EYEWITNESS - 1940
Many books have been published about Malta during World War II, especially the Siege of Malta years. Generally these have been written after the end of the War. This diary is authentic and was written between 10th June 1940 and 1st April 1942. The photographs have been added to complement the text.
Note attached to this diary
THE SIEGE OF MALTA
It was on the night of June 10th that Italy declared war as from midnight. It was only at six o’clock that very evening that His Excellency had made a short broadcast which was not more ominous than expected. I recall that one of his points was that people should not withdraw their money from the Government Savings Bank.
On Tuesday June 11th, we woke at 06.45 to the scream of the air raid siren. It is not a scream really, but quite a melodious pair of notes - a major third, I think. But, since it rises from a low note to a high one, and then warbles up and down continuously in a chromatic scale, it give the impression of a shriek. Probably this is emphasised psychologically, by the fact that its warbling note means danger. Indeed when with its steady note it announces “Raiders passed” it has quite a pleasant sound.
On the first morning of the local war, the siren practically synchronised with a furious outburst of anti-aircraft fire all around us. We hurried into dressing gowns, and ran to the Crypt collecting the two frightened maids as we went. The fire was severe; windows and doors rattling, and the crump of bombs falling. There are three A.A. guns 600 yards away, clearly visible from our drawing-room windows, and indeed guns on all sides of us at about the same distance. I do not know how long the action lasted - perhaps 15 minutes. Ten planes, we were told, in two formations. We had 8 raids during that day, by far the worst being the last, when firing went on for about 30 minutes at about 7.30 p.m. It was a terrifying experience. I could hear bombs dropping. The sound is quite different from gunfire. It is a thick sound, and the word “crump” just describes it.
Next day we found that a bomb had missed St. John’s Co-Cathedral by 20 feet, but fortunately did not explode. Since then we have had raids practically every day. The total to date is 53 in 22 days, and perhaps 5 days on which we have been exempt. In the first eight days we had 37 civilians killed and 112 wounded, as well as a few soldiers casualties.
Sometimes there has been an interval between the warning siren and either the drone of planes or gunfire. So we got careless and did not hurry down stairs. But on several occasions, bombs have been dropped and gunfire opened without any warning whatever; and as there is only one storey in our living quarters, we waste no time, particularly as our roof is modern and thinly constructed. A bomb dropped before siren or gunfire close to the Barracca Church and Fortress H.Q., shattering the Church windows. Luckily it fell in the great ditch, demolishing only a motor garage.
On June 30th we had our first night raid. It was full moon and we had been anticipating night trouble for days. It was highly unpleasant. I heard the drone of a plane about 11.55 p.m., which I think must have woken me. It got louder and louder till it seemed to be overhead; and there was no gunfire. One of ours, I thought. Suddenly there was a frightful crump, and a blast of gunfire. Next day the huge floating dock had its back broken. I think we must have been caught napping, though the story told locally is that the damage was not due to enemy action.
We had four raids that night. I heard the drone of the engine; it got louder and louder, and again seemed to be very low and exactly overhead. Had I any hair on the top of my bald pate, I should say that I felt it standing on end. But in the absence of hair, it felt as though a severe rash was breaking out on my cranium !
There are three sinister sounds now well known to us:- the rising note of the siren, the hum of the plane’s engines, and the blast of gunfire. And there are twenty different every-day sounds which our tingling nerves mis-interpret as one or other of these. The worst is the revving-up of a motor car speeding in low gear. This is also the commonest, for everybody drives fast now to reach his next point before a warning sounds - and the roads of Valletta are mostly hilly.
But there are many other sounds which suggest one or other of these horrors; and again and again one pauses to listen. We are told that the whistle of the falling bomb is odious and much dreaded. But hitherto, in the Cathedral Crypt we have not heard it.
24th July 1940. Up to the present, we have had about ninety raids; it would have been more; but last week there was a lull, and for three days we had a welcome rest. Previously there had been about two raids daily.
On July 10th we had a particularly unpleasant affair. At 8 o’clock, just as we were about to start Mass, it began. The guns near us were firing furiously, and we could hear bombs exploding. Suddenly there were bombs all round us, and then two almost simultaneous frightful blasts. The maids cried out and we all four closed towards one another to touch one another. The bangs were followed by the crash of falling stones and breaking glass; I felt sure that some part of the house was hit.
I am told that the plane was damaged and was emptying his bomb-racks in the hope of getting away, but he is said to have crashed. The gunfire ceased in a minute or two; and without waiting for the “Raiders passed”, I went to look for a possible unexploded bomb. I found broken glass in the dining room. The bay window in the drawing room is very large indeed, about 15 feet long, and was unharmed; the middle pair of windows were left wide open. I expected at least to find the big electric light bowl to be swinging; but no. And the big Sicilian glass demijohn which - converted into a lamp standard - stands upon the piano in line with the window was unscathed. Yet the stonework of one part of the bay was cracked, and the plaster round the seating of every one of the girders was shaken.
Sound and Fury. Personally we were not so shaken by that raid as by one on June 23rd, when a bomb dropped in Strada Mercanti. That made a most unholy noise; but we now know that Valletta is full of vast cellars and even halls, which are now being excavated as shelters, and doubtless there is a great echo.
That bomb made a sort of rumbling roar; it dug a small crater in the road and flung pieces of asphalt on to the roofs 30 feet above; it broke a small water main and many shop windows. Had it been any day but Sunday afternoon there would have been many killed. But it did no damage to walls other than superficial splinters. It is an old street (1570) and the builders of those days built their walls 3, 4, or 5 feet thick.
But there are many new and jerry-built houses in Malta, the net increase in the population is 4000 per annum; and the island with its 2500 people to the square mile is one of the most thickly populated places in the world - so that direct hits in villages and some suburbs have caused considerable casualties. That Sunday raid, as I say, shook us. For several hours after were jumpy, unwilling to talk and without appetite.
Various friends have had a bad time. There is no glass in the Ohlson’s house which was only 50 yards from that Sunday’s bomb, but they are unmoved and will not change their abode. Miss Standingford’s house was demolished but luckily she was sheltering in the Bastion. The Nixons had one very close and their windows were all broken. They wisely fled. The Brierleys at Bighi Hospital have been in the centre of the target on several occasions.
The earlier raids were mostly aimed at the Dockyard; but our fighter planes have been so bold and efficient that not only have the enemy been compelled to approach at a much greater height, but they seem to have been trying to destroy our very small number of planes before attacking ground objectives. There has been little or no dive bombing - due, we hope, to the accuracy of our ground defences. Latterly the raiders have flown at about 20,000 feet.
We have taken some prisoners, and they are said to have confessed that they find our fire accurate and heavy. One Italian said that every bomber carries two Germans, and we suppose that this is to put a stiffening into the Italian pilots. One has to admit that our enemies seem to have made some effort to concentrate on military objectives; but I imagine that at 20,000 feet the aim cannot be as accurate as at lower heights; and anyhow practically everywhere could be called a military objective. The Island is stiff with guns.
A summary of known damage is very small. The floating dock would have been a great loss three years ago, when all the big ships came to Malta from Alexandria for scraping and boiler-cleaning; but now that there is one such at Alexandria ours has scarcely been used. One submarine got a direct hit while in Dockyard hands; and doubtless this is a definite loss until she can be repaired, which may be a long time; and we have lost one plane and its gallant pilot. Apart from these, it seems to be all “sound and fury”.
St.Angelo has been hit more than once, and the Navy there has had to resort to underground quarters; Bighi Hospital got hit by a lone glider; not a sound was heard until the two bombs dropped. (We heard them clearly, and ran for it; and since then we have never felt quite happy during that hour after sunset). An innocent Sick Berth Assistant was killed and a doctor slightly wounded, the Operating Theatre and X-ray room were demolished. About 100 unfortunately have been killed - nearly all civilians - and about double that number wounded. But at what a cost to the enemy.
Some 12 planes quite certainly down and another 9 probably lost also. This estimate, we are told is definitely on conservative lines. And our defenders are always out numbered. We are said to have only three planes. But we have more now. It is the old story of unpreparedness. But the success of our pilots here gives us great confidence, and what is even more important, makes me think that the almost fantastic ratio of successes announced daily on the official wireless for the Channel Front may be true.
Italian bombers over Malta
Domestic life has suffered. The house is dark. We keep all rooms, not at the moment in use, shuttered. There is no time, in many of the raids, to shut windows and fasten shutters; with guns banging in the distance and others nearer to us opening fire, one has an irresistible urge to get under cover as quickly as possible ! Yet one wishes to install as much protection as possible. At the Manoel Island raid, there were half a dozen lumps of bomb in the garden and on the roof. There was also an enormous piece of bright steel, or polished iron, half the size of your hand and weighing at least a pound lying outside the French window of the dining room. It was very hot.
Then, again, the raids are roughly twice a day - sometime in the morning, and some time in the evening. One never knows when. But always on Saturday night and Sundays.
We have cut down many things. Though food is not rationed to any troublesome degree, we eat very simply - in fact I am thinner than I have been for years. My wife is positively down to an ounce or two under 9 stone and she is now eating some of the fattening foods which she had discarded. We have given up coffee after lunch and dinner; we send the maids home after tea, they being happier at home than here. I bath with only an inch of water, to save coal-gas; and during the winter we lived largely in the study - partly on account of the black-out, and partly to use only one fire.
Our domestic upset is however infinitesimal compared with those who have left their homes. With the early raids in the neighbourhood of the Dockyard and Pieta, the inhabitants of the Three Cities and Valletta and Sliema, fled pell mell to the country and quartered themselves higgledy-piggledy upon their relations. The noise of gunfire is of course much less. But nowhere is safe. Nevertheless, the people are wise to leave the centre of the target. Many of the poorest classes transferred themselves, their beds, their pots and pans into one or other of the tunnels under Valletta. The old railway tunnel, so an Assistant Secretary to Government to me, holds no less than 5,000 the majority of whom never venture more than 50 yards from their troglodyte home. So long as they are under cover they are satisfied.
At first it was pretty chaotic, but things have been tidied up a bit. We may be subjected to bombardment, or to prolonged raids later, and these underground shelters would then be even more valuable than they are now. Fabulous underground halls which old inhabitants said existed under Valletta have been discovered, and Government is busy excavating.
It was queer in the first days to see the empty streets of Valletta; during the first fortnight scarcely any shops were open. But when people got more used to the raids, and realised that they came mostly twice daily, morning and evening, people began to come back during the day, returning to their country homes in the evenings.
The Governor in one of his early broadcasts begged people not to withdraw their money from the Banks. It was said in the paper that the owner of a house which was bombed lost £ 500 which he kept by him ! A first class authority told me that at least one million pounds had been withdrawn from Barclays Bank in the month following Italy’s declaration of war; and probably the same thing happened at other banks. The Government have issued about a million in paper money, including values as low as 2s 6d, because silver has almost disappeared.
An Ordinance has been issued lately forbidding any withdrawal from the banks of more than 5% of your deposits. But it was obvious that this could not be a hard and fast rule. It is now left to the Manager’s discretion. The hoarding of silver has become a nuisance; and yesterday (19th August) the Government boldly issued an Ordinance that it will henceforth be an offence to possess more than two pounds in silver coin and ten shilling in copper. It will be very interesting to see how soon small change will re-appear.
We are besieged then. On Wednesday August 7th a mail was received. It was a very joyful moment. Letters covered one week’s collection in London, between July 6th and 16th. We got six letters, and also - what I badly needed - a Church Times, and two weeks of Dr Oldham’s Christian Newsletter. It is rumoured that this mail came in a submarine. Thanks then to the good men who thought of putting that mail on board !
Apart from this we have had no mail since the very first days in June - about ten weeks; and no letters from us have reached home - not even air mail letters sent on June 10th (but which missed the flying boat which was to have left that day at 11 o’clock, but started at 8 instead) and also on July 16th. These may have been pushed into a surface ship and sent round the Cape; or perhaps shot down; or sunk. We learned by cable that one batch of our weekly letters have arrived, viz. those posted on July 13, 20, 27 and August 3.
Here are a few personal reflections.
What is the most important commodity a shortage of which would be most felt ? In the economic sphere wheat, of course. Meat is not provided in the island to any extent, but the Maltese do not eat much of it. We used to get our beef, alive, from Romania; I do not think that any has come for months, and if Romania gets swallowed up by Germany there will be none. From the military point of view, I suppose petrol for the planes (of which we now have a much larger number, including some bombers who use us as a base) and heavy oil for the Navy, whose ships come in surreptitiously to re-fuel occasionally. Ammunition for the army one supposes was provided long ago. The gas manager tells me that he has coal for about 18 months at the present rate of consumption. Electric batteries for torches ran out for a time but were replenished before Italy came in.
I cannot obtain the pleasant pale blue type-ribbon which we have used for so many years - but I suspect the carelessness of the agent, who once before forgot to order it. Paraffin, which is much used for cooking ran very short a year ago. It was a great nuisance, and I hope it will not happen again; the poor who have no gas suffered a good deal.
We waste a great deal of time ! An air raid a day keeps concentration away. We sleep in the Crypt; eerie, but one need not get up to go below in case of an alarm. The full moons of June and July were highly unpleasant; but in August, by the grace of God our enemies did not bother us. Here the moon is so bright that one can see to read at midnight. She is waxing now; shall we have attacks ? It is also very cool in the Crypt; and it has been a cool year - another thing to be thankful for. For a fortnight I slept in my clothes - a form of funk, I think. Perhaps I had an idea that I might be called out for casualties. Also I took an old hat and kept it down below ! This and a couple of iron bars, doubtless with the thought of being buried under fallen stone.
What would be the effect of bigger bombs ? And of incendiaries falling on residential quarters ? Incendiaries have been used, but mostly on the aerodromes districts. Fire is very rare in Malta. The houses have all stone floors and there are no rafters, nor wooden joists, nor skirting boards. The old houses have vast beams 18 inches square; these are the only woodwork in our houses. On the other hand there are practically no fire-fighting appliances in the place. The Dockyard has a modern fire engine; but I know of no other. Our nerves are certainly feeling it a little. People are irritable; I certainly am. We had a rather a bad raid three days ago - 7th September - bad in the sense that the Dockyard was attacked again - and the planes - a large number - were right over our heads, and we heard the bombs falling.
Since then we have had two clear days, and a third if we get through today unmolested (it is 6.15 p.m.) I think that “waiting for it” is trying. The worst thing of all is to wake up happy having forgotten that there is a war on. This has not happened to me for some time. But for years I have slept blissfully unconscious, then wakened fresh and ready for the day’s work. Then in 1935 when the first prospects of war with Italy approached, one woke miserably daily, for about six weeks. (I recall the same feelings in 1914). On the outbreak of the “second German war” it was the same. but then came that strange eight months when nothing seemed to happen.
I used to wake happy, and then would suddenly recall our son Anthony sweeping up mines in bitter weather and foul gales in the North Sea. That is over now, and he lies with about 5,000 other seamen in the deep. And so one wakes miserably; glad, of course, of the night’s rest, glad not to have been molested; but dreading what the day has to bring forth. Dreading raids on a more serious scale; fearful of casualties among loved ones at home at Portsmouth and in the Midlands; anxious for what one may read of further devilment’s, in the wisp of a newspaper, which is hardly worth the name. Anxious for London, for other countries attacked by Germany, or dragged into the Totalitarian circle, anxious about invasion.
10th September 1940. Churchill has given another summary of the war position with his usual pungency and vivid clarity. It is remarkable to think that the military casualties at the end of the first year of the last war were 365,000 whereas this time they are but 92,000 and perhaps 30,000 of these prisoners-of-war in Germany. When Baldwin said that our frontier was the Rhine he was a long way out. It is now the Channel.
On September 2nd, a Convoy arrived - two I think; one from the West and another from the East. I think its voyage must have been worked in with a big sweep of the Mediterranean Fleet which the Prime Minister mentioned a few days later in the House of Commons. It was a most thrilling day. One does not ask many questions about such movements because some people talk too much. We know that many guns arrived, for they were seen; and timber on deck. Some Australian mutton, we are told; at least one hundred tons of butter. I hope also a lot of oil. One of the ships was bombed, and hit on the after end. The Master was praised for getting the ship to harbour. There also came HMSValiant (so it is said) and some big modern cruisers. And none of them were molested. There was an air raid while they were here; but they did not stay long; and all were gone by the time darkness fell, I believe. The cargo ships of course caused more raids; but they were not hit.
The letters and papers which were brought were a source of great gladness. Indeed, but for one week’s mail brought to us by a submarine on August 7th this is the first mail we have had. Some of it came from Cairo and must therefore have gone by the Cape. Some of the letters were dated the end of May, but most of them were August. The June and July letters are still adrift.
14th October 1940. I have left this account of our conditions in Malta for some time. Not a great deal has happened that is worth recording, except the arrival of two big mails.
As regards raids, we have been much less troubled lately. Up to a few weeks ago we had two raids daily - morning and evening; then it became one per day. In the week beginning September 22nd we had four raids only. Then we had a whole week’s respite, short of a few hours. On October 8th, with a waxing moon, two planes came over at about 8 p.m. They were picked up by searchlights almost immediately; one was hit and the other shot down, and many people saw it. Two men “baled out” - a new word to me, meaning left the plane by parachute - but were not picked up. No bombs were heard, and not a single gun fired, as our fighter plane was up. But the Rome radio said lies about Malta, and this encourages us to believe that their other “news” is equally unreliable. We have shot down at the very lowest computation 28 of their planes and probably any more. We have lost two fighter planes in action, and one other whose pilot, flying in formation, with no enemy planes near, suddenly broke formation, and dived straight into the sea. It may have been heart trouble, or his oxygen supply failing; no one knows; and his body was not recovered. Also two of our bombers have been hit and burnt on the ground.
Winston Churchill gave a review of the position lately. In 4 weeks the air raid casualties in Britain were 8,500 killed, and 13,000 wounded. This was less than the Government had expected. Bombers had crossed Britain’s shores at the rate of 400 per day. The Germans claimed to have dropped 22,000 tons of bombs; one day in September they said they had loosed 250 tons on London. Our fighters were marvellous. On August 15th we brought down 187; on September 15th 185 on September 27th, 133. The danger of invasion of England was not yet over. Hitler had collected enough self propelled barges and shipping to launch on to the sea (or into it said the Prime Minister grimly), half a million men, on any night.
24th October 1940. The two mails which were brought by the Convoys which arrived on October 1st and 11th were a tremendous excitement. There were over 30 letters on the first day and other papers, bills, receipts, etc. followed on the next day - the sorting took time. The dates of posting ranged from June 8th to the last days of August ! The second batch also took about three days to sort; and the dates were also June, July and August. All higgledy-piggledy. But it was news even if three months - nay - four months adrift.
There were a few copies of the Times for the last days of May and a few issued early in June. In that of June 8th, (received on 2nd October) we discovered that our son Anthony had been Mentioned in Despatches. This is a great joy to us; and we are thankful that his and his men’s most gallant action in trying for 17 hours to save their ship, and losing their lives thereby, was noted and appreciated by the Admiralty.
On Sunday night, September 22nd, we went to stay at St. Anton Palace. We left home after Evensong and arrived for supper. For five lovely days we got away from the somewhat monotonous life that we lead. Other fellow guests were the Lieut-Governor and his wife, Colonel and Mrs. Ede, Flight-Lieutenant George Burges. The latter we already know as a most capable airman, and admirable Personal Assistant to the Air-Commodore. He proved to be also a very modest young man, and abstemious. He has brought down (I think) four Italian planes and has hit four others. He was brought to the Palace to recover from sand-fly fever.
I did a number of jobs in holiday fashion, visiting the flock in Casal Lija and Mdina, and coming in one afternoon to attend a meeting of the Legislative Council to hear what happens. All about our ‘grievances’, the only cheerful note being when it was announced that the Imperial Government is going to make up our national Budget deficit of 1¼ million pounds. The Maltese are determined to pay no taxes that they can possibly avoid; though at the present time the Home Government is paying no less than £ 400,000 per month into Malta in pay to the Services, etc., most of which is being spent here.
The stay at St Anton proved most refreshing; the spacious rooms, the wider talk; the dressing for dinner (though the soldiers of course did not dress) all made a great change for us, and we are very grateful for the invitation. General and Mrs Dobbie belong to ‘the Brethren’ and are teetotallers and non-smokers; but I found them less narrow than others whom I have met. Sherry was offered and taken !, before dinner; and though the Governor drank the King’s Health in water, his guests were not expected to do likewise. When the men joined the ladies after dinner, H.E. offered a short extempore prayer of intercession.
Lieut-General Sir William Dobbie, Governor of Malta from April 1940 until 7th May 1942
When we left on the Friday after lunch, H.E. asked whether St. Paul’s would accept a gift from a heretic; and gave me £ 10 for the Cathedral funds, which I thought very generous. We have learned that three distinguished Churchmen are interned, viz. Msgrs Pantalleresco, Paris, and Cavendish ! Not in the common internment camp; but ‘in retreat’ at one of the Institutes.
27th October 1940. I have also omitted to mention, with regards to internees, that Dr. Mizzi the leader of the Nationalist Party in Malta, was interned as soon as Italy came in; and our Chief Justice (Sir Arturo Mercieca), who has also shewn marked partiality for everything Italian, and has even made offensive remarks against the British in some of his judgements, was ordered to resign - but was given his pension. The latter has angered the Constitutionals mightily. Perhaps rightly; I do not know the ethics of it.
We are much bothered by the hoarding of silver. It is almost impossible to obtain change for half-a-crown. The Government issued an Ordinance making hoarding illegal; but it had little or no effect. Now, another Ordinance has just been issued giving authority to the Police to search houses. But I doubt whether anything will be done. The Maltese are always a very undisciplined people. It was said in the Council of Government last week that unemployment is now at its lowest for many years; but the Maltese will oppose any suggestion of Taxation - even self imposed - to the death. There is a lot of money about, and there are many rich people. There is also much real poverty.
I have written little about the war here. The reason is that the Italian air attacks, which started off in great style, and for the first month were most distinctly unpleasant, have almost died away. About every five days we have a warning, and we go to our shelter in the Crypt, or wherever we may happen to be. We hear planes, but no guns; and after half an hour or so the ‘All Clear’ is sounded, and we hear that enemy planes approached but were driven off. Last Sunday the siren sounded just as Mattins ended, and we were not released for over an hour. But I was told afterwards that it was an exercise ! However, I am not certain. Today (Sunday), we had a warning at 10 o’clock, which lasted 25 minutes; and we had a happy service after.
We were told that an enemy plane had been brought down, but shall not know for certain till tomorrow. I often wonder when they will strike at Malta; and whether it will be made by Germans; or whether they may try a tip-and-run bombardment from the sea.
We are apparently very short of petrol. For months petrol was not rationed then, soon after Italy came in, private cars were forbidden, but a good many exceptions allowed. Then suddenly all private cars were withdrawn from the roads including taxis and hired cars, and the buses allowed to run during only a few hours of the day. As at least half the population is now living in the country towns and villages, transport is a great problem; and further restrictions are threatened. I should have thought that during those early months the Government might have built storage tanks; but one must not judge without knowing the facts. I am inclined to attribute the sudden panic to Germany’s seizure of Romania. It is even possible that some tankers were just about to start from Galatz for Egypt and Malta and have been held up.
4th November 1940. The BBC gave some interesting figures a day or two ago which I think are worth noting down. Total number of German aircraft destroyed over England during the last three months - 2,442. Number of German airmen killed, or prisoners; about 6,000. German losses in aircraft are three times as many as ours; and fourteen times as many airmen. On August 15th the largest number of enemy aircraft crossed British coasts, viz. about 1,000 bombers and fighters, of which 180 were brought down. On September 15th, 185; on September 27th, 133. For 57 consecutive nights there were raids on London. Sunday November 3rd was the first night that Londoners got a wholly undisturbed night. Thirty-two churches have been destroyed in London and 47 damaged.
Today we had our first air casualties for many a long week. Two of our bombers returning from bombing some objective collided at one o’clock this morning and it is said that there are 8 or 10 in hospital.
5th November 1940. The above is roughly true. The plane, or planes, fell upon a house in Qormi. Two civilians were killed; also one R.A.F. Officer and three ratings. Alas !
6th November 1940. We had no less than three raids yesterday; at 09.30, 13.45 and 22.00. At this last raid one big bomb was dropped fairly near to us; it is a good many weeks since we have heard that shattering roar. Lately we have been bombing Naples and no doubt there will be reprisals.
14th November 1940. With regard to the last remark, I am told that the BBC in a broadcast made some allusion to the base from which Naples was bombed though I did not myself hear the broadcast - and hazarded that it might be Malta; which seems a mighty stupid thing to say. I have no doubt that Malta it was; but we ourselves were very careful not to publish our own conviction. The BBC kindly did it for us. This was the more unwise since there was a Convoy on its way to us from Alexandria.
It arrived on November 9th ; and a thrilling thing it was. Two battleships (HMS Ramillies and HMS Barham) two cruisers, a number of destroyers, and (I think) five big cargo ships. And even so we were not bombed. It is almost incredible. All these ships passed up our narrow Grand Harbour, which is but 300 yards wide though a mile long. The battleships fastened themselves to buoys, and the smaller stuff went alongside the Dockyard walls just off the main harbour. Oilers presumable came alongside the big ships for re-fuelling. And yet we were not bombed. For the space of several hours some 16 ships were crowded into a space of about one square mile. Half a dozen resolute airmen could scarcely fail to hit something. What is the explanation ? An officer in the inner circle of information said he was as mystified as myself. Either the Italians have cold feet, or they are short of materials. The Staff were saying “Hurry up with those oilers ! Get these ships out of here”, while the Italians lay doggo.
It is interesting to read the Admiralty communiqué issued a few days later. The Royal Navy manages to get in a number of different operations at one time, the bringing of a Convoy to Malta is what concerns us most intimately and personally. But there are really bigger things than that. The eastern Mediterranean is swept for a thousand miles in two directions; no surface craft whatever was sighted throughout the whole trip, and no contact is made with any submarine. Cagliari aerodrome in southern Sardinia is bombed; our light forces penetrate to the Straits of Otranto (400 miles off the main route between Alexandria and Malta) and attack a Convoy of 4 ships, sinking one, setting two on fire and damaging the fourth - the two accompanying destroyers (one hit) fleeing behind a smoke screen and leaving the Convoy to its fate, our ships suffering neither casualties nor damage.
Most important of all, the Italian Fleet ‘snugly lying behind its defences’ at Taranto - just against the heel of the boot of Italy - is bombed by aircraft from Eagle and Illustrious and two modern battleships crippled and bow or stern under; two cruisers ditto, as well as two supply ships damaged all this without the loss of one of our aircraft !
Greece too seems at the moment at least to be holding her own, and are reported to be driving the Iti’s back into Albania from whence they came. So at the moment the Good God is being very good to us. The air raid casualties were again given last night; during October in England 6,334 were killed and 8,500 wounded. Frightful figures; especially as many of them are women and children; but nothing compared with the last war.
13th January 1941. I have neglected this record for many weeks; and during that time a number of exciting things have happened. London had its frightful fire-raising raid on December, when the Guildhall was burned down, and among other cherished buildings the church of St. Lawrence Jewry, my brother-in-law’s church. On Saturday night ! As usual, cleverness ! It would seem from the remarks of a Cabinet Minister a few days after the event, and from a frenzied enrolling of more fire-fighters, that something was amiss. The Minister said that some had failed. I wonder whether the City was left unprovided for ? Coventry also had a frightful time on November 14th. Poor dears.
In Libya we have won a great victory. Operations began on December 9th and the Italian army which has been just inside the Egyptian frontier for months, boasting of its impending capture of that country, has been flung out with the loss of a huge amount of prisoners. First Sollum, then Sidi Barrani, then Bardia; and now Tobruk is encircled.
Convoys have been coming in to Malta, about once in every 5 weeks or so. They arrived both from East and also from West. The Navy has been bombarding the coast of Libya; and HMS Warspite actually rushed up to Valona and bombarded there for 15 minutes ! She then spent three days here, about December 20th.
Here I must digress to record that a man was executed for murder in the last days of December. This is most unusual. We have two or three murders per year in Malta, but the jury of 9 invariably disagree; and the death penalty can be inflicted only after a unanimous verdict. It was thought that the Governor would intervene, but he is a strong man, and the law took its course. The last hanging in Malta was in 1927.
A fortnight ago Goering or Goebbels announced a dramatic development of the war in the Mediterranean. This has happened. A Gibraltar Convoy passed from East to West and that part destined for Malta, very precious ammunition, and among other things seed potatoes for us, arrived on Saturday January 11th. The rest passed onto Greece. The whole Mediterranean Fleet seems to have been out from Gibraltar to Alexandria spread over a vast front. The Convoy got through safely. But times have changed.
Germany has at last decided to come to the help of Italy, which is said to be full of German troops and aeroplanes. The escort was fiercely attacked on Friday 11th as it passed Pantelleria by German dive-bombers. The Aircraft carrier Illustrious was hit 6 times, and her after deck was a mass of flame. But the fire was put out and the ship reached Malta under her own steam, after steaming about 180 miles. The Southampton was also hit and set on fire. Blazing from stem to stern she had to be sunk by one of our own ships. Gallant hit a mine and the whole of her bows were neatly cut off at the bridge. She was towed to Malta stern-foremost, she had about 70 killed; Illustrious about 50 and 80 wounded. The Ark Royal was also engaged, but we think arrived unhurt at Gib.
The Chaplain and First Lieutenant of HMS Illustrious who came to arrange a Memorial and Thanksgiving Service told me that the attacks were magnificent; superb low-diving and marvellously accurate bombing. But the planes eventually left her, and she came to Malta under her own steam, arriving Friday night or Saturday morning.
In the following week, on Thursday January 16th the German raids began, and continued on Saturday and Sunday. The attack was very fierce indeed. The barrage was frightful, but many bombers got through, attacking continuously in small formations from every direction. There is a fanaticism about the German work which one cannot help admiring. They are like the Dervish troops of the Omdurman campaign, to whom death in battle is both honourable and desirable. We have heard from various sources of the fanatical state of mind of the Nazi - the Fuhrer being addressed almost as divine. It seems that his warriors are like-minded in battle.
Many people watched the raids from a distance, or from reasonably safe places; They saw Valletta as one great cloud of smoke; the enemy planes skimmed the roof tops as they rose out of the dives.
The Illustrious was hit once and the Captain’s cabin demolished. The Essex, a fine new P & O ship, 4 years old, was also hit and had about 16 killed and some injured. The Dockyard is badly messed up and probably pretty well finished as a repair shop on any large scale. I am told Senglea is badly cut up and of course the inhabitants have wisely fled to the villages as they did in June.
The noise in our Crypt was just terrible. There were about 250 people there huddled together, many of them crying, but many were very brave. The roar was like the loudest thunder one has ever heard, but absolutely continuous, and it was not possible really to distinguish the guns from the bombs, except when one fell close to us - about 70 yards. That brought down a block of flats and 5 people were killed. We sat, holding hands and praying aloud. That was the only hit on Valletta. We were to have lunched with the Air-Commodore on the Sunday, but we were no little shaken, and expecting further raids (which did happen) we asked to be excused.
Monday was a quiet day except that a plane appeared suddenly over Valletta and guns burst out at the same instant as the sirens. My wife and I were in the street 200 yards from out house; we hurried home, seeing the puffs of bursting shells above our heads. No bombs were dropped. But that night lone bombers hovered and cruised above the island from 01.45 for three hours, dropping bombs every 5 minutes or so, and bringing down a few houses.
There has been some criticism. Was it necessary to take so vitally important a ship as HMS Illustrious so close to enemy coasts ? We have boasted very unwisely as it seems to me on the broadcasts that the Mediterranean is open to us. We have taunted the Italians on their cowardice. “In all these operations the Italian Fleet did not attempt to interfere with us” etc. BBC said, after the bombardment of Valona (I think); that in six months we should have the Italians out of the Mediterranean which we thought very unwise. No doubt this was true, but I would prefer to lie low about it ! Our BBC propaganda is sometimes puerile.
The authorities wish to get the Illustrious away as soon as possible. I hope that she is seaworthy, and will go soon. All the same I have no doubt but that the Huns would try to put the Dockyard out of action whether there were any big ship here or not.
The authorities would like to get Illustrious out to Singapore. Yesterday they wished to move her to Bighi Bay, where the overs and shorts would not drop in so crowded an area as the Three Cities. But I see that today she is still at Parlatorio Wharf. I hope the Huns will not succeed in sinking her where she is - in the fairway so to speak.
We hear that another Convoy has come in from Alexandria. This is good news; and it has to be said that a very important convoy did get through, even if at a high price. Indeed we have no right whatever to criticise.
Italian Savoia Marchetti three-engined bomber over Valletta)
Talking of a high price, the Germans do not mind what they lose so long as the objective is reached. There were 39 Hun planes lost in our three battles here. In France the press said “What must their losses be”; but no matter with those great initial losses, they had France whipped in three weeks. The strategic situation is very intriguing. Germany must have intended to reach the Med. finally, anyhow. I suppose that great efforts were made to get Spain to come in and attack Gibraltar. That plan seems to have failed. It looks as though Germany will attack Bulgaria and Turkey, but Italy, by all the rules should have taken Egypt and Greece. They had from September to June to prepare unmolested. She has been beaten everywhere. Tobruk fell yesterday with 25,000 prisoners - 100,000 since December 9th ! Kassala is re-captured, and the flying Italians are now no less than 80 miles inside Eritrea, with our people after them.
But Germany has arrived in the Mediterranean ! Is there any Italian Fleet available ?
Can German submarines, which were greatly feared in the last war, and did a lot of harm in the Dardanelles campaign, hamper the Navy’s work with the army of Egypt ? The supplying of that army which is 200 miles from its base at Marsa Matruh is easy if the Fleet is unhampered; but if there are German submarines along that coast it will be more difficult. Can the Huns bomb us out of Tobruk, or hamper our further attack on the Benghazi Road ? Can they bomb Malta out of existence ? Much of this conjecture is pessimistic and ridiculous. For example, Malta, had three days of the severest blitz. An Air Force officer of experience says that he has known no worse. Now since Sunday they have let us alone, to my great surprise. It has enabled our nerves to recover, though we are far from imagining that it is all over.
Today has been an anxious one for the authorities. HMS Illustrious is, I think, going out tonight. I only heard at 3.30p.m. and then I was not told; somebody whispered that it was to be hoped that there would be no raid today. I passed the Dockyard shortly after, and Illustrious was obviously raising steam. On and off after that I was praying for darkness to fall before any reconnaissance plane came over. Later, I noticed that the two destroyers in Sliema Harbour had cast off their cables from the buoy, and were held only by a wire. It has been dark now for two hours and I pray that the ships have got out. With luck Illustrious may yet reach Singapore, and be repaired.
7th February 1941. Illustrious did get away on January 23rd and is now safely in Alexandria if not farther afield. In spite of her severe superficial damage, and the loss of a number of her planes, she was able to steam 23 knots. It is, I think another miracle that she was not lost. We have constantly had ‘Alerts’ - yesterday no less than 6; but though we had one short, sharp, severe raid last Tuesday (4th) we have not otherwise been troubled. Luqa aerodrome was the target and got some battering, but no lives were lost. During that raid we had Commander Hale with us; and he was surprised at the great noise of the barrage. He led one of the squadrons at Taranto and was wearing his DSO ribbon, and also his new third stripe. We did not ask him many questions, as we feel that when men come here, they need to have their thoughts distracted rather than brought back to their doings.
On the same day Lieutenant Kipling came to see us. He was here in a minesweeper five years ago. He had been wounded in Illustrious, two splinters in his shoulder and arm - the bone broken. But he said he had had no pain - in fact in the excitement he did not know of his wounds until someone said ‘there is a lot of blood about’.
The news from Africa is marvellous. Benghazi has fallen. No one expected it so soon.
The Iti’s are obviously finished; with ordinary luck we should reach the Red Sea in a few weeks, and have them also out of Abyssinia before long, and Winston’s words that we would drag their Empire out of their hands are coming true. What frightful feelings must Musso and his sycophants have ! Winston’s appeal to them last June not to make war upon us was powerful. Musso derided it; and now - What ? Popolo d’Italia said a few days ago that “ Italy was forced into the war last June at the time most opportune for Great Britain, before Italy was fully prepared; England chose the time ” Did anyone ever know such rubbish ?
On the 4th - a full day ! H.E. broadcast, and warned us against the possibility of invasion. People thought him a little pessimistic. I hear after that the Hun Wireless said that they would take Malta in a fortnight.
19th February 1941. Apparently invasion is really a possibility ! I was told that Mr. Locker has been round the outposts warning the troops - though I admit this does not sound a very probable thing (it would surely not be done by a civilian)
Some of the more optimistic are awaiting the news of the capture of Tripoli ! Certainly Wavell has not so much as mentioned Libya in his bulletins for some days. Let us hope the optimists are right. I remember no British campaign so swiftly carried out as the swoop along the north coast of Africa. We have taken a leaf out of the book of the German campaign in France. If we take Tripoli our lines of communication will be enormously long, and we shall have Germans right on our flank in Sicily. Still, we can leave strategy to the experts.
On February 8th/9th we had no less than ten hours of raiding, from 3p.m. to 3.a.m.
There were about 140 people sleeping in the Crypt. I got them to bring cards, draughts, etc., as they just do nothing but sit about - or lie about. I have produced about 20 old hassocks from the church, which they use as head pillows and some bring deck chairs, etc.
I feel sorry for the women with babies. That night there were long intervals of silence punctuated with sudden burst of furious gunfire. On the 9th itself we were alert for 4 hours; on the 12th we had constant alarms from 9 p.m. till 2 a.m. On Sunday 16th we heard the alarm siren no less than eleven times between 7 in the morning and midnight, but we held our services all the same. During one of these days no less than 14 bombs fell in the neighbourhood of the Civil Prison. One hit the corner of the Director’s house, another fell in one of the yards, and an unused school nearby was demolished as to one wing.
The worst thing was a parachute mine which descended upon a building about 300 yards from us. It went off with a most frightful shudder. This appears to be the latest devilry that we are to contend with. It brought down the building on which it fell, and partially destroyed some houses around. I was told today by a Staff Officer that another fell in Senglea, and destroyed 30 houses; but I do not know if it is true - though Staff Officers ought to know. This morning without warning there was a titanic roar about 11 o’clock. The Cathedral trembled for perhaps 4 seconds. I hear it was two German magnetic mines, of the same laying, at the mouth of the harbour. The latter part of the explosion was a second mine set off probably by the first.
And yet human nature can stand it ! A few babies are born at the King George V Hospital; we held our Sung Eucharist on St. Paul Shipwrecked, February 10th. All Chaplains attended bar one.
21st February 1941. This morning I had a very moving incident at 8 o’clock. We (Murray Clement and I) were saying Mattins preparatory to the Mass, when I heard the click of the Cathedral door opening. I got up and went to meet the new-comer. I saw an old, old soldier coming up the aisle, his heavy hobnail boots scratching upon the tiled floor. He wore the ribbons of the 1914/18 and the other two medals of the veteran; his hair was greying and towzled; his face lined with toil, his hands gnarled and stained. “ I’ve just come in to say a prayer; I only get leave once in 8 days ” he said.
I explained that we were about to have Holy Communion, and that if it was any use to him and if he had time, would he wish to receive the Holy Sacrament ? “ I’ve been confirmed ” he said in his rich voice with a strong burr “ in 1916 ”. So we started the service. He seemed to follow it, as I heard a soft voice joining in. When we reached the Communion, he rose from his place without hesitation and knelt at the rail, holding up his two huge coarse hands high for the Bread of Life. I was much moved and with difficulty finished the service. Most soldiers are young; here was one relatively old, dragged from his home to serve 2,000 miles away. Not a conscript, he said, but a pensioner, and the London Fire Brigade. “A soldier’s got to be practical ” he said, “ but I always go to church at home. This is a lovely building ”. And so we parted.
Last night it was boiled eggs for supper. But the eggs were all broken; so I fried three in dripping, with bread in the fat ! I was glad that I was able to produce on the plates a couple of shapely eggs, with the yolk in the middle.
We have had a few days quiet. Perhaps the Huns are busy on the North African Front. Will we go on to Tripoli ? Mr Eden touched at Malta yesterday, on his way to Cairo. No doubt he has gone to consult with Wavell as to our future strategy.
6th March 1941. February 26th was a bad day. It was Ash Wednesday, and all our services were disturbed. There was a big raid on Luqa drome. Forty bombers and the same number of fighters. I think we had six Wellington bombers damaged, and three fighters down. The latter are the more serious loss; for bombers can be flown from England, but - I understand - not fighters, at least in the ordinary way.
On Thursday 28th at 5.15a.m. we had our worst experience hitherto. At 5.15 when the siren blew, I dressed as usual. There were rather less than the usual 100 persons taking refuge. I went upstairs for a few moments, and returned below. Five minutes later there was a loud explosion very near indeed. A cry of fear rose from the people and they surged towards our corner. Two minutes later there was a most frightful roar of stupendous power (or perhaps two in quick succession). I scarcely retained consciousness, as it seems now.
My wife was sitting up on her bed, I on the edge with my arms around her, her head buried on my shoulder. Mrs. Gale at the other end, her face in her hands, shivering with fear, screams from many people; myself saying ‘Keep calm’ in an automatic voice. Banging, tearing, splitting, rending, and through it all a great wind rushing through the funk-hole. I truly thought that we were directly hit and the building coming down. Then no more. I waited a few moments, and went out of our curtained corner, to find the door leading to the dining room shot across the floor in three pieces.
Two army officers badly shaken had just come in having been caught in the open as they rushed for safety from some high-up flat to our shelter. When the raiders had passed, I inspected the damage. A large part of the outer side of the dining room and the housekeeper’s rooms are framed glass and the French window. Glass and frames were all over the floor. Upstairs, about a quarter of a ton of stone from the roof was lying upon the bed and the floor. In the drawing room, some of the ceiling stones, of which the roof is made, had fallen; the window frames were torn from their seating and were lying about having broken tables in their fall. There was a twenty-pound stone on the lid of the piano.
Bombs exploding on Manoel Island and in Lazaretto Harbour behind the spire of St.Paul’s Anglican Cathedral
On the Friday and Saturday we cadged supper off the Ohlsons and Coates; and went to bed by the dim light of a torch. But on Sunday a kindly soldier managed to black-out the dressing room and bathroom and kitchen, and we can have one light in the passage. Twice we have had supper in the funk-hole, but three days ago we started Summer time and thus we can eat at 7 and listen to the News at 8 (we listen only once daily). The Gas Company lent us a carpenter yesterday and the P & O night watchman also did several hours voluntary work, so now we can shut all the doors of the study and sit in comparative comfort.
His Excellency and Mrs Dobbie kindly came to have a look, and as soon as we have made the house and church proof against looters (of whom there are a few about) we are to go to St. Anton Palace for a few days change. How kind of them, it will be a great relief.
The explanation of it all is that some ships were expected in on Friday (we did not know this) and this Blitz was an endeavour to destroy them by dropping parachute mines. The venture was successful to this extent that the ships were diverted elsewhere. About seven mines were dropped in the harbour, and since then our people have been trying to locate them, or to fire them by magnetic sweeps.
There are frequent noises of machine-gun firing, and I believe that last night during devotional service there was a very big raid on Hal Far. There is no doubt that the Germans are determined to knock out Malta if they possibly can; though whether this is in order to finish us as an offensive base, or preparatory to an attempt at invasion I do not know. Some people are saying that it would be best to cease offensive bombing from here. I suppose that we have done a tremendous lot of it against Italy.
But it is a different story these days.
20th March 1941. St. Anton Palace. We have been here for 8 days of glorious rest and change. We could not come until we had made the house at least roughly burglar-proof. The work was more or less done by the 12th and as we had two very unhappy nights of bombing, we decided to accept the Governor’s kind invitation at once.
It is perfectly lovely here. We have played tennis one day, and have had billiards on most days with the Aide-de-Camp. The gardens are ablaze with stocks, and there is one long bed of cinerarias 3 ft wide and 160 yards long. I have gone into Valletta on every day save one, and yesterday I left at 06.50 and stayed all day in town for the Devotional Service at 17.00.
On Saturday we must return to our own home. It will not be too pleasant, for we have had some heavy rain, which has brought down the cement which was above the fallen roof stones, and now there is a huge gaping hole in the bedroom roof; probably when I go back tomorrow I shall find a hole also in the drawing room. But the whole roof leaks and not only where the stones have fallen. There have been a huge number of Alerts lately, but no raids. I surmise that the Huns are strewing the sea with mines. Several of these dropped on the 28th have gone up - one of them just below our house in Marsamuscetto Creek fired by a sweep; but a Gozo boat caught one, and 3 men were killed and 6 wounded.
28th March 1941. H.E. and his lady have pressed us to remain longer, so our stay has been prolonged. But tomorrow we must leave or we shall outstay our welcome. The house is lovely; glorious great rooms and a galaxy of exquisite Persian rugs. The family are Plymouth Brethren “ as near Quakers as doesn’t matter ” as Miss Dobbie said to me. They have always been so, for three generations on both sides. Every night, immediately after dinner, as the men join the ladies H.E. standing before the fire, offers an extempore prayer. With all, he is not nearly so narrow-minded as some of that ilk whom I have known. He has a tremendous sense of humour, which he himself admitted to me is unusual.
We are offered sherry before dinner, and wine with the meal, and last Sunday after a heavy day I met him on my return to his house. Hearing that I was tired, he said
“Ring the bell and ask the footman to bring you a glass of sherry”. From a man of his views who is really a teetotaller, I thought this a very striking example of broad mindedness. When we leave on Saturday morning, we shall have spent 16 happy days as their guests.
Last weekend (March 20th/24th) I surmised from some very small signs that a Convoy might be coming in, and so it proved. On Saturday 22nd there were some reconnaissance’s in force by enemy fighters. We lost, alas !, no less than 5 planes, who chased the fighters out to sea, and ran into a big covey of Messerschmitts. On Sunday morning the ships came in; 2 anti-aircraft cruisers (HMS Calcutta and HMS Bonaventure), some destroyers, and 4 merchant ships.
It was of course the signal for a Blitz, quite apart from the fact that it was the Day of National Prayer. Mass was said in the Crypt, but the 10 o’clock was not, I am thankful to say, disturbed. At noon and in the afternoon, the attacks came. They were very severe indeed. There were four people with us in our funk-hole. One dockyard man held his fingers in his ears, with his head between his knees; another a temporary N.O. who has a most dangerous job of detonating unexploded mines was white as a sheet. I stood among them reciting psalms, and as the barrage and the bombing increased in intensity I had to raise my voice louder and louder, until I was actually shouting the words.
In the afternoon it was, if anything, rather worse - a continuous roar like the loudest thunder, and the expectation of hearing one drop very close or actually on top of us.
I was smoking and reciting the Creed, etc., and at the same time watching my hand as it held the cigarette. I was amazed at its steadiness: “I believe in the Resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come, and my hand is perfectly steady and I can’t think why, for I’m terrified and any moment may be my last, but I believe in the life of the World to come, Amen.” Comic !
On Monday, my wife tried to explain to Lady Dobbie what it is like during a big show in Valletta. She admitted that she had never had a bomb near her, nor had sat under a big barrage. On that evening there was a smallish, but thorough, booming raid by about seven machines with - almost certainly - a big pack of fighters lying near. This we watched from the roof of the Palace.
It was a remarkable sight to one who has never seen the like before. There were 20 of our fighters flying over our heads, but they took no part, probably because the presence of a trap was known. The bombers were surrounded by bursting shells, which looked like twinkling diamonds as they burst. The raiders were in a great cloud of smoke and another hung over Valletta. I saw them persist till over their target, but then they broke formation, and one dropped suddenly some distance with smoke from its tail. This one was, later, recorded as brought down. I am glad to have seen one attack from a distance, even if it was not a very spectacular example.
On Lady Day, when I reached the Palace about 6 o’clock after my day’s work, I was told that some distinguished guests were expected about midnight. I met them all next day at dinner. Anthony Eden, with his Principal Private Secretary (named Stevenson) and another Secretary called Dickson, also General Sir John Dill the C.I.G.S. and Brigadier Mallaby. They had flown in a Sunderland flying boat from Athens by night, and the weather being rough the boat could not take off again, so perforce they must wait here till the sea became calmer. They were all in good temper though very disappointed at being delayed. After dinner some played billiards, while Lady and Sybil Dobbie and I talked about Malta, etc., to Sir John Dill in front of the fire.
Actually it was providential that they remained, for yesterday at lunch time (when I was not there) came the news of the revolt in Jugoslavia; and they immediately decided to return to Athens so as to be able to give advice on the spot, or very near it. They left very early this morning so as to arrive at Athens at dawn. The two Secretaries had arranged with me to see the Neolithic temples here, and we were naturally disappointed, for these men were keen and it was their own suggestion. My wife said that Anthony Eden’s joy at hearing of the success of our diplomacy in countering the Axis Pact with Serbia was a joy to see. He was dancing in his chair as he read the signal which Mabel Strickland phoned up as soon as it was received from Reuter.
The news of their presence was known all over Malta in no time. Lady D’s dressmaker knew it and this morning a Maltese man asked me whether they had gone. I said
“You must not ask me to betray secrets; and in any case I do not know ” - which was true, for though they left the Palace about 8 p.m. so as to reach Kalafrana before the tank-traps were set, I do not know whether they got away. I hope they have safely arrived at Athens.
9th April 1941. We left St. Anton Palace on Saturday morning at 09.15, after 16 happy and restful days there. I came in every day save - I think - one. I spent the two weekends at home by myself, for I could not prepare for Sunday anywhere else, particularly for the Day of National Prayer.
The Foreign Secretary and his entourage arrived safely at Athens. I do not know whether they are still there. I hope not, for the Germans attacked Greece and Jugoslavia on Sunday the 6th, and as usual are having success. The Belgrade radio was off the air lately; and now it has come on again, and has announced that most the city is now in ruins. I do hope that God will soon turn and whet His sword. Things are not looking too well in Cyrenea either. Evidently the Huns have managed to ferry many troops over, and we have retired from Benghazi. The Italians claim to have got to Derna.
I hear that we have now about 50 Hurricanes in the Island, which is a comfort. They were fitted with extra petrol tanks and were perhaps flown from the Ark Royal. We have had a quiet time for about ten days. Probably due to the Balkan situation and North Africa.
Last night, while we were saying Evensong in church, a mine exploded. Today we read that the ‘Moor’ a vessel which deals with the mooring buoys, was hit by a mine in the Grand Harbour, and 29 men out of 30 lost. I expect that it is one of the old mines which have lain there for some weeks and which our sweeps have been unsuccessful in firing. But no-one knows what devilries the enemy are up to. On Monday night a motorboat was heard in the Comino Channel. It was heard by two watching posts; but there was no gun which could train on it. Someone who is deeply interested said to me “ It may have been sent to take off an enemy agent ” or possibly land one, I thought.
18th April 1941. Easter has come and gone, and it has seemed very strange in some ways. We had quite good congregations on Good Friday. On Easter Day we had over 100 communicants, which was good considering; Just as we were singing the “Easter Anthem”, we were given our 500th ‘Alert’ and we had some difficulty in accommodating the large congregation in the Crypt. On that night and on the eve, we had several hours of night bombing raids. By the way the Easter Offering was far more than I ever expected - over £ 20; some people must have put their hands very deeply into their pockets, for which I am very grateful.
The Huns have been very active here lately, and the strain is somewhat severe. At night when the siren wakes us, I find myself shivering as though I had the ague; That is only at night. It is horrible to hear the drone of the enemy getting louder, and then the crumps. But what about poor London, which has just had it’s worst raid of the war. Last week there was a fine T.B.D. action in which four of our destroyers, which are now operating from here, sank three enemy destroyers and no less than 5 vessels they were convoying - the whole lot - for the loss on our side of Mohawk only.
9th May 1941. What a tragic change in the war situation ! We were rejoicing at the fall of Benghazi, at the brave attitude of Jugoslavia and the Greeks. Now the tables are turned. The Huns have turned us out of most of Cyrenea, the Serbians collapsed in a week, and the Greeks in but a little longer. Only in Abyssinia are we still successful. Addis Ababa has been taken and Haille Selassie (descendant of King Solomon’s affair with the Queen of Sheba) has returned to his capital. The enemy is now in the Mediterranean, and we are at once feeling the effects.
We have had night Blitzes on April 18th, 19th, 22nd, 24th, 28th, 29th, 30th, and May 3rd, 6th and 7th. On the 22nd three big destroyers had brought us a magnificent mail - we had at least 60 letters and packets. The ships used machine guns or multiple pom-poms to shoot down flares, a horrible noise, even from our own weapons.
Daily one or two reconnaissance planes fly over the island. An Air Force Officer told me that we are outnumbered by 6 to 1. Messerschmitts get up to 35,000 feet, and are here before our Hurricanes can get above them, and so are helpless. The parachute mines are the worst, because they do not bury their noses in the earth, and thus have a more devastating effect.
On Tuesday 29th we had two very bad raids in the night. Something exploded with a terrific bark apparently just outside the house (though I never discovered where).
The gas-proof curtain waived in the air. I stepped under one of the gas-locks and shouted to Clemmy if he were safe, and at that instant another went off.
Valletta has been badly strafed. St John’s has been damaged by blast; but I do not know how badly as one may not approach it. The Law Courts are down and a huge block opposite, two big chemists (very valuable) and a new cinema which has been opened but a month. There is also a vast block down in Teatro Street. Hardly a shop in Kingsway, Teatro Street, St. Lucia St., and part of Merchant St. whose windows, iron shutters, and fittings are not a twisted mass of wreckage. Our water has been cut off several times for long hours at a time, we have had no gas for a week, and we were minus Rediffusion for some days. But the telephone has come through unharmed.
The Law Courts, Valletta, destroyed by air raids
The waters outside the harbour - and indeed at its very mouth - are stiff with mines. At least once per diem there is a terrific roar, and the Cathedral rocks like a child’s house of bricks. We lost a destroyer right in the fairway, but I think it must have been blasted clear. Today, coming in to Valletta I saw more signs of activity than usual.
A Convoy has come in. Seven ships they say. That means a certain Blitz tonight. Indeed I saw 4 fighters of ours only 300 feet up just before lunch; and there was an Alert half an hour ago. A mine has just exploded. Its blast tore down the windowlite three feet from my face. I think one must be careful. Who knows how much pressure there was upon the panes of glass ? I went to the library balcony and saw the churned and dirty water from the explosion; it was only a couple of hundred yards away. In the very mouth of the harbour, against the floating gate. I saw no ship near, Thank God.
We are getting short of some things. Pipe tobacco is almost impossible to obtain, cigarettes are rare. Tea, coffee, matches, and soap, babies bottle teats. A consignment came the other day, and the chemists were selling them all day long until the stock was exhausted. Margarine and lard are non-existent. It is so funny to see shops almost empty.
21st May 1941. It is now three weeks that we have been sleeping out at Birchircara. It is very pleasant relief as we leave Valletta and arrive in that pretty country valley, with pleasant trees dotting the road. It is also much better at night, as the guns are far less loud.
The house is crowded, and there is no privacy. We set off at 7.15 a.m. by a very crowded bus - on Sundays at 6.30 so as to be sure to arrived in time for Mass if there should be a not-over-long alert.
The Convoy which arrived on the 9th or 10th has brought much very valuable stores. Indeed the difficulty is to find safe places to put it. We got 32 letters and 13 packets. We have now got some 5 or 6 months supplies which is very comforting, though apparently still short of tea, coffee and paraffin. The unloading took a long time - much too long, everybody thinks the stevedores being not to easy to deal with; and there were vast quantities of aviation spirit and other things stacked on the quayside near Sa Maison.
The harbour is stiff with ships, scattered about to some extent. Besides the 7 Convoy ships there is the best part of a flotilla of destroyers, and a number of new submarines. Not quite so many mines have exploded lately, but we have had a lot of serious raids; both night raids, and day raids on Ta’ Qali and Hal Far aerodromes. One is on at this moment. Our planes are circling round in force. At any moment I may hear the burst of ground gun-fire and the bursting of bombs. I surmise as an amateur that the Huns watch overhead and then make a dash for it when our planes are in a suitable (for the enemy) position. At night they seem able to drop bombs upon the near neighbourhood of the main street. When the St. James’s Hotel was brought down there were 40 people entombed, but they got away safely through a sewer. A number of our friends were among them.
30th May 1941. The Mediterranean situation still continues to be grim. On the 20th Crete was attacked by parachute troops in great numbers, and by air-borne enemies also. The Royal Navy has stopped the landing of supplies by sea, but in those narrow waters has had a terrible time from dive-bombers and probably from submarines. We have lost HMS Gloucester, HMS Fiji, and HMS York, and of destroyers, HMS Juno, HMS Greyhound, HMS Kashmir and HMS Kelly.
The loss of HMS Hood on the 23rd in action off Greenland is a sad blow. I do not know how much extra armour has been fitted to her, but I have always regarded her as very vulnerable. I was once so rash as to suggest to her Captain H.T.C.Walker that she was a white elephant. In this I was wrong; and Eng. R.A. Morgan told me that his opposite number the Deutschland told him that HMS Hood was the only ship the Germans were afraid of. Her loss was soon avenged for after being chased from the coast of Greenland for 1750 miles, Fleet Air Arm planes hit Deutschland, destroyers brought her to bay, and she was sunk with very few survivors.
27th June 1941. We are indulging in the luxury of a new type-ribbon. I dared not change the old one until I had a new one in hand.
The Cretan business is over and we lost. I am told that the C-in-C Mediterranean said that it had to be held at all costs; but we failed. Largely through our usual mismanagement, said an officer who heard a lecture by someone who came here to tell us about it.
Now has come the invasion of Russia. That was a tremendous surprise to me. I never dreamt of it. But I can see the point clearly. Hitler is afraid lest Russia should attack in the Balkans just as he has all his forces engaged in a great attack on Britain. Russia did something of the same sort early in the war - Finland, Poland, and later Bessarabia. While Hitler was busy Stalin might well attack the Dardanelles. I think that this kind of explanation is really more likely than the mere demand for oil and grain.
The monitor HMS Terror has been sunk; she will be a loss, with her shallow draught and her 12” guns. For months she lay in Marsamuscetto Creek a short distance from our house - her guns pointing seawards to repel invasion by sea. The Dockyard put anti-bombing decks in her, but she was sunk by a mine.
We have a new Air Vice Marshall, Lloyd. Maynard was sorry to leave. Now that he has gone all sorts of stories are being spoken against him - that he is in disgrace, etc. I refuse to believe such yarns; but we have not done too well lately, and it may be coincidence that immediately the new man arrived we shot down 10 planes and many others since; but they are Italians, which make all the difference. It is just possible that Maynard was a little over-cautious, and did not give the pilots the free hand that they desired. But whatever be the true facts, I shall never forget that Maynard held the fort when we had only three fighters, and those not modern - and his early pilots brought down enemy machines daily. The new man is a tiger and has at once fired a number of officers.
The figures of air raid casualties were given us the other day. The number killed in England up to he end of May from September is 29,678. In Malta civilians killed since June 1940, 295; serious casualties 310. Number of houses demolished or badly damaged 2,341.
Ten days ago we returned to Valletta to sleep. There had not been much night bombing, and my wife wished to return. If Blitz’s occur we shall go back to Birchircara. On our first night back we had five raids spread over many hours; and for the last three nights we have had raids more or less continuously from about ten p.m. till 2 or 3 o’clock o’morning. Last night was the longest period for some time. It seems to be Italians; and the technique seems to be for a single plane to cruise about, at a height out of reach of either searchlights or guns; then after half an hour of this to drop three or four bombs and bolt for home.
After a short interval the ‘Raider Past’ is sounded and a little later the ‘All Clear’. Then, ten minutes after, another plane approaches and the poor folk who have just climbed back into bed have to turn out again and go back to the rock shelters. I lie and read, or write, in our funk-hole hearing the distant or near drone; and then zonk - a couple of bombs give their metallic roar. “ Now he’ll go home ” I say to myself. But last night one of them met one of our fighters waiting or searching for him and down he went into the sea.
People pass through on their way to Egypt or from it. General Freiburg, Anthony Eden - Last week General Sir R. Haining who came who came to church and said Lady Dobbie was much impressed by the sermon. On Friday my wife was at a party at the Palace and saw Mr Oliver Lyttleton who was on his way to Egypt to take up the diplomatic side there - with Cabinet Rank. He flew that night to his destination.
Looting and pilfering. There has been a terrible amount of this - a vast disappearance of stores from the unloading of ships, etc. It has assumed the character of a national scandal. Indeed the G.O.C. has issued an order of the day which is really tragic. It implores the soldiers not to pilfer stores, and not to let the Maltese so do either.
The other day a Maltese shopkeeper asked me if I wanted anything; I said that I could not get any tea (which is not rationed) and if he knew where it was to be bought I would gladly buy 2 lbs. But I said, only if it was absolutely straight. He said I can get you tea, coffee, or sugar. That gave him away at once, for the last two articles are severely rationed, especially coffee, of which we are very short. Nothing has come of it and I am really not sorry, for I fear that there was something crooked in it.
31st July 1941. Our Diocesan Festival took place on July 9th. We took as much notice of it as we could, preaching and giving out notices about it and asking for the prayers of the congregations.
We have had another big Convoy in. On Tuesday night (22nd July) the old Convoy ships, which had been here rather more than 10 weeks, moved from their berths - a sure sign. On Thursday 24th July, six great ships arrived. They had come west-about i.e. by Gibraltar and Pantelleria. They were undisturbed till they had passed well clear of the Rock, and then were attacked for 37 hours. But they got through. One of them, Sydney Star, had a torpedo in her, but after removing her troops to a destroyer, the number of no less than 500 - she came on with the rest and arrived safely at Malta. It was a marvellous performance.
I have spoken with some soldiers who were in that destroyer (Royal Australian Navy Nestor). They are loud in their praise of everything. They came all the way in the T.B.D. and then took on board this extra 500. The discipline they said was so easy, and yet at any order the sailors leaped to their posts. I also had talk with an old Merchant seaman who came to church. He has been at sea since the beginning of the war, and this is his first time in action. We lost a T.B.D. Fearless, and the Manchester damaged; but she reached Gibraltar.
We have had also another excitement. On the night of 25th/26th we had raids during most of the night. At about 05.00 when ‘Raiders passed’ had just sounded, we heard a loud explosion as of a bomb. It was followed by a lot of firing which was not anti-aircraft stuff. A fight at sea, we thought. But we discovered later that there had been a full-dress attack on the Valletta harbour. I have not got full details, but it appears that the shore batteries had some inkling that something was up - some ship seen in the searchlight, or early dawn.
Then eight Italian E-boats (motor torpedo boats we should call them) made for the boom in that part of it which is between the breakwater and the land, and over which there is an iron bridge in two spans. One boat fired a torpedo, which hit the pylon or pillar on which the inner ends of the spans rest. This brought down one of the girder sections, which effectually blocked the channel leading to the boom defences. While the boats were dithering about, I am told, they were just shot up.
Then the Italian planes came to their assistance to cover the escape of the remainder, but our planes drove them off and put every surviving E-boat to the bottom. I believe that 17 boats were sunk. One was captured and the Dockyard tried her out later and got 42 knots out of her; but the noise was almost unbearable. Among the boats were some one or two-men tiny torpedo boats which are steered by a man towards the target, and the man then slides off into the water and hopes for the best. I believe we captured one of these also, but am not certain. The action itself (apart from the plane chasing) lasted only ten or 15 minutes, as I recall it. We took 16 prisoners. It was a gallant effort on the part of the crews if they knew what they were in for; but it is possible that they were told that the defences had all been silenced.
20th August 1941. I have neglected this diary. Today the Master of the s.s. Port Chalmers - one of the Convoy - came to lunch with me, and told me something of their voyage. It was his first time in action. He left Avonmouth, and rendezvous-ed with ships from Liverpool off the Isle of Man. Thence to N. Ireland where other ships joined them all exactly timed. Then down to Gib. with some other ships for the Cape. Suddenly they found HMS Nelson on their quarter ! When they entered the Med. a destroyer fired a rocket with a line attached and they drew on board their sealed orders. On opening these the Master, Captain W.G. Higgs, a splendid Merchant Seaman, found a thrilling document. It spoke of Malta’s defence, of her need for stores, coal and ammunition and said the Convoy must go through. The Navy would give all possible help but the convoy could assist by making as little smoke as possible, by not signalling at night, by keeping station. It ended with the same slogan, in capital letters this time “THE CONVOY MUST GO THROUGH”
It gave them all a buoyant feeling of determination, and was finely phrased, said the Master. Next morning it began with air attacks. Fearless was sunk and Manchester compelled to turn back. That night the E-boats got among them, and between the two lines of ships, for Sydney Star was holed (40ft long) on the port side but was on the starboard side of Port Chalmers. There was a tremendous firing from the ten T.B.D.’s and HMS Edinburgh, HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal went with them about as far as Sardinia, and then disappeared. “We did feel naked”. When they reached Malta on the next afternoon, Captain Higgs said they were very thrilled by the cheering crowds on the bastions to greet them - for they arrived in the afternoon.
My wife had a bit of excitement on July 25th. There was an attack on the newly-arrived ships by planes. One Iti fighter crashed pilot-less. It swooped screaming over the roof of the Palace over the Casino Maltese missing the top by feet, roared up Kingsway, and buried itself in Brizzi’s already ruined shop - the only blitzed building in that immediate neighbourhood. She was shopping, and finding planes overhead went into Collis and Williams chemist shop. The plane crashed 5 shops away, exactly 20 yards ! Luckily it was not a bomber, and also there were about 4 walls between her and it.
During this moon which has just waned, we have had many night raids. But Italian raids are different from the other enemy. It has meant wakeful nights, sometimes for 3 or 4 hours, but usually 1½ to 2. Incendiaries have been dropped for the first time; but little damage has been done. We have now far more defence planes and pilots who have been trained together.
Statue of Queen Victoria surveying the damage to shops on the corner of Strada Teatro and Palace Square, Valletta
2nd September 1941. Tomorrow is the second anniversary of the declaration of war. What a time it has been. If an Armistice came tomorrow, I think that the time would seem to have been short; and, apart from our loss of our son Anthony, I should feel that I had not suffered in health inspite of having lost three stones. My wife I think, has suffered more. She has never spent a whole summer here before, to say nothing of two, with the possibility of a third.
I went to be overhauled by a doctor at his suggestion. He found nothing wrong, and said “ Eat more butter ” So I have been over-eating for the past fortnight, and that, plus a bottle of Bynotone (of which I hear there is no more left in the Island) I have gone up 4 lbs. We have had a whole week free from night raids. But the moon is now once again nearly at the full, and it has begun again. Last night there was 4 or 5 hours of it but we were out at Birchircara and though I heard three ‘Alerts’ there were in fact five, lasting nearly 6 hours. But not much was dropped and I slept through most of it. The night before, I went into the garden to have a look. I heard what I thought was a plane very near and very low, I ran like a stag, dropping one slipper in the garden ! it dropped a small bomb in Sliema; I heard the bang and saw the burst.
I heard a good story about the harbour attack, which a pilot who was there assures me is true. One of ours came down just outside the harbour, but baled out. He got into his dingy, and was more or less attacked by a turtle. So he climbed into an E-boat, which he found full of dead Italians. Rather grim. Then an unarmed harbour launch approached, looking for people in the water, and thinking he was an Iti, shoved off. However he managed to show who he was, and was picked up.
4th September 1941. Today a large formation of Italian fighters went over in the forenoon. We shot down 9, and damaged 3 others, with loss of two of our own. This place has become a most formidable offensive base. We of course, know it, but it has only today been revealed at home. Our bombers are over Sicily, Tripoli and Benghazi every night, and often farther afield. The roar of planes goes on a frequent intervals during the night. A man who is stationed at Luqa said that on the previous night sixteen planes left the island in three formations, each plane carrying two tons of bombs.
11th September 1941. I am writing this during a raid at 21.00. Guns are firing which is very unusual. There is no moon; which may have something to do with it. Latterly, our fighters have had much the best of it. Two nights ago friends who were staying at Gozo saw one of their bombers caught in our searchlights, and our fighter chasing it (also in our searchlight) out to sea. Both were firing at one another. The Iti was brought down.
I heard of the worst case of pilfering from the convoys today. Somebody got away with 470 cases, not bottles. The size of the haul makes one give a grudging admiration, when I have lads in prison for stealing a few packets of cigarettes ! With whisky at, say 15/- per bottle, this is a value of over £ 4000. It must have been a whole lighter full, and there must have been a number of people in the syndicate. We are told that somebody is suspect; I hope he gets caught.
7th October 1941. Another Convoy arrived on Sunday September 28th - a comic, plucky little ship having also come all by herself about ten days before bringing no letters, but a good number of papers. There were vague rumours of it; lightermen were summoned on the local Broadcast; a churchwarden rang up to say he would be unable to read the lessons on Sunday, and two faithful choirmen sent word that they would be detained in the Dockyard.
After Mattins we had our first Carol practice, and in the middle Clement called out from his seat in the loggia “Convoy”. We rushed out of the drawing room and there on the horizon, a marvellous sight. The biggest Convoy since the war. We counted about 15 ships. Actually 9 merchantmen, 5 cruisers, and ten destroyers. The merchantmen about 12,000 tons each. They had been escorted into the Med. by HMS Nelson, HMS Prince of Wales, and HMS Ark Royal. HMS Nelson must now be detached from the Atlantic.
They did not have nearly so bad a time as the last Convoy. They were twice attacked off Sicily, once by day - easily beaten off - and once by night, bombers again. Nelson was slightly damaged and lost some speed. One merchantman, Imperial Star, was hit on the propellers and steering gear, but in no danger of sinking. She was too big to tow, especially as she would not steer; and the necessary escort could not be spared. So we sank her by gunfire. But what a pity !
These ‘Star’ ships are all pretty new - only about 4 years - and they cost a million to build (for the Australian chilled meat trade). I wonder what her cargo was worth. A million at least, I should imagine. One sailor was killed - the only casualty- by our own gunfire (the planes were at water level).
One wonders whether they brought some of the things which we are so short of. Here are some of them. (NB. NAAFI has monopoly, but we may not buy there.)
Torches, nails, wood, toilet paper - but even as I write I realise that we are short of practically everything. The chemists have practically nothing and one realises how much one relies upon them for one’s needs - aspirin, throat lozenges, and a dozen other things, including some of the patent foods such as Sanatogen which would be so useful at this time. Ordinary food is also difficult to get. A vast cargo of beef went down on the Imperial Star - some say as much as 3000 tons. This will be greatly missed.
The Army has vast stores - enough for six months, and they live very well. It is a different proposition for the poor civilian. Indeed the wives, whether rich or poor have a hard task at their daily marketing, poor dears. And most of them can talk of little else. Those who are connected to the NAAFI are better off, as that maligned institution has many things which the private shops do not possess. Some folk are not too particular about dealing there when legally they have no such right; and I fancy the Manager has extended the privilege to a few. But I would not wish to ask favours, though as a retired officer I should have a higher moral claim than some who are allowed to use it.
19th November 1941. Once again I find that a long period of time has passed since I wrote in this ‘diary’ of the siege. I do not find myself driven to this task, as I am to some others.
We have a new horror. For two months past depth charges are let go in Sliema Harbour immediately below our drawing room window. At first it was very secret, but now we know in part. They are only small charges, 6 lbs I am told; but they shake the Cathedral to its foundations, the glasses rattle, and pieces of plaster fall down from the walls and ceilings.
These big detonations go on from nightfall almost every night, and continue at intervals of perhaps 15 or 20 minutes till dawn. We have not fathomed the exact reasons. Obviously they are a defence against attack by E-boats- but why have they only lately been in operation ? Today we were given a possible explanation. It was said that at the Harbour attack, the boom was damaged, and also the listening apparatus; the latter may not yet have been replaced, perhaps owing to lack of parts. These depth charges may be a substitute.
Winston’s speech at the Lord Mayor of London’s lunch was very interesting, particularly the information that we had heavy ships in the Far East. I hope that the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau have been put out of action. The second item which was arresting was that the RAF is now as powerful as Germany’s. I was glad to hear once more that we shall never negotiate with Germany, or rather Hitler’s Germany. I had a talk lately with an officer of the RAF. He said that there are now about 5,000 airmen in the Island. It was sad news to hear the number of casualties, which are much higher than I should have thought.
I guessed 150. He said (and he keeps a register) it was nearer 400. This is much higher than is generally believed. An intelligent Corporal who has been stationed at Luqa aerodrome itself, and whom I pumped without giving away my knowledge, said we had lost very few planes or men. This man told me that television is used to see the approaching panes. They appear like dots or smudges upon the plate.
The stolen whisky has been found - 300 cases (not 470). They were stowed in Zaccaria Street, and 4 NAAFI, men are under arrest. The officials are now trying to find the bosses who are responsible. In the same cellar were found 250 cases of ‘undeclared’ whisky. I wonder what punishment will be given. The ‘little’ men are doing their 2 years in prison, but the big bosses get away.
17th December 1941. It seems as though once per month is to be the average attention which this story of the Siege of Malta can receive. For days past I have wished to continue it, and have failed. Rear-Admiral Rawlings who has safely arrived here for a few days in HMS Ajax came to tea yesterday and said he hoped someone was keeping a diary of this ‘fantastic’ siege. So I am encouraged to go on.
Tonight we had a positively marvellous account by the new Air Vice Marshall over the Rediffusion of the work of the RAF here. I note a few of the principals points. The most important part of the work is Reconnaissance. In this, close cooperation is required with the Royal Navy, particularly submarines. The enemy has a great army in Libya. This must be constantly supplied from Italy by sea transport to Tripoli, and creeping along the coast to Benghazi. Or via the Straits of Messina across to Greece and down from there. It is 350 miles to Greece and 500 from there to Africa.
Day attacks on shipping are mostly by Blenheims. They attack from 20 feet above the water, and go straight for their target; the bomb is released and the plane swoops up to clear the masts. Sometime it comes back with part of a ship’s aerial caught. The released bombs travel straight on. The other day two such bombs entirely put out of action the engines of a 10,000 ton liner. The crew abandoned her. The enemy are terrified of our bombers. If no shipping is seen the planes go on and bomb the Tripoli-Benghazi road. Again from 20 feet. One came back with some branches of palm attached to the wing. All these have to pass through terrible barrages; it is the most dangerous work of all. For night attacks Swordfish are used. They can carry bombs, mines or torpedoes. The last are very effective. Not ‘did you get anything’ but ‘how many’ ? the torpedo is dropped from altitude of 100 ft, 400 yards from the target. Albercores are also used for torpedoes.
Fulmers are to keep enemy planes from landing or from taking off. They are the “earth-stoppers” of the RAF Hunt. They drop bombs on the dromes, Wellingtons carry a crew of 6 and a huge load of bombs. They have done immense damage. They are accurate, and do not bomb at random, usually making three runs over the target.
The fighters for the defence of Malta have to be ready at an instant’s notice. The pilots sit with part of their flying kit already fitted. Every second counts. They fly off and have to rise immediately to 20,000 feet. It is a great strain. In addition, hundreds of planes of different sorts pass through Malta on their way to the Middle East.
I have had one personal trial hanging over me for three months which to my great relief did not materialize as I feared it would. An English soldier from the West Kent Regiment quarrelled with another soldier over a slut of a girl. He knocked the other man out with a rifle-butt, then cut his throat, and with the assistance of another man put the body in a sack and threw it into a dry watercourse. Justice here is terribly slow, and the prisoner was about 4 months on remand. I saw him every week, and he used to say “ Well, if they hang me........” and I felt certain that he would be condemned, as two Maltese had been put to death either this year or last - the first for about 20 years.
But he was lucky. The jury voted 7 to 2; and as the vote for execution must be unanimous, he got a life sentence. The English barrister-soldier who defended him said that in all his experience - which was not small - he had never known a more sordid murder. Anyhow, thanks be to God, I was saved the horrid business of seeing him put through his last earthly punishment. Now I see him weekly, and he is not at all pleased at his treatment in the prison ! There are 2 other homicide remands awaiting trial.
St.Stephens Day. Boxing Day. We are having our third noisy raid today, so I will add a little to this. The Germans are being beaten - at least temporarily - on every front except Sevastopol, and are taking it out of us here. We have had all-night raids, though one night a week ago, a Junker ‘tailed in’ on one of our bombers and got a Wellington and eleven men.
Yesterday, God be praised we did not do so badly. The first alert was just as I was communicating the last five people at the Sung Eucharist; so we came down to the Crypt and finished the service there - a thing we have not had to do for several months
After a light lunch, I lit our first fire and watched it start for some time, luxuriating in the play of its flames. We shall try to do without one except on the most special occasions. The evening broadcast of carols went very well; the dimmed lights of the Chapel, the rich crimson colour of the altar curtains blazing red from the glow of eight candles which stand upon it, and two standards at the sides make a glorious picture, and the voices of the choir echoing round the pillars of the church must be very moving. Not many come to the cathedral, but one hopes that many listen to the reproduction.
Afterwards about 16 people drank sherry in our drawing room. We had invited five men to dinner, one of whom did not turn up, Captain Hussey of HMS Lively; we suppose he was suddenly sent to sea. The others were Flight-Lieutenant Waterfield, a very intelligent man who knows Italy well and was in charge of the British Institute at Palermo, Smith a W/T officer in the Breconshire; Caesar a 2nd Lieutenant in the Hampshires who was in Libya; and Lieutenant Rimmer our choirmaster. All had made their communion here, as also did Hussey. Indeed I would not wish to dine on any Christian feast with other than Christian guests, however much one might like them personally.
We had taken the precaution to have a spare table ready in the Crypt; and it was well that we did so, for an alert was sounded at 19.30 just as we were wondering where Hussey was, and whether to start. So we came downstairs and the guests quickly transferred plates and glasses to the whitewashed funk-hole. There was not much gunfire and we were able to eat in quiet one of the best cooked dinners we have ever had. The turkey (very expensive ! £ 1.14.0d) was tender as a woman’s heart, and the pudding good. It was the first time in my life that we did not have a pudding made from my mother’s recipe - but materials were unobtainable.
We have been living very quietly, so I bought two bottles of Golden Guinea, which I much prefer to champagne, as it really tastes of wine, instead of being merely a fizzy pick-me-up. We also broached a bottle of Grand Marnier, but no port nor whisky. It was a very happy evening as happiness goes in these bitter days, and the guests not being professional soldiers, the conversation was of more interesting things than most soldiers are capable of.
Many things have happened here. Though the raids have done little military damage, they have done some. A big dump of paraffin was set alight about 2 months ago, and the ration had to be immediately reduced, which is very hard upon those who have no gas. We are told that much more would have been lost but for the knowledge and bravery of the London fireman who was sent to us from London, and who saved some of the oil.
He came - by the way - to look at St. Paul’s roof, one of the very few wood-supported pitched roofs in the island. It would burn furiously if a big incendiary got inside; but the incendiaries which have fallen have been quite small and it is possible that such might not penetrate. Let’s hope so.
We have had a Naval Striking Force “K” here for the last two months - Aurora, Penelope, cruisers, Lance and Lively destroyers. They have done wonderful work, including the complete destruction of a Convoy of 4 T.B.D.’s and ten - ten ! transports, crossing to Libya. The enemy warships were sunk at once. They were rather ashamed of the latter part, slaughter, they said. Since then we have Rear Admiral Rawlings in Ajax with Neptune.
I went to call as I was very fond of the Admiral when he was in Malta. I found that I knew the Captain also, and they greeted me very kindly. Well, ‘kindly’ is hardly the word! the Rear-Admiral was not aboard when I called, but as my dghaisa left his ship he appeared at the gangway and shouted - bawled - “ Nicholls this is Rawlings. You still here ? not got rid of you yet ? I’m coming to see you tonight ”. The ratings on deck were loud in their laughter; it is only in the Navy that that sort of thing can be done.
Rear-Admiral H.B. Rawlings
A week later the Governor and I lunched on board. The Admiral told me that HMS Ajax has a gamé leg - in other words a damaged shaft which cannot be mended here. The thing must come out from England, which means 4 or 5 months out of action. I said “ Will they not transfer you to Neptune ? ” To which he replied softly “ there is no Neptune.” Three nights before, the whole force bar Ajax had gone out and run on to a minefield. HMS Neptune sank with almost all hands, HMS Kandahar also (December 18th or 19th. 150 saved). HMS Aurora was damaged, and HMS Penelope (though I do not know how badly).
Such are the vicissitudes of Naval war. One day a powerful force capable of making it extremely hot for enemy shipping; next day a very different thing. When we see ships go out, we always wonder whether they will come back. The Captain of Upholder has been given the V.C. His boat has done marvellously. Since writing this I have been told what I had heard whispered earlier, that the loss of those ships was due to rashness. K Force were very happy in their work with complete confidence in their Senior Officer, Captain Nicoll. They then found themselves under Rory O’Connor of Neptune.
A Convoy was being searched for, and it was felt that they had missed it, and should turn back. The S.O. insisted on pushing on at a terrific speed, so much so the Engineer-Commander of one ship refused to do the speed (it being more than his horse-power) unless his Captain gave him orders in writing. Some ship signalled “ Could we not do one knot less ? ”. Then they found themselves in the minefield. This is only Force K’s view of course.
27th December 1941. We had a bomb very near us tonight. One should not take risks. Tonight an officer from one of the ships was playing Mozart symphonies for four hands with my wife on our piano. There was an alert; he did not wish to stop and urged her to go on though she was most uncomfortable. I listened outside the door for planes, and there were no guns firing. They ceased playing and at that moment there was a three-second swish and a loud explosion. Within 200 yards I should say, but hope to make sure later. I have been out to look, but have not found it.
Here is a better story of the Navy. Four T.B.D.’s were on patrol (actually I believe they were on their way here ) sighted two Iti cruisers. They crept down the Tripoli coast on the shore side of the enemy, and in ten minutes sank the two cruisers, and an E-boat, and damaged a destroyer, without a scratch themselves. Indeed the Iti’s thought that they were being attacked from the air and fired at imaginary aeroplanes !
I have forgotten to mention that on December 26th during a short but very fierce raid when we heard much machine-gunning (as we heard also today) there was a loud crack which turned out to be a small bomb, (probably an aeroplane cannon shell I am told), in our yard. We found nothing but the nose, but there was a hole in the window 3 feet from Mrs. Clements who was making pastry.
The news from Libya is good. There is no running retreat as when first we drove out the Iti’s; and at first we found General Rommel a tougher nut than we expected, and the C-in-C Middle East relieved Alan Cunningham. Now things seem to be going better, if slowly. It would be grand if we could trap the Huns there; but it looks as though Rommel was going to get away into Tripoli having we hope lost all his tanks and supplies. Winston said that there were 100,000 Italians in North Africa and 50,000 Germans.
The Russians have also turned upon their attackers; and it is perfectly marvellous that after the frightful pounding they had for so many weeks they had either troops or equipment, or even morale. The Huns announced on many occasions that the Russian resistance was finished, and here they are steadily pushing their enemies back. May they not overreach themselves, and yet keep up the pressure, so that the Germans have no time to reform.
29th December 1941. It is announced today that during Christmas week we had 60 raids. 6 Junkers were brought down and 2 fighters, while 10 Junkers were hit and 5 fighters. Certainly they have kept us busy, but we have had no blitz over the harbour for 2 days - aerodromes were the target I think and this afternoon there a was a very long raid, and much heavy fire over Ta’ Qali, and probably over Luqa too, judging by the noise and direction.
The entry of the Japanese into the war is a great tragedy. The Americans profess surprise at their coming in; but it seems incredible that they should have thought otherwise. The Japs used almost identical language with that used by Musso before he joined up. By the way I saw a propaganda picture of Musso making one of his speeches “ We take up arms against a sterile and decadent nation ”. Pretty good, that !
15th January 1942. Boschetto House, near Rabat. We came here on Tuesday in an interval between the 17 Alerts which we had on that day, many of them serious raids over the harbour and therefore over our heads. There were a number of bomb-holes in Floriana as our bus passed through, but we got to Mdina safely; a fresh Alert was sounded as our carrozi started on the two mile drive to Boschetto.
Later. We stayed here for the inside of two weeks, and it was a wonderful change. We came in for the Sunday services, but otherwise did nothing. It was very cold; but being a hospital-type there was a small ration of coke, and the fire was lit after lunch, or even occasionally before. Mrs. Geoghegan is a wonderful manager. She contrived to feed us splendidly in spite of being so far from any shops. Indeed she over-fed me. I had lately had certain disturbing symptoms about my heart and I had been examined by Dr Stones of King George V Hospital, and by Lieut-Colonel Hamilton of Mtarfa Military Hospital.
It was on their recommendation that we went for this rest, rather than for treatment in the hospital itself. Mrs. G. made me eat much more than my usual diet, and one morning I had a sort of spasm so that I had to lie down for a couple of hours. I think it was due to extra eating putting too much pressure on the heart. Blood pressure is eased by a light diet, I am told.
The house is the old stables of the Grand Master and is a quarter mile from Verdala Palace. The Wisely family leased it from the Government many years ago on a very long lease. Mrs. G. has transformed it, and it is now very comfortable. But more suitable for summer than winter. It gets no sun, or very little; the windows are very small, the walls very thick and the walls not being splayed at all, the sun can scarcely penetrate even those windows upon which it does shine, which are very few. The Wiselys have made Colonel Battye trustee of the house, and it is to kept as a Rest-house for KGV nurses and certain friends of Captain Wisely - of whom we are lucky to be numbered - and for Merchant Seamen.
While we were there three Merchant Captains arrived, and we were glad of their company. One arrived late one night having had great difficulty in getting there. As he left his ship a stick of bombs dropped alongside in the harbour. Mrs. G. put him to bed and kept him there for two days. They had come from Alexandria and had been thoroughly bombed on the journey. He was very shaken.
Things become more grim in the East. The Japs after their first attack on Pearl Harbour and elsewhere announced an ‘annihilating victory’ against England and U.S.A. Certainly the phrase was correct so far as we are concerned. HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales were sunk by air attack.
The loss of these ships - whose arrival in Eastern waters we had announced with our usual arrogance or even bombast as being ‘just in time’ - has altered the whole strategic situation. No doubt they were intended to intercept enemy convoys of invading troops; their destruction has allowed Japan to send large landing parties to many of the Pacific Islands, Hawaii, the Philippines, etc. Hong Kong is lost and the Japs having practically annexed Siam are now advancing down the Malay peninsula. I feel Singapore will probably fall........ I pray not.
Raids here have been many and very fierce. In Christmas week they shot up about 17 of our planes on the ground. But on January 2nd we destroyed 44 of theirs on Castelli aerodrome in Sicily. Pilots who were there told me that the number was far higher than 44. Anything from 70 to 100 ! Our arrival was quite unexpected and there was little or no opposition. On or about January 4th there was an invasion scare. Twenty extra Bofors guns were set up round one of the dromes.
While walking one day near Boschetto House I saw a raid. This is only the second that I have been able to see. Three bombers came from the direction of Kospickwa dropped bombs on either Luqa or Hal Far (I could not be sure which) and then fled - but not as you might expect out to sea and so soon out of range of our batteries - right across the island in a circle to the northward of where we were, approaching closer to us as they flew. They were being chased by the barrage - instead of running into it and they got away.
7th February 1942. In spite of the close siege of the Island, the planes come and go in every direction. We have had many visitors. I am told that among them are Prince Paul of Greece; the Polish General Sikorsky, who said that Poland had reached full agreement with Russia. He said that Russia had exaggerated the German losses; but even so he estimated them at 1½ million killed, and 2½ wounded or prisoners. Others passing through were Randolph Churchill, and Captain Cazalet M.P. Doubtless there are others of whom I have not heard.
On the recurrence of the date of the ‘Illustrious’ blitz, the newspaper reminds us that in these hectic days we destroyed 39 Hun planes for certain, 5 probables and 9 damaged. Between June 11th 1940 and January 15th 1942 we have had 1285 Alerts. The sirens must be wearing out !
It has been raids and raids and yet more raids. More and more continuous, and more and more fierce; and we have often been the target, i.e. when the submarines have been raided which is often. Rommel has been largely reinforced in Libya; it is thought that much of the stuff was brought through Tunis. To destroy our submarines which continually harry him is clearly one of his aims. He has been able once more to drive us back. We have had to abandon Benghazi, and then Derna. There was a strong rumour lately of a big advance by Rommel; in fact its imminence was announced by London, but it failed to materialise.
Perhaps this has something to do with a mysterious story of a very big Convoy - over 20 ships - which the Germans claimed to have badly knocked about. The Admiralty issued a communiqué in which they said that the Convoy reached its destination with the loss of two (or perhaps three) ships sunk by us because towage was not possible. Somebody suggested that this Convoy was tanks and troops for Libya. It sounds very possible in view of Rommel’s failure to launch the expected attack. But alas ! one of these lost ships contained 1,500 tons of coal, 1,500 tons of wheat, and no less than 6,000 tons of ‘case goods’ for the shops here. Soap, drugs, leather, oh, dozens of things which we would pay a good price to see !
So the Huns wish to ‘immobilize’ Malta. In their English news on Saturday they announced that they had done so.
The Opera House, Valletta, damaged during air-raids
For weeks now we have had them prowling round all night and nearly all day. The day raids cease at dusk, and there is a half an hour’s interval; then Wailing Willie goes again. Sometimes he announces ‘Raider Past’ once or twice in the night; but within a short time the enemy comes again. He appears to go round and round the island, just out of reach of the guns, dropping a bomb here and there; occasionally diving on some post through the clouds - for the very cloudy weather lately has helped him. When he approaches our end of the island our own particular barrage bursts out for a moment or two, and then ceases. We doze through it!
Nature cannot go on keeping on the alert. Sometime something drops fairly near; but we have been lucky. At the moment he definitely has command of the air, for the Messerschmitt which he uses here is definitely faster than our Hurricanes. Even his Junkers when they have discharged their load are only very slightly slower, and cannot be caught if they get any start.
It is very difficult to get anything done in the day. We now have a system by which a large red flag is hoisted when bombers are about. The shops and market immediately shut, and people keep one eye on the nearest shelter go and sit in the Club, or stand at the door of a shelter till the guns open. This flag is up nearly all day ! Many brave or rash people ignore it; some because they must. But many have paid the penalty with their lives.
On Thursday February 5th the Clergy had a one-day retreat at Holy Trinity, Sliema. There were 16 of us. At 10.40 during the first lesson of Mattins a fearful barrage broke out over Sliema. The whole district rocked, the Church trembled, the crashing of buildings and of broken glass. Everybody sat tight, but our hearts were in our mouths, and I felt myself go white. Thomas who was reading the lesson carried on, shouting the guns down and bombs with his tremendous voice. The noise died down and a few moments later there was a whisper at the church door and Farrie fetched his surplice. He had been sent for to see Miss Yabsley who had been badly injured and was lying at the Blue Sisters Hospital. He took her the Blessed Sacrament, and she died within an hour.
Her house had had a direct hit. She was not in her shelter, but her maid, who was, was uninjured. Her great friend with whom she lived was out shopping and escaped. The retreat was abandoned as the Military Chaplains were anxious to see about their casualties. There was another bad raid on Manoel Island that afternoon.
On the next day the 6th, I was walking back from visiting KGV Hospital, believing that there was no immediate danger; just as I got to the Casino Maltese a roaring barrage broke out overhead. I ran for the shelter of the Arcades. As soon as it was over - perhaps three minutes - I continued down Teatro Street for home and saw two huge black columns of smoke of exploded bombs appearing over the roof of St.Paul’s. They had fallen on Manoel, as usual these days. That was a bad day for Sliema. The Gaiety Theatre, a very fine theatre was gutted (luckily it was empty), the Union Club hit, Barclays Bank destroyed, and the cashier who was just wishing to finish a job at his desk, killed.
We buried Miss Yabsley on the 7th. There was a big crowd; gunfire opened while we were awaiting the body, and I personally asked Lady Dobbie to go to the door of a shelter quite near as unless she did so nobody would; and there were many young Scouts and Guides present. I went myself partly to set an example. Splinters of shell were falling through the leaves of the trees.
When the funeral was about to start Mrs Denaro the Head of the Guides said that she was not bringing the Guides to the graveside, I asked her what harm it could do them. In the end she allowed them to come round the grave after we had finished that part of the service which I took in the Chapel. That evening I heard again the scream of falling bombs close to the Cathedral. During February 118 civilians were killed, and 153 seriously wounded.
10th March 1942. Things are bad in the Far East, Singapore has fallen, and there were 70,000 prisoners. How fearfully the Australian troops will feel their position. They have always disliked and feared the Japs. Burma is also under attack, and Rangoon in great danger; the Dutch East Indies, Java and the Naval base of Surabaya lost also. Australia has been attacked for the first time in her history - Port Darwin bombed.
To continue the story of Malta, on February 12th Pawla was badly blitzed; whole streets are down, if we are to believe a godly soldier who is stationed there. It is the nearest place to Luqa. A corner of Valletta Palace was knocked off; a bomb dropped in Palace Square; it was one of those which goes off on the slightest impact and does not bury itself in the earth. It made only a very small saucer-like hole, but walls within 100 yards have large chunks chipped out. But it killed at least two people.
A man who was there and heard it coming flung himself down and got away with it. But a lady continued her walk and was hit in the face; and a well known man Mr Reggie Smith who was going to the library had his leg blown off. He died a fortnight later. At his funeral which I took in the Chapel at Ta Braxia itself, a large number of Maltese actually came into the building, encouraged by Mr. Charles Edwards.
During the previous night HMS Maori at a buoy in the middle of Grand Harbour got a direct hit and sank. It is almost incredible how few ships have been hit, in relation to the number of bombs dropped.
On Friday 13th we had another blitz on Manoel Island and by the grace of God we were very, very, lucky. Four bombs dropped in Teatro Street within 20 yards of the corner of the Cathedral. A good house was destroyed; but within that house was a large unexploded one; and I am told that there were 2 other smaller ones unexploded in the next house or on the roof.
On the 14th there was less activity; but Sunday was a tragic day; three alerts without ceasing, and at 6 p.m. another blitz over Manoel Island. I gathered the small congregation into the funk-hole till it was over and recited prayers, psalms, the Creed etc., whilst it was on. A bomb fell at the top of our street again. I went out and looked at Manoel Island - I might say that I looked for it, since it was invisible, as was Sliema; all that side being entirely hidden in clouds of black smoke and yellow dust.
Later we knew that the Casino Maltese had been hit, and the Regent Theatre next door. Mr Caruana Galitzia, a popular and prominent Maltese was killed. Mr Parnis a Maltese who was very English-minded, having lived for 25 years in England, and won the M.C. in the last war, was wounded and died a week later. About 25 civilians were killed in the Regent Theatre, and about the same number of serving men - though it is not easy to estimate this as no local Service casualties are published here. (Indeed some of our congregation whom we may know well may have become casualties). One officer was killed, and we did not know for 3 weeks.
February 16th to 18th were quiet days. There was pouring rain, and supposedly their aerodromes were water-logged though one cannot be certain that it was equally wet in Sicily. On Sunday 22nd my old heart conked out after early Mass, and Captain Coldwell and Captain Ohlson took Mattins between them (most reverently, as I was told) Dr. Stones happened to be in the congregation and he came to see me. After resting I was able to take the Office of Evensong, but did not preach.
I have no notes of what took place on the next few days, until Friday when poor Manoel Island suffered yet again. Manoel is a little island about a mile and a half in circumference. It lies exactly opposite our home, at a distance of 500 yards. It is the Submarine Base and is called HMS Talbot. There are usually at least four submarines lying there, resting and replenishing between their ‘patrols’ which occupy about a fortnight at sea. The men live ashore in an old building which used to be the Lazaretto or infectious hospital. It is heavily defended with 4 big A-A 3.5 guns as well as smaller stuff. The barracks have been hit several times, the Chapel which has a very attractive facade which faces us has been gutted, but the facade still stands.
On this Friday the 27th, some English ratings and two Greek officers who are part of the Ship’s Company of a Greek submarine which has been working with us were killed.
Sunday March 1st was a hectic day and was reported in some detail by the BBC
“ Intermittent waves of bombers and sweeps by Messerschmitt fighters attacked the Island throughout the day ”..... or some such words. It was a hectic day for this scribe. In the afternoon I buried these two Greek officers. The Orthodox Community no doubt wished that they should be laid among their own people - for we have a section for the Orthodox in the Ta Braxia Cemetery. It was a most moving service.
The Greeks had no quarrel; they were wantonly attacked by the brute Mussolini, and they were beating him. Then came the Huns who turned the tables. At the burial, as the bearers began to lower the first coffin, one of them gave a loud blubber. That was enough. The other sailors, about 30 of them followed suit. After the service a young officer read a panegyric. There were a large number of the Greek civilian community present, both men and women, and during the speech the whole gathering wept openly and unashamed.
It sounds pretty awful to the English sense of self-control. But it was not in the least shameful nor unpleasant - except for the difficulty which I had, and perhaps Captain Phillips, in keeping my own tears under control. I seem to remember from my very superficial study of Greek that the Greeks of classical times saw no shame in shedding tears. For these Orthodox funerals of which I have taken quite a number, I have learned to say a phrase - ‘aioveasou e mnimi’ which means ‘May your memory never fade’; and also after the service I say thrice ‘Gyre Eleison’ which the congregation repeat.
I got back feeling pretty dicky, as I was caught in my carrozi under a barrage in Kingsway, with bombs falling, and just managed to dash into a shelter. I had not been back more than a few minutes when I was rung up to say that there was a bad casualty at the Central Civil Hospital. I tried to get the RAF Chaplain on the telephone, but failed, and so set off feeling scarcely able to walk. Luckily I found a carrozi fairly near which raced off to the hospital, with the ‘Danger Imminent’ flag flying. The cabby agreed to wait. The RAF man was unconscious, so I said the Office for the dying, and the Commendation.
As the carrozi reached Kingsway again the barrage broke overhead, and I leaped from the cab into a shelter, while the driver took his horse under the arch of Porta Reale. Soldiers, sailors, police and civilians were rushing to the shelter. These have very narrow doorways and one of these dolts who likes to watch was standing there and blocking the entrance. I took him by the shoulder and pushed him in faster than he had any idea of.
At 6 o’clock Manoel Island was again the target, and the worshippers took refuge in our funk-hole. Then we went to seek for Manoel, which was again completely blotted out by smoke and dust. The popular Sliema church of Stella Maris was also hit. On this day 16 people were killed. The all-day raids continue and it is most difficult to get anything done.
On Thursday Manoel was hit again, and on Friday morning I heard machine-gunning on top of all the deeper noises. On going out to look at the damage there was the usual smoke cloud and I saw that the water in the harbour was all sorts of colours - presumably where many smaller bombs had stirred up the bottom sand. Another tragic sight met my eyes. One of the four submarines had been hit. Her stern was sinking, she lifted her bows high in the air, and slowly disappeared. And here I must say that I have wondered what the authorities kept those four boats so close together. Again one must not judge; but it would seem that with these constant blitzes one very close bomb must damage more than one boat, or at least shake up some of the delicate machinery. Tugs came and took away one of them to the Dockyard. A third was moved into the harbour and submerged herself. The fourth is still there.
This brings the account of our siege more or less up to date. I struck a bad cold that Friday, and have taken things as easily as possible, resting in bed for part of the day, reading the History of the Papacy, and writing. I will end this section by a piece of what we hope is going to prove very good news.
During these bad weeks we have felt rather helpless; as though the Germans really had got the upper hand. But there have been rumours of the coming of Spitfires. Oh, for a few Spitfires, we have thought again and again. It was said that Spitfires could not work here - on account of the climate said some, difficulties of upkeep said others, confused air-currents, etc. But we do know that the runways of the dromes have been lengthened, and somebody whispered that this was the real secret. Spitfires need a longer runway than we could hitherto supply. Last week there was a rumour that they were really coming - that some pilots had actually arrived.
Last Saturday some positively did, and Spitfires were flown over the island for recognition purposes. On Sunday and Monday they were in action; and in the local News last night, we were told that ‘our Aircraft’ together with ground batteries had destroyed 5 enemies and damaged 14 others. This is easily the best record for weeks and we are hoping to God that it may be the beginning of something like parity or even superiority in the air.
At 7.50 a.m. 28th April 1942 St.Publius Church, Floriana, was hit by several bombs. The dome and roof collapsed onto the crypt which was used as a public shelter, and under the weight of the fallen masonry thirteen people lost their lives
The eyewitness was the Reverend Reginald M. Nicholls, Chancellor of St.Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, Valletta, from 1931 to 1942 when he returned to England. He died 20th December 1946, aged 66 years, and is buried in the churchyard of St. Mary’s Church, Wendover, Buckinghamshire.
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