The Malta Independent 9 August 2020, Sunday

Field Hygiene and Sanitation during Second World War Malta - PART 2

Anthony Zarb Dimech Sunday, 12 July 2020, 11:59 Last update: about 29 days ago
Heavy Anti-Aircraft Position – Royal Malta Artillery
Heavy Anti-Aircraft Position – Royal Malta Artillery

A recent discovery of four Sanitary diaries kept by Medical Orderlies during the Second World War Malta reveals the acute and miserable state of field hygiene and sanitation for the gunners manning Malta's Anti-Aircraft (AA) guns. This is yet another unexplored chapter in wartime history.This feature concludes a two-part series which provides ample evidence of the state of hygiene on four different AA gun sites positioned at four different regions of Malta. The common factor of all sites is the stark gravity of lack of sanitisation and worse still, the slow pace by which remedial action was taken. This survey reveals the desperate situation Malta faced in those war years.



Regimental Headquarters, 11th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Malta Artillery, Zejtun

An inspection on this site was carried out on 17 June 1943. The MO was accompanied by Regimental Sergeant Major Vella. The general impression was that there had been some improvement since his previous inspection, a fortnight before, especially in the cleanliness and tidiness of the Barrack Rooms, but there was still room for more improvement. He opined that the Regimental Headquarters should be the best kept place in the whole regiment to set an example to the rest of the regiment. He ended his remarks by saying that the necessary standard had not been reached yet.

For instance, the barrack rooms' accommodation needed treatment with paraffin because of beds containing bugs while the Batmen's room was untidy and the annexe dirty. Fly-proofing was also required for the window in the food-store next to the kitchen. Some remarks about the kitchen on 1 July 1943 verge on the comic: "Marked improvement - cockroaches less numerous - the blitz on them should continue till they are eradicated."

Bugs were also found in the old beams in the billet outside Zejtun. These were found in the old beams and could only be destroyed by removing the roof. Sand-fly nets were issued and the use of flit made to combat the infestation.

An inspection by Surgeon Captain J. M. Laferla of the Royal Malta Artillery on 30 December 1943, accompanied by the Unit's Regimental Sergeant Major, is very descriptive of the horrible state of affairs in the kitchen: "There are thousands of cockroaches about. Every imaginable method and way to kill them has been used but with no result at all. I think that the root of all trouble lies in an old huge stone cooking place which is serving as an excellent and ideal breeding place for these insects. Unless this is removed, I am afraid that we will never get rid of all these swarms of cockroaches which are really revolting, especially in a kitchen. I suggest that permission should be obtained from the owner of the house for the removal of this fireplace. If permission is not granted, the D.A.P.H. should be contacted and if he agrees with me, then we will be justified in removing it. I wish that this matter will be dealt with without any further delay."

In February 1944, the personnel of this position were billeted in an old farm at the other end of the Zejtun village. Apart from being far from the Regimental Headquarters, it was infested with bugs. Also mice and rats were found present in the canteen, dining room, stores and sergeants' mess.  The MO suggested that the Quarter Master should request a supply Barium Carbonate from the Royal Army Service Corps (R.A.M.C) with a quantity of one-and-a-half ounces per 100 men.

As late as June 1944, recommendations about the dining room were still being made. The floor consisted of old soft stone slabs which were all broken and worn out with deep holes and fissures in between where dust had been collecting for the previous five years rendering the floor filthy. The MO suggested that half a dozen sacks of cement would do the job of having the floor covered with cement and the addition of a little green colour to the facing to lighten up the place!


Il-Mizieb - Searchlight Battery,  Royal Artillery (RA) (484 Searchlight Battery)

On 15 December 1941, The SNO South Region of the 161 Field Ambulance R.A.M.C remarked that all departments (sleeping accomodation, mess room, cook-house, medical supplies, ablution room, urinal and latrine) were found to be exceptionally clean and tidy and entirely satisfactory. A skin inspection showed all personnel to be free from infection. The MIR was situated in Zurrieq.  Further inspections in 1942 yielded different results.

The Mizieb position was under the Command of the Royal Engineers (Commanding the 4th Searchlight Regiment, Royal Artillery and Royal Malta Artillery). The postion was manned by a strength of 12-14 men.The battery was under the command of a Major of the RA.

The Field Hygiene Section was asked by the Commanding Officer to inspect the site which was on solid rock with the ablution floor draining out directely onto rock allowing no grease trap. A grease trap would have made it possible, using the Herring Bone system (evaporation only) to solve the problem, at least during the summer. It was considered that winter rain would have also probably raised another problem of water disposal. The Herring Bone drainage system works on fairly regular runs of drains connected to spine drains that connect to a ditch or main drain. This system is suited to shallow, mainly one way slopes that fall naturally towards a ditch or main drain and can be laid to a reasonably regular pattern to provide a broad area of drainage.

In January 1942, L. G. Rymer Roberts Lieutenant, MO, R.AM.C remarked that the latrine was surrounded and covered by zinc sheeting which was frequently blown down owing to the strong wind. He recommeded that this be remedied by the provision of a "sentry-box" type of latrine. The Commanding Officer replied by saying that this would become most unsanitary as there were only two or three inches of soil on top of solid rock.

Another problem which was bothering the men at this site in February 1943 was a number of dogs interfering wih the dump during the night due to the presence of a number of food tins in the bin. A small stone surround was to be build to prevent dogs getting to the bins.

As requests piled up through the command ladder, demanding a cleaner and healthier environment for the gunners, all gun positions still suffer lack of sanitation. Remedial measures moved at a slow pace despite  repeated endorsements. As the Blitz decreased in intensity in 1943 and 1944, matters gradually improved.

These four diaries give a very good representation of the overall state of health not only of the gunners manning the guns but mirrors the same predicament of the wider civilian  population who had to likewise endure severe health threats posed by the war. Thankfully, the war ended without any serious epidemic hitting the islands.

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