About the Port
The first destination for the cruise is Malta's capital Valletta which is towards the South-East end of the island. Malta lies about 50 miles South of Italy and 180 miles East of Tunisia. It has been inhabited since about 5,900 BC and over the last two millennia has been an important naval base in turn to the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Greeks, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, Knights of St. John, French, and British. It became a British colony in 1815 and has been independent since 1964.
The attraction of Valletta is its harbour and a number of 16th Century buildings constructed by the Knights Hospitallers including fortifications, churches and gardens.
Well we said farewell to Southampton on 1 August 1936 and Moldavia arrived at Valetta Harbour, Malta today Friday 7 August 1936 at 13:00. We have time for an excursion ashore and will sail for Santorin at 19:00 this evening.
It is about 540 nautical miles to Santorin and we expect to arrive at about 08:00 tomorrow after sailing through the night.
The Spanish Civil War
On 17 July 1936 and just weeks before the departure of our cruise, the Spanish Civil War had started with a military uprising in Morocco. Spain became divided between 'Republicans' and 'Nationalists' who later came under the leadership of General Franco. It was a very bloody business and there is plenty of information about it available on line for those interested. Moldavia had to pass Spain as she entered and left the Mediterranean. The UK and France had adopted a non-interventionist policy on 1 August 1936 and France had closed the border with Spain on 8 August 1936.
As Moldavia arrived at Malta, the Northamptonshire Mercury reported an account by a Mrs. Baird about what she had seen in Spain and Gibraltar whilst on what was presumably the previous cruise. This included the cruise missing planned stops at Cadiz and Barcelona 'following advice from London', seeing a large refugee camp at Gibraltar and apparent gunfire at another P&O vessel. She said that Moldavia was escorted from Gibraltar by three British destroyers that escorted them past the coast of Portugal.
How much the people on our cruise were told about what was going on is unknown.
P&O provided a leaflet about Malta as an introduction to visitors. I imagine that P&O staff handed it out together with leaflets about the other ports of call during the long journey from Southampton to enable the passengers to decide what they would like to do at the various stopping points. The cover photo appears to show a P&O liner in Valletta harbour but it is not Moldavia. The details of the excursion suggest it would have been a very busy day!
The Grand Master’s Armoury and Palace State Rooms
In 1530, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V of Spain gave the islands of Malta and Gozo to the Order of Knights of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem in perpetual lease. The Armoury building once belonged to the Grand Master of the order and now houses the Office of the President of Malta.
The album postcard below shows the Armoury as it was in 1936.
The Armoury was badly damaged by aerial bombardment during WW2 and the collections transferred to the basement of the Grandmaster's Palace for safekeeping. The hall was repaired and re-opened in 1948; UNESCO has declared the armoury one of 'the most valuable historic collections of European culture'. The collection was transferred to what was formerly two stables in 1975 and the original armoury converted into the meeting place of the Parliament of Malta.
The image below shows part of the modern armoury in its new location. Parts of the building - the Palace State Rooms and the 'new' Armoury are open to the public.
The Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, also known as the Order of Saint John, Order of Hospitallers, Knights Hospitaller, Knights Hospitalier or Hospitallers, was a medieval and early modern Catholic military order. It was headquartered in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, on the island of Rhodes, in Malta and St Petersburg. They built substantial fortifications in Malta and successfully defended them against the Ottoman Empire in the 16th Century.
The album photo below is captioned simply 'Gardens of Knights Hospitallers' and shows the boy identified on other photos as 'Alan' and presumably his mother identified elsewhere as 'Poppy'. I have been unable to locate a modern photo of this location.
According to a current tourist website, 'From the foot of St Barbara bastion it used to be possible to take an elevator up to the beautiful Upper Barracca Gardens, 200ft/60 m above, laid out on part of the old fortifications. From the gardens, in which there are several statues (including one of Churchill), there are magnificent views of Grand Harbor.'
The album photo below was captioned 'View from Barracca Garden - Malta' in the album. It shows two warships - the nearer one I believe to be HMS Shropshire but there is insufficient detail to identify the other.
One of the places our party must have visited was the Cafe Premier in Valletta. Why this company should proclaim that their ice cream is made from 'tinned' milk as opposed to fresh milk I have no idea.
The final item in the album related to Malta is a leaflet about the Malta Industries Association which clearly aims to get the passengers to open their purses and wallets and spend money on locally made goods. Lace-making, embroidery and similar crafts had long been carried out at Malta and Gozo. It is likely that a lot of passengers took items home with them as presents and souvenirs.