Storytellers – The Three Sieges of Malta

The Three Sieges of Malta was the presentation for the evening.

  • By the Turks in 1565
  • By the Axis Powers during WWII
  • By BBC swimmers in 2014
  1. Jon Attwater will dwell briefly on the fascinating history of The Knights of St John and the Great Siege of 1565
  2. A short film “Malta GC” will be shown on our new screen. This film of 20 minutes duration was made in 1943 at the request of King George VI to record what happened in Malta during WWII. This rare footage was retrieved from the archives of the Imperial War Museum in London in 2005.
  3. Finally, from Jack Stening, a short talk accompanied with some dramatic photographs on the recent BBC swim in Malta.

The BBC swimmers siege of Malta occurred in June 2014 and due to a very busy agenda the Storytellers only managed to find time to hear all about it in November, the last meeting for the year. Bolstered by many members who went on the trip, the number of attendees exceeded 50, which has been a regular occurrence throughout 2014.

It was heartening to know that Doug & Chris Sturrock decided that to celebrate their 14th Wedding Anniversary they would spend it at the Storytellers rather than some swanky restaurant … well, at least Doug decided!

jon-attwater-jack-stenning-650x366Jon ‘Swampy’ Attwater dwelt briefly on the fascinating history of The Knights of St John of Jerusalem and the Great Siege of 1565. As part of the planning of the Malta adventure, Jon had uncovered a wealth of fascinating information and admitted that after his visit, Malta really had lived up to all his expectations and he’d certainly consider another visit, and not only for the fine food and good wine! Jon’s full account of the trip has since been published in the BBC Report Issue 124.

Knights-of-St-John-of-Jerusalem-650x366

Knights of St John of Jerusalem

Jon later introduced a short film “Malta GC” which they had seen in a Maltese museum and which Rosslyn Skinner had managed to secure a copy.

This film of 20 minutes duration was made in 1943 at the request of King George VI and tells of Malta’s struggle against the odds during World War 2. Click here to view this rare footage was retrieved from the archives of the Imperial War Museum in London in 2005.

bbc-members-malta-dinner-350x476Following the film, Jack Stening gave a short talk accompanied with some great photographs of the recent BBC Siege. The siege consisted of 3 days of swimming, the first 2 days circumnavigating Gozo. On day 3 they went from the most easterly point of Gozo to the mainland of Malta going past Comino. On Gozo they stayed at a place called Xlendi, a bay in the south west of Gozo. The BBC raiders consisted of 19 swimmers and 6 friends, partners or spouses. They stayed in the same hotel which had a dozen or so restaurants out the front where they ate every night often sporting T-Shirt designed by Jimmy Arnold.

Jack explained the swim logistics. They had an escort ship, an 80 ft. Turkish gullet.
There was a rubber inflatable boat which stayed with the swimmers for safety and to try and ensure that everyone swam close together. Sometimes the ship had to go ahead to drop off the next group of swimmers and then it would wait for others to arrive. Each group would swim for 20 mins, and there were 6 groups of 3 or 4 swimmers, with mixed speeds in order to stay together. At the handover contact with the next swimmer was required, not just a ‘gooday mate’.

Valletta-from-Grand-Harbour-650x416

Valletta from Grand Harbour

An adventure such as this needs great organisers and fortunately Swampy, Jackie Bourn & Tony Smuts are the best around. During the swim everyone was very busy. When one group was swimming, other groups were always doing something, perhaps looking out for sharks & other boats. In such a swim it’s important to take safety and logistics seriously. Another group would be making sure the next swimmers were ready. Tony S was navigator and timekeeper and as always was very precise. There were some challenges too, especially for swimmers trying to get back on-board after their 20 minutes stint. Whilst the Mediterranean may look calm it is sometimes quite rough. Trying to get on the landing platform at the back of boat was a challenge with often 2 metre swells which meant the climb needed to be well timed. The water also had some stingers which unfortunately Jimmy managed to find. Once they were aware of them they generally managed to avoid them much to everyone’s relief.

Jack concluded his talk mentioning the very strong bond that develops amongst the swimmers and supporters after participating in a swim such as the Malta Siege.

Fort St Michael

Fort St Michael

Big thanks must go to both Allan Bolton and Garry O’Sullivan for being on-hand to ensure that all the photographs were resized and formatted for showing on the new BBC screen.

Reference was made of two good books to read if you want to know more about Malta:

The evening finished with Alan Gill telling of the time when he went to Malta as a trainee reporter in the 60s. He loved it so much he even applied for a job there. In particular he remembers going to a cinema and seeing everyone standing when the English national Anthem was played. He also managed to get into hot water when he wrote an article about Malta’s ancient buses being held together by string, swearing and blessings. Malta’s Prime Minister was deeply offended and complained to the British Embassy.

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