Pax Britannica – 1st Battalion in Malta
On 11th November 1893 1st Battalion, The Gloucestershire Regiment landed in Malta, not for the first nor last time. The battalion was carried once again by the HIMALAYA, a venerable troop transport that had seen service during the Crimean War, and which would be decommissioned the following year, but remaining afloat until she was bombed and sunk in 1940.
Major, later Lieut.-Colonel, A.H. Radice recalled his days as a young subaltern on Malta, noting, among other things, that perennial complaint of soldiers, the inadequacy of certain items of uniform and kit, and the parsimoniousness of government:-
“The officers had their uniforms made by Zarb, a Maltese who had a small shop in Strada Reale in Valetta. He was the worst tailor in the world, but useful to borrow money from. …
“For the summer the men were issued with white helmets of a rather ugly shape, and khaki drill covers to put over them when in khaki. This made it very difficult to turn out on church parade with properly pipeclayed helmets; and also on some quibble the authorities refused to make an issue of back badges for the helmet and therefore we had to buy them out of funds. I think it was only when we got to India that we were issued with khaki helmets with white covers, a much more practical arrangement.”
Sporting triumphs came frequently to the Gloucesters in Malta, whenever they were based there. In 1873 the 28th had won a magnificent trophy for rowing at the annual Regatta, and more than twenty years later in 1894, they won again, led by their stroke Lt.-Colonel Conner.
“The race was not without excitement, our boat got to a good lead and they began to take it easy, not noticing another boat was creeping up on the Valetta side. A crowd from the Regiment had gone to Fort Manoel to see the finish; they noticed the boat creeping up on the far side and raised a great shout which woke up our crew to their danger before it was too late; they won by half a length.”
Conner, who had also been stroke in the crew of 1873, was cox for the 1895 event, when the Gloucesters won again.
Sergeant F.E. Bishop recalled a rather different adventure of a nautical flavour, enjoyed by the sergeants of the 28th in Malta in 1895:-
“… A Russian Battleship put into the dry dock for slight repairs, etc. Our “Ambassador of Peace,” Drum Major S.M. Carroll, had a brainwave and unaware to his superiors, he donned his best uniform, went to the Dockyard, and invited the equivalent ranks to a Smoking Concert in our Sergeants Mess, nothing then had been arranged, however, they came up and a very enjoyable evening was spent, each one of us took a Russian as a Pal for the evening. The following day we received an invitation to a “Cup of Tea” to be held in H.M. Dockyard, and the majority of us who were free from duty availed ourselves of the opportunity of attending, some of the seniors did not attend as the cup of tea was not strong enough a magnet. When we arrived the “Cup of Tea” was very conspicuous by its absence, but there was almost every kind of liquid refreshment in existence present, and needless to say, we spent a right royal evening with our Russian friends.
“There are several incidents which happened that I can still visualise, but the funniest of all was Drummy Carroll and a burly whiskery Russian, taking leave of each other and hugging and kissing at the Dockyard gates. …”
Picture: Colonel Conner with the Governor’s Cup for rowing, Malta 1894.