There were a number of British Scout Groups in Malta. All these had closed by November 1971 upon the withdrawal of the British Forces from the island when Dom Mintoff took over in Government.
Along with the Deep Sea Scouts Mediterranean Fleet, the 1st Home Group was probably the oldest British Scout Group in Malta and was operating by 1948. The word ‘Home’ in a Group’s title indicates that it was a British Group. 1st Home was part of Acorn District and comprised of Cubs and Scouts who were all Army dependants. They met in St John’s Bastion, Valletta. Their all black neckerchief bore a distinctive Group badge of a white St John’s Maltese Cross on black.
But probably the best known of the British Groups in Malta was 1st Luqa (Home). The 1st Luqa was started by some leaders from the 1st Home and wore a dark green scarf with a yellow border. They were based at RAF Luqa.
The Group had Cubs, Scouts, Senior Scouts and Rovers and later, Venture Scouts. They were RAF Recognized Air Scouts who wore a variety of unusual and probably unofficial nametapes including one stating RAF RU No. 58 (RU meaning ‘Recognized Unit’) and another showing its military postcode, BFPO 51. This extract shows how the Group obtained superb facilities and some activities from 30-odd years ago:
Eric Hocking the new RAF Families Officer and an enthusiastic Scouter arrived on a Friday in March 1968. On the Saturday morning he was in the office with his predecessor when a sergeant came in named Dick Fiddy. Dick’s opening words were “Sir how soon can you become our GSM?” Eric never did find out how they knew he was a Scouter. Eric met the Oi/c Scouts who claimed to hold the GSM’s warrant, so Eric acted as SM for a month until the Oi/c returned to UK. When Eric was formally appointed GSM, he learned that the previous officer had not been warranted! He had no Scouting background and had been given Oi/c Scouts as a Secondary Duty.
The Scout HQ was two Nissan huts with a covered walkway joining them. This was walled in, so the whole complex resembled an ‘H’. The huts were covered in bitumen to try and waterproof them and it was a dismal place. It was alongside the Luqa Primary School, behind the Airmen’s barrack blocks with no access to any grassed area. At RAF Hal Far there were wooden huts which had housed 38 Sqn. The Scouts had use of eight of the huts for “expedition training”. The grassed area around the huts was used virtually as a permanent campsite. There was a short valley at the seaward boundary of the airfield giving access to the Scouts own private beach. A month after Eric’s arrival, Malta got a new Air Commander who had been a King’s Scout. Eric approached him and asked for permission to use the administration buildings at the defunct RAF Safi, about two miles from Luqa. He agreed and so wonderful Scouting facilities were created.
There was one extremely long building, which had been the Station HQ. At one end there was a brick wall separating a spacious kitchen from the rest of the building. The rest was an empty space about 12×5 meters. DOE built a second wall for them, creating a dining/rest room 5×5 meters and a group room 7×5 meters. There were about 12 small buildings, each measuring about 6×5 meters, with doors at each end and a central wall creating two offices, each 3×5 meters. A room was allocated to each Patrol and Six, and one hut was used as a store. Large tents did not need storing as the Services issued them with 160 pound tents (14ft by 14ft) when required. There were still several huts unoccupied and a second smaller building alongside the old SHQ. So the Guides were approached and eventually a joint Scout & Guide complex set up. There was any amount of land to use and a permanent campfire circle was created.
There was a radar station on Gozo called Il Cortin that closed in 1969 and there were two buildings. One had held radar base and technical facilities e.g. repair workshops. The other had been a combined Mess. Again Eric went to the Air Commander and asked if the old Mess could be used as a Families Leave Centre, (Eric was the Families Officer). When he agreed, Eric asked if Scouts could use the technical building as an expedition centre. Again he agreed. The Il Cortin complex, like Hal Far, was within a fenced boundary and similarly, had access to a secluded beach. Local fishermen occasionally put in to the beach to give or sell them fish and join in their barbecue meals. So the Scouts now had a HQ at Luqa, luxury at Safi, a camp at Hal Far and an expedition centre on Gozo!
Whilst camping at Hal Far, a freak storm arose on a trip to Gozo. On their return to Hal Far, two 160 pounders had been blown down, despite having been storm lashed. The ridgepoles had broken and the canvas torn to shreds. Luckily it was a working afternoon and OC Supply issued replacement tents within an hour.
Being RAF Recognized brought great benefits. The Supply Officer told Eric that he was to dispose of RAF uniform, which had been obtained for personnel of RAF Malta, which had been disbanded. The uniforms were issued to the Scouts. Instead of the official grey shirts they wore free Air Force blue. The OC Catering Sqn, Sqn Ldr Ken Woolridge, informed Eric that he had stocks of emergency rations that he had to get rid of at a given age. He let the Scouts have 14 Man Day packs for 2/6d each. Camp expenses were drastically reduced. The SM took the Scouts to tour USS Forester, a US Aircraft Carrier. They had a marvelous time and as they were preparing to leave, saw one of the cooks putting hundreds of uncooked hamburgers and hot dogs into a container. When Skip commented on both items being in the same container he was told that they were surplus and were to be thrown overboard. There was a District Camp Fire at Safi that evening so Skip asked if the Scouts could have the food. The ship’s Captain decreed that he would release the meat to them, but only if they took onions, ketchup, relish, bread rolls and baps and that four of his cooks came and did the cooking! The Scouts ate well and it only cost some bottles of Coke for the cooks.
By the late 1960s there were six Scout Districts on the island of Malta, with two previous Districts, (Aardwolf and Bee) having been extinct for some time. In addition Gozo was a separate district. In 1969 the Island Commissioner decided that this was too many. He reduced the total to three; Gozo plus North and South Malta, thus releasing four ex-DCs plus their ADCs for Group Scouting. North would be an amalgamation of Acorn, Griffin and Oak Districts. Peacock would join Albatross and Cotonera Districts to form the new South District. 1st Luqa was at that time in Peacock District.
The first to respond with a badge was South District. They decided to have a pale blue background to represent Malta’s sky, with symbols from each of the three previous District badges. So a peacock feather and cotton plant stem formed a wreath with the albatross above. These surrounded the stars of the Southern Cross to indicate South District. It was felt that the design of the badge was self explanatory so no wording was included thus avoiding the complication of having to name it in English or Maltese.
Eric Hocking, GSM of the 1st Luqa, sent a sketch with a Peacock and Albatross badge to Russell King, badge makers in Kent. Even at that time they could not get a Cotonera badge. Russell sent back a sample – without the green thread – which Eric still has. The District approved but could not afford to buy them. Eric offered to buy a stock and to sell them to the other Groups at cost. The wily DC Frank Miggiani decreed that the first orders would be at cost, later ones to carry a 5% surcharge for District funds. This stratagem ensured that most of the stock was distributed at the first release. On his return to UK Eric was presented with a banner embroidered with a large replica of the South District badge.
The above information was extracted from the British Groups Abroad Far & Wide September 2001 newsletter, written by Tony Dunn (as County Historian for the British Groups Abroad)