An eyewitness report of the real 31 March 1979 ceremony – as opposed to the fake construct involving Mandela, Gandhi and Martin Luther King

Published: March 30, 2014 at 10:31pm


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How the Colonel stole the glory on Malta’s big day

– Heroic island finally falls without a shot being fired
By William Greaves

The last Royal Navy warship, the destroyer London, sailed out of Malta’s Grand Harbour yesterday and left 300,000 islanders to the uncertain mercy of their new masters – Libya.

Any lingering belief that “an honourable and neutral independence” had been achieved after 180 years of British military support disappeared during a day and night of incredible power-play from their North African neighbours.

Even the Maltese who had come to cheer the official lowering of the Union Jack above the quayside fell silent as the ‘Freedom Day’ ceremony went disastrously wrong.

Above their eyes the Maltese flag flew proudly from its new ceremonial staff, but beneath it stood Libyan President Col. Gaddafi, his peaked cap tilted arrogantly over a victorious smile. His clenched fists repeatedly punched the air as he answered the adulation of his imported cheer leaders chanting ‘Gaddafi, Gaddafi, Gaddafi.’

Dr Anton Buttigieg, President of the Maltese Republic, watched as his moment of triumph was swamped by Libyan celebration and his face was a mask of disbelief.

Pale and Worried

Mr Michael Foot, representing the Government, looked pale and worried as he struggled to catch glimpses of the proceedings between scores of Gaddafi supporters who had unashamedly taken up positions in front of the official guests.

A few minutes earlier Dr Buttigieg had left his seat at the Libyan leader’s side to deliver his formal address at the British-base-closing ceremony.

In a seat next to Mr Foot and behind Col. Gaddafi, Dr Buttigieg’s wife was completely cut off by swarming Libyans. “Where is my husband speaking from?” she asked an aide, and then despairingly, “This is no place for the President’s wife to be.”

I took her arm and forced a way backwards through two rows of Libyan security guards to usher her into her husband’s seat beside Colonel Gaddafi. It was an outrageous breach of protocol, but all semblance of order had long since evaporated – and Malta’s first lady was clearly frightened by the surging of chanting Libyan rabble rousers.

A British High Commission official said: “The whole thing is a shambles.”

Throughout all the shouting, 23-year-old Leading Radio Operator David Gilchrist, from HMS London, stood with the Union Jack he had folded over his forearm. Rear Admiral Oswald Cecil, the last British Naval Commander in Malta, commended him as he shook hands with me. “He behaved with great dignity throughout everything – I was very proud of him,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Col. Gaddafi had effectively sealed Libya’s dominance of Malta’s future by promising unspecified – but apparently unlimited – economic aid at a crowded and equally noisy public meeting in Valletta’s Conference Hall. But it was just before midnight that the events took place which must have instilled a grim foreboding in all but the few most fanatical anti-British Maltese.

Punch was thrown

Mr Foot and other national representatives were already in their seats when Mr Dom Mintoff, Malta’s Prime Minister, strode down the steps at the Vittoriosa surrounded by his Government ministers. Two minutes later a sudden surge of Libyans greeted Colonel Gaddafi, who appeared in full military dress – Admiral Cecil had been asked to attend in civilian clothes – and the chanting began.

Libyan press and TV cameramen were indistinguishable from bodyguards and cheerleaders as they filled every available inch of space and made no attempt to leave Maltese government guests a view. At one stage a punch was thrown immediately in front of the Maltese President as Libyan bodyguards fought to keep an ‘intruder’ away.

When Col. Gaddafi earlier told a crowd of 1,000 at the Conference Hall how he had come to defend Malta’s freedom, a Libyan organiser tried to have the British press ejected. But the Maltese security officer told him sharply: “You are in Malta now – they stay.”

It was the last time in the day that any attempt was made to keep the North Africans in check.

When HMS London sailed out before noon with a lone piper accompanying a display of massive dignity from her crew, a 21-gun salute was answered by the guns of Fort Elmo. But there were many here yesterday who felt that Malta, for the first time in her heroic history, had effectively fallen without a gun being fired in anger.

69 Comments Comment

  1. Peppa Pig says:

    There are some who remember those days when Malta was considered abroad as a de facto colony of Gaddafi.

    In those days Gaddafi was notorious for hanging opposition members including young university students and their professors in public squares and financing terrorist groups all over the civilized world.


    • Adolf says:

      Actually, a friend of mine told me that at university they had to attend classes with their class mates left hanging in the room for days.

      • La Redoute says:

        There are several reports in The Times of Malta of Libyan students found dead by hanging.

        Gaddafi operated a policy he called ‘stray dogs’. Anyone thought to be unfavourable to his regime was executed, wherever they were. Students were thought to be a particular threat. Most of those hanged were young.

  2. Gahan says:

    One note , Gaddafi’s body guards were armed girls, and on that occasion people cringed with disbelief at the behaviour of the colonel.

  3. Oscar says:

    The bastard did nothing but embarrass and humiliate a whole nation.

  4. Beingpressed says:

    If the British really wanted the Maltese base, they would have paid more rent. But they didn’t want it.

    How was it Mintoff was pro British one minute and pro Libya the next?

    • ciccio says:

      Maybe he was a swinger?

    • H.P. Baxxter says:

      Mintoff was never pro anything but his own sense of self-importance.

      The “pro-British” period is a lie put about by our stupid historians.

      • Carmelo Micallef says:


        Hear. Hear.

        Dom Mintoff was exclusively pro-Mintoff.

        He succeeded in usurping (nb Pawlu Boffa) the support of a section of Maltese by convincing this group that he personified them – they identify with him so wholeheartedly because they are him on an individual basis – they are only pro themselves – the rape and whoring of Malta is condoned due to the perception it benefits them personally (nb Lara Boffa, for example).

        The stupidity of so many Maltese so-called intellectuals is compounded by their intellectual laziness and moral cowardice.

      • bob-a-job says:

        Oh Mintoff did much worse than that to Pawlu Boffa spreading rumours of incest.

        [Daphne – How lucky for Joseph Muscat that the grand-daughter who never knew him is so forgiving.]

    • Joe Fenech says:

      Mintoff, like Jo, was clueless as to how to develop the economy and therefore relied on cash flows from punters. No questions asked of course.

  5. D.Bonello says:

    At the end the Colonel got what he deserved.

    • ciccio says:

      They found him in a sewer pipe. Exactly where he belonged.

    • Tabatha White says:

      None of the papers I read appear to have reported the true end that his body was subjected to.

      • H.P. Baxxter says:

        I don’t think there has been a more perfect outcome to a war in my lifetime.

        I just wish Alex Sceberras Trigona, Karmenu Vella and Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici had been closer to the Colonel in his final days.

  6. bob-a-job says:

    If I remember correctly there was a huge black Libyan ship berthed in Valletta.

    This ship had come to Malta packed with Gaddafi’s security, his female army, his cheer leaders and what have you.

    It was certainly a potentially dangerous situation and it was getting out of hand.

    Gaddafi’s popularity, never quite strong among the population dwindled further after that episode.

  7. CIS says:

    Yes I remember well. Muscat is the same – he takes his noisy supporters everywhere even when not present, so that Malta feels Taghna Lkoll.

  8. P Shaw says:

    Remember that Joseph Muscat’s first visit when he became MLP leader was to Gaddafi. to outline and pay respect to the MLPs former master and owner.

  9. Harry Purdie says:

    Such an incredibly illuminating article by William Greaves. This should be mandatory reading for each school child (and our teenagers).
    Only to prepare them for the next foreign onslaught, the Chinese.

  10. manum says:

    Has anyone noticed the lie in this horrid day of shame. I was a boy then, but I still remember, that the actual day H.M.S. London left the grand harbour was 1st April1979 not 31st March!

  11. Carmelo Micallef says:


    Mintoff was no better than a pimp selling his whore to anyone offering cash: His whore’s name was Malta.

    Mintoff’s accomplices in this infamy were not Gandhi, Mandela and Martin Luther King – the accomplices were Scebberas Trigona, Karmenu Vella, Joe Grima and the next President of Malta, Marie Louise Coleiro Preca.

  12. Jozef says:

    This is what Gaddafi made of Malta.

    Bologna train station blew up the day Malta signed the first protocol with Italy.

    I dread to think we’re going down the same route with Muscat. Only this time it’s Chinese oligarchs buying their way in and who expect to be taken around escorted by the police.

    I don’t think anyone ever imagined the citizenship scheme, selling off the BWSC plant to the Chinese and mysterious envoys to unspecified locations somewhere in the People’s Republic last March. The new owners, it has been reported, have already started grumbling to workers’ salaries, these being too high.

    The spite has taken over, from negative to traitors, from ‘isolated’ to the opposition defined ‘a waste of time’.

    There’s so much we can accept from a man who’s an inch away from showing his true colours every time he enters political dialect.

    Slowly, very slowly, words are being substituted with others, dialogue turning insidious implications to having a limit which no one shall exceed.

    And this by the prime minister himself, I dare not imagine the outcry in the papers, moderates falling over themselves to condemn Lawrence Gonzi dared he ever say anything similar.

    The perversity here is that by not expecting any better of these thugs could be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Now that the first chinks are showing, he’s lost any insurance in numbers, his parliamentary group clearly split, an inner circle which seems to belong to no more than five individuals, who, and he’ll have to shove this down our throats, can do no wrong.

    Honeymoon’s over, and not just for Labour, but for all those who to date kept themselves at a safe distance from guarding indeed upholding this country’s past achievements.

    Someone suggested the PN should play his game, no, if anything turn up the pressure and take over the agenda.

    Go for the fourth seat in the EP elections.

  13. P Shaw says:

    Recently I watched the comedy/ movie “Tales from the Golden Age” about life in Romania during the communist era. The regime propaganda used to call that era ‘the golden age’.

    This movie reminded me so much of the Mintoff/KMB regimes that we experienced. The feeling was the same even though the situations slightly different.

    I recommend this movie to everyone.

    It is a pity that the concept of satire is alien to Malta, in particular to the MLP. They think satire is a carnival float with an effigy of Franco Debono aboard.

  14. Joseph M. says:

    Just around two years after that ‘Glorious Freedom Day’ in a general election in December 1981, Mintoff lost and the PN and Eddie Fenech Adami won the majority of votes.

    True to himself and being a champion of freedom, Mintoff and his clan kept on governing as they won a majority of seats through jerrymandering.

    We all know what happened between that year 1981 and 1987. Malta deteriorated completely, with widespread violence, oppression, suppression of freedom of expression and of association, and a stagnant economy with massive unemployment.

  15. observer says:

    Gaddafi was furious – and, unless I am mistaken, demanded an apology – when, later on, a RAI tv presenter described Malta as “la valletta di Gaddafi”.

    I do not recollect whether duminku showed any ‘displeasure’ over the un-diplomatic incident.

    Incidentally, I was not present either at the Conference Centre or the Vittoriosa shenanigans – and cannot agree to, or differ from, the report quoted above. But it makes me red in the neck to read.

    What I know for sure is that the ‘Jum il-Helsien’ occasion and remembrance are ever an undiluted shambles for me and for so many thousands of Maltese who somehow managed to live through the duminku-muammar hegemony ‘golden years’.

  16. Stephen Florian says:

    Load of BS. I was there with a delegation from the private school I used to attend and we marched towards the monument. Yes there were busloads of Libyans but they were well behaved.They had to. we stayed there up to 4.00 am and we did not witness any trouble. The Heroic Island was a benficial to the British Empire and that is why they planned to invade us twice in the early 1980’s.

    [Daphne – Come off it, Stephen. Which private school would have kept children out until 4am.]

    • H.P. Baxxter says:

      A British Empire in the early 80s?

      Get your history right before you gob off. It’s people like you that hold this ruddy place back.

      • Peppa Pig says:

        Mr Florian must be referring to Queen Victoria’s empire in the early 1880s

      • H.P. Baxxter says:

        No he isn’t, because the British didn’t invade Malta in the 1880s. They were already here.

        DO I HAVE to tell you this?

      • bob-a-job says:

        ‘was a benficial to the British Empire and that is why they planned to invade us twice in the early 1980′s.’


        The British had been here since 1799, Mr Florian.

        What necessity did they have to plan to invade us since they had been here almost 200 years by then.

    • La Redoute says:

      Same fiction put about by Chris Fearne just before the last election.

    • Joseph Borg says:

      It seems that at your private school they never taught how to think and look at facts.

    • Victor says:

      Come off it Florian. If you have to comment get your facts from better sources.

      Apart from the point that Daphne mentioned, I happened to be there at around 3.00 am and contrary to what you stated, there were hardly any Maltese people around, let alone children.

      However, there were many, many, many Libyans.

      • Anthony says:

        Florian, this blessed summertime has got you all confused.

        Yesterday you moved your clock one hour forward.

        That was a big mistake on your part.

        Go back to your clock and advance it by one hundred years.

    • bob-a-job says:

      ‘Which private school would have kept children out until 4am.’

      A school of sharks ‘tal-gowlden jers’

  17. Joe Fenech says:

    And why is Jo relishing in the lives of these historical figures, who ironically would have fought Jo and his regime?

  18. Joe Fenech says:

    “He highlighted the plight of different families and migrant children, insisting that change was not just about enacting laws but fostering respect for those who are different.”

    No mention of the immigrants’ drowning, his anti-immigration lobbies in Brussels, the pushbacks, his antagonism to Europe about immigration…hypocrite.

    • La Redoute says:

      Or letting people drown, like he did on 11th October 2013 when he took the most difficult decision he ever had to take as prime minister (his words) and finally authorised the rescue of people who had been struggling in the sea for hours, surrounded by the dead bodies of their family and friends.

  19. Joe Micallef says:

    1987 should be celebrated as the year of deliverance from oppression and human rights violations.

    • La Redoute says:

      Not entirely. They’re back in power, rapidly eroding democratic structures and safeguards, and eliminating critics and sources of opposition.

  20. Kevin says:

    The saddest part is that history is being rewritten and that those who will remember/report the facts as they truly happened will be branded as liars.

    • La Redoute says:

      Contemporary reports in The Times of Malta document the travesty and transgression of the original occasion. The presence of Gaddafi in military uniform summed up the date’s historical significance.

      The reports are all online. I’d like to see Muscat and his horde of neo-Mintoffiani trying to burn down the internet, like they tried to burn down the Allied Newspapers building a few months after Gaddafi took over.

    • Anthony says:

      Maltese history will be written by real historians of repute and not by the PL.

      I am not at all worried about that.

  21. Tabatha White says:


    Labour always so ready and willing to sell Malta. Never seeing anything wrong with it.

    Their descendants continuing to fool and manipulate the ignorant.

    The sewer that is Labour. The conduits of foul thinking.

  22. Jason King says:

    Malta could have been what Gibraltar is today.

    Lost opportunity!

  23. This description of what really happened is accurate.

    I might add that a shipload of Libyans arrived in Malta, unannounced, and they took over the ceremony.

    A diplomat from Liechtenstein, who had stayed in Malta following a CSCE meeting to attend the ceremony at the invitation of the Maltese government, later described to me how Gaddafi and his entourage took over and made it clear that Gaddafi acted as if he was replacing the British presence in Malta.

    Other sources told me that the official film of the ceremonies had to be edited, and in parts re-shot, to de-emphasise the Libyan presence.

    It did not take long for Gaddafi to act towards Malta in a manner worse than that of an enemy, in Mintoff’s own words.

    That is the real history that Mintoff’s successors want to rewrite.

  24. J. Agius says:

    I remember that day very clearly. My mother and I were in Floriana near the war memorial and feeling terrified as several bus loads of agitated Libyans drove past on the way down to the Grand Harbour shouting ‘Mintoff Gaddafi’ over and over.

    We were in tears and we decided to quickly return home. I still get the shivers thinking about it. It was the thought of what was inevitably to come.

  25. Stefan Vella says:

    I was there on that fateful day. I was at De La Salle College then and I remember our teacher informing us that we will have a field trip that day. As a 9 year old, any field trip was better than lessons.

    I also remember our teachers urging us to cheer loudly, not that we needed any encouragement to make noise.

    To this day I still feel angry about that black day when innocent primary school children were so blatantly used by the Mintoff regime to make up the crowd. I was one of many who unknowingly welcomed Gaddafi the dictator and murderer into our country.

    I always wonder whether De La Salle College was ‘forced’ to provide the crowd. The brothers never replied to my query in my last year there – a curt “It’s better not to know” was the most I ever got.

  26. Joseph Borg says:

    If I remember well, there was a military (malta’s security) reason why HMS London left at noon on 1st of April.

  27. Alfred Camilleri says:

    Independence Day 1964 (PN – George Borg Olivier) Freedom Day 1987 (PN – Eddie Fenech Adami)

  28. down memory lane says:

    I happened to be present at Birgu and at other events during those two days, not by choice but because, as a civil servant, I had been ordered to act as liaison officer accompanying a minister from a Warsaw Pact country.

    The disorganization and mayhem were beyond belief.

    It took two hours to make it to Birgu from Valletta. At the site of Freedom Monument, the chaos was indescribable.

    The minister and I, who were allotted a place rather close to the edge of the wharf, were almost swept into the sea when Gadhafi arrived.

    The Minister, an extremely cultured gentleman (he was minister of culture of his country and I had time to get to know him during my two days with him) tried to keep a straight face but I could see that he was stunned at what he was witnessing.

    The Libyans had come en masse on a ship (I believe it was the Toletela) which had anchored in Grand Harbor and the passengers were allowed to disembark without any customs formalities.

    When Gadhafi and this unruly crowd arrived at Birgu, there was a crush and a free for all of pushing and shoving without regard for official guests or any other person present.

    Tired as I was because of little sleep during those two days, I was overwhelmed with foreboding. Indeed, I thought things were going to turn out even worse than they eventually did.

  29. Rumplestiltskin says:

    What a sad event. On ‘gheluq ic-cens’ day, when the original good tenant decided not to renew the ‘lease,’ Mintoff went and handed the rights to one of the worst dictators north of the equator.

    Anything for money – as indeed his faithful disciples continue to do to this day. Calling the day ‘Freedom Day’ does not change the realities of history.

  30. manum says:

    Yes and that was the midnight of the 1st April. The day should be 1st April.

  31. I remember that terrible day when we became an outpost of Gaddafi’s Libya. How can we forget.

  32. Anthony says:

    History repeats itself.

    The MLP/PL is historically Malta’s pimp.

  33. William Greaves says:

    One of the reasons why I remember the details of that remarkable day and night so vividly is that it was probably one of the easiest stories I ever wrote.

    Usually on foreign assignment it is a question of snatching at anything you can find. The only problem with Malta’s Freedom Day was what to leave out.

    Everything just happened before my eyes and nearly 40 years later I stand by every word that appeared in the London Daily Mail next morning.

    • David Gilchrist says:

      Found this thread during a casual ‘surf’….. I was ‘the sailor’ on that night…. William Greaves – you probably interviewed me!! :) Prior to serving in HMS London I had served for one year in Malta in 1977 – and met my future/present wife (a WRN) whilst there. So Malta already had a special place in my/our hearts. When I was selected to perform the ceremony it was indeed an honour. Staying clear of the politics – suffice to say the ceremony itself did not follow the script as per the briefing we were given. We (the Navy) were told that during the lowering of the Union Flag there would be ‘solemn silence’ – followed by much cheering and applause when the Maltese flag was hoisted in its place. Well, they were half-right…!! I was focussed on what I had to do – but I remember there were a lot of people, lots of noise – and thinking to myself ‘it wasn’t supposed to happen like this!!’……. I was allowed ashore the following morning so I could buy first day stamp covers – which I have to this day (signed by the President and Admiral) but also remember the masses of people lining Grand Harbour as the ship left – apparently sad to see us go. To me, as a young man at the time, this was difficult to reconcile against the joy and jubilation I’d seen the night before.

  34. verita says:

    I saw the TOLETELA full of Libyans waving the Libyan flag. They sang and shouted El fatah .esh shabija, el extarakija. el libija etc all through the night.

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