Malta Diary Farewell old friend
e/mail – firstname.lastname@example.org
Malta’s older generations went into solemn mourning with the announcement of the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip last Friday. His ties to Malta were enormous. He loved living in Malta and then later making several visits.
Born a Mediterranean islander on the small Greek island of Corfu, although of Royal blood, he had an affinity to Maltese islanders and more probably than not there were moments when while in Malta he recalled his childhood days.
Although there were times when the world expressed its astonishment at some of his pronouncements and “gaffes”, his tendency to defy protocol and “do his own thing” did not cause concern in Malta but rather admiration.
On his last visit in 2007, when he was already 85, he broke the extensive security cordon surrounding him – amidst great concern and confusion – while walking around Valletta and warmly chatted with standers-by, particularly with a group of former Royal Navy veterans.
From my own recollections I remember him once declaring that the then Imperialistic “Daily Express” was “a bloody awful newspaper”. In later years on a visit to China he caused great acrimony by blurting out that to him “all Chinese looked alike”.
One of the many storms he perpetrated actually happened in Malta but is very little known.
The then leading newspaper photographer Frank Attard (he also took my wedding photographs because I knew him very well) who worked for Allied Newspapers that published “The Times of Malta” (a newspaper for which I worked for five years in the sports department), was called to take a picture of Prince Philip and then Princess Elizabeth, when they resided in Malta.
Frank went to Villa Gwardamangia where they lived. On the veranda Princess Elizabeth was seated on the right of Prince Philip who stood adroit in his naval uniform, next to her. His left arm and hand was stiffly stretched down to his thigh. As Frank snapped the pictures and then developed them it was obvious that with this left hand Prince Philip appeared to be giving the two-finger sign at Frank.
The picture was sent to Reuter’s with comments about this but before releasing it, Reuter’s changed the caption and stated that Prince Philip was merely indicating that the second child of their marriage was on the way!
A close and long-time friend of mine, Tony Barbaro Sant, who spent many years as a news reporter, recounted a highly amusing story, typical of the Duke, I relate it in his own words:
“On one of the visits to the island, the Duke was scheduled to lay a wreath at the Floriana War Memorial. We were all there, waiting for him to turn up, the island’s leading photographers and reporters. One particular photographer constantly boasted of his being well-acquainted with the Duke and assured us the Duke would greet him.
“The Duke turned up, it was still a bit informal and we were standing around, when the Duke started walking towards us. When the boasting photographer saw him coming over, he again told us he knew him well.
“The Duke, known for his acerbic wit, came over with his hands behind his back.”Good morning, gentlemen. Ah, hello Mr —— (at which the photographer’s face lit up!) Still taking out-of-focus pictures?”
“He then turned and walked off, leaving us in fits. This was Prince Philip all over.”
Then still Princess Elizabeth and her husband the Duke of Edinburgh spent the first years of their marriage living in Malta, residing at Villa Gwardamangia between 1949 and 1951 when the Duke was stationed in Malta as a Royal Navy Officer. In many later years they confided they loved living in Malta because they were free and at ease and roamed around freely.
The current UK High Commissioner for Malta, Joseph Cole, said that whenever he met Prince Philip they always discussed his memories of Malta.
He said that with his typical smile the Prince always used to recall his beautiful memories of Malta and that he could never forget the time he spent on the island. Often he would recount an anecdote.
Actually, this one did not involve him but when he was away at sea carrying out his duties he often tried to contact his wife but she was never at home. On his return he would tell her he had tried to ‘phone her a number of times but there had been no response. Princess Elizabeth said she would go out to meet her friend, wear a veil so as not to be recognised and would go to the Hotel Phoenicia to meet her friend and take tea with her.
After being crowned Queen, the couple visited Malta at least six times during her reign but Prince Philip had visited Malta on his own during various occasions. In 1964 he presented the Constitutional Document to the Malta Prime Minister Giorgio Borg Olivier at The Xagħra in Floriana while declaring Malta’s independence.
Heritage Malta Curator, Kenneth Gambin, said Prince Philip would visit the Maritime Museum at Vittoriosa whenever he was in Malta.
He said Prince Philip had intervened with the Maritime Museum in Portsmouth that the prow of HMS Hibernian, a ship that spent a considerable time in Malta, should be returned to Malta. He had also donated an armament to Fort St Angelo from his own personal collection.
The President, the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and Malta’s Archbishop were among the many that recalled the memory of Prince Philip and sent their sincere condolences to Buckingham Palace.
“The rains that bid adieu to March and welcome April are as precious as volumes of fine gold”
Malta’s annual rainfall is sparse creating agricultural irrigation difficulties as well as overall water supplies to fill wells and reservoirs. Hence, rain at the end of March and in early April is as precious as gold.