Friday, 8 April 2016

Fascinating Friday - The Maltese Orkney Hut

While researching for our WW1 exhibition, I recently read this interesting letter from the Orcadian Newspaper from 29th Dec 1917.

"To the Editor of the Orcadian, November 23, 1917.
DEAR SIR,- For more than eighteen months I have had the privilege of being Y.M.C.A. Leader in the large convalescence camp on this island where the Orkney Hut is situated. Before I leave Malta, I should like to write a personal word of thanks to the people of Orkney for the work they have enabled the Y.M.C.A. to do in this corner of the war area.

When I came to the camp, the Orkney Hut was in course of erection by the convalescents. Hardly had it been opened, when the number of men in the camp began to increase by leaps and bounds. The camp is in an unusually isolated position, opportunities for getting into town are few and expensive, and centres of recreation were at that time few. Such as there were, were all packed out from early morning until late at night. It is difficult to imagine, as men themselves have often said to me, what they would have done in those crowded days without the Orkney Hut.

It was at this time that we had the pleasure of welcoming the Rev. Robert Steen as a worker in the Hut. He is still remembered by a few men in the camp and many who are now scattered on different fronts carry with the memory of this genial and kindly personality, and are glad to have been his friends.

All through the long evenings of last winter, the Hut was uncomfortably full. It was often difficult to push one's way through the crowds of men who, after all the chairs and forms had been occupied, were quite content with "standing room only" provided they could enjoy the warmth and light of the Hut. They greatly valued the opportunity for a smoke, which was denied them under canvas. Our refreshment queue would often stretch right down one side of the Hut and out the far door, and would continue without break from six to nine in the evening.

Last March it was decided to add twenty-four feet to the length of the Hut, and to build a tiled verandah along one side. For the funds to carry out this enlargement the Y M C A was again indebted to Orkney. The Hut is now the largest hall in the camp, and the camp authorities have asked to be allowed to use it for all camp concerts and entertainments. During the hot summer months the cool shade of the verandah has been a real boon to the men, and the enlargement of the Hut itself has made all the difference between uncomfortable stuffiness and roomy ventilation.

While a great deal of our time has naturally been taken up in providing tea, cakes, and cigarettes for the men - not forgetting the egg and sausage suppers for which the Hut gained quite a local reputation last winter! - we have tried to bear in mind also their intellectual and spiritual needs. Last winter a small but enthusiastic men formed the "Orkney Literary Society" which met once a week to discuss all kinds of subjects from Prehistoric Monuments to the Modern Newspaper. This society has been revived this winter. On New Year's night and on Burns Night, special celebrations were arranged for the Scottish Troops, organised by one of the chaplains, who was himself a Scotsman. Classes have also been held in French, shorthand, book-keeping and arithmetic. Every night at 9 o'clock a halt is called in the evening's business and pleasure, and in a brief service of hymn and prayer we seek to turn the men's minds to those things which are unseen but Eternal.

During the last eighteen months, men from all parts of the British Isles and from hundreds of units of the British Army have passed through this camp. Almost every mail brings letters from those who have left us, expressing gratitude for the work that has been done. I would pass on their gratitude to the people of Orkney, and thank them, in the name of the men and in my own name, for their continued interest in the Orkney Hut. - Yours sincerely,
H. C. Oakley, Y M C A Headquarters, Valletta."

I showed my colleague the letter, and he in turn showed me the following archive photograph of a group of workers calling themselves the "Convalescent Men". My colleague did not know where the men were or when the photo was taken.

Perhaps they were on Malta? Perhaps they built the Orkney Hut?

A quick search on the internet gave me this website about Malta Military Hospitals where I scrolled down to Voluntary Help and found that an Orkney Hut was built at Ghain Tuffieha in Malta.

Location of Ghajn Tuffieha on Malta

Another search gave me this website about Military Hospitals in Malta where I scrolled down to the section on Convalescent Camp Ghajn Tuffieha and found photographs of the camp and more information about its size and the people that ran it. It doesn't mention the Orkney Hut in particular, but it may have been one of the "recreation rooms erected by the Church Army".

So far these are all dots which I am not sure connect up. If anyone has any more information, please do get in touch either by commenting below or by email to

References: Orcadian newspaper 29th Dec 1917, page 2; Orkney Photographic Archive negative number L9986/1; Google maps of Malta. YMCA = Young Men's Christian Association


  1. How interesting! The letter certainly paints a vivid picture of the importance of this Orkney Hut. I hope you will hear from readers who may be able to help connect more of the dots.

    1. Thanks for your comment. We're also scouring the newspapers of the time to find more information.

  2. I recently smooth-read a book, "The Uncensored Letters of a Canteen Girl," which was written by a young woman who organized and ran several YMCA Huts in France. She mentions troops from Scotland several times, but doesn't know where in Scotland they're from. It's a fascinating glimpse into WWI. I'll email you the link, since I'm not sure it's ok to put a live link in here.


    1. Thanks Sue, I look forward to seeing it.


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