time to explore with esplora
sette giugno: explained
Sette Giugno, the seventh of June, is one of five national holidays in Malta. Unfortunately, for many, Sette Giugno merely translates to a day off work and an opportunity to sip a cocktail near the sea. Though we appreciate that sipping that cocktail is a beautiful experience in itself, we also believe that it is crucial to learn about Malta’s history and why we have national holidays in the first place.
What is Sette Giugno all about? Meaning ‘Seventh of June’ in Italian, as the name may suggest, the day is celebrated annually on the 7 of June. In the aftermath of World War I, the locals were hungry and desperate. Just like the rest of Europe, the war had caused disruptions in the agriculture and food industry and due to limitations on imports, prices rose and food was scarce. The scarcity of food, as well as the intense military presence on the island, made a select few even wealthier, with the majority of the inhabitants steadily becoming more deprived.
This led to unrest, with small uprisings demanding better wages, to keep up with the increased cost of living. During the winter of 1919, the first meeting of the National Assembly was held, with the aim of finding a resolution, which would have meant independence from the British Empire. The groundbreaking resolution was brought forth by extreme nationalist faction and was opposed to the original resolution.
Currents of extremism were ever present and the same day as the National Assembly, crowds began attacking shopkeepers, who remained open during the meeting. Tensions were high but still, a second National Assembly meeting was set in the capital of Valletta, for 7 June of the same year. Just before the meeting was to take place, Lord Plumer, the governor for the islands, was to decide whether the Maltese were going to play a larger role in the administration of the country.
The population was split in two; those who trusted the British and does who simply did not. Police forces and postal employees were threatening to strike and just before the meeting, police asked for soldiers to be posted at Castille in Valletta, in anticipation of potential upheaval.
The 7 of June arrived. The already tense situation blew up, following a misunderstanding. The Union Flag was flown at half mast, due to the death of the President of the Court just a few days earlier. The local population saw the Maltese flag, defaced, with the Union Jack, flying above the ‘A la Ville de Londres’ flag and all hell broke loose. The crowd removed the flag and its pole and proceeded through Valletta to smash windows, insult the officers and soldiers, remove the Union Jack wherever it lay, and ransack offices. Factions of the crowd even broke off to attack the homes of Imperial government supporters and profiteering traders.
Military support was called in and just 64 soldiers entered the police headquarters to contain the thousands-strong angry mob. The captain, whose revolver had been stolen, reached a troop of 24 soldiers and directed them to Strada Forni, where the largest uprising was occurring. Here, the British soldiers were posted along the street and ordered not to shoot, unless being directed to do so. The soldiers took their positions and aimed at the crowd, which retreated.
Within seconds, a shot was heard in the direction of one of the ransacked houses. As a knee-jerk reaction, one of the soldiers shot a round into the crowd and the rest of the troop followed. The officer in charge shouted ‘CEASE FIRE!’ Meanwhile, at the offices of the Daily Malta Chronicle, there was a small of gas within the building, causing the Lieutenant to order his men outside. To clear the crowd and allow the men to exit the building, the Lieutenant ordered a soldier to shoot low, towards the ground and away from the crowd. A man in the crowd was killed. During the initial uprising, in fact, three died and another 50 were injured.
Incidents and uprisings continued throughout the next day, until 140 navy marines were dispatched to clear the streets. Smaller uprisings around the island continued regardless, despite the deaths of 7 June.
Years later, in 1986, the Sette Giugno monument was inaugurated at Palace Square in Valletta and the Maltese Parliament declared the day to be one of five national days on the island. The first official remembrance of the day took place on 7 June, 1989, 70 years later.