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Book Review - Yells Bells & Smells

Book Review

Yells, Bells and Smells:

The Story of the Devons, Hampshires & Dorsets in the Siege of Malta 1940-43

by Christopher Jary

Size, they say, matters. As a piece of real estate, Malta has but 12.5% of the area of our own county of Dorset. During World War Two, however, it was pivotal in the battles in North Africa and the Mediterranean which, when won, enabled the Allies to proceed to eventual victory. For it was not the size of Malta’s land mass that mattered but the size of its heart. It is not too fanciful to suggest that the loss of Malta could have led to the loss of the war. This excellent little book tells us why.

Geography has placed Malta at the crossroads of the Mediterranean, between Italy and North Africa and between Gibraltar and Suez. Fate – and army postings – decreed that its defence should be entrusted, among others, to the regiments of Devon, Hampshire and Dorset. That this defence succeeded is a source of justifiable pride to those regiments and a cause of relief to the rest of the world.

This geographical situation has given Malta a chequered and lively history and here we can read of but three years of the thousands it has endured. The narrative is by Christopher Jary in his own inimitable style but he is quick to point out his indebtedness to an excellent team of researchers from the Keep Museum in Dorchester – Nick Speakman, James Porter, Andrew Edwards and Laurence Thornton-Grimes – and a dedicated band of willing helpers anxious to help ensure this thrilling tale is brought to the public arena.

Yells, Bells and Smells may appear at first glance to be an unusual title for a book on military endeavour but it was an epithet used to describe the island by British soldiers themselves in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and, to those of us who know Malta, it neatly encapsulates the flavour of life there.

During the siege, Malta became the most heavily bombed place on earth. It was succoured at great cost in life and materiel, by the Royal Navy and Merchant Marine, including the famous Operation Pedestal when the tanker Ohio was virtually carried into Valetta by warships. Its population and their defenders lived a good deal of their lives underground and on starvation rations – but they never succumbed.

The three regiments involved were brigaded together and later known as 231 Malta Brigade.  They took as their badge the red and white cross of Malta, which their soldiers carried on their sleeves when they landed on the beaches of Sicily, Italy and Normandy, and in their bloody advance – through France, Belgium and the Netherlands – to Germany.

This book is a must-read for any serious lover of Dorset and of its proud Regiment.  Priced at £15, copies can be obtained for £12 from the Keep Military Museum in Dorchester.

Or the book can be purchased online by following this link.

Peter Lush

: 4th Sep 2017