The Malta Independent 18 September 2021, Saturday

Family appeals for help in finding great grandfather’s lost Military Cross

Albert Galea Monday, 2 August 2021, 07:20 Last update: about 3 months ago

The family of the late Brigadier Alfred Gatt has made a public appeal for help after Gatt’s Military Cross was lost while it was being taken to the National War Museum last week.

Gatt is one of only nine Maltese to be awarded the Military Cross in the First World War – a high-level award given out for acts of bravery in the field of war. 

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He was awarded the medal for his exploits in Gallipoli during World War One in 1916, where he acted with little regard for his personal wellbeing to extinguish an ammunition store which had caught fire after being bombarded by the Turks as the Allies evacuated.

Gatt ultimately was promoted up to the rank of Brigadier, and commanded the Royal Malta Artillery throughout the Second World War, before he passed away in 1950.

In a post on social media, Francesca Gatt made a heartfelt appeal to anyone who may have come across the medal, saying that she believes that it fell out of a bag while being taken to the National War Museum at Fort St. Elmo – where it was donated to.

“We have traced his steps and gone back to the places he went to with these medals but to no avail. We called the taxi company, checked in the street of the San Gwann Primary School, in Tower Street in Msida and also the Mediterranean Conference Centre and St Elmo and the museum itself”, she said.

She appealed for anyone who may have found the medal to return it to a police station.

Who was Alfred Gatt?

Born on 26th September 1882 at Sliema, at the age of nineteen Alfred Joseph Gatt was commissioned into the Royal Malta Artillery (R.M.A) as a Second Lieutenant. In 1905 he gained promotion to the rank of Lieutenant and continued to serve in this capacity up to the outbreak of the Great War. During the first year of hostilities, Gatt served with No. 2 Company of the R.M.A. manning Fort Binġemma and garrisoning the surrounding area.

With the exception of a small contingent of gunners sent out to Egypt in 1916, the men of the R.M.A. did not serve overseas as a unit during the Great War. Nonetheless, as with their brother officers of the King’s Own Malta Regiment of Militia, several officers of the R.M.A. volunteered for service abroad and were attached to British units, often serving at the front. Major William Savona, one of three brothers serving in the Royal Malta Artillery and later leader of the Labour Party between 1924-27, landed in France on 23rd July 1915 and was attached to one of the siege batteries of the Royal Garrison Artillery, participating in the Battle of Loos in September of that year. Lieutenant Alfred Vincent Falzon Sant Manduca, who arrived in France with Savona, was likewise attached to a unit of heavy artillery.

On his part, Gatt landed at Gallipoli on 28th July 1915 on attachment to the Army Ordnance Department (A.O.D), the extensive responsibilities of which centred on the provision of weapons, ammunition, assorted military equipment and clothing to front-line troops. With the scale of fighting of the Great War unparalleled, the duties of the A.O.D. proved onerous. In particular, the difficulties experienced by the A.O.D. in carrying out its duties with anything approaching efficiency at Gallipoli were supreme.

Unlike other theatres of war, where large tracts of land in rear areas existed for the erection of stores and supply depots, at the narrow beachheads established at Gallipoli – extending at their deepest only a few miles inland – little space was available for these facilities. With everything having to be brought by sea from Egypt or even further afield, supplies of ammunition, clothing and other necessities constantly ran low, demoralising the Allied soldiers. Above all else was the fact that every yard of Allied-held ground lay within range of Turkish and German artillery, who were only too willing to target British and French depots.

Nonetheless, despite these perils, the Allies succeeded in establishing several supply depots ashore and Gatt was placed in command of the principal ammunition depot at Cape Helles and its associated workshop. In order to conceal the works from the enemy, underground passageways and deep trenches were laboriously dug into the rocky ground.

However, with the fresh Allied offensive at Suvla having ground to a halt and little headway being made overall, towards the end of November 1915 preparations began to be made for the entire evacuation of Allied troops from the Gallipoli peninsula.

Of the three Allied beachheads at Suvla, Anzac and Cape Helles, the latter was the last to be so evacuated, with the troops only being warned ten days prior. One of the tasks that befell the departing forces was the disposal of the thousands of tons of stores which had been painstakingly transported ashore during the previous months but which now lacked both the transport or the time to be retrieved. Instead, arrangements were made to blow up the remaining ammunition, and it was in this duty that Gatt remained as one of the last British officers ashore.

In his final 24 hours ashore, the ammunition depot – as it had many times before – once again came under fire from the Turkish guns. One shell landed close to an ammunition limber and set it on fire. Without a thought for his own safety, Gatt dashed to the limber and extinguished the flames. Six months later, in June 1916, Gatt would be awarded the Military Cross for his bravery during this action.

After the end of the fighting at Gallipoli, Gatt continued to serve with the A.O.D. in Egypt and other theatres of war during the Great War, ending the war as a Major and adding a mention-in-despatches to his Military Cross. He continued to serve in the R.M.A. throughout the interbellum period, receiving the Order of the British Empire in 1927 and being promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel in 1935. During the Second World War Gatt reached the rank of Brigadier and commanded the entire R.M.A. in the defence of Malta.

After service in both world wars, Alfred Joseph Gatt passed away in 1950 and was laid to rest at the Addolorata Cemetery with full military honours, attended by contingents from the local regiments and several notable persons of the day.

 

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