The 2nd Siege of Malta!
I wonder how many of our Readers remember the 60s Siege of Malta?
Reading Albert’s wonderful article about The Gut brought the memories flooding back!
Naval fleets from several different Countries used to moor in the Sliema Creek for a few days.
Sliema Creek was, and still is, where the buses stop. It used to be stagnant and stunk like Hell in the hot temperature. You could almost walk across it! I don’t know what they did to stop it, but it doesn’t smell at all now.
A popular venue was a large place in the main Valletta Square, where regular dances were held once a week, usually with a live band.
One Saturday night the Italian fleet was in, and a lot of the sailors came to the dance. They were very good-looking, and the British forces were jealous, but the trouble was none of them spoke English! They would chatter to us in Italian and we didn’t have the slightest idea what they were saying.
(I can speak Italian now, but it’s a bit too late!)
Suddenly an English soldier burst in and when the group finished their tune he shouted, ‘A squaddie’s been knifed by an Eyetie down The Gut!’
Right on cue, all the soldiers started punching the Italian sailors, who ran away.
But about an hour later, they returned – hundreds of them!
Everyone rushed to shut and lock all the doors and the huge wooden blinds, and we were surrounded!
They stayed outside for several hours while we drank Cisk lager and ‘We’ve got to get out of this place’ by The Animals was played over and over again on the jukebox.
Finally, lorry-loads of Military Police turned up. The Italians didn’t retaliate at all. They just stood there.
I had a lift home in a jeep, to be greeted by an angry mother, wanting to know why I was late – again!
Deciding that honesty was the best defence, I explained what had happened, but it fell on deaf ears. She just muttered something like, ‘She’s getting worse,’ while I went upstairs to bed.
In the morning I went to our usual haunt, the Sliema Caff on the seafront.
It was packed inside and out, and was humming with excitement.
British squaddies, wearing their army boots were lined up beside the Creek, standing with their arms folded. So of course, the Italians couldn’t get off their ships!
One of the soldiers said, ‘Could you mind this for me, Lyn, in case the Military Police search us?’ and he produced a long dagger.
(Explanation needed here. Everyone bought them as souvenirs when they went across to Libya.)
I put it in my huge handbag. Then another soldier said, ‘Guard this for me, Lyn,’ and handed me a short length of lead pipe.
‘You can’t use that!’ I gasped, dropping it in my bag.
I didn’t think for a minute they’d use the weapons. They were just for effect.
As I was in disgrace – again – I had to report home. So off I went. But I was allowed out again.
‘What on earth do you carry in that huge bag?’ The Mother suddenly asked as I was leaving. Of all the times!
‘Oh, um, daggers and coshes and things,’ I replied, deciding that honesty was the best defence again.
She sighed and walked away.
On the way back to Sliema, I dropped them down a drain.
The next day, the Italian ships sailed away.
When I was in my teens, my Dad got a posting to Malta. He was a Civilian, with all the perks of the Forces. I went to Tal Handaq Royal Naval School.
Everyone went down The Gut from time to time. It was even famously photographed by Antony Armstrong-Jones.
Although there were prostitutes in every bar, The Gut wasn’t regarded as brothels because clients were taken somewhere else. It was just a road full of bars.
Wall-to-wall people walked around, day and night, and music blared out of every doorway, loudly competing with the other bars.
Many a young soldier or sailor lost his virginity thanks to some professional help from The Gut!
Now it’s completely deserted and derelict, except for a few new businesses, struggling to attract Customers by giving out leaflets in the main street.
Ironically, knowing its history, there’s a back entrance to Marks & Spencers.
But now there are plans to restore the area. And the first step is the amazing loos at the end of the road.
Entrance isn’t cheap, but it’s a unique experience. They pay homage to the road’s past colourful history. Everything’s red, and a doorman with a bow-tie and white gloves stands guard at the door.
What else will appear as The Gut re-emerges and comes to life again?
I’m sure the plans will be carefully thought out, but it won’t be anything like the old Gut. Those days have vanished for ever!
Images above courtesy of Chris Briffa Architects