Occupying pride of place on St George’s Square, opposite the Grandmaster’s Palace and close to the Fontana dell’Aquila, is the Sette Giugno Monument. If you’ve been walking around the city all day and all the benches in the square are taken, you might be forgiven for thinking that the monument’s primary function is to offer a spot where you can sit down for a breather. After all, it is surrounded by wide steps on all four sides, inviting many day-trippers to Valletta to do just that.
But before you find your spot in the sun, let’s take a quick look at the rather noble and exciting story behind this Sette Giugno Monument. Sette Giugno literally translates to the sixth of June from Italian, and the events that transpired on this day in 1919 were the closest that the Maltese ever came to a coup against the British.
Sette Giugno Monument – Commemorating Malta’s brave
The period was marked by massive unrest among the people, sparked by hardships and food shortages caused by World War I. The price of bread and grain, a staple part of the diet for workers, kept increasing. Wages failed to keep up, and the stage for an uprising was set.
On June 7, 1919 a National Assembly Meeting of the Secretary of State for the Colonies was held in Valletta. Unhappy with the situation, an unruly mob formed and found itself on the Mainguard. Finding themselves outnumbered, British soldiers panicked and opened fire.
The incident attracted strong criticism by historians and tacticians, who questioned why such a low number of soldiers were dispatched to keep a crowd of thousands under control. Soldiers were under strict orders not to fire first, yet this is exactly what happened with Lieutenant Shields ordering his men to fire a low shot to clear a path. The shot hit Lorenzo Dyer.
Six Maltese lost their lives that day, with four dying on site and two passing away later. The riot had far-reaching consequences, with the Maltese being given control of local affairs from that day onwards.