Copyright The Malta Historical Society, 2005.

Source: Melita Historica. [Malta Historical Society]. 7(1976)1(90-91)

[p.90] Reviews 1976

A. SAMUT-TAGLIAFERRO, "History of the Royal Malta Artillery, Vol. I (1800-1939)". Malta, Lux Press, 1976; pp. 13 unnum., 496; ill. 37.

To the casual student of Maltese military history, the 19th Century has always given the impression of being a most unlikely period in which to go in search of glory or glamour. After the Napoleonic adventure, which included the brief but eventful French occupation of Malta, it appeared as if Pax Britannica would last forever; in fact, while the rest of Europe was seething with war and revolution, Malta seemed completely becalmed.

Consequently, the first volume of Brigadier Samut-Tagliaferro's history of the R.M.A., besides being a mine of hitherto unobtainable information and reference, comes as something of a revelation, both from the military and the social point of view. The basic story of that long-suffering and hard-wearing body of men, the threads that link it to the volunteer companies formed during the Siege of Valletta of 1798, its periodical excursions overseas and its expansion and contraction from time to time to comply with the whims of a niggardly War Office, are sufficiently well-known even to the non-specialist. But the present publication goes far beyond that.

Particularly in the course of his staff work in Malta, the Author had the opportunity to sift through and study numerous official documents which were not easily accessible to the general public. The extent and depth of his research are shown not only in the wealth of material to be found in the text, but also in the abundant and meticulous documentation which supports even the simplest statement. It would be idle in the space of this short review to go into any detail: suffice it to say that, as far as all the Artillery units ever raised in Malta under British rule are concerned, there is just about everything. For the reader desiring a quick reference, there is an appendix which gives a concise but comprehensive summary of all the highlights, and some of the lesser lights, in 140 years of Regimental life; while the reader with a military tradition in the family can spend hours browsing through the nominal rolls and service details of every officer who ever joined. Furthermore, there are no less than 370 notes at the end of the chapters, which provide a copious bibliography and an index to sources.

It may be, however, that when all is said and done, the book's greatest value will eventually be as a social document. Understandably, when compared with that of a Regiment of the line, the history of the [p.91] R.M.A. contains very little excitement. But in its unremitting struggle to improve its conditions of service and to achieve equality with comparable British Regiments, the R.M.A. was unique. All the social and economic problems which have bedevilled labour relations during the present Century, and particularly since the last war, such as basic pay, hours of work, pensions, health, housing, sanitation, education and a hundred others, have been known to the R.M.A. for many decades. Very often, conditions in the Regiment lagged far behind those in civil life; now and again they were in advance. Numerous quotations from the correspondence between the R.M.A., Malta Headquarters and the War Office show how difficult it was to extract even an extra farthing in pay or allowances or to obtain sufficient funds to enable an old and invalid gunner to go on pension. It is hard to believe, for instance, that, until 1907, officers' commissions were only "local and temporary"; that until 1885 good conduct pay for soldiers was one half-penny for every five years exemplary service; that fresh meat was included in soldiers' rations only since 1881, and that it was only in 1935 that the British Service scale of rations was approved for Maltese troops, although rates of pay and allowances were still below two-thirds. There is no doubt that, among those who fought through the years to improve the conditions of the Maltese workers, the Commanding Officers of the Royal Malta Artillery deserve a place of honour.

In many ways the book is a formidable undertaking, for which there is no doubt that the Author was highly qualified. Commissioned into the R.M.A. shortly before the outbreak of World War II, he served in Malta throughout the War, mainly in command of a Light Anti-Aircraft Battery and was awarded an M.B.E. He then had various regimental and staff appointments in Malta, England, Germany, the Middle and Far East, until he was promoted Brigadier and awarded a C.B.E. His last appointment was Commander of the Armed Forces of Malta which he relinquished last year. The second volume of "The History of the R.M.A.", covering the War and post-War periods, is now awaited with interest. It is to be hoped that the Printers will do it greater justice and will avoid the printing errors with which the first volume abounds.

Edward Sammut