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25 December 1941: Christmas Under Siege

25 Dec

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SIREN SOUNDS AS MALTESE PRAY FOR PEACE 

German bombs marked "Iron Greetings for Malta" (NWMA Malta)

German bombs marked “Iron Greetings for Malta” (NWMA Malta)

After a night disturbed by enemy bombing and reconnaissance raids, people in Malta awoke today to the prospect of Christmas under fire.  Extra prayers for peace were added to the traditional nativity services. 

The alarm sounded again mid-morning, and the Maltese readied themselves to spend Christmas Day in underground shelters.  The choir of St Pauls Anglican Cathedral, normally full for the annual carol service, sang to a nearly empty church as people listened via Rediffusion in the safety of their homes. Thankfully no bombs fell and the enemy stayed away for the rest of the day, despite several clear spells between the chilly showers.

The question facing every household in recent days has been how to mark this important religious and family festival under increasingly strict rationing.  Mothers have faced a challenge to produce anything like the usual festive food, with shortages of key ingredients such as flour, eggs and potatoes.  Determined not to disappoint, they have improvised with powdered egg and any fruit, dried or otherwise, they could find to provide something special.

Military traditions were also upheld, as officers turned waiter and served Christmas dinner to the Other Ranks.  Servicemen were delighted to receive special parcels containing a few home comforts, made up by schoolchildren back in the UK.

Malta’s Governor and Commander in Chief, accompanied by Chiefs of Staff, made a tour of the airfields and military bases.  Former Governor Sir Charles Bonham Carter, now Commandant of the Kings Own Malta Regiment, sent a seasonal greeting: “Wishing all ranks a quiet Christmas and after victory return in peace to their homes in 1942.”

Otherwise for Malta’s armed forces, it has been a day like any other.  The Island’s defenders stood ready round the clock to deter raiders and the unlucky members of the Island’s air forces embarked on the usual round of attacks on enemy convoys and land targets.  Those who were spared took the opportunity to celebrate:

“Christmas day was spoiled for us as most of us were to operate. Crews were chosen by lot but we weren’t picked. We had planned a big dinner and drink but of course that went west. However they were all scrubbed before take off so we all went to the mess and had a do. I met Charlie Pouriville from Sherbrook and took him along. He is on his way to Cairo. It was a very drunk up in the mess. Red Murray and I bought two bottles of Scotch. The W/C and some of the officers were up there. Broke up pretty late. Red rode a bicycle down the slope and didn’t get killed. We built a bonfire on the floor and went to bed. No air raids today.” (1)

CHRISTMAS DINNER UNDERGROUND

The Chancellor of St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, Valletta reflects on Christmas under siege:

“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.

…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…

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…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…

It was a very happy evening as happiness goes in these bitter days…” (2)

RATIONS TIGHTENED

Governor’s Report to the Secretary of State for the Colonies for December 1941

The following measures of food control have been undertaken:-

  • (a)  All bread sellers have been registered, and regulations have been made under which every household has to register with a single bread seller.  This registration is now practically complete and will enable closer check to be kept on issues of flour.
  • (b)  Regulations are being issued to enable closer control to be kept on supplies of meat to institutions, restaurants, hospitals, etc.
  • (c)  Arrangements have been made to control all supplies of eggs coming from Gozo, which constitutes a very large part of the total egg production.  Requirements of civil and military hospitals and other institutions are being met from this supply and the rest is distributed through the usual channels.
  • (d)  Tomato paste has been added to the list of rationed commodities.

In order to tighten control over bus services, and make it easier to effect further economies on petrol consumption if necessary, regulations have been issued under which as from 1st January, route managers and dispatchers of buses will be Government employees and not employees of the bus owners.  Scheme is being financed by levy on bus owners and increase in licence fees.

Over 500 tons of seed potatoes from Cyprus have been received and arrangements are being made for free distribution by the Department of Agriculture.

Merry Christmas from Malta.

AIR RAIDS 25 DECEMBER 1941

0114-0440 hrs  Air raid alarm.  Two enemy aircraft approached singly from  the north and carried out intruder tactics round the Island.  Bombs were dropped near Rabat searchlight station, on Ta Qali flare path, near Qawra Tower searchlight and Ghar Lapsi.  Heavy Ack Ack fired two barrages; no claims.

1123-1132 hrs  Air raid alarm.  Three enemy aircraft on reconnaissance approached from the north and receded when still 20 miles from Island.  Seven Hurricanes from Ta Qali were scrambled; no interceptions.

Night  Four alerts were sounded during the night for a small number of enemy aircraft.  Bombs were dropped on land at Gzira and in the sea off Delimara.  Ack Ack engaged during three alerts, destroying one enemy bomber.

OPERATIONS REPORTS THURSDAY 25 DECEMBER 1941

ROYAL NAVY  Three Albacores and four Swordfish laid mines off Tripoli.

HAL FAR  Night 24/25th  Three Albacores 828 Squadron carried out a minelaying operation outside Tripoli Harbour.  All aircraft returned safely.  Four Swordfish 830 Squadron carried out a minelaying operation outside Tripoli Harbour.  Opposition intense but wild.  Weather 1/10 – 3/10.  Cloud at 8000 feet.  Visibility good.

LUQA  69 Squadron  One Maryland SF 15 patrol; one Maryland SF 16 patrol.  Photo-reconnaissance Unit 2 Gerbini, Catania.  18 Squadron  One Blenheim SF 14 patrol; one Blenheim SF 2B patrol; two Blenheims attacked schooner and minesweeper.  107 Squadron  One Blenheim SF 14 patrol; one Blenheim SF 2B patrol.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB  Dealt with 2 (1 x 70kg; 1 x Thermos). 

(1) Extract from A Flyer’s Diary by Jim White (Air Shared Magazine, see http://pawsey.net/whiteproject/joewhitediary-part2.htm

(2) Extract from diary of Rev Reginald M Nicholls, Chancellor of St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, Valletta.  Courtesy of website: Malta Family History

All written content © maltagc70 unless otherwise attributed. For conditions of use contact bdmalta@btinternet.com

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Posted by on December 25, 2016 in 1941, December 1941

 

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