Discover the origins of Sette Giugno - Malta's June 7th public holiday.
'Seventh of June' in Italian, Sette Giugno is a Maltese national holiday celebrated annually which commemorates events that occurred on 7th June 1919 when, following a series of riots by the Maltese population, British troops fired into the crowd, killing four and injuring 50.
It was right after World War I, and the Maltese people were hungry. As with the rest of Europe, the war had caused disruptions in agriculture and the food industry. Since imports were limited, prices rose and food became scarce. It was this scarcity and the heavy military presence on the island which made a select few wealthier, while the masses became more and more deprived.
The unrest began to simmer with small uprisings demanding higher wages for the increasing cost of living. The first meeting of the National Assembly in the winter of 1919 was to consider a resolution which would have meant independence from the British Empire. This resolution was brought forth by the extreme nationalist faction and was completely opposed to the original resolution.
"Now the angry mob was set into motion, and proceeded through Valletta to break windows, hurl insults at officers and soldiers, remove the Union Jack where found, and ransack offices of wealthy merchants."
Currents of extremism began to run high. The same day as the National Assembly, crowds attacked shopkeepers who had remained open during the meeting, which were stopped by the force of the police.
The second National Assembly meeting was set in Valletta for 7th June of the same year. This time, the crowds were even tenser. A few days before the meeting, the incoming governor for the islands, Lord Plumer, was to decide whether the Maltese were to play a larger role in the administration of the country. The people were split in two; those mistrusting of the British and those for it. Police forces and postal employees were on the brink of striking. A couple of days before the National Assembly meeting, the police asked for a number of soldiers to be posted in Castille, in anticipation of upheaval.
On 7th June, the situation immediately flared upon a misunderstanding. The Union Flag was required to be flown at half mast due to the death of the President of the Court a few days earlier. When the crowd caught site of the Maltese flag defaced with the Union Jack flying above the 'A la Ville de Londres' flag, it ignited anger, resulting in the crowd forcibly removing the flag and flagpole. Now the angry mob was set into motion, and proceeded through Valletta to break windows, hurl insults at officers and soldiers, remove the Union Jack where found, and ransack offices of wealthy merchants. Factions of the main crowd broke off to attack the homes of Imperial government supporters and profiteering traders.
It was late afternoon when military support was called in, and a mere 64 soldiers from the Composite Battalions entered the police headquarters to contain thousands. Small groups of soldiers in various areas of Valletta were surrounded by raging crowds who were throwing objects and stones. With his revolver stolen, the captain reached a troop of 24 soldiers and directed them to Strada Forni, where the biggest uprising was taking place. Here, the soldiers were posted along the street, facing in both directions and were ordered not to shoot without being directed to do so. The soldiers took their positions, aiming at the crowd – which then retreated.
A shot was heard from the direction of one of the houses being ransacked. In response, one of the soldiers shot a round into the crowd, with the rest of the troop following. The officer in charge shouted for a ceasefire. Meanwhile, at the offices of the Daily Malta Chronicle, there was a smell of gas in the building, which caused the Lieutenant to order his men outside. To clear the crowd and allow the men out, the Lieutenant ordered a soldier to shoot low, away from the crowd. One man in the crowd was killed. During this initial uprising, three died and 50 were injured.
Disturbances continued the next day, until 140 navy marines were dispatched to clear the streets of people. However, smaller uprisings around the island continued, despite the fatalities and casualties of 7th June.
In 1986, the Sette Giugno monument was inaugurated at Palace Square in Valletta. The Maltese Parliament declared the day to be one of the five national days of the island, with the first official remembrance of the day occurring on 7th June, 1989.