Memories from Malta – from an old and former Horsted Keynes resident My old school days in England – vivid memories

By Albert Fenech 

I was brought up and schooled in England and later permanently returned to Malta in 1965 but over the last 30 years frequently residing with friends in Plumpton (Kent) and Horsted Keynes (Sussex) during numerous work trips to London. 

While there I used to love watching young children going to school and was reminded of my old school days in England and momentous moments that have vividly remained in my memory. 

In my days there was a sharp distinction between Grammar Schools (for those that had passed the Eleven+Examination) and Comprehensive Secondary Schools for those that had failed the exam. 

This led to great snobbishness, Grammar being for the elite, Comprehensive for the other riff-raff and thus a state of warfare and enmity between those who attended. Needless to say that at the time too, boys were boys and girls were girls and mixed classes were unheard of although, later … but more of that to come.

 TAL-HANDAQ ROYAL NAVAL SCHOOL 

My secondary school career actually began in Malta when we returned for three years in 1957. My late RAF Officer father Frank had been given the option of choice of an obligatory overseas RAF posting and naturally given the choice, he chose to be posted to Malta. 

To continue my already three years of English primary education, rather than attending a Maltese school, my father chose I attend the Royal Naval School at Tal Handaq, a school for the hundreds of children of British military and aligned service families posted in Malta. 

The classes were divided into Grammar and Comprehensive and probably for one of the first times in history the classes were of mixed girls and boys genere because one-sex classes would have been too small.  

In the early days I refrained from identifying my Maltese origin and used to delight in hearing Maltese employees speaking without their knowing I was hearing and understanding every word! 

The school’s main attraction area was the tuck shop with a stock of fresh soft drinks and loads of cakes and packed sweets and I, naturally, visited frequently. 

After having been a month at the school I was in the tuck shop one lunch time and there were several Maltese employees enjoying their lunch break in the shade and having a good chat. 

My class is up the stairs seen on the top photo      

The shop boss asked one of his mates to hand him a green bag of sweets off the shelf and I instinctively reached out, took the packet and handed it to him. 

An immediate silence fell over the shop. The owner looked puzzled and asked me in English “do you understand Maltese?” 

“Jien Malti” (I am Maltese) I replied. 

From that moment on I was treated like royalty. I was hugged and embraced. Thereafter, soft drinks and sweets were free – and there was another highly important bonus. 

The word quickly spread to all the coach drivers who picked and delivered all the pupils to central areas, no matter from the actual distance of their homes. As from henceforth the drivers I had would make me stay on the bus, dump all the other children and then drive me to our doorstep.    

A highly interesting footnote, Site Co-Editor LYN FUNNEL also attended this school when her father was assigned in Malta but we did not meet at the time because of different dated! 

DE ASTON GRAMMAR SCHOOL – MARKET RASEN 

One of my most memorable moments came at the De Aston Grammar School at Market Rasen in Lincolnshire as dad had been posted to nearby RAF Faldingworth and I was consigned to the school – the only Maltese boy among 500 boys, mostly boarders. 

Needless to say this immediately earned me the nickname “Malt” and I was known to other boys as “the Malt”. 

Being a particularly elite school, Rugby Union was the recognised main sport and Association Football was considered to be for “duffers”.

I was then in my Second Year and my Form Master was a Welshman, Mr Harries, who introduced me to the class and asked me some questions – one being, what was my favourite sport? When I replied strongly “football” he slammed down his pen and muttered angrily. 

I was never an academic genius but in sports events – especially football – I excelled! As a Second Year boy I was selected to represent my House football team The Yellows which was a bit of a wonder because the main body of the team were Sixth Formers and the team captain was Ron Blower, a goalkeeper, a Sixth Former and the De Aston School head-boy. 

In one particular match the ball was lofted over goalie Blower and was on its way into the net when I rushed in and with a spectacular overhead backward volley known in Italian as “rovesciata” I cleared the ball off the line!

The response was simply magical! In those days televised football matches were far and few between featuring only the England international team and FA Cup Finals; Continental football was largely unknown, except for the names of teams like Real Madrid, Benfica and Inter-Milan. 

From the crowd of spectators around the pitch, parents and other boys, the cry loudly went up “Continental Football!” 

Among those was Headmaster Mr Bruce Henry McGowan and he immediately stopped the match, walked onto the pitch and shook my hand and patted my back with words of congratulations and pictures were taken! 

My performances – particularly this one – had longer-term benefits. During lunch we were placed in permanent table places, about ten boys per table. The drill was that 2nd and 3rd Form boys would “serve” the other senior boys by bringing their plates from the serving area and then later clearing the plates. 

After my epic feat I rose to carry out my serving duty, but captain Blower put up a hand and said “not you – you are too important to do this and we have to look after you”. 

STRAND GRAMMAR SCHOOL – BRIXTON, LONDON  

The rest of my years were spent at the Strand Grammar School in Elm Park, Brixton, London, yes Grammar elite but for the rough and tough from the Brixton localities, notorious for criminality and street hazards. 

I was in the Fourth Form and had already taken up smoking. Nearby was a small wood surrounding several houses that had been shattered by bombs in WWII but never rebuilt. It was a convenient place to slip away to at lunchtime for an illicit smoke. 

The hazards were gangs of boys from the nearby Tulse Hill Comprehensive School who picked on us Grammar boys, gave us a good hiding and stole our money and cigarettes. 

One lunch time I fell victim to such a gang and as I sprawled on the ground being punched and kicked and my pockets ruffled I let slip a blasphemy in Maltese. 

The gang leader immediately shouted “stop!” and everything stood still. He lowered his bullying face over me. 

“Are you Maltese?” 

“Yes” I replied, “I am”. 

My class room and the last picture of the school visit I paid when it was being renovated about 15 years ago

 His menacing and bullying scowl disappeared and his face broke into a broad grin. In Maltese he replied: “I am Maltese too dearest brother”. He helped me up back on my feet, brushed off the dirt and soil and told his gang to give me back all my money and my cigarettes. 

Before we parted, his final words (in Maltese) were “You will not have any more trouble here from any of our gangs. You are free to come and go”. He gave me his name and told me if I needed anything to contact him at Tulse Hill Comprehensive School. 

Henceforth I was free to come and go and when I came up against a gang, they ignored me. 

 

 ALBERT FENECH  

 

Author

  • Albert Fenech

    Albert Fenech was born in Malta in 1946. His family moved to England in 1954 where he spent boyhood and youth before in 1965 returning to Malta. He spent eight years as a journalist with “The Times of Malta” before taking a career in HR Management Administration with a leading international construction company in Libya, later with Malta Insurance Brokers, and finally STMicroelectronics Malta, employing 3,000 employees, Malta’s leading industrial manufacturer. Throughout he actively pursued international freelance journalism/ broadcasting for various media outlets covering social issues, current affairs, sports and travel. He has written in a number of publications both in Malta and overseas, as well as publishing two e-books. For the last eight years he had been writing a “Malta Diary” with pictures for Lyn Funnel’s B-C-ingU.com international travel magazine.

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