My Grandfather, the diver
In 1977, I was eleven years old when I sat down with my 70
year old Grandfather and a cassette recorder.
What follows are seven short tales, as told by him to me.
He wasn't the greatest of story tellers, but I hope what
follows paints enough of a portrait of the man, and what he
did for a living.
Once, when I started going down as a diver, I dove at the breakwater.
As I was going down, there was this cable that was near the breakwater.
The rope I went down on went one way and I went down the other. When it
came time to go up, I couldn't. I went back down to the bottom and passed
the rope back between the pipe and the lifeline, but instead of escaping,
I became even more entangled. I went back down, then up but was hopelessly
entangled, and I couldn't get up. I'd done this three times when I lost
my breath and must have lost consciousness. My buddy came down and told
the others "he's dead" as I looked dead, then he became too scared to go
back down again.
There were ships going in and out, and in those days and there were a lot
of people on the breakwater to watch the warships. There was a priest
and he stayed behind so that when I was raised to the surface, he'd
be there. They rang for my foreman, but instead of being at Tarzna,
he was at Kalafrana. They rang for him at about nine in the morning
and he ended up arriving at two in the afternoon. Around one o'clock,
I must have woken up and with my knife, I cut the rope around me and I
found myself on the surface.
Q. If they thought you were dead, how come they kept on pumping air?
For sure, that's so that I'd always have air. Anyway, I got to
the top and found myself short of breath again. They threw me on
to the breakwater. There were alot of people around and they all
wanted to see. The priest was saying "Give him space, give him
space, let him breath because he's still alive". After a little
while, I felt better. The foreman and the engineer came at around
two o'clock. When the engineer saw that I was feeling better,
he wanted me to go back down again but I didn't want to. Anyway,
I went down to the bottom and came up straight away, to get rid of
the fear. I felt better then went back up.
There was a time when I went down in the dockyards and on the way down,
a shackle fell from a destroyer. They wanted this shackle because they
needed it and they sent me down for it.
Down I went, and I found lots of mud which stirred up and I wasn't able
to see anything, let alone trying to find this shackle. There was a roll
of wire, and this roll of wire was thick wire of about four inches thick.
As soon as I put my foot on it, it was like a spring, so when I stepped on
it, about three coils unsprung and dropped over me. I became entangled
in the wire that remained coiled and the wire that had become entangled
around me. I couldn't go back up.
So, as the mud was soft, not hard, I'd figured out what was going on.
I couldn't lift the wire because when I lifted the wire I'd sink deeper
into the mud. I had to grab the wire and pass between it and the
soft mud. On the way up, once I'd escaped, I'd found that the shackle
that I'd been looking for was in my hands. I went up and asked "Is
this it?". They replied that it was.
They had no idea what had happened to me. The man holding the lifeline
had been signalling me but I hadn't signalled back. That's how I ended
up escaping. He pulled and made me pass through the mud, under the wire.
I'd escaped and floated to the top.
There was this time, I was at church on Sunday and I wasn't at work. The
foreman came looking for me to take me to Tarzna for a dive. I didn't
know what for. A friend told him that I was at church and was sent
to fetch me because the foreman wanted me. It was Sunday. So I went
and found the foreman and he said let's go quickly, quickly to Tarzna.
I asked what was going on but he wouldn't say.
I went to Tarzna with him and when we arrived I saw that the people at the
air pump and all the diving equipment was ready to go. All I had to do was
to dress up and go down. Then they told me that the tunnel supplying water
for the generation station was blocked.
So down I went and at the tunnel entrance, I found tanks and wood stuck in
the opening. As soon as I touched it, it collapsed and the water dragged
me into the tunnel. The man up top holding my rope couldn't hold me.
As soon as the pipe had filled up with water, they managed to pull me
out and hauled me up.
As soon as they pulled me out, they saw that the rope had cut into me
here, and they took me to the hospital emergency. They took me quickly to
the emergency and saw that the rope had cut into my stomach and my back.
The doctor was there and they started massaging me to try get the blood
moving again. They kept me there for about six hours. When the rope
burn had lessened, they sent me home. They told me to take the next day
off, but I went back after two days.
Sacks of wheat and flour
During the time of the war, I used to dive to a boat called "The Terrabot"
that had sunk at Ta' Pintu. I used to tell work I was sick, just so
I could dive to this boat.
So I'm going down, and bring back up sacks of wheat and flour that were
in it. I used to bring up the bags six at a time all tied up, first the wheat
then the flour. So I'm tying them up, and tying them up. Beneath these
sacks there was all this wood and when they found that the weight had
been removed from them, they floated up to the entrance of the hold.
When it came time to pull me up, they couldn't because of all the pieces
of wood that had blocked the entrance.
The wood was roughly six inches thick and was about fifteen feet long.
There was these three sacks of flour that had fallen on to the wood,
leaving enough of a gap. I could pass between the beam and managed
The wood also managed to escape, so much so that they managed to fill
a whole barge with it.
So during this war, Steve, I buy this bag of flour. When I bought this
bag of flour I took it home. The person I bought this bag from had been
found out that he'd been selling flour. Me, I'm not going to uncover him.
There was this one that they searched and found this flour. She named
every person that she knew that had bought flour from this man, and she
The police came to search my place and they looked everywhere. In the
sheets, in the wardrobe, in the drawers, everywhere. This sack was in
the entrance hallway and the only thing on it was an apron. So they'd
come in, past this sack of flour, they left, past this sack of flour,
they'd searched everywhere, even out in the field, just to see if the
sack of flour was hidden out there.
They left, but they didn't find this sack. After a while, when everything
had settled, I told everybody what had happened.
[Note: It seems that their next door neighbour hid a sack of flour in a recess
in his well. It was found and he spent three months in jail.]
The passing boat
There was this time I was working on the bottom. I found that my pipe
was being pulled quite strongly. I found myself on the surface, only a
mere three feet from the propellor of a launch. So then as I'm about to
hit the propellor, I suddenly find myself going down again. As soon as
I hit the bottom, I found myself being pulled up quickly again.
Once on top, I found that the pump men were all confused and had stopped
pumping, thinking that something had happened because no air was going
through. They lifted me up and I asked what had happened. It seems
that this launch had passed and my pipe had got caught up in the bow
without them realising this. When it moved on, I found myself against
the propellor as the pipe had got caught on the bow. Then I dropped down
then got dragged back up. I wanted to know what had happened and they
told me what had happened.
The men on the pump had stopped because they didn't know if the pipe was
OK or not, so they wanted to find out, so they stopped pumping. I got out
and there was lots of trouble. The inspector came, so did the dockyard
police and the foreman, to find out what had happened as there were lots
They wanted to blame the trouble on the pilot of the launch. I said that I
was OK so there was no need to blame anyone for what had happened. But the
blame really was on the man that had lowered me. The inspector asked me
if I wanted to follow it up, but I said no as nothing had happened to me.
From that time on, an order was made that anyone that wanted to come next
to the jetty had to go past this way, keeping a distance away. That still
exists today. You need to keep your distance.
I feel sick
When there were only two days of work left before I retired at the age
of sixty, I was on the bottom of the harbour. When I was down, I got a
pain in my stomach, and then again, I had to go up. They asked what had
happened and I said that I had to go to the WC. They undressed me and
I went to the WC but nothing happened. They dressed me up and I went
back down again.
When I was back on the bottom, this huge stomach pain hit me and I
nearly vomited. I had to go back up. The boss was there and he asked
what was happening. I said I didn't know and asked to get undressed.
Once undressed, I said that I was going home. I was at Ta' Pintu. A man
in a car asked if I wanted a lift home but I said that it was OK. I was
going up the hill of the Crucifix and I was hit with a pain in the stomach.
It passed but I waited for a car to arrive, got in and got a lift home.
My wife was home and she prepared some hot water with lemon but the pain
was very strong. They had to send for the doctor. The doctor came and
said that he didn't know what was going on. He tested me but the pain
went away. When he left, the pain came back, very strongly and I vomited,
so strong was the pain.
The doctor came back, then the professor came and ordered the ambulance to
take me to hospital as quickly as possible. When I arrived, they gave me an
injection, and I wasn't even in the door yet. They admitted me in and I
spent two months in hospital.
You know what I had. I had an inflamation of the liver, that's what I had.
I was always healthy, so I never knew what it was like to be sick.