The Fleur-de-Lys Arch

The Fleur-de-Lys Arch

I refer to the letter ‘Arch damaged by army truck’ by John Dacoutros, (The Sunday Times of Malta, September 29).

According to a report by the Director of Public Works to the Secretary of State, dated April 19, 1943, an RAF breakdown lorry (number 5844) struck and extensively damaged the arch, demolishing the greater part of the façade facing Hamrun and bearing the coat of arms and the inscriptions. The incident happened on April 18, 1943.

The report continues that the crane on the lorry was too high to pass under the arch, and judging from the heavy masonry that was dislodged, one may conclude that it was being driven at a fairly high speed.

A part of one of the jambs had to be dismantled, but (according to the report) all the stone had been stacked on the wide pavement nearby and the broken pieces of the coats of arms were temporarily deposited in the yard of the Police War Headquarters (Conservatorio Vincenzo Bugeja).

Moreover, according to a report dated February 14, 1944, by Inspector of Police E.A. Bencini to Superintendent M. Kissaun, while driver A. Haynes was driving truck number 4884056 through St Joseph Road, Santa Venera, towards Rabat, it bashed against the right side of the Aqueduct and damaged it extensively.

When interrogated, Haynes attributed the cause of the incident to dim lights, a slippery road and poor visibility through the windscreen, which was wet with rain and lacked a wiper.

The report concludes that parts of the damaged arcades were eventually demolished by workmen of the Public Works Department.

I would also like to refer to a letter by architect Michael Ellul, an architectural and conservation consultant, in The Sunday Times of Malta dated July 28, 2002. Ellul points out that the arch was hit on two separate occasions. The first time was on April 18, 1943, when an RAF corporal stationed at Ta’ Qali, while driving a Coles crane from Santa Venera in the direction of the airfield, ‘misjudged’ the height of the crane and hit and badly damaged the central arch.

Ellul states that a few days later, Group Captain Guy Tyrrel, commanding the RAF Station at Ta’ Qali, called on Sir Hannibal Scicluna, acting director of the Museum, and apologised for the incident. He admitted that it was exceedingly stupid of the driver of the mobile crane to attempt to take his vehicle through the arch and promised that disciplinary action would be taken against him. The remains of the central arch were dismantled by military personnel under PWD supervision about two months later.

In the same correspondence, Ellul confirms that on February 12, 1944, a truck, driven by a soldier stationed in Floriana, collided with was left of the arch and caused its final collapse.

According to Ellul, Scicluna wrote to the Secretary to the Government only a few days after the first incident, suggesting that steps should be taken at the earliest opportunity to have the monument restored to its pristine condition.

One trusts that his recommendation is now on the verge of being taken up.

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