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central Mediterranean. 1st Battalion The 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment was in North Africa in 1941; it had fought already at the battles of Mersa Matruh, Sidi Bareni and Tobruk when, in February 1941, it was despatched to Malta to take part in the island’s defence.


The Siege of Malta


From 1 April 1941 until spring 1943, B Company was quartered and stationed in the Naval dockyards at Grand Valetta Harbour. The work was dangerous and continuous, with regular bombing raids on the island. In March 1942, a convoy of 11 ships had been hounded by over 290 bombers and only 4 had made it to Malta. The SS Pampas, which did make it to Malta, was badly holed and filling with water. Officers and soldiers worked in shifts day and night to empty the drums of oil and paraffin from the sinking vessel, with men having to dive into the water to retrieve much of the precious cargo. In the week of 25 April 1942, there were 1,359 bombing raids upon Malta, accounting for 6,727 tonnes of high explosives of which 50% fell on the dockyards. In the almost two years of B Company’s posting at the dockyards, its accommodation was destroyed four times by direct hits. The Commanding Officer said of this period: “It was miraculous how we were not blown up one way or another”.


On another occasion, B Company was tasked with re-arming HMS Penelope, affectionately nicknamed “The Pepper Pot” due to the extensive damage she had suffered. Despite being under heavy bombardment throughout, the ship was re-stocked and able to head back out to sea. B Company’s actions were described by the Brigade Commander as “Highly meritorious, an example and inspiration to all”. During the late summer of 1942, the bombing was so extensive that supply convoys were unable to get through. There had been no fresh meat on Malta for a year and the electricity supply was rarely running. The situation had become so bad that the possibility of surrendering the island was raised yet, in August, a convoy which had originally set out from Birkenhead managed to get five of its fourteen ships to Malta and disaster was averted.


Victory in Africa


Following the battle of El Alamein in October 1942, Rommel’s forces went onto the defensive in North Africa and were eventually defeated early in 1943. The remnants of The Afrika Korps surrendered in May of that year, opening the way for the allied invasions and subsequent liberation of Sicily and Italy, which continued to involve the 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment. For their outstanding fortitude and gallantry under siege, the Maltese people were awarded the George Cross by His Majesty King George VI on 15 April 1942. The cross appears on the Maltese national flag.


The Maltese Cross


This distinctive cross appears on the Maltese civil ensign, and was formally adopted by B Company as its emblem in 2002. In the past, B Company has used a gothic “B” as its emblem and was for a long time known as “The Busy Bees” on account of its distinctive bee motif. B Company’s soldiers are today referred to as “The Blades”, partly a reference to the blade-like appearance of their emblem, but also in recognition of the sharp young men who make up the Company.


The B Company Bell


In recognition of its efforts during the siege of Malta, B Company was presented with a ship’s bell which remains with the Company to this day. The inscription on the bell reads:


“Presented to B Company


1st Battalion 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment by Lieutenant Commander and Mrs R J Harrison as a token of friendship and admiration


for the part they played in the 2nd Siege of Malta and for the defence of HM Dockyard from 15th April 1941 – 23rd Jan 1943”


The Maltese Cross


Conclusion


It is in the nature of our regimental system to create loyalties and personal ties which go far beyond purely professional bounds. This is part of being a family regiment, a term which was often applied to our antecedent regiments and which, I hope, will continue within The Mercian Regiment. This sort of loyalty also trickles down to individual Company level and even to the Platoons and below, so it is with a heavy heart that I bring these notes to a conclusion knowing that they will not be written again for up to six years – the projected timescale for G Company’s assignment to 1 MERCIAN. On the positive side, it has also been a privilege to have worked with G Company for the past couple of months. Although very different from Mercian or Cheshire soldiers, the Gurkhas have an excellent reputation and a really positive, determined attitude to everything they do. They will undoubtedly make the Battalion more capable than it would otherwise have been on its deployment to Afghanistan and I suspect that they will also add an interesting new competitive angle to the inter-Company competition this summer!


The B Company Bell B Company Sgts’ Mess, Malta, 1941 – 3 16 October 2009


Finally, I would like to thank all personnel who have worked with B Company over the past two years for their professionalism, hard work and good spirits. Most have been with the Company for longer than I and many will get the chance to serve with it again. I would also like to thank our families and friends for their support, which played such an important part in enabling us to do our job and will continue to do so.


Until B Company is re-formed, the spirit of Malta lives on…


The Mercian Eagle


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