Ladies of Lascaris – Christina Ratcliffe and the Forgotten Heroes of Malta’s War, Paul McDonald

Ladies of Lascaris – Christina Ratcliffe and the Forgotten Heroes of Malta’s War, Paul McDonald

This book focuses on the women who served in the RAF’s control room at Lascaris on Malta during the prolonged Italian and German aerial assault on the island. This was the equivilent to the famous fighter command control rooms of the Battle of Britain, but operating at a similar high pace for years instead of months, and while everyone involved was the target of one of the longest and most intense aerial attacks of all time.

At the heart of the book is Christina Radcliffe, who moved to Malta before the war to work as a dancer, when it was a major British fleet base, and was effectively trapped by the war. She became involved in a romance with Adrian Warburton, who became the most decorated RAF photo-reconnaissance pilot of all time, before being lost in action in 1944. There is a generally melencholy tone to much of this book. We start with the death of Christina, the author’s original arrival in Malta, and the discovery of Warburton’s body 59 years after his death, and the knowledge of how their relationship ends casts a bit of a shadow over the rest of the book.

It isn’t all doom and gloom of course. We start with Christina’s pre-war life in show buisiness, which brought her to Malta when it was still the home base of the British Mediterranean Fleet. The early stages of the siege, where the attackers were Italian, was hard but not as desperate as it later became. We also follow several other people, giving us a wider view of what life was like. The author gives a good impression of the pressures and tensions of living under constant bombardment, with much time away from the control room being spent in air raid shelters (although they weren’t always entirely safe either). We also get plenty of material on the actual siege itself, from the nature of the aerial fighting to the various attempts to get supplies to Malta, which help put the main characters experiences in perspective.

This is an atmospheric book that gives a good feel for the horrors of the long aerial siege of Malta, and how this remarkable group of Maltese and British women worked under intense pressure in the RAF control room to help organise the defence of the island.

Chapters
1 – Connections
2 – Dancing Shoes & Stepping Stones
3 – War
4 – The Whizz-Bangs
5 – Heartbreak
6 – ‘A Greek God’
7 – Aircraft Plotter
8 – Ladies of Lascaris
9 – Breaking Point
10 – Spitfire Summer
11 – Warby’s World
12 – Autumn
13 – Pour que tu me n’oublie pas completement
14 – ‘Carved on my Heart’
15 – The End of a Quest
15 – Star of Strait Street

Author: Paul McDonald
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 322
Publisher: Pen & Sword History
Year: 2018


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