The Malta Independent 18 November 2018, Sunday

The author of the Labour battle hymn

Noel Grima Tuesday, 20 March 2018, 09:44 Last update: about 9 months ago

Tliet Gawhriet Poeziji. Author: Manwel Pace. Self-published 2015. Extent: 139pp

Labour supporters must remember the Innu tal-Partit tal-Haddiema that they sang so vociferously in the past, the one that begins Lejn din l-ghaqda fis nittajru and its catchy tune.

This was written by Manwel Pace who won a competition for a hymn in honour of the Labour Party that took place in March 1929.

According to information given to me by Professor Oliver Friggieri who also sent me the book for reviewing, Manwel was closely related (he did not explain how) to Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici, il-Gross (father of Ugo and Giuseppe) who was the author of the Innu tal-Partit Nazzjonalista. Prof. Friggieri commented: "Kugini b'affinita".

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In other words, at the birth of the two dominant political parties in contemporary Maltese history, the two contrasting spirits were closely interlinked.

Manwel Pace lived from 1898 to 1975. He was born in Cospicua, the son of a food importer and the grandson of a distributor of Simonds Beer. His father died young and left his wife Rosalia widow with six children. Manwel, one of the eldest, left school and sought work which he found at the dockyard.

In 1932 he married Giovanna (Jenny) Ross and fathered three children. At first the newly-married couple lived in Senglea but then had to leave because there were too many steps for his pregnant wife.

They moved to Floriana in a house with a view of the Grand Harbour but then World War II came along and the family had to flee from the continuous bombardments - not a moment too soon as the house suffered two direct hits and was completely destroyed.

Manwel sent his family off to Gozo and he remained in Malta and went to live with his brothers and sisters in Zebbug. Because of the war the authorities moved the dockyard clerks to the Carmelite convent in Mdina, so every day Manwel had to walk, in complete darkness, from Mdina to Zebbug. As if that was not enough, he was even attacked by dogs on his way and in other times he was drenched by rain.

He used to cross over to Gozo on weekends to be with his family but the voyage was perilous because there was always the risk of German planes strafing the small boats used for the crossing as they had done with the Royal Lady which they sank.

Then he rented a room in Dingli, without a bathroom or toilet facilities. When the war abated, he brought all his family to this small room and had to pile the furniture on top of each other to make some space.

Then the family moved to Saqqajja, Rabat in an old dance club formerly used by the British servicemen, which however was plagued by rats. Finally, in 1946 he relocated to Museum Street and at last found a spacious house where he lived till he died.

In his lifetime, although he wrote a number of poems, he never published anything under his name but always used pseudonyms - HM, Benjamin Bethania, Hannibal Malti, Maleth, Karmel Betsajda, David Stejfen and possibly others.

His son, Joseph, who set out to collect all his poems in one book, had a hard time collecting the poems from scraps of paper.

What characterises his poetry can be summarised as patriotic love of Malta and the working class, his religious fervour and his love of the Maltese language (in the context of the language wars of the 1920s).


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