice, but yes, she just, she wouldn't have it, shouting at him all the time, so, me mum used to tell her, 'but they've got to do it', 'no, he can't, no, he's not got to do it, he's not having, I'm not having that'. [Laughs] We [inaudible] stop here a bit. Oh, this time we was at Hamrun, 203 Victoria Avenue, and erm, I remember this one night my, my father was having a bath, and me mum shouted at me, she heard this siren going, and she said to me, 'go downstairs and go to the shelter with next door, get next door, go to the shelter now!', and she said, er, 'and I'll see you down there', because you only had to cross the street and there was the shelter there, you see, and I didn't. I stayed downstairs waiting for my mum to come down, so [chuckles] I was there waiting for her near the door, she came down and she said, 'my goodness me', she said, 'there's your dad upstairs don't want to go to the shelter because he's not ready', she said, 'come on', she said, 'we'll, I'll take you down, come down with me quick'. We got open the door to get out, we looked up, and there was the bomber, big bomber, German bomber, and she said, 'oh look', she said, 'he's let the bombs-', when you see the lights, the lights under the ship it means-
MJ: Yeah, under the plane [interrupts]
MS: and there was these big bombs, two of them, chained together, clinging together, make a noise, I could hear the chains, you know, like a [inaudible] coming down, and it was just on top of our heads, so what me mum did, she said, 'we can't go now', she threw me down on the floor between the two doors, and she jumped on me, and I don't know how that bomb didn't come direct, straight down. It must have gone like that, because half of the street was bombed, leaving our half alright. But there was still wires everywhere, and dust, and glass, they was taking glass out my hair, because it still got in. And she said, 'I told you to go down, why didn't you go down with them?' I said, 'no, I wanted to wait for you'. But when I, we, looked up, the light when they opened the doors, I said' ooh, he's letting the bombs out', and you could hear the chains, you know, ‘clink, clink’, chained to them, making a noise, coming down, but I couldn't believe it, it was just like looking at the chandelier there, look, that blooming thing, and it's direct, down on top of you, so what I can't understand is why did it go, sort of, that way? Because from that distance, most probably it wasn't straight on top of you, but I always thought, 'how did I, we get away with that?' It was direct on top of us, and yet the other half of the street was hit.
MJ: What happened to the shelter?
MS: Well, there's, you see, and then me mum got me out, she said, 'come on lets, lets go upstairs and see Dad is alright’ and everything. My sister, she was there, she was a nurse, my sister was a nurse in Mtarfa, English nursing place, and of course she was at home at that time, she came home to see all the, every, people hurt. She was, they was fetching doors to her, just ordinary doors from the bombing, putting bodies on it and fetching them on a house, anybody's houses, taking them in to see to them while they, you know, while they took them away. Yeah, she done a good job, Amy. Erm, she was a good nurse. And of course that was one thing, a near miss, that was another near miss, because I, I keep talking about it, don't I? But when you look up, and you think something on the top of your head, you think you've had it. You don't expect [slight pause] to just swish down, you know what I mean, it was like, like a rock and roll skirt that goes over and over somewhere else, you know what I mean? I can't believe it. Just see that big light on top of you, she said, 'come here', pushed me down on that floor and threw herself on top of me, and ooh, you get all the noise, and whistling, and everything. Terrible, it was terrible that night. But half of the street, there was Aldo, Aldo his name, he was on, he had his, a lot of [pause] cuts on him. He was all bleeding, yep. And then another time, this was another little story, this one, we used to go to school, and you used to get a German bomber, and on a hot day in Malta the sun is so bright, and the shadow of the plane is so big [chuckles], you get the shadow because it's so bright, so he used to come over, low, and wave to us, used to wave, and carry on. Right? So one day he comes over, everybody, all the children rushes out, coming from school, looking up, looking for this pilot to give him a wave, and he started firing, machine gunning, machine gunning. This was in our street, the school street, and he's fired the machine gun, well everybody opened their doors, all the houses, opened the doors so the children could go in, you know, so we managed to get in somebody's door. She says, 'I told you not to, don't wave to him any more'. Because obviously it must have been a different pilot, but we thought it was that same nice one, which it wasn't. [laughs]. And er, I've seen a mess in the street, [inaudible] never leaves you alone now, er, it stays with you, you know, and, er, it was horrible, some friends and er-. Another day, this is another story, my father was a police sergeant. In the police. He followed his father's footsteps 'cause my grandfather went to Malta with the Irish Rifles, he was in the Irish Rifles. I'll mention him now, I'm glad to mention my grandad, and he went to Malta, and of course he met my, my grandma there, and he said to-, he was with Lord Baden Powell, they, they joined up together, Lord Baden Powell and him, knew that, in London, my grandfather was a Londoner, born in Middlesex, of course his best mate was Lord Baden Powell. And he said to Lord Baden Powell after they'd been there a few months, he says, 'oo’, he says', 'I, er, I don't want to leave Margaret, I don't want to leave Margarita’, he says, 'well all we can do if you want to stop here', he said, 'make a transfer with the police'. So there and then, within days, he was a policeman [laughs]. So he went to see his platoon, the rest of them, they was still in Gozo at that time, Gozo's a little island from Malta, and they was all laughing at him because he had a policeman's uniform on, they was all making fun of him. And of course then he stayed in Malta, and they went off somewhere. But he stayed in Malta, married my grandma, had two boys, and they got to the age of seven and eight, the platoon came back. Well he couldn't wait to go and see them, he missed them, he was missing them. So Lord Baden Powell, he said, ' we've missed you as well', he said. 'But I want to get back, please. I want to get back with you. Wherever you're going next time'. I think they was going to Zulu war, wasn't it, the Zulu war, Boer War, Boer War. And he said,'I want to get back,' he said, ' Margarita'll be alright, she'll follow me wherever we stop', and everything. So within days, Lord Baden Powell, it's good to be somebody, isn't it, in this world [chuckles], and, changed over again, transferred, [interviewer interrupts, inaudible ] 'cause it's still under the Queen, you see, that's what it is.
MJ: So your mother and your father stayed on Malta?
MS: Yes. And of course, you see, he went back with them, to the Zulu war, but they was, they got ambushed. They was ambushed. I've got his story there, there's a story I've got there. He’s in the library book about Sergeant George James Atkins that was killed there, with the others, of course. But he-, that was it. I remember my grandma, she was telling me that er-, 'I just, I pray to God', because they're Catholics out there, you know, in Malta, 'and I pray to all the saints and Virgin Mary and everybody, to look after him for me', she said, 'and they didn't!'. And she didn't want to know, she had the pictures, and she, she just knifed them all, she just knifed them all, you know, and the people saying, 'oh, you mustn't', she said, 'but I’ve told them to look after him, and they haven't. I don't know, I'm not a believer any more'. She went a bit funny, you know. Anyway, one of the boys, might have been my dad, he was, um, he inherited the place, and it's called the [inaudible] Bettina, [inaudible] Bettina is like a palace. It's like that one street, the whole street, but in the middle of it is big doors, gates, steps going up. It's just like the palace in London, the Queen's palace, right? He inherited that, but because he was only young they gave it to somebody, her name was Bettina, and she was engaged. And they gave it, let her stay in it, while he grew up. But because this happening, my grandma was a bit, she went a bit, she didn't want to know, she let it go, she didn't fight for it, and it's still, should really by right belong to my dad. And she lived, Bettina, it's called Bettina, in Malta, because that girl's name was Bettina. She just, she just, as soon as he got killed, she got the answer, as soon as he got killed, she went dilly, she couldn't live without him. Yeah. And that's how me father grew up. And then Lord Baden-Powell went out there, with his belongings, he took everything himself, to her, to my grandma, and she gave everything to the er, to the St Andrew's Club in Luqa. She gave them the flags, I don't know what, all the whole thing, regiment things, everything, and medals and everything they've got there. And of course it's, she just couldn't get over that, but-. Lord Baden-Powell, he said to the two boys, he said, 'I'm coming back to Malta', he said, 'and I'm going to put, start a Scouts here. I'm going to come here', he said, 'and I promised your father if ever anything happened to me, I gave him my wish to keep for me', he says, 'so therefore, I'm keeping his wishes that I come back to Malta, and see that you join the scouts'. But they didn't, they did not join the scouts, the two boys, they went in the police [laughs]. [Interviewer interrupts in background]. They wanted to be in the police. Yeah. And that's er, it's a funny old world isn't it? Really, how things go, it's very interesting, very, very interesting, and of course my father grew up, and he met my mum, he met my mum, and I would go with-, they’ve had nine children, I was the youngest of nine. The eldest one was Kitty, that's the one that married the RSM [chuckles], my brother was in the RAF.
MJ: What did he do?
MS: My brother was in the RAF, and before they joined the RAF, he was a painter, he does all the sculptures in the churches in Malta, he's done a big Virgin Mary statue, he just chisels everything, you know, from a big stone, [aside] didn't he Gary? He made that big sculpture, didn't he?
Gary: Sculpture
MS: Yeah. He was very clever. And his friend, his friend, they used to come down in our, in our hall, downstairs, and they used to paint together, two of them. One day the police came for his friend. He was the spy on Malta. He lived at the back of our street, but he was a spy with the Italians.
MJ: What was his name?
MS: He used to erm, Bassani was his name, Joseph Bassani. That was the name. And of course his sister, Maria, I knew very well. We knew them, very well, the mother. But when my brother got to know that he was a spy, he got his painting, because it was still in our house, his painting what he did, [inaudible] he just damaged it, he was so mad with him [chuckles] because he was a spy, he didn't want to know about the picture, and he scrabbled on it, took his name, got the name off it, he was so furious, my brother. And then of course he went in the RAF, my brother, he was in the RAF. Yeah. He too went to Italy, but RAF is our top priority in my life. The RAF.
MJ: What, what was he in the RAF?
MS: He was in the RAF, yes.
MJ: What did he do?
MS: He was er, he was sent to Italy. He went different places like that. I don't know much, how much he did, but he was a sculpturist, and he did everything when he was, privately, at home. And the church used to come, 'can you do this for us? And do that?' Never used to charge anything, he just used to do it from his heart, you know. Like me, I'm doing things at the minute, all the time. And, erm, but that upset him because it was his best friend, you see, and to realise that he was a spy but he was, he was hung, wasn't he Gary? [aside], he was hung, they hanged him. He had a cry over it because he liked him, but he was so upset, he was annoyed with him, with him going, you know, sort of lighting torches here and there to let the Italian bombers where to bomb, know what I mean? Yeah, And there was a film, it's very strange because I went on holiday in Malta, and I met the actual fellow that did the Malta story. Jack Volks his name was. Jack Volks. And I spoke to him on the internet, but there's no answer much now, like he was about ninety-five. And he said to me, 'Mary', he said, 'I wish it was you in that film, making that film, instead of', the girl he took to be Maria, you know. 'Cause they made the film, the Malta film- have you seen it at all? - yeah, Malta film, and the girl Maria they picked up for the film, she said, we took her from London, she said, 'My God, my dear God', she said, every time, she said, 'cut, cut', she kept coming with this London accent [laughs]. She said, 'you should, they way you talk', she said, ' it would have been lovely'. She said, 'the trouble we've had with that girl'. She kept pulling out this [laughs] 'Parpa' and things like that, 'she said, ' we couldn't have this London accent'. But, I don't know what happened to him. I'd love to know, but-, yeah he's made it, he's actually filmed it. Yeah, Jack Volks, Gary, wasn't it, his name? Yeah. Of course, my brother, had other friends. One of them he used to come on our roof, to film, he used to take films of different, of planes coming over, and he was a lovely man. His name was Geoffrey Johnson, Johnsons, and I think he was from Yorkshire somewhere [unclear interruption from interviewer]. Geoffrey Johnson. Well my brother had some contact with him after the war. Yeah, he had a disabled boy, but I think he must have died now. But that would have been nice. But that was Geoffrey Johnson, yeah. That was my brother's nice friends as well, so he was alright with him. He used to always come in our house. Our house, being sort of more English, you see, I mean to have a name like Atkins, Tommy Atkins they used to call my grandad [chuckles] Tommy Atkins, you can't get a British name more than that, can you? [Laughs] Not mad dogs or anything, you see he's a Londoner, and er [slight pause] different thing. That’s another story I can tell as well, about being an English name. Do you want it now? [background noise] [Chuckles] Now then, this is what happened with my brother. When you're kind, sometimes, it's very cruel. Erm, I remember the Victory Kitchen came to Malta, and those hungry people, you know, queuing up and everything, and for days, one week, they didn't open for some reason, and there was all these starving people, you know, trying to get food from the gate, and being my father, a police sergeant, [chuckles] of all the police he was the sergeant, he should show respect, your sergeant should show respect and you shouldn't do anything out of order, but me and my brother, I used to go to help him, because it was down our street, high gates, as high as I couldn't get over them, anyway, so I had to stay on that side of the gate, and he used to get a catapult stick and go over with the catapult, this was my brother, and it’s a, it's a disgrace really, what he did to my father, because he was a policeman, you know what I mean? So anyway, he didn't care whether his father was police sergeant or what. He went over with his catapult, broke into the Victory Kitchen, Victory Kitchen it was called, and he was handing me these tins of corned beef, I was getting them from the side of the thing, the gate, I was handing them, and everybody running home with tins of this and the other, taking it all, and of course, they all knew my brother, and who his dad was. My, for some reason, my father got to know, and he said, 'right', he got hold of him, shaved his hair off, my father shaved his hair off. He said, you knew that he was particular about his wavy hair, and so he took his hair off, and what did he do? He went in me dad's wardrobe, got his best suit, he didn't think it was his best suit, he got a suit out, he cut the bottoms off, sewed it, stitched it as anything, and he had a hat, and he kept doing the same thing. He said, 'come on, Mary, come on, come down with me'. Get his big long stick, the gate must have been about eight foot, easy, six, eight foot, really high. I can't tell you because I was young, I knew that for me it would have looked big at that age, but there's only three years between me and my brother, so he was fourteen, probably I was ten, something like that, so anyway, he went over, more tins, you see they had food in there but they never opened. They never opened. And my brother said, 'well, sorry dad', he said, 'sorry dad', he said, 'you should go in there yourself and get that food out for these people, hungry babies, all these lovely people here, all starving'. Right? So he said, 'here you are, here you are, Mary. Come on, let's go'. So, the people knew, because as soon as they seen us two go in there, they used to follow us, [chuckles] the whole street used to follow us. So, so he did it again, and my father found out again, and he says, 'oh', me brother says to me, 'oh, there's a big one'. He couldn't lift it up, a big, giant corned beef one, there, you know. 'He said, 'here you are', and I remember he gave it to me and I couldn't lift it up, hardly [laughs]. So, anyway, he got to the [inaudible], and he said, 'right then', he said, 'I'm sorry, Mum, Rose', he said, 'I'm sorry’. He says, erm, 'I'll have to do something about this lad. This is not right for me, I'm a police sergeant', which is true, in a way. So he put him in a, in a place for bad boys, and of course [slight pause] the first week he was there, this big bomber passed our, our street, big bomber, and he said, 'oh my god, where's he going, where's he heading for? Where’s he heading for?'. And it hit the place where my brother, where my dad put my brother in. Well you should have heard, I've told you about my sister, about the SRM husband, me mum went even worse. 'It's your fault, you've put him in there, and now he's been killed'. So anyway, dad went down to see what's happened, it was all-, and he found him, carried him home, like, sort of, fetched him home. And she went, she went absolutely livid with him, 'What you done? You've put him there, it's your fault. Our boy will be dead now. It'll be your fault', she said, 'and you can just, I don't care what you are, sergeant or what', she said, 'but don't come home here any more. If my s-, if my boy's dead, please don't come here any more'. Right? That was a good one, because the whole street, as soon as they saw us going with a stick, the catapult, used to catapult over with, and me with him, the whole street used to come out there door, running after us. They knew we was going for food. So, so in a way, it was cruel for dad, you have to feel sorry for the dad, don't you, I mean, when you're a police sergeant you've got to show, he should have shown a bit of-, but he didn't care, because all my brother was thinking about was starving people, so he said, 'if you want to put me in prison, you can do. I'm doing it, not dad’. And he told another policeman, he says, 'don't blame my dad, my dad told me what not to do'. He said, 'I'm doing this, not my dad. I'm feeding these children out here'. And he loved it. He had such a good heart, yeah. That was, that was Lolly. Lolly was on the Navy, he was a Navy man. He joined the Navy, he was on HMS Delight, was on the Delight, wasn't he, Gary [aside]. And then he went to Australia and he died at fifty years old, yeah. But when you have a big family, here's always a story behind it, isn't there? There is [inaudible] one [chuckles]. And that was the young one, that was the young one. And then my brother Vince, he was erm, he was on the merchant ships, he was on the merchant ships. I remember him, Vincent, Vincent Atkins, he took me once to his, his tanker came in. The Can't Take It, it was called, Can't Take It, and he showed me all the machinery, 'cause I like things like that, I like anything to do with boats or planes, or anything, and all these big machines going sloosh, you know, oh fantastic, yeah. He went to America. So one went to Australia, one went to America. They all sort of-, the family just spreads doesn't it after the war. But he done a lot, he went in the boom defence, the boom defence. Boom defence is a, is a defence in the harbour, innit, and he-, the boom defence, it's a dockyard, it's a dockyard thing, you know. He repairs things, yeah? Is this on, by the way? Is it? Oh really? Yes, and which other story I would have thought the best? [Long pause and background noise]. This erm, in Malta, the Germans were up to Italy. It's not very far from Italy to Malta. They'd captured different places, and nearly, they were nearly in Malta to take over as well, but what happened there they was very short of oil for the planes [background clock chime], the oil stores [chuckle, inaudible ] anyway, for the fuel. Very short. They were short of food, mainly fuel for the planes, right? And this Ohio, there was about three ships trying to get in with food, food and the things for the planes, and they were so battered, outside the harbour, all the ships, with German bomber bombing them, that the Ohio, was an American one, came to deliver the stuff and she just only barely got in that two ships had to go and get her in, holding her up each side, holding her, because she was full of food and other things, and she was like that off the water, really low, and these other two ships was coming in with it, which that bloke was on, one of them, and it came into the harbour with the corn, bags of corn, it just managed to get on there, that's the harbour, just managed to fetch her in, and we was all down there, and the young lads when they emptied it, the big corns, the big sacks of corn for the bread and that, the young boys had a blade so they was going [makes a slicing sound]. I've seen that done, but I don't think anyone on the ship seen it it done, and he tore it, so all the girls lifting their skirts up putting all the corns in their, stuffing their skirts or whatever they had, you know, jumpers, filling up with corn, running somewhere, put it in, running back, fill it up again, and I wasn't doing it, but I was with them, 'cause my sister did it, and that brother of mine, he was there doing it, he was getting the corn and everything, and the planes filled up and there was only about ten to twelve hours for the Germans to come from Italy, so they all, they were filled up, and you should see all the planes going out at once to stop the Germans. They was winning, Italy and the Germans together, at that time. Mussolini, and of course all these planes was already in Luqa, ‘whoof’, they got the fuel, you see, and they was all flying over, out, went out, yeah, to stop them, and they got them. They got every German out there, and it was blooming good. And I always remember my mum, she used to stay up and me dad used to say, 'Rose, for God's sake get to bed. Get to bed'. She says, 'no,' she said, 'there was about, about nineteen went out, and there's five hasn't come back yet'. She'd be there, waiting. 'There's five haven't come back, George. George, just leave me alone, there's five more to come, and then I'll be able to sleep'. So she used to count all the planes, going out, and then count them back, as they were coming back. Count every one. 'Oh', he used to say, 'you are a silly woman. Get to bed'. She says, 'no, I'm not, I'm not'. But there was times some of them didn't come back, and she used to cry. She used to cry, she'd say, 'oh, it's terrible. The young, poor young-', and she used to say, ' I wonder what their mothers would say now, I wonder what happened to them?' But then sometimes they used to come late, three o' clock in the morning, she'd hear one, she'd get up. 'Is that coming in? Oh, another one coming in, George'. Keeping him up. 'Oh, there's another come late, and another one coming, and another one coming'. [Laughs] she used to be, she used to be, absolutely as if there were her own kids, you know, own children. I mean, alright, sometimes nowadays you say, I say to someone, some couples, you know, they've been in the services. Most probably the Navy, most probably the Navy ones, and I say say I'm from Malta. And they says, 'Oh, oh, from Malta are you?'. I said, 'yeah'. And he says, 'Oo, are you from Straight Street?' I says, 'Oh no. I was not allowed anywhere near Straight Street', I says, 'don't tell your missus here [chuckles] [inaudible] Straight Street'. But there some bad girls there, you know what I mean? I said, 'no way!', I said, 'I'm not from there. I said you don't know my dad. My dad used to be a sergeant in the police and he used to warn, tell all his friends, 'if ever you see any of my daughters', because he had four daughters, 'any of my daughters near any bad places, send them home'. [Laughs]
MJ: Were there lots of bad places?
MS: But I mean, that's everywhere, you know, that's everywhere. But it's a shame because even as I say, my mum used to give them cups of tea, and make them chips, and that, and they'd say, 'oh, was she like that, was she?' I said, 'no, my mum, we're decent people', I said, 'there's decent people everywhere, you know', you know what I mean? But no, they always take things the other way [chuckles]. And it's always somebody that’s been somewhere they shouldn't have been [Laughs] But that's life, isn't it?
MJ: Here's a battery change for Mary Stuart.
MS: That it? Hmm? [background noise] Yeah. Well, the rest of my story, I've got quite a few more to do, but I'll just pick the last one, because I've kept this gentleman here with me too long, but I'm going to tell you the VE day in Malta. My father, as a sergeant in the police, he was on duty on the corner of the theatrical house in Valetta, as you go in Valetta, when it was bombed. He was in it. Anyway, he survived that, and on VE day he was there again, on duty, in the corner, whilst my mother, and me and my brother went to give him some sandwiches, and see him alright for some food. Meantime, outside the bombed place, there was a VE day celebration going on, and my dad put me and my brother in the front of that celebration day, which I have here, a picture, and that's why I'd like to put that in because that was VE day in Malta. I enjoyed it, and so did he, watching us while we took the photos. And that was very interesting indeed. I hope you all enjoy my little stories. Mary Stuart.
MJ: Let me thank on behalf of the International Bomber Command Oral History Project, Mary Stuart for her recording on ninth of May twenty fifteen. Thank you very much.
MS: Will you put nee Atkins in that beside-



Mick Jeffery, “Interview with Mary Stuart,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 14, 2024,

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