St Peters Camp, Ghain Tuffieha

Posted: September 20, 2015 by tripmanic in 1915

I am going to make an attempt to get through this letter with ink, but I am afraid I am too much out of practice with a pen – I am on my third nib now.

Life has been moving along slowly the last few days. I finished off my diary last Thursday and posted it under registered post on Saturday, I hope you will receive it.

Our usual days program is to make up our beds and have breakfast. The doctor makes a tour of inspection every morning, we all hang about, generally lying on the beds reading till he has gone.

Dinner is usually the next consideration, and then the afternoon is passed with a lot of lying about, a little reading and a little writing as the case may be.

After tea we have a swim. The beach is only about half a mile’s walk from the tent. The rest of the evening is generally spent in the mess or in the Y.M.C.A. tent.

We have a sergeants mess going now. We pay 3d a day for extras, and there is a bar, the profits of which are spent on the table.

Friday was pay day here. The usual rate of pay is – Sergeants 1 pound, Corporals 15/-, the Privates 10/-. By a bit of luck I managed to hit the captains up for 2 pounds. Of course with 2 pounds in my pocket I couldn’t spend the week end in camp. Six of us set off early Saturday morning for Valletta. I am in with a fine lot of chaps, they are all Territorial men. I think most of them have seen from twelve to sixteen years service, some of them as regulars. There was a regimental sergeant-major of the Herefordshires, a company sergeant-major of a Sussex regiment, a quartermaster sergeant of the Royal Engineers, and another imperial sergeant, beside two Australians. I was the only one of the party who hadn’t served before the war. They are all fellows who were in business, or had businesses before the war broke out.

Ghain Tuffieha is eleven miles from Valleta. The railway runs out to a place seven miles out – the rest of the way is done in cabs. The fare from here to the station is from three to four shillings, and by the time we were ready to go there was only one cab left. The driver of it wanted 10/- to drive us in, which we refused, we started to walk and got about a mile on our way when we met a cab coming out. It was a nerve wracking ride. The road was very hilly, and the old vehicle creaked and swayed along, but we ultimately reached our destination.

The first thing that happened to us, was the Stationmaster tried to sell us lemonade in the booking office – rather an usual proceeding on our railways, eh!

The train is a narrow gauge toy affair. As we neared Valletta that stations became very pretty. They have well looked after gardens. The last mile of the journey, from Floriana to Valletta, is all underground, just one big tunnel cut out of the rock, about every 200 yards an air vent is cut. The station is quite 50 ft. below the level of the main street. After we had all dined we separated on various expeditions. I spent most of my time ( and money) buying little things that I needed. I bought tobacco, films, books, note books, stationery, tooth paste, mirror, cigarettes, cigars, pipe, and various other small items.

I got those films developed and printed that I exposed at the Dardanelles, they are very good.

The hotels at Valletta are very different to the Egyptian, there is nothing of the size and magnificence about them. They are poky, dirty, little places. There is a law forbidding the sale of liquor to any troops. As all hotels and restaurants sell it, it is very hard to get a decent meal, as they won’t serve you with food even.

As the last train for home left about 7pm, we decided it was better to stay the night, and catch a train back in the morning. In the evening we went to a picture show combined with a few musical items – it wasn’t half bad.

We put up at the Soldiers and Sailors Institute. A place where cheap beds (very!) and meals are obtainable.

During my rambles I visited the chief cathedral “ St Johns”. It is a beautiful church, not much to look at outside, but a very fine and costly inside. The floor is all worked in mosaic tiles into patterns and designs of the crests of the Knights of St.John of Jerusalem, all the knights were buried under this floor. On some of the tombs are the skull and cross bones, others pieces of armour. The ceiling is most beautifully painted. It is one big dome-shaped ceiling. The candle sticks on the Altar, about a dozen of them, five feet high, are of solid silver.

On the left of the Altar is the King’s chair, and on the right is the Bishop of Malta’s. All round the sides, in alcoves, are altars of various Saints and Nations. There are wonderful sculptural tombs over celebrated men etc. Paintings by Michael Angelo, and other famous men. Silverware is very plentiful. There are the famous silver gates, which Napoleon tried to steal, they are of solid silver, and they stand about five feet high, and are about fifteen to twenty feet wide. It was rather dark when I went in, so I couldn’t see things properly I mean to go again next time I am in. It is a wonderful place and must be worth a fabulous price. It dates back to about 1300.

The next morning we were up early and had a wander round the town. I took a few photos. One part of the town is on the edge of a cliff and it is a sheer drop of 100 ft. to the water’s edge of the Grand Harbour. To get up this cliff there is a lift. We walked around the quay, and then up a winding path through gardens to the city level again, without taking the lift. This bit of garden and path is in a big fissure of rock, on the one side was the lift and on the other a steep precipice. The various rock formations are most peculiar – at times I think it must have been a volcanic island.

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