The 2016 annual visit to Malta was another successful reunion, very well attended and very much enjoyed by everyone; even the weather was kind to us. An important factor for all West Branch members was that the West Branch standard was taken to Malta for the first time in at least 10 years and was proudly carried and paraded at each and every commemorative event, by West Branch Standard Bearer, Barry Wenman. A kindly contact of member Janet Barkway, gave a generous contribution towards the cost of taking the standard to Malta.
The first event was on the 15th which of course was the Siege Bell memorial service which was attended by Her Excellency, Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, President of Malta along with many dignitaries, High Commissioners and Consuls’, including Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, United States of America, all of whom laid wreaths. our Association President Joseph Debono placed wreath on behalf of the GCIA and National Chairman, Julia Gaw laid a wreath for submariners.
On April 15, 1942, at the height of World War II, a heavily bombed Malta was awarded the George Cross medal by King George VI “to honour her brave people... to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history”. 74 years later, in the very same square where that ceremony was held, this historic event was again commemorated by the Malta Tourism Authority at St George’s Square, Valletta, a re-enactment/son et lumière, where the harrowing episodes of Malta during WWII were recounted during this evening event which was attended by most of the GCIA members whom were allocated reserved seating by the MTA.
The Sunday church service was held at St Pauls Pro Cathedral took place on Sunday 16th, with the GCIA having their remembrance, Commemoration and wreath laying service before morning worship with the AFM trumpeters sounding the Last Post and Reveille. Standards were presented and George Stirling and Julia Gaw laid wreaths, after the service we all went down to the Under Croft for refreshments laid on by the committee of the Cathedral, to whom we give our thanks.
On Monday 18th we went to the Ta Qali air museum and held our service in what has become known as the GCIA chapel.
Father Meli, chaplain for the Armed Forces of Malta, officiated and the wreath was laid by Walter Chadwick.
Ray Polidano was once again our host and his wife and her helpers prepared a lovely lunch for us and we were also given complementary tickets to the museum itself.
We had a very interesting visit to Visit to the Malta at War Museum recently refurbished in Vittoriosa, Birgu on Tuesday 19th. The museum is housed within a barrack block and a rock-hewn air-raid shelter within Couvre Porte Counterguard. There are many excellent exhibits and some of us went down into the tunnels that were used as shelter during the bombardments. Thank you to James Baldacchino, our guide who gave us a very interesting insight into life during the war years - James also kindly took this photo of us !
The Armed Forces of Malta Band invited us to their parade ground in Luqa barracks on Thursday 20th, and once again we were treated to a superb professional and thoroughly enjoyable display. Following the display on the parade ground we were entertained in the Officers Mess where we met up with old friends for food, drink and reminiscences of the past year. What an honour it is to be once again invited to such a display and to be treated to their hospitality.
On the 22nd it was the wreath laying at the Three memorials – RN at Msida (wreath was laid by Jack McNulty), RAF at Floriana (wreath was laid by Walter Chadwick) and the Malta National Memorial (wreaths laid by Joseph Debono, GCIA President and RN veteran, Alan Sandall). Father Meli officiated and we were honoured to have buglers from the AFM to play the last post and reveille at each memorial.
We also attended the ever moving Anzac day service. The 2016 Remembrance Ceremony marked the 101st anniversary of the start of the Gallipoli Campaign, and was co-hosted by the Australian High Commission and New Zealand Honorary Consul, was held at the Pieta Military Cemetery on Monday 25 April 2016. GCIA veteran, Jack McNulty laid a tribute to his late father in law who died at Gallipoli.
The High Commissioner of Australia, H.E. Ms Jane Lambert, delivered the commemorative address.
The Honorary Consul for New Zealand, Ms Jill Camilleri recited a poem written by a young New Zealander on the topic of the unknown soldier. The Ambassador for Turkey, H.E. Mr Reha Keskintepe provided some remarks on Anzac, in addition to a reading of 'The Tribute to Anzacs Who Died at Gallipoli' by President Mustafa Kemal Attatürk. Visiting Royal New Zealand Naval Officer, Lt. Robin Kuhn, provided the recitation of the First World War poem 'In Flanders Field' by Lt. Col. John McCrea. Colonel Brian Gatt, from the Armed Forces Malta, provided the reading of the Ode. In the evening the Australian High Commissioner hosted a function at the to which we were all invited. Ms Jane Lambert received everyone and bade goodnight as they left. . The function was well attended by many interesting people including Mr Fenech Adamia, a former president of Malta and Charles Sciclunathe archbishop of Malta. It is also worth mentioning and thanking all the young cadets in attendance. It goes without say that the catering was superb and drinks never stopped flowing, and it was a honour to have been invited.
George's Day Dinner - The annual dinner at the Preluna Hotel, Sky Bar was the venue this year to celebrate our country's special day, organised by Peter and Mary Robinson for the British Residents Association, and many of our Maltese friends; There were three tables of GCIA members. This year the guest of honour was the Australian High Commissioner, Ms Jane Lambert, Her Excellency gave an amusing and entertaining speech on all the St George’s she knew about from an Australian point of view. We all enjoyed listening to, and dancing to the music of Julie James, before reluctantly retiring shortly after midnight.Thank you Peter and Mary, for an excellent evening.
We also had a few unofficial events, including an open invitation to all of the GCIA Members to Pat Scott’s apartment along with Alex Saint and Barry Wenman for pre dinner drinks and nibbles. Janet and Lindsay helped Pat and Alex prepare lots of delicious nibbles. So everyone ate, drank and enjoyed convivial company whilst many put the world to rights. WWII veteran, Walter Chadwick made a short speech of thanks as did Ray Wrigglesworth (WB Chairman).
Walter Chadwick’s birthday: On Tuesday 21st April most of the members staying in Sliema gathered at the Preluna to celebrate Walter’s 96th birthday.
Lindsay and Janet organised a delicious chocolate cake, Walter was surprised and truly touched by all the attention – he was particularly fascinated by the singing birthday candle !
Visit by Veterans to Chiswick House School & St Martin's College - Peter Robinson, Chairman of Malta branch was asked to liaise with our veterans and a college to set up a talk, due to a George Cross Association council meeting neither he or Pat Scott could take task on, so Janet Barkway was asked to organise the visit . The aim of the event was to assist students in appreciating the service and experiences of those who served during the 1940’s Siege, as well as to bridge the gap between generations. Students had the opportunity to speak to the veterans and learn more about such an important part of recent history from first-hand experiences. Please click here to open the full report on the visit, written by Janet Barkway
President Visit - A number of principle officers of the GCIA were invited to meet Her Excellency Marie Louise Coleiro Preca. Janet Barkway, West Branch member and wife of SE Vice Chairman has written up her recount of the experience.
Thursday April 14th was a typical sunny Maltese day to go to the Palace by mini bus to meet the country's President. The passengers included our association President, National Chairman and Secretary, West branch chairman and his wife, Malta branch chairman and his wife plus a few lucky "guests". What an honour. Once inside the majestic Palace in Valletta , we were invited to take tea in the salon area. Amid superb art works and works of art we waited to be received by Her Excellency, who apologised for being slightly late. Our association President Judge Joseph Debono, introduced us personally to Her Excellency, whilst a photographer clicked away. We were invited to sit around the highly polished impressive oval table. Our National Chairman informed the President about our newly refurbished memorial at the National arboretum and handed her a few photographs. Then the conversation turned to the 2017 reunion, which will also be the 75th Anniversary of the Pedestal (Santa Maria) Convoy. The President expressed her interest and wondered what input her office could offer and that she would like to have young people involved, she mentioned this to one of her aides present at the time. Alas our allotted time was soon over ....and there she was gone to her next reception already assembling in the outer hall. Oh to be a fly on the wall.
Visit to the Houses of Parliament - There were 7 members who had a guided tour of the new and quite magnificent Houses of Parliament. The building has not always been well received, it was constructed between 2011 and 2015 to designs by Renzo Piano as part of the City Gate Project, which also included building a new City Gate and converting the ruins of the Royal Opera House into an open-air theatre. Construction of the Parliament House generated considerable controversy, mainly due to the modern design of the building and the cost of construction, which amounted to around €90 million. The Parliament House was officially inaugurated by President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca on 4 May 2015. Members of Parliament and other guests gathered at the old chamber at the Grandmaster's Palace, and walked to the new building accompanied by the police force band. Coleiro Preca called the inauguration of the Parliament House "a milestone in Malta's parliamentary history", since this is the first purpose-built parliament building in Malta. The first sitting was held later the same day. Most of the building is closed off for security reasons, but a permanent exhibition on the ground floor is open to the public. We had a tour which included the parliament chamber. The new parliament is composed of two buildings, situated side by side. The building on the left houses offices spread across three levels, with the party in power, the official opposition, and the Speaker of the House on separate floors. The building on the right houses the parliament chamber – they are connected via a bridge. The buildings are clad in beautiful stonework, and the stones are cut from a single quarry in Qala, Gozo. The quarry is cut block by block, and the blocks divided into smaller blocks, all numerically coded. All in all, it was a super tour and being in the actual Parliament chamber was remarkable and awe inspiring.