In Mediterranean lore, ‘The Morning Star’ is a planet, especially Venus, when visible in the east before sunrise. As Adrian ‘Warby” Warburton spots his Venus, Christina Ratcliffe, from the cockpit of his Spitfire, a war had begun to rage that would ignite personalities and passions, and derail one of the biggest attempted land grabs in history. We learn all this within a few seconds of meeting former RAF Group Captain Paul McDonald, who has now transitioned to professional author having penned ‘Malta’s Greater Siege’ which inspired Philip Glassborow to pen ‘Star of Strait Street’.
Warby, Wing Commander Warburton, became legendary in the RAF for his role in the defence of Malta. A son of Malta, Warburton was christened on board a submarine in Grand Harbour, Valletta. The flying ace was educated at St Edward’s School in Oxford, where Sir Douglas Bader was also educated. The famous pilot took some incredible risks, prior to Admiral Cunningham’s surprise Taranto night attack, he circled Taranto harbour several times, then his cameras failed. Undeterred, Warburton then flew so low, his observer was able to read off the names of the battleships as they flew past. Guided by this intelligence, the Fleet Air Arm launched its devastating attack that night.
One important source for McDonald was meeting Maltese author Frederick Galea, whose ‘Carve Malta on my Heart’ revealed a great deal of Christina and Adrian’s story. Someone else who has given a voice to hero Warby, is the voice given full force in Philip Glassboro’s musical ‘Star of Strait Street‘. Warby was a star in the sky. The star who is the title of ‘The Morning Star’, is Christina Ratcliffe. She helped turn The Morning Star Club in Melita Street into the most popular cabaret and club of the entire Mediterranean Fleet.
To help the war effort, Christina volunteered as a plotter, air traffic monitoring that played a vital role in World War II, quickly becoming a Captain of a team of 18 plotters hidden deep in the tunnels below Valletta, listening to the radio traffic of the pilots, even when many of them had close personal relationships with the pilots. Christina championed the recruitment of Maltese girls, who became an essential part of the war effort. Christina was promoted to Assistant Controller and awarded the British Empire Medal in 1943.
For those wanting to know what Christina looks like, two photos of her hang in The Phoenicia’s Club Bar, and the performance of ‘Star of Strait Street‘ will be performed in the hotel’s Grand Ballroom next week (15th May 2018), a venue which was not available when Christina and her troup ‘The Whizz Bangs’ formed in order to entertain the troops. This pin-up girl of the Fleet fell for her reconnaissance pilot in a period where love meant a few stopovers between missions.
Christina was an author, who according to McDonald, is “historically important”. If the kind of history that Warby was making had the British High command issuing praise then Christina’s memoirs are given a value beyond her daily life, and she was decorated for her wartime contributions. The two heroes had a few short periods together between January 1941 and November 1943, when Warby took orders for a flight to North Africa, but sadly was never able to return, and soon after disappears without a trace after receiving orders from Elliott Roosevelt, son of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
As as colonel of the Northwest African Photographic Reconnaissance Wing during this period, a sub-command of the Mediterranean Air Command, Elliott worked on the shuttlebombing project with the USSR, which is what probably got Warby killed flying a secret mission in a special US 8th Air Force reconnaissance plane. Why was Warby sent and not a US pilot? That’s an intriguing question, but Warby’s status for pulling off critical missions was by this time unparalleled.
Military aviation combat always began with reconnaissance, which has always fed into military strategy. It’s no coincidence that young Warby was interested in contributing to that vital element for military command, his father had been a high-ranking naval officer. Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Tedder considered him ‘The most valuable pilot in the RAF’ having flown 395 operational missions mostly from Malta to provide information that ultimately stopped the Axis powers from taking the Suez Canal.
The Siege of Malta in the Second World War was a military campaign in the Mediterranean Theatre. For Tedder to attribute Warburton so highly, it was this campaign that saved the Allies from a loss that would give Europe and the world a distorted shape. Malta helped stop the world from falling to the Axis powers. That Siege was based on General Erwin Rommel, in de facto field command of Axis forces in North Africa, recognising its importance quickly. In May 1941, he warned that “Without Malta the Axis will end by losing control of North Africa”. In fact, for 28 thunderous months it was the most bombed place on planet earth.
McDonald’s reconnaissance compiling ‘Malta’s Greater Siege’ has led to the idea for another book, which will tell the story of the heroine plotters, to be called ‘The Ladies of Lascaris’. We look forward to welcoming Paul back to The Phoenicia as he researches and writes his next book.
Christina waited for the rest of her life for her love Adrian Warburton to return. She never knew his fate. He was shot down by the Germans over Bavaria, his body lay undiscovered until found in a field outside Munich and later laid to rest at the Commonwealth War Graves there.
Christina chose to spend the rest of her life in Malta, the island she grew to love, and passed away here in the 1980’s still waiting for her beloved Warby to return. During her time on the island, the English newspaper The Star carried a five-part article penned by Christina herself on her wartime experience in Malta, called ‘One woman goes to war’. In 1974, the Maltese newspaper Malta News expanded this story, under the heading ‘Carve Malta on my heart’, in a series of 15 parts. Ms Ratcliffe wrote five articles for The Sunday Times of Malta, which appeared in 1974, 1975, 1980 and 1982.
Want to stay with us?
Want to hear more?