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INTERVIEW | Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Major Stanley Clews, I presume

In the heart of Sliema, Major Stanley Clews MBE takes some time out of his busy schedule to talk to Bianca Caruana about his life during wartime, and what fate had in store for him afterwards

“My father was originally from Malta and our family surname used to be Aquilina. The family legally adopted my mother’s name by Deed Poll in 1939 when we were in the United Kingdom. It was changed just before the war broke out because my father was thought to be an Italian and was almost arrested.”

Major Stanley Clews has been writing his memoirs for the past 11 years in the hope of passing them down to his children, and their children, and now their children. He became a proud great grandfather last year and he proudly shows pictures of the latest addition to the Clews family. He tells me he would never have imagined the life he has lived, and he has enjoyed every moment of it.
“Fate has a funny way of surprising a person. I had originally planned to build a career in the army, and at 17 years of age, I successfully sat for the Army Entrance Examination 1941 for Short Service Commission in Royal Engineers.”
From the tender age of 19, Stanley served with the 212 Bomb Disposal Unit, clearing unexploded bombs in the Valletta and Cottonera areas for three months. He was then stationed in North Africa, Italy and the Sudan. Asking him if he was scared doing such a job, he tells me about the perspective normally obtained by soldiers working in the army, and of a close call he once had when he was part of a convoy heading towards the Lebanese city, Tripoli.
“Soldiers always believe that they will never be the one to die in the war. This helps the fear subside, although the fear of losing a limb or one of the senses is always there. As an officer, one is always worried about the troupe and so becomes selfless.
“I remember being on a utility truck and I was placed in what can only be described as a hole above the truck to keep an eye on everything ahead and behind the convoy. The truck skidded and the driver’s side ended up on a mine. The mine exploded, the driver died but somehow I just shot out of the hole, and woke up in a hospital in Tripoli.”
Suffering minor injuries and a burst eardrum, Stanley recovered well to continue the journey of his life. In 1944, Stanley took a spontaneous trip to Malta where he planned to spend his leave. He went to a dance with a friend in May, only to meet the love of his life, to whom he was married the following December.
“When I applied for his approval to get married, my Commanding Officer wondered whether I had got some young lady in the ‘family way’; others wanted to know just what a Maltese young lady looked like. When I produced Vera’s photo my fellow officers were pleasantly surprised – and very jealous!” he grinned.
Stanley retired from the army at the age of 24 and permanently moved to Malta in 1947 with his wife and daughter Lauren. With the help of Mabel Strickland, he became a sports reporter with the Sunday Times, a post he held until 1959. He then worked at Malta Drydocks for 25 years.
Sadly, Vera died from cancer in 1983 at the age of 61, leaving Stanley heartbroken. He then retired a year later and took to keeping himself as busy as he could handle.
“The house felt empty and it was difficult to get myself into a routine. I became very close to my children and I try to be as involved in their lives as possible. My grandchildren call me Gramps. I am also known as ‘The Major’ and ‘Don Clews’. I find it comforting and it amuses me to think that I am those things. I am so proud of my family. I am still involved in numerous things and it feels good although I may have to stop a couple of things because it is truly too much.”
Apart from writing his memoirs, which he is hoping to print in book form, Stanley has since become National Chairman of the George Cross Island Association, Vice Chairman of the Malta Memorial District Nursing Association Management Board, chairman of the Malta Racing Club and Malta Union Club. He has also been Editor of ‘The Malta Yearbook’ for the last 18 years amongst many other things. The number of positions held by Stanley would be impossible to fully list in such a small space.
“In 1992 I was also presented with an Honorary MBE by Queen Elizabeth II and, then President of the Republic, Censu Tabone. The Queen came to Malta to unveil the Siege Bell Monument, which the Malta Branch of the GCIA had contributed so much to.”
Major Stanley Clews is now looking forward to his 85th birthday and a great party. As his grandson Matthew so aptly put it on his 80th birthday: “I know that you’ll join me / Let’s raise up our glasses / You don’t have to stand / You can sit on your… chairs! Ladies and Gentlemen, Stanley!”


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