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Dive honours wartime Malta convoy heroes

A GROUP of maritime reservists from two London- based Royal Naval Reserve units flew out to the Mediterranean to mark the 70th anniversary of the legendary convoy to keep Malta going – Operation

Pedestal. Nine members

of HMS

Wildfire, in Northwood, and one individual from HMS President in central London, took part in Exercise Wild Pedestal, a mix of remembrance, diving,


work and adventurous training for the ten reservists. The visitors set up base camp

in Xjemxjia, in the north of the island,

sorting out bunks and

supplies in preparations for the busy programme ahead. That day they were warmly welcomed by the Maltese branch

of the Royal Marines Association at a reception at the Sun in Splendour in St Julians. There,

according to the

expedition newsletter, they “met, toasted, were toasted, sang with, were sung to, and even danced with, a number of old sweats called Nobby,

Jan, Chopper, Smudge,

Dinger, Pusser, Jock, Taff, Yorky, Tommy,

Brum and

names various. “Too many to remember, but all proudly answer to the name ‘Royal’. “We were well-hosted and thank the RMA for showing ‘Jack’ such great hospitality.” The following morning the

hard work began. The group quickly realised there was going to be a lot of studying to do if they wanted to pass the diving qualification they had been signed up for. Not only were there training

dives to be undertaken, but the novices also had their heads in books for a fair amount of time as the theory and practice of diving were studied in tandem There was a brief break in their studies when the sailors swapped wetsuits for No 1s and mustered in Floriana to join veterans on parade for a march to the National Cenotaph, where Lt Paul ‘Nobby’ Clarke and LS Sue Bell laid wreaths in honour of all those who defended Malta during its darkest hour. For three years, the island was besieged by the Axis powers, coming under ferocious air attack in 1941 and 1942 in particular. The German-Italian onslaught reached its climax in the spring and summer of 1942 – at a time when Rommel was driving on Suez and Britain’s entire position in

the collapse. Mediterranean might

lowest ebb, a massive naval force – four carriers, two battleships, seven light

than 30 destroyers – was gathered to shield 14 merchant ships delivering supplies to the island in August 1942.

well as carrier HMS Eagle, two cruisers and one destroyer – more than 400 souls were lost in the Pedestal convoy alone – but the operation demonstrated the Allied resolve to support Malta. The

in the remembrance ceremonies ended with a reception at the Royal British Legion hosted by the local branch of the Royal Naval Association, where once again the visitors were delighted by the welcome they received. Then it was back to work at the

reservists’ participation as cruisers and more

More than half the merchantmen were sunk,

l AB Geraint Prisk (HMS Wildfire) and AB Dave Connon (HMS President) on the wreck of HMS Maori With Malta’s fortunes at their

qualification, having experienced a range of conditions at various (invariably attractive) locations around the island. PO John Morgan followed Wildfire sailors’

the move, practising underwater

photography in preparation for the culmination of their visit – the challenge of laying a poppy tribute on the wreck of HMS Maori in the Grand Harbour. The Tribal-class destroyer was

sunk at her moorings in Grand Harbour on February 12 1942 with the loss of one crew member, when Axis bombers pounded the port.

raised and the bow section was scuttled in the approaches

Subway Diving School in Bugibba, where the group continued their diving programme. Over the next few days, the team cracked on with training and assessments (and PO Morgan, tired of cold showers, grabbed a toolbox and tackled the plumbing and water heater, ensuring his colleagues had a welcome hot shower on their return from their labours).

l LS Sue Bell (HMS Wildfire) at Sweethaven Village – also known as Popeye Village – near Mellieha in northern Malta. The village was built as the set for the 1980 film Popeye, and is now a tourist attraction

The trainees rose to the challenge and were soon as happy underwater as they were on the surface – everyone left Malta with the PADI Open Water

The wreck was subsequently to

Valletta at the war’s end. It lies in around 14m (46ft) of

water and has become a popular dive site. As well as unfurling the Royal

Navy’s standard on the wreck of the Maori, expedition organiser PO Morgan had planned for the team to lay a poppy wreath on her hull – although weather conditions on the day of the dive meant only the more advanced could participate. “Wild Pedestal has been a successful and very enjoyable

exercise,” said John. “From conception to execution, the whole thing has been extremely challenging for all involved.” While the days were spent


underwater, the evenings were spent with the boys and girls of TS St Paul, the Sea Cadet unit in Kalkara. PO Morgan and his colleagues organised a pirate-themed It’s a Knockout-style sports event for staff and cadets, although from the victory dances it was best to leave the Cadets versus Staff tug of war as a draw. The reservists also accepted the

‘Chairman’s Challenge’, building a

“somewhat shaky” human

pyramid to sign the deckhead not once, but twice. “All in all,” said Lt Clarke,

Exercise Wild Pedestal had been “a job well done.” He continued: “We participated in the ceremony at the National Cenotaph and honoured those who died during Operation Pedestal; we established links we hope will continue with the Sea Cadets in Malta, the RMA, RNA and British Legion; and the team got a new adventurous training qualification under their belts and had the privilege of seeing the wreck of HMS Maori close up.”

l (Above) Royal Naval Reservists carry out diving training as part of the PADI Open Water course

l (From left) AB David Connon, PO John Morgan, AB Niall Fanning, LH Sue Bell, Lt Paul Clarke, Lt Harriet Clews, AB Geraint Prisk, PO Tony Metelko and AB Reg Smith FEBRUARY 2013 : 35

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