The Malta Independent 22 September 2020, Tuesday

Wheat collection in Gozo – 1942

Anthony Zarb Dimech Tuesday, 11 August 2020, 10:23 Last update: about 2 months ago

Translated and adapted with the permission and courtesy of Charles Bezzina from Frank Bezzina’s books, 'Il-Qilla tal-Gwerra fuq Ghawdex 1940-1943’, enlarged by Charles Bezzina (2020), Chapter 24, pages 418-425.

The overall wheat collection effort during Second World War Gozo is to be attributed in part not only to the hard work and energy of the, then Gozo Bishop Mgr Michael Gonzi, but also to the great efforts of the National Farmers' Society (notably, Carm Zammit Marmara, Roger Strickland and Kelinu Vella Haber) as well as with the help of Poet Ġorġ Pisani as assistant information officer for Gozo, and George Ransley, as Commissioner of Gozo.


All the above persons were instrumental in organising meetings in all the squares of Gozitan villages to bring this urgent matter to the attention of all Gozo farmers and they succeeded in their endeavour and all deserve due merit.

At the height of hostilities in 1942, the Maltese islands were suffering a serious shortage of many essential commodities for daily survival. One of the dangerous shortages was that of flour. During the summer of 1942, it became evident that not all commodities could be distributed regularly using the rationing system.

Convoys were finding it impossible to reach Maltese shores due to constant air and sea attacks and hence provision of many items was getting lower by the day to the extent of reaching rock bottom. The greatest concern for the authorities had reached a point of not how to defend the Islands militarily against the onslaught of the German and Italian air attacks but how to survive without surrendering the Maltese Islands. The hunger situation on the population was getting more serious with the passing of every day due to shortages in the grain supply which had reached its final stockpiles.

At this critical hour Governor Lord Gort convened a most secret and confidential meeting. Among those present was Gozo Bishop Mgr Mikiel Gonzi.

Ġorg Pisani, Mgr Gonzi and Kelinu Vella Haber

Mgr Gonzi reminisces in a 1978 interview that during this meeting those present were entrusted with top secret news not to be shared with anyone; Malta had only a month's supply of flour. Mgr Gonzi put forward his suggestion and offer to help in getting wheat from Gozo, given that it was harvest time. He asked permission to ask Gozitan farmers to give of their supply of wheat to Malta. He also remarked that Gozitan farmers had to be informed of the seriousness of the situation in order for him to persuade them and hence secrecy had to be broken. He also requested additional petrol for the task of going around Gozo, as he had been allowed only one can of petrol per week, as Bishop of Gozo. Both requests were acceded to. On the following Monday, Gonzi recalls that he went round all the fields of Gozo asking for wheat and the farmers were very forthcoming in giving generously to the extent that he phoned the Governor telling him to "send two trucks tomorrow morning and you have all the wheat of Gozo".

Mgr Gonzi also mentions that the above-mentioned confidential meeting took place on a Saturday, probably in the first days of July 1942, (5 July 1942). It is therefore evident that this meeting took place at a time when the campaign for the collection of wheat by the National Farmers' Society in Gozo had already started in full swing. It is also noted that the most important concern was that, whether by hook or by crook, government wanted that in June and July 1942, the collection of wheat would commence immediately.

In the meantime, by means of a letter issued by the Lieutenant-Governor dated 20 June 1942, the parish priests were also urged to do their part in informing their parishioners during Mass on Sunday, 21 June 1942, about the importance of the collection of wheat.

Bishop Gonzi's influence had a great impact in the drive for the collection of wheat as his words were always convincing and heeded. But any researcher should not over-inflate his contribution towards wheat collection and keep in mind that in Gozo at the time, there was the Farmers' Society as well as Ġorg Pisani of the Information Office (which had just been set up in Gozo) which were doing their utmost towards wheat collection. In fact both the National Farmers' Society (Carm Zammit Marmara' and Roger Strickland), the Gozo Farmers' Society's secretary, Kelinu Vella Haber and the assistant information officer, Ġorġ Pisani, together with the Commissioner of Gozo, George Ransley, held a number of patriotic meetings in most squares of Gozo, in order to convince the farmers, at that bitter time, to sell their wheat to the government ... and they succeeded!

Haber, who set up the Farmers' Society of Nadur and who was also into the collection of wheat, wrote that in Nadur alone, 52 tons of wheat were collected. It is not known of the tonnage collected from other villages. But the overall percentage that was collected from Gozo was an appreciable one, and history should be thankful to the Gozitan farmers who, in spite of the difficulties brought about by the war, gave an enormous contribution towards Malta to hold on and not surrender.

Due to the lack of availability of official documents, it is difficult to say how much wheat was collected from every village by the Gozitan farmers and the amount transported to Malta. The weighers and other responsible persons who collected the wheat have all passed away, and if there are any surviving documents or notes, these have not yet been unearthed and may have been lost forever. Sometimes, time drags everything into the mists of oblivion leaving no trace as to where to begin the search.

But one thing is sure; if Gozo had not given its share of wheat to Malta, the food situation in the Maltese islands would have ended up in a much more precarious and dilemmatic situation. History would be rendering a disservice if the all-round effort of the persons who gave their part in this effort are not mentioned or forgotten.

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