There was a time when St Francis Ravelin, today MEPA’s premises in Floriana, was teeming with young British soldiers and army nurses. Gerald Sydney and Vivienne Schembri-Rutzen, who both served with the British Services, look back on their time here with nostalgia. Last month OUTLOOK accompanied MEPA employee Denis Darmanin, and took the pair on a tour of the grounds they served in until the closure of British military establishments between 1978 and 1979. St Francis Ravelin is today known as the place where to address any planning or environmental issues. But there was a time when these premises accommodated the living quarters for young British soldiers and army nurses, the British Forces Broadcasting Service, the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes (NAAFI), and was the administrative base for the British Forces’ uniformed police, inclusive of a ‘lock-up’.
Although many may not be aware, most of MEPA’s premises were previously barracks and other military establishments built and used by the British Services while in Malta. A partially defaced ‘1865’ – on what was formerly the main doorway’s keystone - marks the earliest dated building, today’s Main Block, and the Chairman’s Block bears the slightly obscured ‘1914’. Mr Sydney recalls how he was based in Malta, and posted at St Francis Ravelin as a young Lance Corporal with the 3rd Commando Brigade, within the Royal Marines Police, detached to 41 Commando Royal Marines. He points out that “This location was ideal, as duties demanded that the brigade be close to Valletta, so as to be quick to attend to any troubles involving the British military, particularly in the bars in Strait Street (then known as ‘The Gut’).” Nostalgically Ms Schembri-Rutzen pointed out that the British Services not only employed British nationals but also engaged Maltese civilians in various capacities, and she was one of two Maltese to be engaged at St Francis. She spent 12 years as secretary, mainly in the Special Investigation Branch under the Provost Marshal. Both Mr Sydney and Ms Schembri-Rutzen recall a building in the rear staff car park which served as a Mess for the junior ranks, and explain that today’s canteen was once a bedding store and later the NAAFI headquarters. The present Enforcement Building (Block 4) served as the quarters of the Queen Alexandria Royal Army Nursing Service, and the Chairman’s Block was originally two semi-detached living quarters for two senior officers and their families.