Jack Hubbard interview by James Holland @James1940 on Twitter
James: Just going right back to the beginning, could you tell me a bit about your childhood and how you ended up on Malta?
Jack Hubbard: Well I was brought up at Burwash out here, which is only 15 miles south of here, the home of Rudyard Kipling. Went to the local school. Finished off going to the county school as they were then known at Bexhill where I met my wife. She was serving in the tuck shop and I was one of the pupils and for some reason or other she took a liking to me and they were selling mintos at five a penny in those days and she used to give me six, which was a fortune! On sixpence a week pocket money! When I came home from there I went to work on the electricity company. It was then called the Weald Electricity Company and they were putting on the supply for the whole of the Weald of Kent and Sussex and from there we joined the Territorials up here. They had a battery of anti-aircraft territorials.
J: So when you were at the Weald Electricity Company you were putting a whole load of telegraph poles?
JH: No I was in the accounts department. But we had a tremendous gang going round doing all the villages and everything else, putting them on electricity. And I ran the accounts for one part of the Weald. And then of-course we joined the Territorials. Well the firm, after thewe joined in 1936. Mussolini went into Abyssinia and the firm encouraged us to join the Territorials and they offered to still allow us our fortnights holiday with pay together with the Territorial camp which was a fortnight with pay. So here we go! You’d get a fiver then for a bonus for going on camp. And then the 1938 crisis came with the Chamberlain business and we were called up and we went on a week down to Watchet in Somerset to a firing camp. We used to go there every year, and another week in Hyde Park. Because by then they’d just brought out the 3.7. And of-course everybody knew war was coming so they stuck four of these 3.7s in Hyde Park to make a feature of it and show we were at least mobilizing.
J: So you as a young man, you did know that war was coming did you?
JH: Oh yes, everybody I think must have done. We tried to kid ourselves it wasn’t. But yes, we knew it was coming. Somehow you had this feeling. The IRA, they were operating in those days by putting little tiny bombs in pillar boxes, and also they were snooping around. And we had to form quite a guard on these guns, they’d got to be protected and anyone suspicious you’ve got to challenge them. But they only gave us pick-handles to do the job. But of-course just up the road from there in Hyde Park the guards depot was and they used to come down the road and take the mickey out of us playing at soldiers. But one day two of our lads were patrolling the guns and they saw these fellows with a camera so they challenged them and the fellows started making off. So they chased them and they were neither gaining nor losing so in sheer desperation one of the lads heaved his pick-handle and it hit the fellow smack on the back of the head and floored him. He went down like a lead weight. Whipped him off and crumbs. Next morning, police sergeant comes round and I heard him talking to the Sergeant Major. â€œAbout last night sir. â€œYes I know. What’s the problem? How bad is it?. â€œWell he’s dead. Oh no, now we’re in trouble. â€œBut you’re alright, he was IRA. In those days you were told to guard the gun
J: That was still 1938 was it?
JH: 1938 yes. Then of-course in 1939 we were called up. We went back to Hyde Park again for a week in 1939, as well as Watchet. And then they stood us down
J: So you just kept being called up for a week at a time did you?
JH: Well the annual camp was mainly the thing. That’s all it was. Our annual camp came up July, so we spent a week in Watchet and another in Hyde Park. And then they stood us down in early August and within a month we were called back up ready for war breaking out in September. And our gun positions in those days – the Territorial crowd – were in the Medway towns. Because the Regiment formed a battery in Tunbridge Wells, a battery in Medway towns, with the object of guarding the Chatham dockyard in the event of war.
J: That was the reason for forming the Regiment in the first place.
JH: Yes. It was formed in 1922. The 55st Territorial Regiment. But then, of course, we had this phoney war from September right round till April. Nothing much was doing. It was still building up, the War Office was rearming and things like that. They were getting new stuff. Then they were calling for what they called Cadre Courses, people to volunteer for Cadre Courses. That was, when they started conscription, the serving NCOs were chosen to go and pick up a gang of conscripts after they’d been knocked into shape by regular army instructors and then train them on in the anti-aircraft or whatever particular regiment they were in. So I left them in April 1940 and we went to Oswestry. They’ve got a big depot there. We took on these conscripts
J: Presumably you weren’t in the TA regiment?
JH: Well, you were still TA right through the war really.
J: So you were still in the 55th?
JH: I was, then they formed another Regiment. Gave it a name, they didn’t give it a number. But it was only while we were training together. There was a regular army instructor’s gang at Oswestry which when we arrived, they took a week or two to knock us into shape because we weren’t real soldiers. Got us soldiering, and then in came the conscripts. And then we, together with the regulars knocked the conscripts into shape. And then we went on camp to Manobier and then by this time things began to look a bitthe bombers started to come over so we got posted down to London in Waltham Cross area and by this time the Blitz had started. And then we went on to several gun sites around London eventually but we spent the whole winter of 1940 – by this time, I’m sorry I didn’t say, we’d been sent to join 4th Regiment which was the regiment Stan was in, because he was a regular before the war for a time, and this 4th Regiment got badly knocked about in France and so they needed a whole lot of reinforcements, so we went and joined them and of-course they consisted mainly of
J: So was that just you or a group of you?
JH: Well the whole of this contingent of conscripts and small gang that went from the 55th Regiment. They were mainly reservists and regulars, the remains of the 4th Regiment. And we became part of 4th Regiment and Stan and I, together with the some others, we were in Six Battery, and the other battery in the Regiment was Five Battery. So we had eight guns in our battery and eight in five battery so we were a sixteen gun regiment. And they were 3.7s.
J: That’s 3.7 inches isn’t it?
J: Eight guns in the battery, how many men per gun?
JH: Well the drill book said 11 and we originally started off with 11 because you had a fellow on one side operating the angle sight and the fellow there operating the swivel, three people at the breach and about four fellows bringing up the ammunition and preparing the fuses because they were fuse cap these shells, depending on the height you had to fire, you had to set the fuse before you actually loaded the thing. So eleven man gun team, that was the drill book but we seldom ever kept to that because once the Blitz started, and actually we manned those guns in Malta with seven men because of casualties and things like that. We got so used to it. 28 pound shell and we were throwing them about as though they didn’t exist.
J: So you were in London for the winter of 1940?
JH: Yes, and that happened to be by this time radar in some form or another had started and in the early days of radar, I’m not a mathematician but the one big problem in the early days of radar was completing the triangle. You’ve got the ground level, you’ve got the angle of sight where the plane is there and you’ve got to fill in all the angles. And COSA engineers lived on the site with us – we were under canvas, it was a bloody cold winter and it was wet, filthy winter. But the range of the 3.7 was terrific. They’d go up about 36,000 feet I think. It was a terrific gun. The COSA engineers were working on our site and working on the radar. They were trying everything. When the Blitz started a lot of guesswork went into it. One evening these COSA boys solved the triangle as it were. They broke the triangle and there was a right piss-up that evening. And we were the first ones to get the complete radar. And the original thing that went in onto the dial of the radar set was drawn on the back of a cigarette packet. And then the firing became much more accurate. So much so that the record of hits became so good that we must have been one of the top sites in the London area because we were visited one night by Churchill, General Parr[?] who was the Commander-in-Chief of South-East Anti-Aircraft Command, + Douglas, and the Home Secretary (I’ve forgotten his name). Anyway, half the cabinet.
J: You got to see them all?
JH: Well you suddenly heard they were coming up and they took over half the command post. â€œCarry on, carry on, we shan’t be in the way!. Of course, they were in the bloody way. The Air Minister – Scottish — got so interested in this, it was a filthy night and there was mud everywhere, he had a magnificent overcoat, immaculately dressed. He said after a lull â€œYou know this interests me very much. Do you think it would be possible to go over to a gun and see how they go on there?. So the CO said â€œYes, but tell the Sergeant you’re there and ask him where to stand so you don’t get in the way. â€œOh yes, of course. So he goes over there, and another raid comes over and eventually he comes back and he’s absolutely plastered in mud, head to foot. â€œGood god says Churchill or one of them â€œWhat the hell have you been up to?. He said â€œI thoroughly enjoyed that but the trouble was I didn’t hold on. He’s only gone and jumped about a foot in the air when they started firing! He goes over there and he says â€œHello Sergeant, I’ve been told I can come over here and watch how you get on. Where do you want me to stand? He puts him up on the platform. He didn’t tell him to hold on did he! He ruined that overcoat, but he said he’d enjoyed himself.
J: So you stayed in London for a bit?
JH: We were there until the following May, moving around. We finished up near Cambridge Circus. By this time we’d got eight guns on site then. We had both sections together. Normally a gun position was four guns and a finder and predictor but this time we were all together. That was until May, early May. The whole battery was together and then of-course the Blitz died off. I said, my wife was nursing by this time, and we used to see each other, and I said to her then â€œWell they’ve said that we’re going overseas soon. So I said â€œMight as well get married and you can get a marriage allowance. So we quickly got things organized and we were due to marry on the 7th June but then the panic started and they put all the dates forward so we got married on 31st May. We were married 24 hours
J: So that was 194?
JH: 1941. Went to relations of hers down in Heddington to see them and then I’d only just walked in the door and there was a policeman at the door with a telegram. Phone this number at Southend. Phoned the number â€œWe’ve been moved to Southend. Please come back. We’ve got definite details for overseas. We’ve got to indent royal khaki, blue and this and that and something else. By this time of-course I was Quartermaster Sergeant. So pages and pages of indents for that. Except for two short visits, I didn’t see my wife again for four and a half years after being married 24 hours.
J: And you were off to Malta?
JH: Yes. Down at Southend we mobilized there and everything else, got fitted with Khaki drill and all the various things that were needed for overseas. We still didn’t know where we were going. And eventually we were split into various sections. Some were sent to Glasgow, some were sent to Liverpool, we went to Newport, Swansea was another. Small groups. Went aboard a merchant ship.
J: So how many people to a section?
JH: Well I suppose there were 40 or 50 of us and they just split us, they didn’t sent a gun team, because these convoys were going through a bad time going through the med, so about 40 or 50 of us, one complete hold they’d hollowed out. We did ask where we were going. Crew didn’t even know. So anyway we set sail. For four days we go due west. We said any day now we’re going to see the statue of Liberty. Why the hell are they sending us to America. Anyway, suddenly we turned due south for another four days. We said to the crew â€œWhere are we going, don’t you know?. They said â€œNo mate. We’re going south, we’re going round the cape now aren’t we. That’s the way they were sending the troops round to the desert you see. We thought we were going into the desert. Four days of that. Due east. Going into Gib and sure enough we arrived in Gib. And there you could see all the convoys getting ready and so on. Arc Royal, four cruisers, fourteen destroyers, the Ark Royal, Rodney so eventually we set off into the Med. It was fine for the first couple of days. You could see all the lights shining over in the shore and we said there’s all the spies at work. Then they started on us. They really gave us a tough time. Have you seen Stan’s video? I don’t know how many we lost but quite a few. Out of 11 merchants we lost five I think.
J: Were you manning guns at that stage?
JH: No, we hadn’t got any guns to man. All we did was peel spuds!
J: Had you seen much action at that time?
JH: Well the Blitz in London.
J: So you were well used to being bombed?
JH: Oh yes. We got quite a baptism in London. We’d been used to the strafing and so on, because they used to have a go even in London at our gun sites. It was nothing as bad as Malta at all, but it was an experience.
J: So when was it you went out, about June 1941?
JH: Yes. We arrived in July. Stan would have the dates, you’ll get more accurate dates from him. We spent the first night in Port St Elmo, which is on the northern part of the entrance to the harbour and probably spent two or three days there, I can’t quite remember. But then we were sent out to these gun sites around the air fields. We went to a place called Hagia Qum which was the battery headquarters – being the Quartermaster Sergeant I was at headquarters – but we were also combined with the actual gun site. Our other unit was at a place called Vibacra[?].
J: So the regimental headquarters was set up and stayed put?
JH: We stayed put all the time we were there except they moved a few gun teams around onto dummy sites to try and fox Jerry and so on. That’s why we were manning the gun with seven men because they took the odd one here for those sort of jobs. But even the gun teams, they lived on the guns, the actual gunners and so on. But you never had the same gun team on one gun twice running quite often because you got a 72 hour alert, only because say one or two planes were still around the island. But you couldn’t stand down. So we had a routine where you went for a meal at different times but on more than one occasion, even myself, being at headquarters I’d finished gunnery really but they Sergeant Major would come in and say â€œNumber one gun’s ready to come down to breakfast, you fellows can get out there. Sergeant’s mess, and we manned the gun with all the Sergeants at times. It was just teamwork. Didn’t matter what rank you were, you just mucked in.
J: Can you remember what your first impressions of Malta were when you got there?
JH: What a dump! Well, there wasn’t an awful lot ofnever been abroad on holiday before.
J: Must have been very hot when you got out there?
JH: It was hot, by George it was. The Maltese, 80% of them were employed by the Brits. The Mediterranean fleet before the war was quite a fleet. And all the people we employed for odd jobs and so on, most of them had served in the Navy, like the Maltese cook in the Sergeant’s mess, he’d done 27 years in the Navy and he thought his English was perfect but every other word was a B. He thought it was marvellous. They’re a wonderful crowd. You just can’t speak highly enough of them. They were marvellous. It’s a good job they were because they put up with a hell of a lot. And they didn’t complain, well they complained the same as we did but they never showed any signs of turning on us. They were wonderful.
J: As Quartermaster Sergeant, what was your role?
JH: Well he’s responsible a bombardier to look after the food side of it, another bombardier to keep the stock in the stores and another lad to be general handyman. Had about four or five transport. You’re just in charge of keeping the whole unit running. Well we hadn’t got any petrol, we hadn’t got any clothes. There was a little old boy down in the village, he was a tailor. The Maltese cook recommended him. He employed a team of seamstresses down in the village. So he used to take down a pile of shirts and come back with them patched. Normally in the army you have kit inspection every month, another pair of socks and so on, but we had nothing to give them. And the boys were issued with make-do-and-mend when they joined the army so they could repair their own socks but we just had nothing to wear. And when we finished up in Egypt after we left Malta when they relieved us, we had to go to the local stores to get our equipment and they couldn’t believe it out there. They hadn’t seen anything even from the desert as bad as us. We were in rags. Virtually in rags.
J: Where were you actually billeted then?
JH: On the site.
J: Under canvas?
JH: No. Our gun site was a static gun site. We were mobile in England but we were static over in Malta. The gun sites were pig pounds, somebody said they started off as pig pounds. The gun team actually lived below the guns. And they just had to come up a few steps and they were there.
J: So you built a bunker basically?
JH: Yes. I think I’ve got some photographs. We were in the village of Qrendi, where battery HQ was. The regimental HQ was down here at Berzebbugia.
J: So that’s where you were living, at Qrendi, underneath your gun?
JH: Yes. I lived in part of my own hut with the stores, I lived in a little bunk there. One of these corrugated iron roofs.
J: How was that to live in?
JH: All right. Fairly comfortable.
J: So 163 battery, was that the name of your battery?
JH: No that was the old Territorial Battery I started off telling you about. We still meet down here at the Rose and Crown Pub. We’re getting a bit thin on the ground.
Our convoy was Substance. 21-27th June.
J: Did you have many casualties on your battery?
JH: Well we were lucky really. A few, it’s inevitable. One poor fellow was almost blown to pieces.
J: So quite a few?
J: Did the axis bombers pretty soon suss out where the heavy guns were placed?
JH: Oh yes, they were only doing the same as our fellows were doing. They had their aerial photographers that came over and whatever. We had a wonderful man in Malta who did all over Sicily and Italy and our people knew where all the locations were in Italy and Sicily. Because, although we tried to camouflage them and everything else and make them look like monuments and things like that, you could see the guns. You couldn’t camouflage the guns. We put some sort of stuff over them and painted them sandy colour and all this sort of thing but they couldn’t miss them really.
J: So you’d be firing away and these bombers would come over and try and drop their bombs right on top of you basically?
JH: Yes, towards the end. But, you see, their main concern was the convoys that came into the harbour, and the harbour took a terrific battering because we had what we call the harbour barrage where every gun site on the island had a setting of crews that formed a complete sheet of steel for the Stukas to dive down through. And of-course few of them came out. They lost an awful lot of planes. But somebody the order would come over: â€œHarbour barrage! and the shells had been set ready. Or â€œLuqa barrage for an airfield when they started blitzing the airfield and so on. We had all these barrages and the other times we were firing independently. When we saw them approaching, we’d fire at them approaching and when it was decided which target they were looking for, one of the airfields of the harbour or something we’d switch over to that particular barrage.
J: And how would the information about what to do be relayed to you?
JH: Four guns and in the centre was what was called the command post.
J: So you always worked in guns of four did you?
JH: Yes, sections of four. And the command post had the height finder on it, relayed to the guns electrically, through to the layers on the guns, vertical and horizontal, and a predictor which they were able to lay on by sight onto the actual planes, and that was also transmitted to the guns. So the guns, all the fellow on the gun had to do was to follow a little pointer which was automatically sent to him from the command post. And then of-course there were verbal orders and the telephonist for gun position, stuff was coming through from HQ, just like the airforce, talking to each other. We didn’t talk back but they were telling us â€œ60+ approaching from the south or something like that. By 1941 we were fairly highly organized. It was pretty accurate gunfire. Every single site had a radar set. We had our own radar set as well.
J: So you knew what was coming?
JH: Oh yes. It was all electrically operated and all the boys had to do was follow this pointer, or match up the pointer with the other instrument. It was pretty sophisticated for that particular time.
J: You were saying you were moving around from gun to gun, was that within those four guns?
JH: We were leaving for meals.
J: But you were always based on those four guns, the whole time you were there?
JH: Yes, the gunners were, yes. [end of side A] we had an awful lot of boring times in Malta. It wasn’t until we’d get five and six and sometimes eight raids a day, then they kept us busy, but we spent the first three or four months almost like peacetime. You’d just get the odd Italian who would try his luck and they couldn’t care a damn, they were never very interested. Dead easy until the Germans came and sent the Luftwaffe into Sicily. They really went for the harbour and so on.
J: How did you keep busy when it was boring?
JH: We played football. We played Malta. They got gate carts out there, these sort of flat carts, and we employed the old boys to take the laundry up to Sliema and he had a query about it one day and I thought I’d better go up myself and sort it out, and they would roll across the airfields and everything else and the blitz was on by then, it was quite a game getting up there. We had to dodge a couple of air raids and things. Anyway, we got up there and they were dying off by this time, the old air raids, but a fellow named Secluna had the laundry, and he also ran the Malta football team. We got talking and â€œI got nobody to play my team, I cannot play my team and they all no good, and they getting no good and all this, he was moaning. I said â€œWe’ll play you. â€œYes, but this is the island of Malta. I said â€œWe’ll play you. I’ll bring my battery team up now things are getting easier. He owned Sliema stadium which was then the national ground. He had some posters printed. I went up the next week and he’d got these posters printed up all round Sliema and Valetta but they said they were playing the Army. I said â€œYou can’t say that! All the other boys on the Army — there was the Devons, the Dorsets, the Hampshires, all the infantry regiments and so on — they’ll complain! So anyway, he had it changed and said he was playing 4th Regiment. So we went up there and played. Our boys weren’t properly fit anyway, we hadn’t got any food to speak of but they just toyed with us really. 1:1 at half time. The last quarter of an hour they ran amuck and beat us 4:1, but at least we could say we played Malta.
J: So where were you playing then?
JH: Centre half.
J: Did many people come out to watch?
JH: Oh yes, terrific crowd. He made quite a donation to one of the charities out there.
J: Did you find you got used to the bombs coming down?
JH: Yes, you almost treated them with contempt.
J: You didn’t find yourself getting overly frightened?
JH: Well, naturally a bit concerned, but it’s something that you can’t explain to people who’ve never been in the forces. The camaraderie in the forces is completely different to a gang in an office shall we say in civilian life. You just cannot explain to people what it means. People keep saying you still have these bloody reunions, you belong to the British Legion and all this sort of thing. Well, once you’ve been to hell and back with a fellow it’s different than meeting a crisis in civvie street. You just cannot explain it. There’s something about it. You work up such a spirit of teamwork and everything else and there’s no sort of Sergeant Major stuff in the end. It’s just â€œGo and do so and so will you, so and so can’t help out. Everybody things its â€œGet here, do this, do that! It’s not. You’re all mates together. It doesn’t matter what rank you are. You respect each other. You still respect the rank but you know full well that that fellow would give everything for you and you’d do the same for him. Once you can work that up, you’ve got a marvellous unit.
J: When you’re manning the guns you all know what you’re doing?
JH: When they raided us on one occasion and they hit two of the guns, put two of the guns out of action, and that’s where we got some of those casualties. The boys cleared up straight away and didn’t have to be told what to do. It was just automatic. Everybody mourned their mates and so on but it was all over in a couple of days. It’s not like you spend a long time mourning these people in civvie street. It’s just something you can’t explain.
J: Where was Stan in relation to you?
JH: He was on one of the guns.
J: One of the guns in your four?
J: So you were in the same battery?
JH: Yes. He was always a mystery to me. Because he used to get these films and everything and he used to come into the stores and say â€œCan I borrow so and so? Odd things. And of-course you had spare gun parts and everything else. And you never quite sussed him out because he always had these films and he was always doing this and time off when nobody else did and we thought he was a sort of a he’d been planted with us by M15 or something. Until of-course it came out that he’d been well, I don’t know how he came to join the regulars but he is an intelligent man, a very intelligent man, and I don’t know how he got into the regulars because I’m sure he didn’t have to join
J: But then in 1942 things started to get a bit harder. Rations, not enough ammunition? What happens if things wear out?
JH: Well we had to change gun barrels consistently.
J: What happened if you couldn’t get them, or could you always get them?
JH: No, towards the end we were running short of those. I think 500 rounds if I remember rightly, and the gun barrel’s gone. Well the rifling had gone. They weren’t accurate any longer. They relied on this rifling. It was such a high velocity gun. It wasn’t a boom like most guns, this was a crack, or a very high crack. That’s why just about all of us are deaf. It was a gun on its own. The velocity of the shell was terrific, well to go to 36,000 feet through the atmosphere is something. That was the maximum.
J: Presumably if it did hit an aircraft smack in the middle it would just blow it up?
JH: Oh yes, without any doubt.
J: Did you see that happened?
JH: Yes, you’d see them explode and so on. Well, especially when they were blitzing the harbour, these Stukas would start their dive, and, of course, inevitably they would hit something or other; I mean, they were coming down through a wall of fire, wall of shrapnel, and you’d just see one disintegrate in mid-air, half-way through his dive.
J: Were you ever in Valetta to see what was going on in Grand Harbour?
JH: Very seldom. We were so busy, you couldn’t get down there. And that’s another thing about Stan. He got leave when nobody else seemed to. He was alwaysI tried to give the lads a day off once a fortnight or something like that, and he took a bit more than that.
J: So how do you think he did it?
JH: Guile I think, and he’d got that, not smarmy, but persuasive sort of, very quietly spoken, â€œDo you mind if I borrow so and so? â€œNo, you can’t have that, make sure you sign for it. He would get something out of you when none of the others would. He’d come down and get a pair of socks out of me or a shirt or something, none of the others would. He’d got that way with him. I suspected him for some time. I thought he had some connection down in headquarters, down in Valetta and he was some sort of monitoring the efficiency of the unit or something. And I wasn’t alone. Quite a few people thought the same thing. They used to say â€œThis bloke Fraser’s a funny bloke.
J: Booze must have been drying up. What did you do if you weren’t on duty?
JH: We had a canteen, but again beer ran out just about everything ran out. Cigarettes, couldn’t get a cigarette anywhere. It makes you wonder really. Life was complete and utter boredom for a long time. And when the rations got very short, fellows used to come in, you know you had leather loading gloves for the guns because you punched the shells up there, well there was a loading tray but it was quicker to punch them up and all the guns had loading gloves.
J: What were they like, like boxer’s gloves or something?
JH: No, like a mitten. A thumb and little plain, no fingers. But there was a gang of them that used to come, well as a matter of fact we laid it on because we were so short of food that we used to send a fatigue party out into the field during the day and they used to come back with stinging nettles and we’d have those instead of greens because we didn’t have any greens. And they’d come back with all sorts of things. They’d snaffle a few eggs at odd times. They just used to wander around and pick what they could.
J: Did you ever go off to swim in the sea?
JH: Oh yes, went down regularly. From Qrendi, Zurriek was just up the road from us and there was a place called the Blue Grotto. From our gun site that was only half a mile or so, and the boys used to go down there in their spare time and have a bathe and of-course there was a fishing village down there and they had their little old â€œdheighs, or something like that they called them, and when things got tough, we were talking in the mess one evening and one of the lads said â€œDo you know I’m going to get out of this place. I said â€œHow do you mean? He said, â€œThey’re going to bloody well invade us aren’t they. â€œWe can knock them back can’t we? â€œWell I wouldn’t be too sure. Don’t you think we ought to make other arrangements? â€œHow do you mean? â€œWell look at all those boats down there at Blue Grotto, he said. â€œThey wouldn’t be any good to the Maltese would they? â€œNo, you’re right. â€œWell, why don’t we go down there and barter with them so we have a boat to make off when the worst comes to the worst. â€œWhere’re we going to aim for? â€œTripoli. â€œTripoli? That’s ninety bloody miles down there. â€œYes, well we can row â€œRow through the Mediterranean? I’ve never rowed a boat in my life before. Anyway, he talked me into it and four of us go down there one day and get talking to this old boy and told him what we thought. We said, â€œWhat would you do? He said, â€œI’d stay here, whoever comes. â€œWell how about flogging us your boat? â€œYes, £5. And, of course, the boys said yes, quick, and I was the only one with £5 so I bought the boat. And we had these hard tack rations and everything else, tins of biscuits which were like bits of concrete, and took one or two of those tins down to the sea one day and put them in the boat and I suppose that boat it was stacked up with odd food bits and spare pieces and all this sort of thing for the best part of three months.
J: So you really thought the invasion was going to happen?
JH: Oh yes. They more-or-less warned us. According to headquarters and what I read afterwards we got to within about four days of it before the convoy came in and the Spitfires took over and we got some petrol.
J: So what happened to the boat in the end? You obviously never used it?
JH: No. I didn’t bother. We couldn’t care less about a fiver. It was quite a lot of money in those days. Even so. Last time we went to Malta, about seven or eight years ago when the Queen unveiled the Bell, we went down into the Blue Grotto and, of course, they knew who were ex-service people and so on and I said, â€œBy the way, I own one of these boats, which one would it be? And there were about forty lying along there at the time. So they said, â€œWhat do you mean? So we told them the story. They were highly amused, the young couple behind the bar.
J: Can you remember things slightly improving once the convoys got through?
JH: Oh, overnight. Once we invaded Sicily. We got the convoy in and again they lost eight or nine boats didn’t they, getting there, and naval boats and so on, they really took a beating. Once we got that convoy in, we knew we could hold out then for another three or four months, but we also knew there was an invasion of Sicily coming off because they’d been over to Malta and they’d gone round all our units taking all the A1 men that they could, Colonel Stirling and Randolph Churchill, picking them for the commandos as a matter of fact I was on standby. It was only because I had all these blooming stripes
J: Standby to be a commando?
JH: Yes. They went over and trained with the Yanks. We provided about 12 or 15 lads from the unit, A1 good lads. And they went over and trained on the commando course and opted to train with the Yanks because the food was so much better.
J: When was that roughly?
JH: Well we invaded Sicily in July 1943 didn’t we? Six months to train them up. They went about Christmas time or early New Year or something like that. And, of course, the invasionthe harbour was full of boats and god knows what. You knew something was coming off, the Highland Division moved onto the Island and whatever.
J: Suddenly the Island must have been teeming with people?
JH: Well yes. And the Yanks had brought a couple of aeroplanes and landing strips and so on. You knew it was coming and eventually it happened and three or four nights after the landings, we were sitting in the mess talking and the door opened and who walks through, three of our lads who had been taken from us. â€œWhat the hell are you doing here, you should be in Sicily? â€œI know we bloody well should, but the Yanks dropped us in the sea didn’t they? You decided to train with the Yanks. Another pile of the gang came back two days later. â€œWhat happened to you then? â€œReady to bail out, ready, get ready â€œOut you go, and we land on firm ground and those are your objectives, those huts up there, silhouetted against the skyline, so we’re creeping up onto these huts and getting closer and closer and one of the doors opens, flood of light and a Yank says, â€œSay, what’s going on out here. We were in Gozo! That was a shambles. Quite a lot of that was a shambles. This old 55th Regiment, my old Territorial Regiment, they were in the invasion of Sicily. They were one of the first units in. The old Territorial crowd that we meet every six months. And they said it was a bit of a shambles. But it worked out in the end. I like the Yanks, I’ve got a lot of time for them. I’ll always eat with them but I’ll never fight with them. You just can’t rely on them.
J: Where was the mess?
JH: One of the huts, next door to the Sergeant’s mess. All corrugated tin huts. [looking at photos] That’s the destroyer Fearless, it was hit and sunk.
J: You were all wearing your tin hats on deck were you?
JH: That’s right. That’s our old Sergeant Major. He’d already done 27 years in the army.
J: Are you thinking we could be next?
JH: Oh yes, by George you do! . JH: We had four of five, five or six infantry units on the island. They kept the airfields going. There wasn’t a service in Malta. Army, Navy, Air Force, it didn’t matter. You mucked in. The Air Force wouldn’t have survived without the relief infantry. They were filling in bomb craters all the time. Everybody mucked in and did what had to be done. Combined effort.
J: What’s this tube on the top?
JH: That is the recuperator. That’s loaded with oil. When a gun fires, the recoil comes back half-way at least, with the velocity of the shell going out, and you’ve got to have something to push that back. Air pressure and oil pressure.
J: So did you have searchlights around you as well?
JH: No. They only had searchlights round the harbour mainly.
J: So it was really just using moonlight?
JH: Yes. We had the radar you see. Even at night they could pick up the planes.
J: How did your supplies arrive, by car?
JH: Yes. Go to a central point and pick them up, my bombardier and the old Maltese lad, and bring them back to the unit.
J: So this is a largish square structure, hollowed out into the ground, blocked up with concrete and stone, and then a bunker dug out in front of it.
JH: That’s right. Your ammunition was stacked round the walls but then you had these steps going down under the gun, the gun was right in the centre of the position and the billets were round the edges. So you weren’t actually sleeping under your gun but you were sleeping in the gun pit, very adjacent to it.
J: The Sergeant’s Mess, it’s all corrugated iron, trestle table, wooden slatted folding chairs, picture of King George, map of Europe. Shorts and shiny boots. Still have your boots looking pretty good.
JH: They kept the old discipline going. You still had the odd parades. They cancelled the parades when we got very short of food and everything else but up till then they had the parades and, â€œYou didn’t stand very close to the razor this morning did you?
J: It looks like concrete floor but entirely corrugated walls?
Stan never got a stripe when he was with us. He finished up as a Captain after he left us. But he never got promotion.
J: Did you ever get ill when you were on Malta?
JH: Oh yes, I had the Malta gut. When we first arrived there, I had it for about 12, 13 weeks. I just could not shake this off. I always loved my glass of beer but I couldn’t I bought some grapes and didn’t wash them properly obviously and I had this for about 13 weeks. And then one night the old Sergeant Major comes in. He said â€œYou’ve been invited along to the Officer’s Mess for a drink tonight. Well I said â€œI can’t. He said â€œThey won’t like it, he was a regular army Major. So anyway, he must have seen me, he said, â€œHe won’t be there, he’s not at all well, he’s still got this Malta gut. â€œHe’ll be there, tell him to be there. I said, â€œPlease, you know my state. â€œTreat the bloody thing. So I said, â€œYou know what state I’m in Sir, it’s only going to start again. â€œYou will drink it. I’ve served in the army in the Indian frontier and blah blah blah and you get this gut wherever you go. And get a few glasses of beer down you and that kills it. I’ve got to obey him and sip this beer. And he tells me to drink it up. â€œYes, sir. I drink it up, he fills it again. I had two glasses of beer, next morning, he’s right, I feel better. And I didn’t get any more after that. The old soldier, he knew. Drinking beer, I would never ever have thought it.
J: So when did you actually leave Malta?
JH: We went to the Middle East. I left Malta becauseyou just wanted to get off the Island. The unit left Malta and we went to the Middle East, about September/October 1943, and went over to Egypt. And then while we were over there, there were all sorts of things going off and there was notification of a gunnery course, AckIG gunnery course, which was a 12 months course, which was learning the whole mathematics of gunnery, so I just put my name down. The Major said, â€œThey only want 30 for this, there are bound to be 3,000 applicants, you haven’t got too much chance. Sure enough, both our names came out, both of us from the same unit. I’ve always been interested in Mathematics, about the only thing I was good at, at school. So we got sent back home before the unit came, although they only came three months later. I had three months on this course of a 12 months course, up in a school in Stoke. And one morning we were in class – I was top of the class. I hadn’t been top of the class in my life – and in comes a Corporal. And â€œHubbard, sign here. I said â€œWhat’s that?. He said â€œTwelve years service. I said â€œWhat for?. â€œYou’re on an AckIG’s course. No good being in the regular army for 12 years and training you in gunnery, you’ve got to teach other people. I can’t do that, I’m a territorial. â€œWell, sign here then. That’s what this is all about, for you to be a regular. Well I still can’t do that. â€œWhy?. My firm is still paying me, that I used to work for, they were still paying me 10 bob a week. So away he goes. Within about a quarter of an hour he tells me to go up to the office. Go up there, there’s the old Colonel who runs the school, â€œWhat’s all this? I said, â€œI can’t sign that, I’m still being paid by my firm, I’m still on a retainer from them. â€œWell why the hell didn’t you say so when you put your name down for the course? I said, â€œYou don’t think I was going to do that in Egypt when all I wanted to do was get home? I’d been there for four and a half years. I just wanted to get home. So he said, â€œWell you’ve wasted a hell of a lot of time. Get your kit. I was down in Woolwich in no time. Got out of doing my 12 years.
J: So at the end of the war you went back to your job?
JH: Yes. They still didn’t give me my de-mob until 1946. Did nine years, all told. I went into the Sergeant’s mess that night. There was the Sergeant Major standing there. â€œHello, he said, â€œHave you just come in?. I said, â€œYes, what’s the drill? â€œWell, he said, â€œmake yourself scarce as best you can, we’ve got too many in here now. He said, â€œWhere have you come from? So we got talking. â€œI must have a word with the lad who’s in charge of postings. â€œThat’s me, he said. I said, â€œFine, have a pint. He said â€œWhat’s the matter then?. I said I just didn’t want to go overseas again. I don’t suppose you do he said. He said I’ll get you a nice little number until your de-mob comes through. A few mornings later, walking across the square, we met two or three evenings after that, every evening and had a beer. Here’s my number and name coming over the tannoy: â€œReport to the office. So I went over to the office. He said go and draw a short leave pass and you’re out to Germany next Thursday. I said never. Anyway, I went to the Sergeant Major and said â€œYou’re a right friend, you are. He said â€œWhat’s happened boy?. I said I’ve just been put down for Germany. He said that’s got to be wrong. He said he’d get that sorted which he did and he got me a nice little number up here in West Wycombe. I did an officer’s selection unit and I played football for West Wycombe that winter and got demobbed in March I think it was.
J: And came back here?
JH: Went back to Burwash to my people. Because my grandparents brought me up you see. My father was in WW1 and when he came out – he was a postman – he got posted to a place called Hurst Green which was only four miles away and then…