More than 70 years after she was photographed walking alongside Christina Ratcliffe, a cabaret performer decorated for her wartime efforts, Lisa Mallia will relive the “harshest yet loveliest years”.
On Friday, Ms Mallia will watch a musical called Star of Strait Street about her post-WWII friend, whom she met aged eight in the Morning Star club on St Nicholas Street, Valletta.
In March, this newspaper ran an article about Ms Ratcliffe, who landed in Malta as a cabaret performer and later enrolled as a civilian plotter in the Operations Room in Lascaris.
The people behind the play, by Philip Glassborow, asked readers whether they knew Lisa, a girl who appeared in a couple of photos with Ms Ratcliffe.
“My sister Rosie saw the article and called me up. When she mentioned Christina, I didn’t let her finish her sentence. I immediately asked: ‘Christina of the Morning Star?’” Ms Mallia, née Debattista, told the Times of Malta.
The woman, aged 80 years and two months, was born, raised and married in Valletta.
Despite moving to Cospicua, she inched her way back to the capital, moving to Floriana and then Valletta, but she soon had to leave for St Paul’s Bay because of her husband’s business.
“I mourn Valletta, and if I had to move back, I would. I really miss the sense of community and family we had there. We all cared for and looked out for each other,” added Ms Mallia, accompanied by her grandson Ryan d’Ugo.
One of seven siblings who lived together in one large room, Ms Mallia will never forget how, as soon as the air raid siren would go off, they would all head to the shelter holding a striped red sofa cover over them, shielding themselves from shrapnel.
“I remember shrapnel raining around us. We would then wait it out at the shelter until the all-clear was sounded.”
In those years, her mother ran a ‘bazaar’, which stocked toiletries, linen and pillows, among other products, in Strada Ospedale, close to Strada Stretta. The shop has since been pulled down. Sometimes, she would send eight-year-old Lisa after barmaids to collect some of the money they owed, which they paid back in instalments.
“I would go up Strada San Giuseppe, turn the corner and step into the Morning Star. Christina, who used to sing there, immediately took a liking to me.
“It started off with a ‘Hello’ and a ‘What’s your name?’ and led to several walks along the streets.
“Sometimes, she would buy me sweets. I remember that on the day that photograph was taken, Christina had asked me to help her carry a cauldron. I was all dressed up, wearing a belt and handbag given to me by my grandma Rose.”
Ms Mallia’s memories of Strada Stretta and the area nearby remain vivid. She lists a series of shops, recalling the owners’ names and nicknames, performers and customers of her mother, known as Mari ta’ Njellu.
The post-war years kept Ms Mallia busy, as she did several odd jobs, including styling barmaids’ hair, tailoring and cleaning houses. They were the “harshest but loveliest times”.
She will always remember Ms Ratcliffe, whom she considered a great friend, as “endearing” and someone “you could not help but fall in love with”.
Ms Mallia last saw Ms Ratcliffe before she left Malta to visit her family in the UK.
Ms Ratcliffe eventually re-turned to Malta, but they never met again.
Star of Strait Street, starring Polly March and Larissa Bonaci, will be presented again on Friday at the MADC Playhouse in Santa Venera. Performances will be at 7pm and 9pm.
More information is available on http://booking.madc.com.mt/bookings/Shows.aspx?pid=53.