In the context of World War I, 1916 has been described as the Year of Attrition. The struggle of the war was generally continued at a slow pace. It was not to be a blitzkrieg (lightning war a violent campaign intended to bring about a speedy victory, as Kaiser Wilhelm II had believed.
Malta maintained a war footing throughout, albeit mitigated at times. Day-to-day life and social activities kept on going. There were ongoing special social initiatives for the sick and wounded undergoing treatment on the island. People participated in these activities and entertainment, while supporting the war effort.
Performances were held at the Theatre Royal for the entertainment of the war convalescents. Other entertainment included tea reunions, concerts and film shows.
Friendly football matches were arranged between local teams and Army and Navy teams. Proceeds derived from these matches went to the British Red Cross Society and the Order of St John (Malta Centre). A Military Hospitals Football League was also organised.
On January 22, 1916, Australia Hall at Pembroke Camp and adjoining St Andrew’s Hospital was inaugurated. The proceedings were attended with great éclat, and admission was by invitation. Field Marshal Paul Methuen, Governor of Malta, presided over the ceremony, during which he delivered a speech, which was applauded by an overflowing attendance. The British Red Cross concert party provided the entertainment. The hall was used for lectures, social gatherings and entertainment for the military.
Interestingly, the Għajn Tuffieha Camp formed a musical band on the initiative of its director, Mr Young, which participated in village festas together with local civic bands. Such an instance occurred in 1916 during the annual feast of the Annunciation held in Casal Balzan. During a fête held at Argotti Gardens, Floriana, in aid of the Mutual Help Society of the Kings Own Band, Mr Young conducted the local civic band.
The civic band L’Isle Adam of Città Vecchia (Rabat) played a select programme of music at Għajn Tuffieħa Convalescent Camp at the invitation of the officers of the camp.
A combined naval band played on Palace Square, Valletta, under the direction of Mr Daynes, chef de musique, when the band was welcomed by a large concourse amid loud applause. Upon the conclusion of the performance the conductor and his musicians were invited to the Casino San Giorgio for refreshments amidst the warmest cordiality.
San Giuseppe Civic Band of Ħamrun paraded the principal streets of the town playing for the first time a set of marches composed by bandmaster A. Miruzzi.
The marches were significantly entitled Lord Kitchener, Albert of Belgium, General Joffre, Serbia, The Heroes of Verdun and Victory.
When the band of the King’s Own Malta Regiment of Militia (KOMRM) performed on Palace Square, it played for the first time the national anthem of Romania in addition to the anthems of the Allied countries usually played in public at the close of such programmes – Romania had joined the Allies in August 1916. Methuen, who was attending a dinner at the Casino Maltese, listened to the anthem from the balcony overlooking the square in the company of the Consul of Romania, Chev. C.H. Ferro.
Hospital ships kept calling at Malta. The German liner Konig Albert, one of the German ships that had taken refuge in Genoa when war broke out, was detained at that port and converted into a hospital ship flying the British flag. The French liner Fran, which belonged to the Compagnie General Translantique, was also converted into a hospital ship. Being 220 metres long, it was designed to carry over 2,000 passengers and a crew of 725 men. Attaining a speed of 25 knots, it was one of the fastest floating hospitals.
I think that in no English hospitals could patients have received abler treatment, or had greater care bestowed on them- Governor Methuen
In March 1916, the hospital ship Carisbrooke Castle arrived in Malta from Salonika with 20 officers and 400 non-commissioned officers and men, mostly medical cases, who were landed and variously distributed for treatment in the several hospitals on the island.
There were 20 hospitals across the island. Methuen addressed a long minute to the director of medical services: “The force of circumstances has reduced our hospitals. It is not easy for me to express in simple words my debt of gratitude to all who have worked with me in doing one’s best to help the 60,300 patients who have been in our hospitals since they were started in May 1915.
“From a few hundred beds we rose to nearly 20,000, and could within a month have accommodated 25,000. From letters from patients that I have seen and from the remarks made to me in the hospitals, I think that in no English hospitals could the patients have received abler treatment, or had greater care bestowed on them.
“But whilst recognising the good work performed by all those connected with the hospitals, I must emphasise the great help given by the philanthropic associations, the members of the Ladies’ Committee of the Order of St John and British Red Cross, the local talent, and the people of Malta, and attribute the orderly conduct of the patients in a great measure to the concerts and other amusement so admirably organised in the different hospitals and camps.”
On October 7, 1916, a ship arrived in Malta from England carrying a young lady aged 23. Her name: Vera Brittain. She had come to Malta to work as a nurse. Having contracted a disease on the ship, she spent her first weeks in Mtarfa Hospital. On her recovery, she worked in St George’s Hospital, St George’s Bay. She wrote in her diary: “I am ever so much happier in my work here than I ever was in Camberwell.”
As a result of her experience among the wounded and the horrors of war, she afterwards committed herself to the cause of pacifism.
Those who died in hospital were generally buried at the Addolorata Cemetery, in the case of Roman Catholics, and at Pietà Cemetery for other denominations. Quinn Howe, 20, died on board a hospital ship; he was interred at the Addolorata Cemetery. Gunner Nicolai Chibooninn of the Russian Navy died at Royal Navy Bighi Hospital. He was buried in the Capuchin Royal Navy Cemetery according to the rites of the church to which the deceased belonged. Representatives of the English, French and Italian navies attended the funeral. Wreaths were invariably placed on the coffins inscribed: ‘Malta’s tribute to dead heroes. With deepest sympathy from the Daily Malta Chronicle Fund’.
On the occasion of French national day, July 14, 1916, a memorial service was held at St Barbara church, Valletta, for the repose of the souls of the French soldiers and sailors who had fallen in the war. “It was a stirring tribute of sympathy and affection. In the centre of the church a catafalque was erected between rows of candles covered with the Tricolor and palms, emblematic of victory, on which were placed the Arms of the Republic, and a large wreath inscribed: ‘From the French community in Malta’.
In front of the bier was placed a scroll bearing the inscription ‘Aux Heros Français/Tomb pour la Patrie/ Sur le champ d’honneur/Priez pour eux’. At each corner was a stack of arms with fixed bayonets, tied with the French colours. High Mass was said by Rev. Fr L. Tonna Barthet, provincial of the Minor Franciscan Conventual Order, who also delivered an eloquent eulogy in French.
The Maltese colony of Tunis through its Overseas Club, which was composed mainly of Maltese, held a Badge Day for the benefit of the British Red Cross. The Maltese band of Tunis (The Duke Connaught’s) played on the avenue. A large number of Maltese from Tunis were with the French Forces at the front.
A test flight of French seaplanes over Valletta aroused “considerable curiosity. Terraces and balconies were immediately thronged with people. Crowds hurried to all directions from whence a view was to be obtained”. A few days later a hydroplane reappeared in the sky when “it remained for some 10 minutes circling over the neighbourhood of the Palace Square”.
Meanwhile, for the island’s better safety and defence, several government orders and regulations were issued. All lights in houses and other buildings lying within a distance of one mile inland from the seashore had to be obscured or lowered so as to be made invisible from the sea. The use of illuminated lettering and powerful light for outside advertising was prohibited. All clubs had to close by 11pm.
The export from Malta of potatoes, onions, oranges, condensed milk and essential commodities to all destinations was prohibited as a measure of earnest vigilance on food supply and price control. No one could possess or use explosives in any part of the territorial waters. Any person using such explosives in such manner was liable to be fired upon without further warning.
In April 1916, flags were flown in Canada to mark the anniversary of the gallant fighting displayed by Canadian soldiers at the front; these included some 200 Maltese who had enlisted in Canada where they had emigrated prior to the war. In Malta too, it was arranged to place flowers on the graves of Australians and New Zealanders buried at the Pietà and Addolorata cemeteries, the occasion being the anniversary of the landing at Anzac Beach. A memorial service being a tribute to the memory of those who fell during the operations of April 25, 1915, many of whom died in Malta, was held in both cemeteries.
The graves at Pietà Cemetery were decorated with wreaths bearing touching inscriptions. Governor and Lady Methuen, and a large representative assemblage, were present.
All lights in houses and other buildings lying within a distance of one mile inland from the seashore had to be obscured or lowered so as to be made invisible from the sea
The memorial service held at Addolorata Cemetery was very impressive. A requiem Mass was said in the cemetery church by Archbishop Maurus Caruana. The Sacred Heart Convent of St Julian’s furnished the choir. Governor Methuen was present. After Mass, the Archbishop proceeded in procession to the graves where prayers were said, absolutions given and wreaths deposited. The Last Post sounded by the buglers brought the proceedings to a close.
On May 31, 1916, the Battle of Jutland took place off the Norwegian coast. On the British warships, 6,097 sailors had drowned; on the German ships, 2,551. Several Maltese lost their lives in this famous battle. Among others, Albert Costa, Carmelo Conti, Carmelo Pays, Carmelo Bruce, Antonio Frendo, Frank Miller and Lawrence Gatt on board battle-cruiser HMS Queen Mary; Emanuel Chircop, Francis Mamo, Salvatore Micallef, Giovanni Spiteri and Giuseppe Farrugia on battle-cruiser HMS Indefatigable; Virgilio di Mauro, Nicolò Fondacaro, Alberto Baldacchino, Carmelo Montesin, Enrico Portelli, Giovanni Consiglio, Angelo Magri, Angelo Giglio and John Tricas on HMS Defence; and John Cauchi, Giuseppe Chetcuti, John Micallef, John Vella, Lewis Vassallo, Enrico Portoghese, Luigi Ungaro, Giuseppe Cuomo, Angelo Formosa, Luigi Grasso, Giuseppe Portoghese and Giovanni Urso on HMS Black Prince.
Spiro Borg, who was wounded, was brought to Queensferry Hospital, where he died comforted by the rites of the Catholic Church. The funeral was an impressive one, the coffin being borne by Maltese drawn from Admiral Sir David Beatty’s battle-cruiser squadron. A naval party formed the escort whilst the band and pipes of Royal Scots played funeral marches along the route.
To the Maltese roll of honour in the Battle of Jutland was added the name of another Maltese. The Admiralty intimated that the name of Paolo Attard of Nadur, who was serving on the torpedo destroyer Shark, did not appear on the lists of survivors. He was regarded as having lost his life. The Shark was sunk while delivering her “gallant Balaclava charges” (Lord Rosebery).
Accompanying the intimation of their son’s death, the family of Attard received the following communication: “The King commands me to assure you of the true sympathy of His Majesty and the Queen in your sorrow. Sgd Arthur James Balfour.”
A funeral service, under the auspices of San Giuseppe Band of Ħamrun, was held in St Gaetano parish church for the repose of the souls of the inhabitants of Ħamrun who had perished in the naval battle.
A solemn requiem for the fallen in the Battle of Jutland was celebrated at Westminster Cathedral. Cardinal Bourne was present and Mgr Howlett officated. Malta was represented by E.T. Agius and Fr J. Apap of the Dominican friars, who had established himself in England.
Later that year several Maltese who were serving in the fleet in different capacities and who had taken part in the Battle of Jutland, arrived in groups in Malta on furlough on a visit to their families.
In August 1916 a mass rally was held at the Floriana Granaries to mark the second anniversary of the declaration of war. Methuen delivered “a stirring speech”, after which he proposed a resolution. Archbishop Caruana, who spoke at length in Italian at the event, seconded the resolution, which was carried by acclamation.
The resolution read: “On this the second anniversary of the declaration of a righteous war, this meeting of the citizens of Malta records its inflexible determination to continue to a victorious end the struggle in maintenance of those ideals of liberty and justice which are the common and sacred cause of the Allies.”
After the rally, civic bands, flying flags and banners, marched to music through Valletta, which was gaily decorated.
From time to time, orders were issued to the Services personnel. When not on duty or parade but in uniform, officers under the rank of field officers had to salute their superiors in rank.
A moustache was no longer compulsory; but the attention of officers and men was drawn to the fashion that was becoming prevalent of reducing the moustache to a few hairs on the upper lip. As it had then become optional whether the upper lip be shaved or not, it was to be understood that if a moustache were worn no portion of the upper lip was to be shaved.
The strictest attention of all officers and soldiers was directed in studying the uniforms and rank distinctions of the Allies and to the necessity of observing courtesies of saluting and returning salutes. When foreign officers, soldiers or sailors salute British officers, all the officers so saluted had to acknowledge the compliments irrespective of who was the senior.
The Admiralty approved the wearing of khaki uniform when ordered by the senior officer instead of the blue or white uniform by naval officers employed ashore outside the UK.
To be concluded.
The accompanying photos, which appear in the 2014 book Malta in World War I: Photographic Postcards by The Malta Study Circle, are reproduced with the kind permission and co-operation of the publication’s editors Roger Evans, Alan Green and David Ball, sponsors Maltapost plc and publishers BDL Ltd.
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