The Malta Independent 25 September 2022, Sunday
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A life far from ordinary

Noel Grima Wednesday, 24 February 2021, 14:09 Last update: about 3 years ago

Albert Ganado – Hajja mhux tas-soltu. Authors: Austin Sammut and Sergio Grech. Publishers: Klabb Kotba Maltin / 2020. Pages: 260pp

At 97 years of age, one would expect that the life of Albert Ganado has been a very fulfilling life. But after reading this autobiography of sorts one is filled with admiration that one person could pack so much in such a venerable age.

I said it is an autobiography of sorts for this takes more the form of a chatty reminiscence spoken most probably onto a tape-recorder and later transcribed.

As happens with most of us, the first chapter about Ganado's childhood and background, is the most organised. He was born in a Valletta family with a judge for a father and avid collectors as his immediate relatives. Later he was to become a lawyer and later on an avid collector of things Melitentia.


Albert Ganado was born on 9 March 1924. Among his cousins he numbered Herbert, the Partit Demokratiku (PDN) head and later the author of what remains the best autobiography in Maltese so far Rajt Malta Tinbidel. Another cousin was Professor Joseph M Ganado.

At 25 Albert married Muriel Orr who died on 28 January 2010.

Ganado describes the Victorian upbringing he experienced. His father was a stickler for punctuality. He used to rise at 4am, have a cold bath even in winter and then to St Dominic church round the corner to hear the 4.30am Mass (and get filled in by the sacristan who was dying or had a child).

Then back home and writing  judgements for two hours. Then to Merola in Strada Reale to get shaved (and get more news). Then to the Casino Maltese for coffee and to read the papers. Then back home and writing more judgements. When he was due in Court, he would wear a stiff-necked shirt, a morning coat and a top hat. The cab would be waiting for him on the corner of St Christopher Street with St Paul Street.

His father was Rector and Governor of the Sodalita Delle Anime Purganti of the All Souls church. In 1955, Pope Pius XII appointed him as Cavaliere Commendatore dell'Ordine di San Gregorio Magno but he could not buy the appropriate decoration for he was living on just his pension. Nevertheless, his father was an avid collector of Melitensia and used to rummage among the books on sale at the Monti or from auctioneers.

Albert was quite a naughty boy, his sister Emma was better at studies and his father had to use discipline to get him to pass the Matriculation exam.

He made it to university but was keener to play football in the street. Later he discovered the Union Club in front of the University and skipped many lessons for billiards.

Those were the war years and, with slight appreciation of the danger involved, he preferred watching the Illustrious attack by German dive-bombers to scuttling down to the shelter. When the family was in Rabat for the summer, he used to prefer watching the skirmishes between Spitfires and Messerschmitts over Ta' Qali.

Albert graduated as a lawyer just after the war.  Meanwhile in 1942 he became officially engaged to Muriel Orr. They got married in 1949.

The first years as a budding lawyer were difficult years and it was hard to earn a living. Then he opened an office in Zebbug and bought a car so that he could travel between Rabat and Zebbug. They had to wait a long time before they could afford to buy a fridge.

In 1954, Giovanni Felice, at that time Minister for Justice, offered him the post of Acting Magistrate to substitute two magistrates on holiday. This experience, which he later found useful as a lawyer, made him become meticulous to study each case for most cases are not so clear-cut as it would seem at first.

Ganado's background had always been the Nationalist Party and his anti-British stance had been reinforced when he assisted at the many sedition or conspiracy trials held after the war at which he befriended Carlo Liberto and Camillo Bonanno who, being Maltese-Italians, had spent the war years in Italy. in this connection he also became a good friend of the artist Willie Apap who was also accused of conspiracy.

Ganado gives many examples of court cases he handled including Sir Basil Spence, the architect of Coventry Cathedral and actor Anthony Quayle. He was also involved in the Bical case, the longest case in Maltese legal history.

Those were the 1960s boom years when many British nationals were attracted to Malta by the sixpence in the pound income tax. But as it became likely that Dom Mintoff would win the next election, the flow dried up and many went back to Britain.

I am sorry to say that the chapter detailing Ganado's involvement in politics is, as happens with reminiscences, rather disjointed, moves forward and then backtracks, etc.

Maybe I too got infected by this in this review. So let's go back some years. Ganado, a born and bred Nationalist, gravitated towards the party and slowly started moving in.

The Nationalist Prime Minister, Nerik Mizzi, died in 1950 and was succeeded by George Borg Olivier. A new executive committee was elected but Ganado, still very young, did not contest. However two years later, when a new election was held, he was invited to contest. He did and was elected. (One who surprisingly did not make it was Dr Gege Gatt, Austin Gatt's father).

That executive committee was full of people who, though they grumbled privately at Cafe Cordina against Borg Olivier, did not oppose him in public. Many skipped the meetings. Others considered above all their personal ambitions.

The main issue those days was the proposal of Integration. The Nationalist Party was always against the concept for it held that if Malta were to be integrated with Britain, it would lose its identity. There were many factors militating against - the Mediterranean background of Malta and of course the Catholic religion. Malta would have had about the same lack of real sovereignty as Northern Ireland has even today.

On the other hand, Mintoff's Labour Party was very much in favour and was fully supported by the British Government and the new Governor, Robert Laycock, who arrived in Malta with express orders to give prominence to 'bread and butter' issues in favour of Integration such as the nine pounds a week wage which was good money then. Actually however the British never really committed themselves to this figure - it was only the Maltese Labour Party which mentioned this. And the British were determined not to promise to give Maltese workers each wage rise given to their British counterparts.

Borg Olivier, however, did not want the party to hold public meetings against Integration. The party grass roots still held some local meetings but they were characterized by violence by Labour supporters. Ganado took part in one local meeting in Mqabba and another in Gozo where the Labour opposition was organised by two Labour MPs,  Anglu Camilleri and Debrincat, nicknamed Xelina. The Labour mob even tried to overturn the taxi into which the ineffective police had bundled the speakers to get them away.

Worse was to come in September 1955, on the eve of the Round Table Conference which was to be held in London. The Nationalist Party held a meeting at Qui Si Sana in Sliema and this lasted only a few minutes as a huge Labour mob, some 14,000 strong, attacked the few PN supporters with stones and bits of iron. People were hurt. That was to be the only mass activity by the party on the Integration issue.

Borg Olivier's inaction and soft opposition enraged many inside the party and this led some to coalesce around Herbert Ganado and the Nationalist youth movement which was headed by Albert Ganado. Archbishop Gonzi was reported to have asked those around him why didn't they remove Borg Olivier and put Herbert Ganado as party leader instead.

Things came to a head and the two Ganados were kicked out of the executive committee. This spurred the creation of Ganado's party, the Partit Demokratiku (PDN), creating much bad blood between the two sides.

Among the early adherents were renowned Nationalists such as Guido de Marco, Giovanni Bonello, Riccardo Farrugia etc. Albert Ganado had the complete PDN archive and he recently donated it to the university as he did not consider the National Library as safe, considering the pilfering he himself experienced.

PDN took part in the 1962 general election and won four seats, promptly losing one when Kurunat Attard, crossed the floor and joined Borg Olivier's PN. It then, along with the other centre parties, lost all its seats in the 1966 election when people were scared into voting for PN out of fear that Mintoff could get one vote more than PN and so get to govern. This was merely postponed until 1971.

This was the end of Albert Ganado's political involvement. There had been a time when Borg Olivier himself had mentioned him as a possible successor.

He nevertheless remained Nationalist through all the subsequent elections. He also remained on personal friendly terms not just with Borg Olivier himself but also with those who had crossed swords with him in those troubled times.

The rest of the book gives us a lot of information on Ganado's collections. Obviously, he is more known for his vast collection of maps, which he has recently donated to Heritage Malta and about which he has written a book which I had reviewed. He has also had a hand in some memorable exhibitions held in Malta and also contributed to commemorative books.

One thing which amazed me is his collection of memorabilia which includes signed documents by grand masters and Sir Alexander Ball, to name but one.

He has also been a willing receiver of other people's archives. I often wonder what happens to so many collections and archives that lie around, often neglected by unconcerned heirs. Ideally the State should step in and collect such treasures. The same goes for paintings which may be lying around when their original collector has died.

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