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The Main Guard and the legacy of the British army on its walls

The Main Guard and the legacy of the British army on its walls,
by Denis Darmanin,
from The Times of Malta, January 27, 2021, pages 14 & 15

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The Main Guard and the legacy of the British army on its walls

  1. 1. 14 | WEDNESDAY, jANuArY 27, 2021 timES of mAltA NATIONAL timES of mAltA WEDNESDAY, jANuArY 27, 2021 | 15 Once the British took formal possession of Malta, the for- mer building of the Guardia della Piazza, opposite the Grandmasters Palace in the centre of Valletta, across St George’s Square, was ideal for mounting the Palace Guard and, in 1814, was con- verted to ‘The Main Guard’. Once the Wignacourt foun- tain was removed, the square served as an excellent space for troops to parade or give displays to the governor and visiting dignitaries. The building of the Main Guard, where family friends serving in the British army were occasionally posted, had fascinatedmesincechildhood. In mid-2019, Heritage Malta started an extensive restora- tion project in which two con- servators are working on the restoration of not just the paintings but in giving new hope to this historic building anditscontents(‘InValletta,A WallwithHundredsof Murals Takes You Back in History’, DanielaAttardBezzina,Times of Malta, December 19, 2020). The works also includes un- covering any other noted fea- tures that may have been coveredandtheconsolidation of the layers of various paints on the walls themselves. The ground floor served as the guard room, the soldiers’ quarters, armoury and ablu- tions, and where a quarter guard was always present, with sentries pacing the front of theporticoatintervals.The officerhadhisownaccommo- dation upstairs, known as the dutyofficer’squarters,nextto the large hall that served as the officers’ mess. Between 1881 and 1882, the Childers reforms and Card- well reforms brought to an end the British infantry’s numerical system and many regiments were amalga- mated under new names, mainly associated to their region of origin. Thewallsof theformeroffi- cers’ mess hall at the Main Guard is an illustrative state- ment handed down to us by artists, many being either the soldiers themselves during thelonghoursspentonguard dutyorasinstructedbyoneof theofficersandevenbytheof- ficers themselves. Some are attributed to renowned officers, such as Major Sir Hamilton Goold- Adams, while another signed ‘G.M.F. 42nd’ is likely by Captain (later Colonel Sir) George Malcolm Fox. This huge array of wall paintings representing badges, colours, uniformedfigures,caricatures and events, some quite crude and anonymous, are a testi- mony to the presence of the various regiments and men of the British army stationed in Malta or just in transit, other- wise forgotten to time. Unfortunately, alterations and additions were made to these paintings during the odd 150 years serving as the Main Guard, and others were either superimposed by newer ones or painted over. Due to its uniqueness and my years of interest in this mess hallandinthisbranchof Mal- tese history, I regularly re- searched this building and particularly the military paintings on its walls (‘The MainGuardanditsmurals’,in Vigilo, No. 40, October 2011, and ‘British military Iconog- raphy; The Main Guard & its murals’, The Bulletin, MHS(UK), Issue 246, Vol. 62, Nov. 2011). Permission was sought from Heritage Malta to voluntarily assist in the on- going restoration project at times and, in due course, ended in having researched every badge on the walls and expanding even to the many of the uniforms paintings. Whether in full colour and artistically painted or rough sketches in pencil, some un- finished and others uncover- ed under layers of whitewash, some 45 badges have been identified and catalogued. Not all badges are as offi- cially worn on headdress and some belonging to the same regiment are repeated either by different hands or as in different time frames. Just about all badges belong to the infantry regiments that mounted the guard, includ- ing of the World War I terri- torial or reserve battalions then stationed in Malta and up to the Main Guard’s clo- sure in the early 1970s. Apart from the uniform il- lustrations, caricatures and sketches, the badges amount to about a third of what is on the walls, some with much licensing. To name a few of regiments represented by the badges, there are: the Royal Scots (Lothian Regiment), The 4th (The King’s Own Royal) Regi- ment, the 5th (Northumber- land Fusiliers), the 6th (Royal 1st Warwickshire) Regiment, the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment), the 9th East Norfolk Regiment, the 10th (North Lincolnshire) Regiment, the Devonshire Regiment, the Suffolk Regi- ment, The Prince Albert’s LightInfantry(Somersetshire Regiment), The Prince of Wales’ Own (West Yorkshire Regiment) and more. Various badges represent the 3rd Battalion Royal Fusiliers, which was in Malta from 1898 to 1899, while the 1/1st and 2/1st (City of Lon- don), 1/2nd and 2/2nd (City of London), the 1st/3rd and 2/3rd(Cityof London)andthe 1/4th and 2/4th (City of Lon- don)RoyalFusilierswereallin Maltaduring1914and1915,ei- ther as garrison or awaiting embarkationtotheGreatWar. The 5th and 6th (Reserve) Battalions, raised in 1914 had remained in the UK, with the 6th going to Ireland in late 1917, although there’s refer- encetoitinuniformedfigures. Two different badges rep- resent the 37th (North Hampshire) Regiment, based on the Glengarry badge as worn by the regi- ment with slight variations. Two more paintings de- pict the post-1881 badge for other ranks and the officers’ star pattern badge in King’s Crown. One painting but not of a badge, represents the 68th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regi- ment, Royal Artillery and there is the cap badge of the 1st Royal Tank Regiment, who were in Malta only from November to December 1956 during the Suez Crisis. Three other badge paintings pertain to the 40, 42 and 45 Royal Marines, Commando. The badge of the Royal Malta Artillery is the ‘ex- panded’ or ‘exploded’ version of post-1902 and bears the Tudor or King’s crown and ‘Egypt 1882’ Battle Honour. The King’s Own Malta Regi- menthasanumberof badges, some just sketches in pencil anduncoveredunderlayersof whitewash. The regiment was last to occupy the Main Guard andtheupperhallwasitsoffi- cers’ mess. Other to the badges, the queen’s and regi- mental colours of the KOMR are also painted in the centre of the eastern wall, where the actual colours were once dis- played unfurled. They were painted by Adrian Strickland, PaulDebonoandLouisJ.Sant Cassia, all officers of the regi- ment (‘Murals at the Main Guard’, letter by Louis J. Sant Cassia, Times of Malta, December 18, 2020.) Badge of the Lancashire Fusiliers with the pre-1881 ‘XX’ of the 20th (East Devonshire) Regiment of Foot. The 2nd Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment was in Malta from 1909 to 1912. An ‘expanded view’ of the badge of the Royal Malta Artillery . Incomplete badge of 42 Commando, Royal Marines, in Malta between 1947 and 1952. Badges of the Royal Sussex Regiment. Badge of the East Kent Militia, in Malta during World War I. Badge of the King’s Own Malta Regiment by Capt. F. Cassar Torregiani, 1933. The Main Guard and the legacy of the British army on its walls DENIS DARMANIN Badges of the 53rd (Shropshire) Regiment of Foot and post-1881 1st Bn, the King’s Light Infantry (Shropshire Regiment). Paintings on a section of one of the walls. ‘At the Main Guard’, The Graphic. Note the murals on the mess hall’s walls. “A testimony to the presence of various regiments and men of the British army”