Malta 2013 - The Garrison On Tour
What time do you call this? Denis was supposed to arrive at 11.30 but here he was at 10.45! Still at least we were early to Mike Peacock’s and had time for a cup of tea and some toast, toasted prawn sandwich any one?
The taxi driver cut things fine but we still met at the airport with time to spare, and we all made it through the baggage check with no problems, well apart from Ron, that is who apparently makes a habit of being searched at airports. We travelled cattle-class with Ry@n Air and had an uneventful flight over to Malta as we couldn’t afford to get drunk on beer at 5 euro a can. We landed safely though slightly heavily but in one piece and eventually met Steve, our Taxi driver for the week; but it was more by luck than judgment as he was looking out for a group wearing Garrison polo shirts and not all of us were, so he nearly missed us... still St Edwards College was not too far away and soon we were deposited at our accommodation.
The College was a hospital during the First World War and treated a lot of soldiers wounded during the Gallipoli campaign. There were a lot of names and some well carved cap badges carved in the stone pillars on the balcony.
We were shown to our respective rooms which were very spacious and clean. Cold showers were available down the corridor and there were one or two scary moments until the ladies discovered more amenable ablutions elsewhere.
It wasn’t until the morning that we discovered how many mossies we were sharing our room with! I was bitten every night and Captain Peacock tried to reason with us that the solution was to keep the windows closed at night and when the lights were on, but as we live in a democracy and the rest of us knew better we didn’t, until the last night, by which time it was too late, although the mossies did suffer being attacked with Deet or being plain squashed, which was a messy game, especially after the mosquitos had been fed... After breakfast some of us kitted up for a hot Mediterranean day and we walked down to Fort Rinella. This was in the process of being restored to its original Victorian condition and one day they hope to have the 100 ton gun in full working order. We were given an interesting display of musketry, demonstrating weaponry from the matchlock to the 577/450 Martini Henry, after which we were invited to fire the Martini Henry for a small fee.
We were then given a behind the scenes tour where we were shown the forts very nice 18-pdr. The Fort is a fascinating place and I look forward to seeing it fully restored one day, if I live long enough...
They have a large collection of canons outside, some of which are still used for displays. They also have a couple of WD boundary marker stones and a 3.7'' AA gun awaiting restoration (Barry?)
At around 13:30 Steven took us to Valetta where we visited the Lascaris War Rooms. This is located about 140’ under the saluting battery and consists of a network of underground tunnels and chambers where all offensive and defensive operations on the island were controlled during the Second World War. The whole complex was ventilated using ducting salvaged from sunken shipping in the harbour.
Went out for a couple of beers to Mike’s place where a jolly time was had by all
No rehearsal needed for the rain on Sunday so we visited the Malta Aviation Museum at Ta,Qali originally RAF Ta,Qali. Utilising some of the original buildings and hangars, it’s a fantastic museum where they have a beautifully restored Hawker Hurricane that was recovered from the sea a few years ago. There is also a very nicely restored Supermarine Spitfire and a Fairy Swordfish, awaiting restoration, built in Sherburn in Elmet. In the main hangar there is a Douglas DC3, an airworthy de Havilland Tiger Moth, a Fiat thingy, a BAC Lightning cockpit, a couple of Meteors and a Pou Du Ciel (flying flea) There are also numerous other aircraft vehicles and artefacts relating to the wartime and post war period.
Saturday night out at the Victorian Prison! Doesn’t sound too exciting, but the prison, built in 1866, has been well preserved and from inside you would not believe that the external exercise yards had been transformed into modern football pitches and tennis courts. After the tour we had a fantastic meal with our Maltese hosts in the old Sergeants’ mess where we got to mingle with all the lovely ladies (didn’t we Denis) and chat with fellow Maltese boxologists. We ate a superb meal and consumed a drink or two before drinking a toast to the Queen and our hosts. Gifts were presented as a token of our appreciation and we all disappeared into the night.
It rained so heavily that Malta sunk.
This was an early start, I think that Steve picked us up at about 04:30 and we jollied off down to the ferry, which was in fact a huge twin hulled vessel designed to mow down Somali pirates! It was another warm day and we boarded a large coach and headed off towards Catania where we were due to visit the Commonwealth Cemetery. The Bus circumnavigated the cemetery a couple of times, just to make sure it was the right one before stopping. The Cemetery is beautifully kept, as they all are, and Keith, paperwork in hand, proceeded to track down troops from 124 Rgt RA. A brief history was given about Major Paul Perbury MC, Capt. Peter Thomas Gidley Withycombe (Troop Comdr B Troop), Gunners Roy McKee and Ronald Weidner and where they were killed. We all then looked around the cemetery in which troops from various regiments are buried, many of which appeared to be from the Durham Light Infantry. A few prayers were said to the fallen, and we bid farewell to those who gave everything.
We then headed off to Catania where lunch was waiting!!! We did a bit of sightseeing and had a beer whilst lunch was negotiated by the group elders. There was a cinema or art gallery opposite the bar where we were bemused by one of the posters advertising an attack of some sort... A great feast was consumed by all and then it was back to the bus and on to Lentini
It was noted that there were plenty of pill boxes defending the bridge and the winding road. We explored the pill box on the bend above the bridge and discovered it had a mattress inside, just like many pill boxes back home!!
We soon arrived at the spot where the RN lorry had been parked and we all debussed. Keith gave a very comprehensive account of the battle, all the time getting further and further from the bus, fortunately a runner was sent back and the bus came to the bottom of the valley to pick us up.
We arrived back at the ferry in good time where some of us settled down for a kip. Before we arrived back at Malta a lost passport was discovered belonging to a person bearing an uncanny resemblance to AH!
After breakfast a few of us proceeded to the Maritime museum, situated in the old RN Bakery
The exhibits were very well displayed and were quite varied, down stairs displaying a 1950s ships engine room whilst upstairs showed everything from identity discs and dice to First World War German torpedos that failed to explode. There was a re-creation of a 1950s bar which was unfortunately dry... unlike the bar next door, the two and half a lemon?? Gin and tonic and other sundry drinks were sampled before getting the water taxi across to Valetta where we toured the war memorials and did a bit of general sightseeing.
In the evening we were invited to a BBQ with the school governors. There was so much to eat with soup for starters and meat galore for the main course all washed down with some local wine.
It was an early start for the Southern contingent as their flight left at some unearthly hour in the morning. As good Northerners do, some of us got up to cheer them on their way whilst the rest slept peacefully in their cots.
Visited the National War Museum where they have the (wingless) remaining Gloucester Gladiator 'Faith' of the original three Gladiators that defended Malta. It was presented to the people of Malta in 1943. There is a good display of WW1 German artillery as well as uniforms and equipment used during the war in Malta. There is an excellent display of German air dropped ordnance and a preserved wing from an ME 109.
Lunchtime reared its weary head and we trooped off to the Gun Post snack bar where they have a small but very interesting collection of Ordnance !!
Much of it looked to have been picked up off the local ranges in the '70s... We then got the ferry over to Sliema to get the tour boat around the Harbour. The tour was very interesting taking us past the old Submarine base and the current Maltese Navy dock as well as the location of HMS Illustrious and the old Naval Headquarters and Hospital.
After the dockyard tour we went for a walk to find the old Cambridge Battery , which had been all but destroyed by new developments in Sliema. Then it was back to Birgu for a Beer. Packed our bags ready for the flight home on Thursday.
Walked down to Fort Rinella to pick up a polo shirt and then got the bus with Mike to Qurendi, it was a bit of a roundabout tour due to one of the busses not stopping to pick us up but we made it there eventually after a very pleasant trip. Stopped for lunch at Hagar Qim and walked to the old airfield known as Qurendi, or as it was RAF Krendi. We took a stroll down what was the main runway, though now it is just a road, all be it straighter than any of the other roads on the island. The base is remarkably complete with hangars and Nissan huts although its recent use as a chicken farm made it a rather smelly place to visit. There was evidence of its use post war as a bomb store but haven’t found much in writing, as yet. Got back to St Edwards College in good time and prepared for the trip home.
Overall a Fantastic time was had by all and we look forward to our next visit.
For the full report plus photos, see link on the Group 'Unit Gallery' page.