Regiments of the Malta Garrison
39th (Dorsetshire) Regiment

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The 39th (Dorsetshire) Regiment


The 39th Regiment of Foot was raised in 1701, in the reign of William III. Colonel Richard Coote was appointed to command it on 13 February 1702. The first service of the regiment was in an expedition from Ireland to Portugal in 1704.

In 1727 the 39th Foot was stationed in Gibraltar where the fortress was besieged by the Spanish.

In 1744 the regiment proceeded from Ireland to Britain, and served on board the Fleet, as marines, for two years.

In 1751 the regiment was numbered 39th, to which East Middlesex was added in 1782. In 1754, it embarked for the East Indies. Primus in Indis was granted to the 39th Foot in recognition of it being the first Crown Regiment to serve in India. On 23 June 1757, it fought with the East India Company at the Battle of Plassey, Bengal, under Robert Clive. The 39th remained in India until 1758, when it returned to Ireland.

In 1769, the 39th Foot proceeded to Gibraltar, and was present during its protracted siege to 13 September 1782 by the combined Franco-Spanish forces. It remained a part of the garrison until 1784 and returned to Ireland in 1789.

In 1800, the 39th embarked for the Dutch settlement of Suriname, in South America, where it remained until 1802, when it proceeded to Barbados and Antigua.

In 1807, the regiment's affiliation with the county of East Middlesex was transferred to the 77th Foot. The 39th took over the Dorsetshire affiliation previously held by the 35th Foot which became the Sussex Regiment.

The Sphinx and Fort Marabout date to the First Egyptian Campaign under Sir Ralph Abercrombie. Fort Marabout was held by the French and was captured by the 54th Foot, later the 2nd battalion.

In June 1824, approval was given for the Colours to bear the battle honours: Pyrenees, Nivelle, Nive and Orthes.

In December 1836, the 39th Foot was permitted to bear the word Gibraltar, the Castle and Key of that fortress, together with the motto Montis Insignia Calpe in recognition of its distinguished service in the defence of the Rock from 1779 to 1783.

On 1 July 1881, The 39th (Dorsetshire) Regiment of Foot amalgamated with the 54th (West Norfolk) Regiment to become The 1st Battalion The Dorsetshire Regiment. The new regiment retained the 39th's county affiliation to Dorset.

On 17th July 1958, the Dorsetshire Regiment amalgamated with the Devonshire Regiment amalgamated with to form The Devonshire and Dorset Regiment.

The 39th (Dorsetshire) Regiment

1805 1st/39th (East Middlesex) (Balfour's Regiment)

1 July 1805 In 1804, the 1st Battalion had been guarding the coast of Sussex against a threatened French invasion. In July 1805, it arrived at Malta under the command of Lt Col The Hon Robert William O'Callaghan, as part of Sir James Craig's Expedition. It remained in Malta, where it formed part of the garrison.

Strength: 27 Commissioned and Warrant Officers, 56 NCOs, 927 rank and file fit for duty, 89 rank and file sick, 1119 total officers and men, 853 establishment.

14 Aug The 39th occupied Fort Manoel. On 13 August Sir James Craig said of the regiment:

The 39th is a tolerable body of men, but has much youth among them and the whole seemed to require a good deal of drilling and exercise. I say seemed because I must do them the justice to observe that I inspected them only in the square of a very small fort. They are at too great a distance to bring them to the usual place of exercise and the country near where they are, affording no spot more extensive than that in which they are parading. In this situation it was with difficulty they could march by in the Sub Divisions and could afterwards go through but a very few movements, which I directed, as adapted to their confined situation. I am confident, however, that I am not mistaken in the judgement I formed of them.1

14 Oct General Court Martial held in Valletta of Lt Col the Hon Robert William O'Callaghan commanding the 39th Foot in Malta. O'Callaghan was tried on five charges brought against him by the regimental paymaster Mr Roderick Mackenzie. Lt Col O'Callaghan was acquitted of all charges, and later commanded the regiment in the Peninsula and became a Major General and a Knight Commander of the Bath. The regimental paymaster, Mr R Mackenzie, committed suicide shortly after the verdict was made public.

The paymaster had alleged that (i) the bounties meant to be paid to two recruits who had enlisted in April 1804, were misappropriated by the commanding officer; (ii) that in August 1804, he had intentionally delayed to forward the resignation of the commission of Lt Fry 39th Regiment, who had wished to sell his Ensigncy which he had purchased, for the payment of his debts, and by which criminal neglect, the debts of Lt Fry, pledged on the security of his commission had remained unpaid; (iii) that in April 1805 he had embezzled £20 8s 6d from the Board of Ordnance as the alleged expense of engraving and marking 817 stand of arms, which had been previously paid for by the soldiers of the regiment; (iv) that in September 1805, while in command of the 39th Foot, he had signed a false requisition for forage for his horse, but which he delivered to another officer of the regiment, who was not entitled to receive forage from the public stores; (v) that in June 1805, he had ordered the paymaster to continue Pte James Cotterill of Captain Waddell's Company, in the rank of sergeant in the pay list and muster roll, knowing that Pte Cotterill had been reduced to the rank of private by the sentence of a Regimental Court Martial.

22 Nov 1805 The Flank Companies 1st/39th were detached to Naples.

1806 1st/39th (East Middlesex) (Balfour's Regiment)

Jan 1806 The Flank Companies of the 1st/39th embarked from Naples to Sicily. They returned to Malta in February 1806.

1 July Strength: 29 Commissioned and Warrant Officers, 66 NCOs, 678 rank and file fit for duty, 30 rank and file sick, 815 total officers and men, 907 establishment.

4 July The Grenadier Companies commanded by Lt Col the Hon R W O'Callaghan fought at the Battle of Maida.

18 July Three men of the 39th were killed in the explosion of a gun powder magazine at Vittoriosa.

16 July On 16 July Lt Col Bentham commanding the Royal Artillery in Malta, ordered Capt Gamble, officer in charge of the artillery in the Cottonera District, through Mr Rutter, the Ordnance Commissary, to unload shells from the magazine in Vittoriosa, in order that they might be sent to Sicily. Capt Gamble passed the order to Bdr Anderson, Garrison Gunner. Sgt Robert Anson the laboratory Sgt had been ordered to show Bdr Anderson how to draw the powder from live shells. Anderson was told to carry the shells as far as possible from the magazine previous to unloading them. The cause of the explosion was disobedience of orders by Bdr Anderson, but Capt Gamble was relieved of his command for failing to provide adequate supervision by a more senior officer.

At the Court of Enquiry held in Valletta on 21 July 1806, Gnr Robert Cresey, one of the working party on the evening of 16 July in the magazine of Vittoriosa, where he assisted in the unloading of several shells, stated that the boxes containing the shells were opened with an iron chisel. That seeing much danger in carrying on such work in the magazine he remonstrated with Bdr Anderson who desired him to mind his own business. The magazine blew up on the 18th July killing the working party consisting of an NCO and 12 gunners.

1807 1st/39th (Dorsetshire) (Balfour's Regiment)

1 July 1807 Strength: 34 Commissioned and Warrant Officers, 76 NCOs, 863 rank and file fit for duty, 38 rank and file sick, 1017 total officers and men, 1116 establishment.

1 Oct Strength: 33 Commissioned and Warrant Officers, 76 NCOs, 840 rank and file fit for duty, 44 rank and file sick, 1010 total officers and men, 1116 establishment.

1 Nov Strength: 32 Commissioned and Warrant Officers, 76 NCOs, 832 rank and file fit for duty, 45 rank and file sick, 1003 total officers and men, 1126 establishment.

1808 39th (Dorsetshire) (Balfour's Regiment)

1 Feb 1808 Strength: 32 Commissioned and Warrant Officers, 76 NCOs, 832 rank and file fit for duty, 45 rank and file sick, 1003 total officers and men, 1126 establishment.

May The Flank Companies 1st/39th were detached to Sicily, and formed part of the flank battalions. The Grenadier Companies, commanded by Lt Col The Hon R W O'Callaghan, were employed at Naples, on the coast of Calabria, and at the taking of the islands of Ischia and Procida.

1 Aug Strength 8 Coys: 29 commissioned and Warrant Officers, 54 NCOs, 705 rank and file fit for duty, 48 rank and file sick, 842 total officers and men, 1116 establishment.

1 Sep Strength 8 Coys: 30 commissioned and Warrant Officers, 54 NCOs, 699 rank and file fit for duty, 50 rank and file sick, 833 total officers and men.

1 Dec 1808 Strength 8 Coys: 21 commissioned and Warrant Officers, 54 NCOs, 705 rank and file fit for duty, 38 rank and file sick, 832 total officers and men.

1809 39th (Dorsetshire)

1810 39th (Dorsetshire)

23 June 1810 The 39th Foot commanded by Brevet Lt Col Cavendish Sturt reinforced Lt Gen Sir John Stuart's Army in Sicily, against an invasion across the Strait's of Messina by Murat, then King of Naples. The French invasion of Sicily started on 17 Sept 1810, but was aborted as it received little support.

1811 39th (Dorsetshire)

In 1811, the Battalion was replaced in Malta by the 2nd/14th Regiment of Foot. The whole battalion commanded by Lt Col the Hon R W O'Callaghan, embarked for the Peninsula. It arrived at Lisbon in October 1811. It took part in the Battle of Vitoria on 21 June 1813, and served in the Pyrenees during July and August 1813, at Nivelle on 10 November 1813, in the passage of the Nive on 9 December 1813 and at Orthes on 27 February 1814.

The 39th (Dorsetshire) Regiment

1856 39th (Dorsetshire)

In 1854 the regiment joined the Crimean War (1854-56), where it served in the trenches before Sevastopol.

The 1st/Dorsetshire Regiment

1882 1st/Dorsetshire

11 Sep 1882 The 1st/Dorsetshire Regiment embarked at Portsmouth from Aldershot and disembarked in Malta on 20 September.

20 Sep A detachment of The 1st/Dorsetshire Regiment consisting of 2 Coys, 5 officers, 6 Sgts, 2 Trumpeters or Drummers, 180 Rank and File, embarked at Malta on the transport Iberia for Portsmouth, where it arrived on 2 Oct 1882.

3 Oct 1882 The 1st/Dorsetshire Regiment consisting of 6 Coys, HQ Coy, 19 officers, 29 Sgts, 14 Trumpeters or Drummers, 617 Rank and File and 5 horses, embarked at Malta on the transport Batavia for Portsmouth, where it arrived on 12 Oct 1882.

The battalion returned to Aldershot and moved to Chatham on 6 Oct 1884.

1885 1st/Dorsetshire

4 Mar 1885 The 1st/Dorsetshire Regiment embarked at Portsmouth from Chatham. It disembarked at Malta on 12 March 1885.

It had an average strength of 571 men. It had 837 admissions into hospital with 5 deaths. 31 invalids returned to England.

Its average constantly sick was 65.37. The average sick time to each soldier was 41.78 days. The average duration of cases of sickness was 28.50 days.

The 1st/Dorsetshire Regiment had the highest ratio of admissions and constantly sick. Surgeon General James Sinclair attributed this to the inferior physique and great youth of the men, which rendered them quiet unable to endure the unusual heat of the summer months. The Principal Medical Officer stated that Spring was the most unfavourable time for regiments to arrive at Malta. Those arriving in Spring suffered much from fever during the following summer and autumn.1

Fort Chambray Gozo was occupied by the headquarters and four companies of the 1st/Dorsetshire Regiment during the last three months of the year. The fort needed considerable improvements to make it habitable for long term occupation. In particular, the barrack room floors, latrines and ventilation had to be improved.

18 Dec 1885 The 1st/Dorsetshire Regiment embarked for Egypt; those unfit to proceed with the regiment to Egypt were returned to England. It disembarked in Egypt on 22 Dec 1885. The battalion left Egypt for Portland Barracks Dorset on 25 July 1886.

1888 1st/Dorsetshire

17 Feb 1888 The 1st/Dorsetshire Regiment arrived from Portland Barracks Dorset. It was quartered at Isola Gate Barracks, San Francisco de Paola Barracks and Polverista Barracks Cottonera. It had detachments at Forrest Hospital and Gozo.

It had an average strength of 726 men. It had 370 admissions into hospital with 4 deaths. 5 invalids returned to England.

Its average constantly sick was 20.49. The average sick time to each soldier was 10.32 days. The average duration of cases of sickness was 20.26 days.

5 Aug 1888 Tom Gould aged 23 years was buried in Pietà Cemetery.

The following were baptised in the Garrison Church, Valletta in 1888:

  • 21 Mar William Lee son of Theresa and CSgt John Lee, born on 6 Jan 1888.
  • 6 May Edith Annie Munslow daughter of Mary and Cpl Herbert Munslow, born on 16 Apr 1888.
  • 3 June Emily Florence Cooper daughter of Lucy and L/Cpl Joseph Cooper, born on 11 May 1888.
  • 7 July Amy Melita Giovanie daughter of Caroline and Capt Pedro Giovanie, born on 14 June 1888.
  • 7 July Lily Daisy Dear daughter of Harriet and Pte Alfred Dear, born on 14 June 1888.
  • 28 July William Oliver Coleman son of Elizabeth and Armourer Sgt Stephen Coleman, born on 3 July 1888.
  • 25 Aug Annie Floriana Kerr daughter of Susan Sarah and QM William Alexander Kerr, born on 7 Aug 1888.
  • 27 Sep Beatrice Annie Heason daughter of Adolphine and Sgt Harry Heason, born on 21 Sep 1888.
  • 2 Nov George Luke Sweetnam son of Jane and Pte George Luke Sweetnam, born on 18 Oct 1888.
  • 2 Nov William Hugh Fortt son of Louisa Smith and Sgt William James Fortt, born on 22 Oct 1888.
  • 2 Dec Rachel Annie Mullins daughter of Beatrice and Cpl Alfred Mullins, born on 10 Nov 1888.
  • 2 Dec Lydia Elizabeth Morley daughter of Lydia and Pte Joseph Morley, born on 4 Nov 1888.

1889 1st/Dorsetshire

The 1st/Dorset Regiment had an average strength of 473 men. It had 197 admissions into hospital with 4 deaths. 14 invalids returned to England.

Its average constantly sick was 13.84. The average sick time to each soldier was 10.68 days. The average duration of cases of sickness was 25.64 days.

15 July 1889 The 1st/Dorset Regiment was quartered in Cottonera, Forrest and Gozo for 12 months. It embarked for Egypt on 15 July, and left Egypt for Bombay on 27 Sep 1893.

The following were baptised in the Garrison Church, Valletta in 1889:

  • 9 Feb Vera Isabel Sarah Hunter daughter of Jane Annie and Sgt Alexander Hunter, born on 4 Feb 1889.
  • 19 Sep Elizabeth Harvey daughter of Sarah Ann and CSgt Gilbert Harvey, born on 26 Aug 1889.

The following were buried in Pietà Military Cemetery in 1889:

  • 12 May John Wood aged 40 years.
  • 19 June Mrs Harriett Bartlett aged 30 years 2 months, wife of Pte Bartlett.

The 1st/Dorsetshire Regiment

1923 1st/Dorsetshire

1 Oct 1923 The 1st Bn arrived at Malta. Its strength was 29 Officers and 578 rank and file.
Strength: 26 Officers and 573 rank and file.

1924 1st/Dorsetshire

1 Jan 1924 Strength: (HQ and 4 coys) 26 officers and 568 men.

1 July Strength: (HQ and 4 Coys) 28 officers, 758 rank and file.

Nov 1924 The Bn was stationed temporarily in Khartoum, Sudan.

1925 1st/Dorsetshire

1 Oct 1925 The Bn was stationed temporarily in Khartoum, Sudan.

1926 1st/Dorsetshire

1 Jan 1926 Strength: 0 officers, 50 men.

1 Oct Strength: 27 officers and 799 rank and file.

Oct 1926 Returned from Khartoum where it was relieved by the 2nd/Border Regiment.

1927 1st/Dorsetshire

1 Jan 1927 Strength: 0 officers and 6 men.

1927 The 1st Battalion embarked for another 11 years in India.

The 1st/Dorsetshire Regiment

1939 1st/Dorsetshire

30 June 1939 (Strength): 28 officers and 579 men. The Bn formed part of 231 (Malta) Brigade and guarded the coast of Malta from the east to the south of Valletta.

1940 1st/Dorsetshire

10 June A carrier Plt of 1/Dorset Regiment supported a Coy of 8/Manch in defending the landing ground at Luqa Airport.

30 June 1940 Strength: 24 Officers and 689 men.

6 July 140 men of the 2nd/Dorsetshire Regiment were at Verdala Barracks Cospicua which had been hit by enemy bombing. The lightly built verandahs were completely destroyed but the main barracks withstood the blast and there were no serious casualties. Two Medical Inspection rooms at the fort had been blown in succession on 6 July. The medical stores were moved to the ammunition store which was located in the bastion and well sheltered.

10 July A bomber which had been shot down fell on the Beach Post of B Coy 1st/Dorsetshire Regiment. Three soldiers received burns; after treatment at ADS Tarxien all were evacuated to Mtarfa Hospital.

12 July On 12 July, No 5724730 L/Cpl Maurice Andrew William Malcolm died under anaesthesia.

Not every soldier was psychologically robust enough to withstanding the daily bombings. On 23 July, No 5724710 Pte Churchill C Coy 1st/Dorsetshire Regiment fired two bursts of his Lewis gun on the men of his company without hitting anyone, and then attempted to kill himself. He was evacuated to Mtarfa Hospital with a flesh wound to his right thigh.

1941 1st/Dorsetshire

30 June 1941 Strength: 36 Officers and 821 men. Commanding officer Lt Col De La Bere with his HQ at Corradino.

30 Sep Strength: 30 officers and 949 men.

1942 1st/Dorsetshire

1943 1st/Dorsetshire

30 Mar 1943 Left Malta as part of the force involved in the invasion of Sicily (Op Husky).

3 Feb Claudette Joyce Woodrow daughter of Kathleen and Lt Frank Woodrow 1st/Dorset of 12 Amery Street Sliema, born on 1 Feb 1943, was baptised at St Oswald's Church Mtarfa.

The 1st/Devonshire and Dorset Regiment

1970 1st/Devonshire and Dorset

Mar 1970 The Bn arrived from Quebec Barracks Osnabruck Germany.
June Coy Training at Sardinia.
July–Aug 1970 Detachments at Belfast Northern Ireland.

1971 1st/Devonshire and Dorset

Sep 1971 Detachments in Cyprus.

Dom Mintoff became Prime Minister of Malta in the June 1971 elections. On 17 June he informed the British Government that he no longer accepted the ten year 1964 Defence and Financial agreement. In July 1971, at the request of the Government of Malta the British Government suspended the planned change over between 41 Commando Group and the 1st/Devonshire and Dorset Regiment, pending discussions between the two governments.

An advance party of 80 soldiers and their families had already left at the end of June to their new base in Gillingham Kent to prepare the way for the 650 men and 390 families still stationed in Malta.

In Sep 1971, an agreement was reached whereby Malta would receive £5.25 million a year in rent from Britain, and £4.25 million from NATO. However, in December 1971, Mintoff increased his demand for an extra £9.5 million, together with restrictions on the use of the base by other NATO powers and set a dead line of 31 December 1971 for the withdrawal of British Troops. On 29 Dec 1971, Britain reacted to Mintoff's ultimatum by announcing the withdrawal of its 3,500 troops and 7,000 dependants from Malta. The deadline was extended to 15 Jan 1972 by the Malta Government to allow for an orderly withdrawal. Crisis talks resumed in London. On 26 March 1972, an agreement was finally reached for the use of military bases in Malta up to March 1979 when all troops had to leave Malta.

1972 1st/Devonshire and Dorset

May 1972 The 1st/Devonshire and Dorset Regiment was the last infantry regiment in Malta. In May 1972, it was replaced by 41 Commando Royal Marines which henceforth constituted the garrison of Malta until the withdrawal of British troops in March 1979.


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  • Edwards T. J., 1980. Regimental Badges First Edition, Tonbridge, Kent: Ernest Benn Ltd.
  • Wickes H. L., 1974. Regiments of Foot Southampton: Osprey Ltd.
  • Record of the Services of British Regiments - Thirty ninth or the Dorsetshire Regiment of Foot. The Naval and Military Magazine (1827) i; 99. London 1827.
  • James C., A collection of the charges, opinions, and sentences of General Courts Martial, from 1795 to 1820. London 1820.
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  • TNA:WO 379/11. Stations of Regiments 1859–1900.
  • TNA:WO 156/115. Register of burials in the military cemetery Rinella from January 1890 to January 1908.
  • TNA:WO 156/598. Baptism Register No 16; Malta from 20 February 1898 to 17 July 1916.