From our archives: Dramatic war-time tale of Navy battle to reach Malta

This old image shows Cockburn Lane in Boston (now known as Cornhill Lane) - from around 200 years ago.

This old image shows Cockburn Lane in Boston (now known as Cornhill Lane) - from around 200 years ago.

1944: A ships carpenter in the Merchant Navy recounted his dramatic experiences in a Mediterranean convoy battle to get to Malta.

Bob Craske, of Tower Road, was building boats on the placid River Witham before he was called to serve in the Navy.

As a ship’s carpenter he visited India, New Zealand and Argentina. It was in the latter country when the war broke out and he was soon in service on the high seas.

His greatest adventure was in June, 1942, when in the 10,350-ton steamship ‘Orari’ he was on the famous trip to Malta.

The country had been isolated without supplies for months so six merchant ships were charged with the job of getting through to the island.

Everyone on board knew the odds they were facing. Each ship was crammed with thousands of tons of cargo - from food to ammunition.

The convoy was escorted to Gibralter by battleships, aircraft carriers, heavy cruisers, destroyers and sloops. It wasn’t long before the impressive fleet was attacked by enemy aircraft.

Mr Craske said: “Planes came over in formations of 30-50, flying from all directions. Bombs dropped were so numerous that it was impossible to keep count of them.

“Gunners on the merchant ships and naval escorts fought stripped to the waist, their guns almost red hot.

“Thirty enemy aircraft were shot down, some by Hurricanes from the aircraft carriers. During that night, flares were dropped by planes and surface craft attacked. A submarine was sunk by the escort but a cruiser was hit and a Dutch merchant ship was sunk by torpedo planes.

At dawn the next day two Italian cruisers and five destroyers appeared and opened fire. The escorts laid a smoke screen to protect the convoy, and dashed in to attack the Italian ships. the enemy fled.

Later on Sicilian bombers attacked and another merchant ship laden with high explosives was hit, burst into flames and began careering madly out of control in the middle of the convoy. The other ships crammed on extra speed and raced away to avoid her. Finally the crew abandoned her, and just as they left all her oil tanks exploded. She sank, leaving a tremendoud pall of fire and smoke.

“After that, air attacks were incessant for the rest of the journey. Between Pantelleria and Malta, submarines also attacked, without success. Then two more merchant ships were sunk by dive-bombers. Only two of the original ships were left - including the ‘Oraria’ which was damaged after it hit a mine - but she continued to limp along.

Port was reached and the two surviving merchant ships sailed triumphantly in. It was past midnight and the people of Malta were lining the harbour cheering.”Before daylight, the 20,000 tons of cargo, food, munitions and petrol were being unloaded.

“Those supplies helped to make possible our victory in the Mediterranean.”

Photo: This image of Boston shows just how much parts of the town have changed over the last two centuries – and how the Stump has stood virtually unchanged for many more. The picture, of Cockburn Lane (now known as Cornhill Lane) was posted on our Facebook wall by the group South Holland and Boston’s blast from the past archives.

In the centre of the picture is a building known as the Buttercross, which was built in 1732 and demolished in 1822.


Bertie the adventurous chicken caused upset to his young owner Ted Crooks when he went missing by accidentally hitching a ride under a car.

The Bantam chicken was in his garden at Sandy Bank, New York, with Ted when he suddenly vanished under the wheels of his uncle George Crooks’ car as he was leaving the house. Ted, 13, saw him no more that day and assumed he had been squashed.

Mr Crooks drove to several locations over the next day,amid freezing conditions. But later that afternoon Mr Crooks heard a clucking in his garage and lifted the bonnet to see a weary Bertie peeping out. The plucky bird had clung perilously to the underneath of the car for 61 miles.

1964: An elderly woman spoke of how she attempted to fight off a mugger who left her lying in the gutter after unsuccessfully trying to snatch her bag.

The would-be thief had not reckoned on the spirit of 80-year-old Jessie Mitchell who hung on grimly, and after a brief struggle he gave up and ran away.

Miss Mitchell, of Princess Street, Boston, was only feet from her own front gate when the mugger struck – running from behind and snatching her bag containing shopping and £12 from her housekeeping money.

She said: “My fingers closed on that bag like a vice and I won the battle.

“But unfortunately when he let go I fell and rolled over on the pavement into the gutter in the snow.”

l TV personality Jim Davidson got the surprise of his life when two pals turned up from Boston for the This is Your Life programme.

Ron Lee and Brian Shepherd struck up a friendship with Jim when they lived in London. Ron and his friends had previously decided to repay Jim for his practical jokes.

Jim was tied up and left on a doorstep. A huge boxer dog came bounding out of the house to give Jim a real licking.

Ron said: “He was always the joker. I am really pleased to see him get on.”




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