Copyright © The Malta Historical Society, 2005.
Source: Melita Historica. [Malta Historical Society]. 6(1974)3(335-336)
KARMENU ELLUL GALEA — L-lstorja tat-Tarzna, Hajja Printing Press, 1973, pp. iv, 620, illustr. 100.
As Englishmen once depended mainly on coal mines and South Africans still depend mainly on gold mines for their livelihood, so, for over 100 years, the Maltese have depended mainly on the Dockyard for their living. Thus has Karmenu Ellul Galea introduced his book L-Istorja tat-Tarzna.
After a short description of ship building and repairing along the coastline of Birgu during the Order's rule, the A. starts the history of the Dockyard proper, speaking of the construction of Dock No. 1 in 1847 and Docks 25 in 1892-1906. He dwells on the Hydraulic and the Floating Docks and other D'Yard appurtenances — the Parlatorio, the Ordinance, Kalafrana, Ricasoli and Manoel Island, the Admiralty House and the D'Yard Terrace.
Thousands of otherwise unemployed people found work in the Malta D'Yard. Better means of transport since the 1920s attracted more workers from the countryside. The best days for the Yard were during the two World Wars.
With the end of World War One, work slowed down and the D'Yard Authorities decided to close the Yard on Saturdays and pay workers for 5 instead of 6 days. This, jointly with cases of corruption, nepotism and vexation caused discontent among the workers, which led to the first general strike in 1919. Feeling the need of a stronger tie between them, D'Yard workers ;set up the first Union — of which the A. was a co-founder — published a gazette and founded a Maltese Benefit Society.
In several chapters the A. speaks of events during World War Two — the construction of shelters, the D'Yard Brigade, the air-raid upon the aircraft carrier "Illustrious" and the sinking of the M.V. "Moor", the visits of Churchill and Kekovich.
Two years after the last war, the Workers started the fight for a [p.336] 5-day week. In order to achieve their aim they banned overtime and ordered a go-slow strike. As a result they were locked out. The Prime Minister had to intervene. The worse came when in 1957, the Naval D'Yard Authorities informed the employees that the Yard was goingtoclose down. Commissions were set up, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, the Archbishop, the Cathedral Chapter and the College of Parish-priests pleaded for a reconsideration of the issue. Instead of a close-down, notices of discharges were given. The riots of the 27th February 1959 followed.
Not long after, a joyful ceremony celebrated the change of the Naval D'Yard into a commercial enterprise under the direction of Messrs Bailey. Other strikes followed. The D'Yard was again on the verge of closing. All political parties joined to avert the disaster. On February 14, 1963, it was announced in Parliament that the government was taking over the Dockyard.
Mr. Ellul Galea's work is a product of 44 years of personal experience at the D'Yard and 7 years of research work The A. deals delicately with the involvement of politics in the events. In our opinion, the work would have appeared better, had the diverse chapters been grouped under seven or eight more comprehensive titles. From a literary, social and historical point of view, this contribution deserves our praise and it should find a place in our libraries.