The 7th of June is one of five national holidays in Malta. This day is locally known as the Sette Guigno (which is Italian for seventh of June). On this day, the Maltese people commemorate the tragic events that took place on the 7th of June 1919.
After World War I, people felt that the government of the time was not providing adequate food supply. Living costs were shockingly increasing and to make things worse, food imports were limited.
The Sette Guigno monument
In 1916, workers of the dockyard formed a union and a year later they organized a strike because they claimed that the salary increase that they were given was not enough for them to keep up with the excessive rise in the cost of living.
The Maltese people’s general perception at the time was that those who were importing grain were becoming filthy rich and making huge amounts of profit through the price of bread.
Another recent development also played an important part in the eventual uprising. In February 1919, the National Assembly approved a resolution that gave the Maltese Islands all rights that were given to nations by the Versailles Peace Conference. These rights meant that Malta could eventually become independent from British Rule. A segment of the population greatly opposed this. The resolution was therefore removed to prevent conflict.
On February 25, extremists attacked shopkeepers. For some reason, the police failed to stop those attacks.
Just a couple of days before another National Assembly meeting was to be held, it was announced that Lord Plumer (incoming governor for the Maltese islands) was to study the local situation and revert back to London, so that they could work out whether it was possible to give the Maltese people a bigger say in the administration of Malta.
There were people who opposed this as well because they were of the opinion that the Imperial government could not be trusted.
The situation had been getting worse for months and protests were held by University students. The police force was threatening to go on strike, as were postal employees.
On Saturday the 7th of June 1919, the National Assembly met again. Foreseeing the potential of an unrest, a few soldiers were stationed in Castille.
The first sign of the unrest came about with a Maltese flag flying on a shop vandalized with the Union Jack. Protesters broke into the shop and removed the flag. The crowd then proceeded to a nearby club and broke some window panes. Officers on duty were insulted. Police officers trying to hold back the crowd were assaulted.
Standing in front of the Bibliotheque, the mob shouted that the Union Jack should be taken away. The flag was subsequently removed by some men on duty there.
The crowd also broke into the Meteorological Offices and destroyed everything in sight. Some removed the Union Jack and threw it in the street. They then proceeded to burn the flag.
Moving to Palace square, the crowd started insulting the soldiers that were stationed there. Various other prominent buildings were broken into and vandalized. By this time, it was felt that the situation was getting out of hand and so 64 soldiers were sent to help the Police Force. Thousands of people now were attacking various houses, buildings and shops in the main streets of Valletta.
Surprisingly, those participating in the National Assembly were not aware of the uprising.
In hindsight, it was evident that the amount of soldiers sent was too small for the thousands of people that took part in the revolt. Things quickly deteriorated as soon as a shot was heard. It was believed to have come from a window of a house, so first impressions were that someone who was Maltese shot first.
Eyewitnesses said that the soldiers then started shooting into the crowd. As a result of the shootings, three Maltese men were killed.
The men were:
Fifty others were injured.
Upon learning of the unrest, the Assembly asked for the soldiers to leave the area so that the crowd could retreat. The crowd was also addressed by Count Alfredo Caruana Gatto.
The following day the situation was still not under control. Crowds were attacking Colonel Francia's house. Soldiers were sent to protect the house.
Towards the evening, an additional 140 navy marines were sent to clear the house. They were also given orders to send back the crowds and clear the streets.
A certain Carmelo Abela was in the house calling and looking for his son. Two marines arrested him. He offered resistance and one of the marines stabbed him in his stomach. It is believed that a bayonet was used in the stabbing. He later died because of this on the 16th of June. Thus increasing the total number of Maltese people killed to four.
The Sette Guigno uprising outlined the urgency to reform. Subsequently, the new Governor suggested that Malta be given liberal concessions. In 1921, a new Constitution was proclaimed. Still, Malta had to wait for decades before it could “really” become Independent.
In the 80s, the Sette Guigno was declared one of the five national holidays in Malta.
Other national holidays in Malta, include the Vitorja, Republic Day and Independence Day. In addition to a total of 5 national holidays in Malta, the islands also celebrate a host of other public holidays.