The Malta Independent 12 July 2024, Friday
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Ricasoli Soldier: The Froberg rebellion at Fort Ricasoli

Noel Grima Wednesday, 9 September 2015, 09:00 Last update: about 10 years ago

Joe Scicluna Faraxa Publishing 251pp 2013

The Froberg mutiny was a mutiny staged between 4 and 12 April 1807 at Fort Ricasoli by the Froberg Regiment.

The regiment had been formed using dubious methods, with personnel recruited from various nationalities in Albania and the Ottoman empire. The troops, who had arrived on Malta in 1806, were unhappy with their rank and pay.

The mutiny lasted for eight days, during which several people were killed and the fort was damaged. The mutiny was put down and the ringleaders were executed.

It is considered, says Wikipedia, the most serious mutiny of the Napoleonic Wars.

The story of the rebellion, its antecedents and its aftermath, serve as backdrop to this love story.

Leo Bonanno left his native Sicily in 1806 aiming to serve in the British army in Malta.

Malta had just been liberated from the French rule and was under the British and, like others around him in Sicily, Leo was attracted by the British ideal, a definite improvement on his native poverty-struck Sicily.

All he had then were dreams and ambitions of youth. He wanted to become a professional soldier hoping the British would invade Sicily and bring order and progress.

But arriving in Malta he found that reality was far from his idealized hopes. Malta was an amazing country and its harbour a hive of activity, but the British, newly-acclaimed as the liberators, turned out to be snobs, never mixing socially with the Maltese.

Italians, specifically Sicilians, fared hardly better. Instead of joining the Corsican Rangers, as he had been promised, Leo found himself almost press-ganged in the newly-formed Froberg Regiment, composed mainly of Albanians and Russians with some Greeks thrown in.

Discipline was harsh. On the one hand it was needed in order to turn recruits, from so harsh countries and without any idea of military discipline, into a fighting force.

Leo soon found love, Lisa, a Maltese village girl from nearby Kalkara.

But soon disaster struck: a simple mistake, more a misunderstanding than anything else, and a harsh disciplinarian, Major Schummel, led to a public flogging of some soldiers at a punishment parade.

After that, the Froberg Regiment was in the forefront of the rescue operation when the arsenal at Vittoriosa blew up, 370 barrels of gunpowder and 1,600 shells and grenades killing 14 British artillery men, 23 Maltese soldiers, 150 Maltese civilians and damaging 500 homes.

Leo got into trouble when he deserted his post as sentry to run to get a doctor for Lisa's ailing father, getting 500 lashes for his trouble.

But the breaking point came when the major drove his regiment far too much in the preparation for the yearly parade and the soldiers mutinied, taking him prisoner and shutting the fort against the British army.

The story climaxes with a series of surprises until the very end.

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