My friend Marylyn Peringer, a professional storyteller, has had the most marvellous experience reconnecting with her roots. Since 2003, she has visited Malta four times, to meet relatives and use Maltese archives to research folktales. Last year, the people of Malta recognized her for her contribution to their national history. Hers is a wonderful story.
Her father, George Salter, was in the British army during World War I. When the war broke out, he found himself in Malta, working in the accounting office of a prisoner of war camp called Verdala. Among other duties, he was responsible for the money which relatives sent to their family members held in the camp. The interns were nationals of many countries: Germans, Austrians, Turks, Bulgarians, Greeks, Serbs; many sailors and other civilians who were in Egypt and Malta when the war began. Marylyn’s father had an autograph album where he collected entries from over 200 of the inmates. Their contributions included poetry, drawings, paintings, and written testimonials in a variety of languages, all depicting life in the camp and the interaction between the interns and her father. It was a treasure trove.
When her father returned to Britain after the camp closed in 1920, he kept the album. Widowed after the death of his first wife, George went to Malta in 1933 to marry the Maltese woman whom he had met in the accounting office at the camp. In 1940, four-year-old Marylyn and her mother joined relatives in the United States while her father stayed behind in Britain. They never saw him again. He died from tuberculosis during World War II. His album went with his effects to one of his sisters and, eventually, to Marylyn’s mother. After her death, it came to Marylyn.
In 2013, Marylyn decided to return the autograph album (then 99 years old) to Malta, to mark the 100th Anniversary of World War I last year. She visited the National Archives there and showed the album to the curator. She also found a geography teacher in a school near the site of the camp who had written a blog about the local history of the area, including the camp. She brought the album to the school, told stories to the students, and established contact with the school archivist. Everyone loved the album. Later, the Archives wrote her saying they wanted to make a book of her father’s autograph album, and include some other materials about the Verdala camp that they had accumulated. The German government provided funding for publication, on the stipulation that some copies go to Germany.
Last November, the National Archives of Malta flew Marylyn to Malta for The Salter Album book launch and related festivities. There, she gave a lecture about her use of the Archives, and the German ambassador thanked her for bringing the album to light. Marylyn reports that the book is “gorgeous,” published in the shape of an autograph album with a photograph of her father and a pen and ink drawing of the camp on the front cover. The Maltese Consulate in Toronto is presently working to import copies of the book to Canada. All this, because Marylyn recognized the value of her father’s autograph album and took the initiative to see that it would be preserved for posterity. Good work, Marylyn.
With thanks to Marylyn and her daughter, Christine Peringer, for the photos.