Yells, Bells & Smells

Yells, Bells & Smells

Christopher Jary with Nick Speakman, James Porter, Andrew Edwards & Laurence Thornton-Grimes
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
This book is a ‘firmback’ written by Chris Jary, who was once involved at the Tank Museum at Bovington and who now runs the Keep Military Museum in Dorchester. He’s a chap who is very good at teaching children about our Military History, and dedicated to keeping memories and history alive. I bought it as Holiday Read, as Mr GRB is a Dorset Man with pride in his Grandfather’s Regiment, and we knew one of the survivors of the 1st Dorsets from the Malta Campaign. My maternal Grandfather was in Malta with the Hampshire Regiment, but left in August 1939 after the death of his baby son, who is still there, in Pembroke Cemetery, in a grave shared with the son of a soldier, killed by a bomb in 1942.

Hopefully A-Y won’t mind my reviewing it as an ‘extra’! (Only £75 from Amazon! ;) )

After a foreword by the Earl of Wessex and a Roll of Honour, the book has maps of Gozo, Malta and their location in the Mediterranean, followed by chapters taking the reader through the background to the siege, early days of the war, the change of mind from not defending the island to defending it, the massive bombing in early 1942, the starvation and rationing, the siege being broken and the aftermath. Appendices include the Orders of Battle for the Regiments, Honours and Awards earned, and a comprehensive bibliography. The story is told from Regimental Records, interviews with survivors, soldiers, civilians and families, and is quite heartrending in places.

As usual the Infantry seem to have been used for many roles during the siege – Private Chutter remembers filling in holes in runways, unloading ships at high speed and under fire, and clearing blocked roads. He also remembers arriving in June 1939 and thinking he was in heaven after a tour of Palestine – ‘Plenty of girls along with beer and cigarettes duty free’!

The book has some scary statistics about the number of raids and tonnage of bombs dropped. On an island smaller than the Isle of Wight, in February 1942, 995 tons of bombs were dropped, in March 2,174 tons and in April, truly the cruellest month, 6,278 tons in 275 raids – one every two and a half hours.

There are some interesting observations on the military leaders assigned to the island, and some examples of how morale was maintained within the civilian and military populations. For example, when Lord Gort arrived as Governor in 1942, he put himself and his staff onto the basic civilian, rather than service, ration, and encouraged the garrison’s senior officers to cycle, rather than use precious fuel to travel by staff car. He and his Chief of Staff travelled everywhere by bicycle, even during air raids!

It’s all written in an easy, conversational style, and tells the human stories as well as the military campaign, development of defensive tactics, and finally use of Malta to attack enemy forces, and to launch the campaign to re-take Italy.

It truly is a tale of real-life heroism, against a background of fear, hunger and death, and I am not surprised that Field Marshall Kesselring wrote ‘Italy’s missing her chance to occupy the island at the start of hostilities will go down in history as a fundamental blunder’ and official Italian Reports to state ‘Malta was the rock on which our hopes in the Mediterranean foundered’.

This book is a suitable and informative tribute to the leaders, civilians, soldiers, casualties and survivors of one of the most lethal campaigns of the Second World War. Thank you to Christopher Jary for putting it together and publishing it.

RIP Bill Chutter 1914-2014

Contact the Royal Hants Regimental Museum for copy at £18.85
Yells, Bells & Smells. The Story of the Devons, Hampshires and Dorsets in the Siege of Malta - The Royal Hampshire Regiment Museum
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