My late father, also Bill Jackson, was always passionate about Malta, a tiny island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. As an 18yr old newly qualified RAF apprentice he was plunged into the maelstrom of war when he landed there on 2nd August, 1941. He was posted as a Wireless Operator Mechanic with an Air Sea Rescue unit based at Kalafrana. Their role was to search for and rescue anyone who had the misfortune to end up in the sea and he spent most of his time aboard a High Speed Launch dashing across the waves while the war raged around them. They were trapped between guns firing upwards in defence and guns and bombs coming downwards in attack. Bill endured the same hardships as the besieged islanders and came close to starvation as the Axis forces pummelled the island day and night. Those events had a profound effect on my father and he never forgot them; no Winnie the Pooh bedtime stories for me! I heard of his exploits, his adventures and the near misses he had endured. Nowadays he would have been diagnosed as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
After the war and back in Cumbria where we lived, Bill was a writer all of his life. He wrote for local newspapers, magazines and journals and broadcast for Radio Cumbria. In the late 1960’s he began writing the story of his time in Malta.
In spite of my father’s enthusiasm for Malta and his many holidays there, both with my mother and later as a widower, I never wanted to go there. As an active conservationist I was revolted by the Maltese hunters’ appalling treatment and wholesale slaughter of Spring migrant birds which landed on the island after a long and exhausting flight across the Med. However, by 2007, Dad was becoming increasingly frail and persuaded my wife and I to accompany him on one last visit. He took us to many of the places he had talked of and written about and we met many of the Maltese people he had befriended over the years.
On our return from Malta we realised that his book would never be published unless he had help, so for two years we spent weeks editing the manuscript with him, finishing (or so we thought!) shortly before his death in December 2009. After he died, when we cleared his house, we found file upon file of research for the book going back over 30 years. Editing began all over again and we decided that we would have to publish the book privately. The mainstream publishers were wary; a recession was in full swing and they really only wanted to concentrate on the pilots who had been rescued.
Dad’s book was about much more than that; it was about ordinary people doing extraordinary things, about forgotten heroes fighting desperately in appalling conditions and near starvation to rescue a downed pilot, a tiny speck in the unforgiving sea. He felt that a terrible injustice had been done when, after the war, books films and reporters concentrated so much on the pilots involved. These fantastically brave young pilots courted death every second that they were in the air and their gladiatorial battles became legend, but, as in all wars, it was the unrecognised and uncelebrated people who enabled these epic battles to take place. All of the ground based personnel, the radar operators, the shipwrights, the dockworkers, the drivers, the medics, the cooks, the rescue teams and countless others were vital to the success of the campaign. Without their unsung courage and determination none of the air battles would have been possible; the ‘supporting cast’ in that dreadful theatre of war enabled this tiny island to survive overwhelming odds. Without them many more lives would have been lost and, who knows, the outcome may have been very different.
The purpose of this book is to give recognition to the little people, the forgotten heroes, who all pulled together in the name of freedom.