MALTA , AN EVENTFUL JOURNEY!

The 1st Battalion left for Malta on the 24th January 1942 however due to transportation troubles `A` Company,the Carriers and a some of the battalion transport section were left behind at the Almyria Transit Camp and would follow on when another transport opportunity offered itself.

HMS KINGSTON

HMS KINGSTON

Deployed with HM Destroyers GRIFFIN, KELVIN, KIPLING, JAGUAR, HASTY, ARROW and Dutch destroyer ISAAC SWEERS as screen for HM Cruisers CARLISLE, DIDO   EURYALUS and NAIAD  to escort supply convoy to Malta and return Convoy  ME10 from Malta (Operation MF4) Took passage from Alexandria with Force B having first embarked a company of The 1st Durham Light Infantry.

Major John Kirby and `B` Company sailed on HMS Kingston (Destroyer) whilst the rest of the Battalion were placed aboard  the Naval stores ship`Breconshire`.The departure was some what hurried  as `Breconshires Captain had orders to sail at 15;30hrs and the battalion did not arrive until 14;30hrs the battalions kit was manhandled into the hold right up until the last moment not helped by the fact that the hold had first to be emptied of its grain cargo!.

 The convoy containing the battalion had an escort consisting of five cruisers and twelve destroyers  during the first two days of the voyage the journey was relatively uneventful then the Luftwaffe began to increase its attacks and it was only the onset of bad weather which prevented the Luftwaffe carrying out heavier raids but as the ships  tossed and rolled across the heavy seas few in the battalion cared little about anything let alone the Luftwaffe! On the 27th January at 10;00hrs  the convoy sailed into Valetta`s Grand Harbour .As the battalion disembarked the sirens wailed heralding an enemy air raid on the dockyard,something the battalion would have to get used too during its stay in Malta.

The 1st DLI arrive in Malta

`A` Companies efforts to rejoin the battalion began on the 12th February 1942 when they embarked on the `Clan Campbell` from Alexandria however on the 13th February Clan Campbell suffered damage during a luftwaffe air raid  when positioned off Tobruk,the damage forced Clan Campbell to return to Alexandria.On the 20th March `A`Company and the rest of those men not yet in Malta were distributed in four vessels The Breconshire,Clan Campbell,Pampas and Talabot. and set off in convoy from Alexandria.

 

It had been hoped that the convoy would reach Malta under cover of darkness, but  delays prevented that from happening.Just like the first convoy the ships came under heavy air attack  The convoy  struggled into Malta on the morning of 23rd March, all the time still under heavy attack from the air. The Talabot and the Pampas reached Malta at 9.15am, on the 23rd but even there they were not safe. On 26 March both ships were hit by German bombs. The Talabot, with a highly explosive cargo of ammunition, was scuttled to prevent an explosion, while only two of the Pampas’s holds were not flooded during these attacks. Just after the first two ships reached Malta the Breconshire was disabled by German bombers eight miles outside the harbour. For the next four days constant efforts were made to save her, at the cost of the destroyer HMS Southwold, sunk by a mine on 24th  March,  despite all these efforts on 27th  March the Breconshire was sunk at Marsaxlokk. The Clan Campbell was sunk at 10.20hrs on 23rd March, still twenty miles away from the relative safety of the harbour. The same attack also badly damaged the destroyer HMS Legion. who managed to reach the naval dockyard on Malta, but was sunk by German bombs on 26th March 1942.Luckily most of those onboard the stricken vessels were picked up by the Escort Destroyers.

The battalion now complete in personnel yet minus most of  its equipment were stationed in the Verdalla,Rabat and Dingli areas of Malta near the Airfield at Ta Kali as part of Maltas Central Infantry Brigade it was issued with 400 bicycles and given the title of the Mobile Reserve.

The 1st DLI busied itself with the construction of the blast pens on the Ta Kali airfield and also on Luqa airfield,hard backbreaking work for men on reduced rations due to the supply problems Malta faced at that time.The battalion did suffer casualties from the constant air-raids but the Germans were very precise in the timing of these raids enabling the Battalion to lead as normal a military existance possible under the circumstances combining their training and sporting events with nights out in the local towns drinking the local wine aptley named `Stuka Juice`.

1st DLI Carrier Malta (IWM)

Shortly after their arrival the battalion were asked to perform a demonstration of how to load motor transports in the prescence of the GOC General Beak who remarked they were the best in the Brigade and much to the amusement of other units present the DLI were ordered to repeat the performance for other visiting staff officers the following week !

Under the cover of a Camoflage net men of the 1st DLI make ready one of their carriers

During the GOC`s visit he had cause to rebuke one of the Battalions Sentries who failed to ask the General for his identification papers. The General asked the sentry"Why did`nt you ask for my papers?"The sentry replied " I know who you are Sir!" "Who do you think I am?" asked the General "You are Major General  Daniel Marcus William Beak ,Victoria Cross, Distinguished Service Order, Military Cross..... (short pause)..and Bar ,Sir!

1st Battalion Officers on Malta 1942 Colonel Eustace Arderne is seated front centre

At this time Colonel Arderne left the battalion to take charge of a brigade in the 10th Indian Division Command of 1st DLI passing to Colonel John Kirby.It was under John Kirby`s command that the battalion packed its bags and sailed for Egypt once again.Leaving Malta in June 1943 bound for Alexandria.

Malta under Siege

In a 24 hr period between the 20th-21st March 1941 295 Tonnes of bombs fell on the Airfield at Ta Qali (Kali) During this period the 1st Durhams suffered their first fatal casualties since arriving on the island .Six Durhams were killed on this day and one died on the next in all eight men would eventually die as a result of this raid. Two were  patients  at the Field Hospital while the others were from D Company and had been camped in the Almond Grove . The first battalion would lose fifteen men who would stay forever on Malta in their company would also lie two from the Regiments Territorial Battalions The 8th DLI & 9th DLI who died of wounds on the island..

Pte Stephen Hall Gardiner 4462437 The 1st DLI  died on the 21st March 1942 .Stephen was son of Robert Perry Gardiner and Elizabeth Ann Gardiner, of 5 High Garth , Sunderland, Co. Durham; husband of Evelyn Gardiner, also of Sunderland he was aged 28years.Today he lies in good company in Imtarfa Military Cemetery, Malta.

Pte James Henry Garnick 4451285 The 1st DLI died on the 21st March 1942 he too was from Sunderland and was the son of  John and Jane Garnick, both of Sunderland, Co. Durham . He was  25 years of age.Today he lies in good company in Imtarfa Military Cemetery, Malta.collective grave 4.1A.15

Private Charles Levey 6025634 formerly of The Essex Regiment and now a Light Infantryman with The 1st DLI is also listed as one of those who died on 21st March 1942 he was from Romford, in Essex the son of Albert and Ethel Sarah Levy, Charles was 22years of age Today he lies in good company in Imtarfa Military Cemetery, Malta.collective grave 4.1A.17

Pte James Joseph Murray 4460644 1st Battalion The Durham Light Infantry also listed as one who fell on the 21st March 1942 another native of old County Durham He was the son of Joseph and Annie Murray, of Gateshead, Co. Durham He too was 22years of age Today he lies in good company in Imtarfa Military Cemetery, Malta.collective grave 4.1A.19

Pte Robert Sadler 4459647 1st Battalion The Durham Light Infantry listed as died 21st March 1942 he was 26years of age believed born in Middlesborough Today he lies in good company in Imtarfa Military Cemetery, Malta.collective grave 4.1A.15

Pte John Edward  Wake 4460787 1st Durham Light Infantry yet another young lad of 22years listed amongst those who fell on the 21st March 1942 yet another Durham lad Son of John Ranson Wake and Mary Curry Wake, of Chester-le-Street, Co. Durham.Today he lies in good company in Imtarfa Military Cemetery, Malta.collective grave 4.1A.17

Pte John William Dewhurst 4269895 formerly of the Northumberland Fusiliers now of the 1st Battalion The Durham Light Infantry died one day after his six comrades above another North East Lad from Tyneside he is listed on the 22nd March 1942 Son of  William and Jane Annie Dewhurst, of Wallsend-on-Tyne, Northumberland he was aged 25 years.Today he lies in good company in Imtarfa Military Cemetery, Malta.collective grave 4.1A.19

 

 PTE JAMES  BARROWMAN, 2987569 formerly of The Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders and from Glasgow died on the 22nd April 1942.He was the son  of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Barrowman, of Shettleston, near Glasgow.Today he lies in good company in Imtarfa Military Cemetery, Malta.collective grave 2B.3.2

Pte Roy Temple Douglass 4463148 1st DLI died also on the 22nd April 1942 he was the son of George Richardson Douglass, and of Elizabeth Jane Douglass, of Chester-le-Street, Co. Durham He was 28years old.Today he lies in good company in Imtarfa Military Cemetery, Malta.collective grave 4.1A.18

Pte Ivan Ronald Harrold 6026833 formerly of The Essex Regiment now The 1st  Durham Light Infantry Died 08/04/1942 Son of Arthur James Harrold and Agness Ann Harrold, of Melksham, Wiltshire; and husband of Phyllis Nora Harrold nee Carter), of Melksham whom he married in 1938. Aged 26 at he time of his death Today he lies in good company in Imtarfa Military Cemetery, Malta.collective grave 4.1A.17

Corporal William Rutter  Rogerson 4269087 Formerly of the Northumberland Fusiliers now The 1st Durham Light Infantry died 24/04/1943 Born in Chester-le-Street in 1915 he was 27 yrs old at the time of his death.Today he lies in good company in Imtarfa Military Cemetery, Malta.collective grave 4.1A.18

L/Cpl Thomas Warner 4037190 formerly The Kings Shropshire Light Infantry now 1st Durham Light Infantry died 20/06/1942 aged 25 Son of Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Warner; husband of Phyllis Warner, of Clitheroe, Lancashire Today he lies in good company in Imtarfa Military Cemetery, Malta.collective grave 2.6.3

Pte Henry Clarke 4450608 1st Durham Light Infantry died 21/06/1942 aged 33years Son of Edward and Margaret Ann Clarke, of Stockton-on-Tees, Co. Durham Today he lies in good company in Imtarfa Military Cemetery, Malta.collective grave 3.2.11

Pte Gerald Harold Hall 4451559 1st Durham Light Infantry died 04/07/1942 aged 26 years Son of Joseph and Mary Ann Hall, of Croxdale Colliery, Co. Durham.Today he lies in good company in Imtarfa Military Cemetery, Malta.collective grave 3.2.10

L/Cpl Harry Leslie Gardner 4450130 1st Durham Light Infantry died 5/7/1943 aged 31 years Son of James and Mary Jane Gardner, of Fawdon, Newcastle-on-Tyne.Today he lies in good company in Imtarfa Military Cemetery, Malta.collective grave 3.3.2.

Pte John Dixon Chapman 4470492 9th Durham Light Infantry died 17th August 1943 aged 20years.Son of James and Margaret Alice Chapman, of Leyburn, Yorkshire.Today he lies in good company in Imtarfa Military Cemetery, Malta.collective grave 2.7.3

All Malta grave photographs supplied courtesy of BRITISH WARGRAVE PHOTOGRAPHS my thanks to Mick and his team

The Siege January-June 1942

Just prior to The 1st Battalion DLI leaving for Malta Major D F Crosthwaite found himself in the role of acting C.O and his first orders as CO were to move the battalion HQ to Moascar. On the 11th January 1942 at 0700hrs the HQ supported by both `HQ` and `D` Companies set off in their Motor Transport arriving at Moascar at 08;15hrs on the 12th January. Meanwhile `C` Company who were already at Moascar were ordered to Baglagh to take over a Prisoner of War Cage there, however this duty was very short lived  as orders were received for the whole battalion to pull back to Qassasin  the battalions place at Moascar was taken by the 2nd Kings Own Regiment with the 1st Essex Regt taking over from the other DLI companies at Baglagh and Port Said.On the17th January 1942 the battalion was once again reunited at Qassasin following a brief rest the 1st DLI found themselves placed on  a four hour notice to leave Egypt and on the 22nd January were marched to the local train station where they entrained for Amriyes then on to Alexandria.The 1st Durhams sailed for Malta and after enduring eight air raids on the way finally sailed into Valetta harbour on the 27th January 1942 as mentioned previously in this section it was not the entire battalion who successfully completed the journey with the unfortunate `A` Company forced to turn back  and news of the fate of the 3 officers and 96 other ranks was not confirmed until the 15th February 1942 when it was learnt that the missing company were safe and well back in the middle east and would rejoin the battalion later.

For the majority of the 1st DLI the last week of January would be a transition period to the role of Mobile Reserve as part of The Central Infantry Brigade. After a battalion move to the Verdalla area  on the 27th January 1942 `D` Company were again moved to a new camp area at Jebel Chantra and Maltas Inquisitors Palace where they were designated the New role of Battalion Fortress Reserve with Anti-Parachute responsibilities.With the battalion area now established as Dingli-Rabat  the men of 1st DLI once again  began to settle into the routine of training and various recognition courses which were part of every British soldiers daily routine .An OP`s point was established at Tal Virtu where a JU88 was seen to crash on the 5th March 1942  in `D` Companies area(Chantar Jebel) the aircraft burst into flames killing the entire crew.

1st DLI soldiers, Near Dingli Village,Malta, home of `C` Company: R.F.Kirby, Mr Bush, Lance-Sergeant Coates, Captain Reed (Regimental Medical Officer) 

On the 12th March German bombs rained down on the `D` Company area but caused no casualties an event which was repeated on the 21st March but this time with tragic consequences for the battalion.A large scale air raid was mounted by the Luftwaffe on the British airfield at Ta Kali unfortunately some of the German bombs meant for the airfield fell onto the Hospital at Imtarfa where `D` Company had provided a guard.Five  members of the 1st Battalion  The Durham Light Infantry were killed instantly with a sixth soldier who received fatal wounds during the attack dying later in the day.Those killed on the 21st March were 4462437 Pte Stephen Hall Gardiner,4460787 Pte John Edward Wake,4459647 Pte Robert Sadler,4460644 Pte James Joseph Murray,6025634 Pte Charles Levey and 4451285 Pte James Henry Garnick.A seventh soldier 4269895 Pte John William Dewhurst died on the 22nd March from wounds received in the raid., four other soldiers were hospitalised as a result of the raid.On the 23rd March the battalion laid to rest their fallen comrades with full military honours at the Imtarfa Military Cemetery. a most tragic occurrence which unfortunately would be repeated during the battalions stay on the island.

On the 25th March much to the delight of the battalion the missing `A` Company marched into the battalion area after they had disembarked from the Breconshire which unfortunately had been forced to beach near Marsa Scirroco. Taking up their new positions on the 26th March at the pumping station between Dingli and Rabat and despite the almost constant heavy air raids the company settled down to as normal a routine as possible.

Night Time at Luqa Airfield  provides no respite for 1st DLI as German bombers roam overhead

The 1st Battalion The Durham Light Infantry provided working parties for both of the main airfields on Malta hard back breaking work for most men more so for these men on reduced rations due to the Italian and German blockade of the Island. At Ta Quali (Kali) the work parties were provided by `A` and `B` Companies with those at Luqa drawn from `C` `D` and `HQ` Companies respectively. On the 8th April 1942 one man of the battalion 6026833 Pte Ivan Ronald Harrold was wounded during an enemy raid he subsequently died of these wounds a short time later.

As work continued on the airfields the 1st Battalion DLI received some strange reinforcements when three Naval officers and eighty-one other ratings were added to the battalion strength for the purposes of rations and accommodation. All had come from ships which had been damaged or destroyed in the Valletta Harbour area.

On April 22nd 1942 a further seven soldiers from the battalion were wounded by Enemy action with two men 4463148 Pte Roy Temple Douglass and  2987569 Pte John Barrowman later dying from their wounds.With the airfields a high priority target for both the Germans and Italians it was a scenario that would unfortunately be repeated soon after on the 24th April when a delayed action bomb exploded killing 4269087 Cpl William Rutter Rogerson (Pictured Right)another member of the 1st battalion.It was now realised that if the battalion continued to work out in the open during daylight hours then further casualties were inevitable so it was with great relief that the battalion received orders to cease daylight work on the airfields and instead a seven day shift of 1930hrs until 0300hrs was to be worked filling in pot holes rebuilding blast pens etc demoralising for the men who returned night after night to find the Luftwaffe had created even more work than  the night before as the air raids gathered in strength and number.

The month of May brought no respite on the 5th May an Italian bomber was shot down and crashed in flames in the area of Dingli `C` company recovered two badly burnt bodies from the wreckage with a third being found close by. Three other Italian aircrew believed from the same plane were plucked alive from the sea by men of `D` Company near Jebel Chantar  .On the 7th May two pieces of welcome news reached the battalion.The first was the confirmation that 4449754 Sgt O M Stewart had been awarded the Military Medal for his part in 1st DLI operations in November 1941 around the area of Tobruk(His full citation can be found in the Middle-east section on this site).The second piece of news referred to the Repatriation of wounded PoW`s  back to England it was learnt that no less than eight members of the 1st DLI were amongst the latest group to be repatriated and were now safely back in England following their capture in the Western Desert.

Captain J E Stafford, Lieutenant K R Girdwood (Pictured to the Right) and several NCO`s from the battalion were asked to undertake the training of the local fortress defence platoons a task the battalion were happy to accept having already taken both the Rabat and Dingli Home Guard under their wing. At Jebel Chantar `D` Company found itself packing its bags and moving billets at Boschetto Gardens  the move being completed on the 18th May 1942.

The increase in bombing raids and the subsequent need to repair the airfields more quickly resulted in an increase in the number of men assigned to each work party in addition extra shifts were implemented a typical break down of the parties revealed that one officer and 100 other ranks were employed on Pen building with further 1st battalion men employed in arming and refuelling of aircraft a total of four officers and 267 other ranks were employed at Luqa airfield alone by the end of May 1942.

On the 14th June 1942 General Viscount Gort, Governor and Commander in Chief of Malta attended the battalion Church parade and although all ranks were ordered to attend the numbers present were still very small owing to the battalions commitment of providing so many personnel for the airfield work parties. On the 17th June the battalions commitment was reduced to four officers and 106 other ranks if this was a direct result of the Governors attendance is not recorded but if those who were relieved from the work parties thought life was going to be any easier they were in for a rude awakening when the battalion were ordered to supply personnel for convoy related duties(Unloading and refuelling).

 4037190 L/Cpl Tom Warner is listed as died later on the 20th June 1942 and 4450608 Pte Henry Clarke listed as died on the 21st June possibly from wounds received in previous incidents as the War Diary makes no further mention of casualties until the 22/23rd June 1942

At 0800hrs on the morning of June 23rd 1942 an enemy Anti personnel Mine/Bomb which had fell into a tree on the night of the 22/23rd June and lain undiscovered exploded just as  some of `B` Company were passing  one Warrant Officer and three other ranks were wounded although none are reported to have been killed .

As June drew to a close the battalion were back in the routine of providing work parties and conducting night patrols. The night patrols fell mainly to `D` Company who had the coastal patrol route from Bittia to Il Kaus.

 

The Siege July-August 1942

 4451559 Pte Gerald Harold Hall  1st Durham Light Infantry

At the beginning of July 1942 The 1st Battalion The Durham Light Infantry took over the responsibility of providing Guard duties at the Military Hospital at Imtarfa (relieving the 11th Lancashire Fusiliers) and at the R.A.F station at Ta Kandia. During those early July days tragedy once again befell the battalion when on the 4th July 1942 a German Luftwaffe bombing raid on the village of Dingli resulted in the deaths of two members of the battalion Pte Gerald Harold Hall 4451559 (Above)1st Durham Light Infantry died 04/07/1942 aged 26 years he was the son of Joseph and Mary Ann Hall, of Croxdale Colliery, Co. Durham the second casualty was L/Cpl Harry Leslie Gardner 4450130 1st Durham Light Infantry who died shortly after from wounds received in the raid his death is recorded by the CWGC as  5/7/1943 aged 31 years he was the son of James and Mary Jane Gardner, of Fawdon, Newcastle-on-Tyne.

The battalion once again settled down to a steady ,if un-spectacular, routine of Guard duties and training.The 1st DLI War Diary of July 1942  shows the following Company deployments;-

`A` Company detailed with guard duties at Ta Kandia

`B` Company detailed with night coastal patrols between Ta Zuta and IL Kaus

`C` Company detailed with various Platoon and section training

`D` Company detailed with various Platoon and section training

The  12th July 1942 saw the Island of Malta revert to Normal Summer time. The 1st Durham Light Infantry  at this time had their Battalion headquarters situated at Bochetto Gardens which lay in a green  valley in the shadow of Verdala Castle along side them were billeted `HQ` and `B` Companies. `D` Company had also been billeted in the Bochetto region but on the 25th July 1942 moved to join `A` Company  at The Pumping Station at Rabat where purpose built huts had been erected by the Royal Engineers. `C` Company at this time were at `Dingli Dell` .

As men of the 1st DLI continued with their duties few would really be aware at how critical the supply problem on Malta had really become Soup kitchens which had fed both the population and the troops were fast running out of food and it was recorded on the 10th  August that the absolute last issue from island reserves would occur in five days, on 15th August. After that the authorities would turn  to the slaughter of the Islands horses and goats, which they considered would be adequate for another six months, in reality it would give the Island another five to ten days maximum. Unless Malta received supplies and quickly she would be forced into capitulation . Operation `PEDESTAL` a convoy aimed at buying Malta much needed time was put into operation during those August days .The 1st Durham Light Infantry at the beginning of August 1942 had been relieved of their Guard duties at both the Imtarfa Hospital and the RAF station at Ta Kandia in their place the battalion would provide Fire Fighting Crews for the Merchant Vessels delivering the much needed supplies.The 1st Durham Light Infantry were informed on the 10th August 1942  of the `PEDESTAL` convoy and  that they could expect at least fourteen merchant ships over the coming days with the first due to arrive on August 13th. The operation to unload and secure the cargos was code named `CERES` 1st DLI were to provide 34 Drivers plus trucks to assist with the transportation of supplies to the various depots in addition fourteen fire crews each consisting of  one officer, one sergeant, one corporal and fourteen other ranks would be placed on each merchant ship it was made clear to these men that they were to remain onboard these ships until all supplies had been unloaded. Any pilfering of supplies regardless of how small the quantity would result in a court marshal!

The Fire Crews were drawn as follows;-

`A` Company ….3 parties designated as…A1,A2,A3

`B` Company ….3 parties designated as…B4,B5,B6

`D`Company……3 parties designated as…D7,D8,D9

`HQ` Company….2 parties designated as…HQ10,HQ11.

Composite `A` and `D` Company crew …. designated ..AD

Composite `HQ` and `B` Company crew..designated..HQB

WT Class (Signals) attached to `B` Company also provided one crew designation ..WT.

The `Lighter` crews (who ferried between the merchant men and the tugs) would also be provided by the Durham Light Infantry .Three Crews were drawn from `HQ` Company and each consisted of  one Sergeant, one Corporal and 14 other ranks with one officer of the Battalion in overall command .

 On the 13th August 1942  the battalion`s crews were positioned at their respective berths. At 1500hrs the battalion were informed that due to enemy(German and Italian) action a number of the expected merchantmen had been lost and only five crews were now required. Only three vessels made it to Malta on the 13th August , MV Melbourne Star, MV Port Chalmers and the MV Rochester Castle (damaged).On the 14th August 1942 the MV Brisbane Star arrived at Malta, hugging the Tunisian coast during 13th August the Master planned to make a night dash for Malta. But was impeded by the intervention of a boarding party by French officers who tried to persuade him to make for  a Tunisian port and surrender, his Medical Officer also wished to enter port due to the condition of the wounded. Nevertheless the Master fully aware of Maltas plight stuck firmly to his course, and brought his ship into Malta during the afternoon of 14th August. The SS Ohio fuel tanker, damaged beyond repair,and supported by three other vessels limped into Maltas Grand Harbour on the 15th August . These ships which arrived in Malta landed 32,000 tons of cargo and 15,000 tons of fuel, sufficient to supply Malta until December 1942 (other than aviation fuel). So grateful were the people of Malta that even to this day at the beginning of prayers the names of these five ships are read out before each service. The other merchantmen did not fare so well SS Almeria Lykes (sunk),MV Clan Ferguson (sunk),MV Deucalion (sunk),MV Dorset (sunk),MV Empire Hope (sunk),MV Glenorchy (sunk),SS Santa Elisa (freighter, drums of fuel, sunk),SS Waimarama (freighter, drums of fuel, sunk)and MV Wairangi (freighter, ammo and drums of fuel, sunk).

The battalion meanwhile provided a further party of one NCO and ten other ranks for duty at the Cargo dumps following the arrival of the `OHIO` on August 15th these men worked alongside the battalions drivers before they returned to battalion duties on the 23rd August. On the 24th-25th August the men enjoyed a rest day with various Sports and games organised whilst the battalion CO attended a conference at Lascarous barracks on  the merits of operation `Ceres`. On the 6th September 1942 the 1st Durham Light Infantry joined the people of Malta in a National Day of Prayer. Although unaware at the time the men of the battalion had technically seen the end of the Siege of Malta.

 

The Siege September-December 1942

The award of the George Cross to the Island of Malta and her  people was made on 15th April 1942, King George VI awarded the George Cross to the then Governor, Sir William Dobie, on behalf of the people of Malta with the following words:   "To honour her brave people, I award the George Cross to the Island Fortress of Malta, to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history" The situation in Malta was that critical that no formal ceremony was arranged at the time of the award but  by September 1942 the decision was made to proceed with the official ceremony .

On the 13th September 1942, the ceremony was held where the Governor of Malta, Lord Gort presented the George Cross to the Chief Justice of Malta, Sir George Borg.

The cross was displayed in various towns and villages across the Island of Malta. On the 22nd September  1942 the George Cross was put on public display in the village of `Dingli` here Twelve  Buglers of the 1st Durham Light Infantry `played` the award from the outskirts of the village to the Church where it was placed on display and once the display ended it was left to the battalion buglers to play the `Cross` out again , similar ceremonies were held in October when the battalion buglers again accompanied the `Cross` to Rabat and Zebbug

Dingli Church where the 1st Battalion buglers accompanied the GC

At this time the Durhams saw their battle training intensify with more and more  time  spent at the ranges with the battalions carriers and mortars heavily involved. When at the end of September 1942  Mess accounts began to be checked and rumours of a move into action began to intensify.

On October 4th 1942, 60 other ranks were admitted to Imtarfa hospital suffering from severe food poisoning for those remaining field firing at Meyesa ranges by `D` and `A` companies supported by mortars and artillery merely reinforced the rumours of a return to action.

As the end of October approached Major N M Vaux rejoined the battalion from the middle east Following a battalion exercise in the Imjar region of the Island all leave was cancelled the CO attended a conference at Brigade HQ where it was revealed that the 1st DLI were to move with only what was termed as a `Fighting scale` of equipment, rear parties were to be detailed at once to look after the large amount of battalion stores that were to be left behind. On the 22nd November 1942 it was revealed that the battalion together with RE and RA plus  seven detachments of Breda 49mm guns were to be loaded on to  The `Welshman` and The `Manxman `and transported to an undisclosed port once off shore the battalion were to be landed by the cruisers lifeboats and skiffs.(Due to lack of Landing craft for this operation).

Once ashore the 1st DLI were to persuade  French forces holding the port to support the Allies and with French help hold the town/port until relieved by a larger force advancing overland. The operation was planned for the 23rd November 1942. The 1st Durham Light Infantry, it was planned, would move to the docks at 12;30hrs  proceeded by their various Depot personnel who would load the stores, rations and ammunition but at 2015hrs on the 22nd November without warning the operation was cancelled (Much to the delight of the men who thought it a suicide mission).

The Durhams were not stood down and remained on 8 hours notice to leave Malta. On November 29th 1942 ,once again orders were received to move this time all of the 1st battalions equipment was loaded onto the MV Melbourne Star but with only personnel left to board the operation was again cancelled following  consultations between Major Vaux, RAF liasons and  1st Army representatives in Tunisia.

December 1942 saw the battalion revert back to their various airfield and convoy duties .The 1st Cheshires, it was planned, would take over the battalions positions at Boschetto Gardens which meant both `B` Company and `HQ` Companies moving to the area of the Verdalla Palace.

A carol service was held at the Adelphi cinema in Rabat which was attended by all available personnel .Christmas Day 1942 saw no work parties on the airfields for the 1st Durham Light Infantry and everyone in the battalion enjoyed a traditional Christmas, lunch the first the battalion had managed since the outbreak of the war and as  1942 ended the battalion was left to reflect on the past year and wonder what 1943 would have in store for them .