The young soldiers sang, as their thin legs trudged along the paved roads of unfamiliar towns. Their slender body struggled under the weight of their uniforms and belongings, but that did not dishearten their chant. Children looked on, in wonder, at the crowd of young men marching into their hometown dressed in a light brown shirt and shorts, suspended by a belt which had strapped to it a pistol holder and an ammo pouch. On their backs was a rucksack with a steel helmet fastened to it, an overcoat was kept in one hand and a hessian sack filled with provisions in the other.
One of those soldiers was Paul Robert Griscti, known by his family as Roby or Robert. He was only nineteen when he joined the military in 1939, making him the youngest Maltese soldier serving in the Second World War. Robert served in many different countries, one of them being Egypt, and in his postcards he always made sure to tell his family about the places he visited.
“My eyes are dim, I cannot see,I have not brought my specks with me. There are mice, mice, mice, running through the rice…”
Robert Griscti sang to his nieces the ‘Quartermaster Store’ on a typical Sunday afternoon with the family. These Sundays were spent recounting many stories of his youth. The years spent living in France after the war ended. The day he met his wife Carmela after he returned to Malta. His niece recalls her grandfather describing the scene; “I was at home fixing a radio on the second floor, when I saw a dead rat lying on the floor. I grabbed it and threw it out of the window without a second thought.” His laughter soon followed as he explained how a few minutes later he heard a knock at the door and went downstairs to see who it was. Upon opening the door he found a beautiful young lady holding the dead rat by the tail. “Is this yours?” She asked.
Carmela was the best seamstress in the town of Marsa. After their first encounter, Robert made sure to pass in front of her workshop everyday just to get a chance to talk to her again. His niece recalls asking her grandfather how he showed her that he loved her and his reply was “whenever I saw her and I would shake her hand, I would hold it a little bit tighter every time.”
A year later he held her hand even tighter at the altar. Their wedding was a simple ceremony with family and a few friends in the town of Sliema. They got their wedding cake by saving up rations from months before. They lived in Sliema for a few years until they moved to Hamrun where they stayed for the reminder of their lives.
They spent almost half a century together, and had eleven children. They lived a simple but content life and after forty five years together, Carmela passed away. Robert, undefeated, outlived his wife by sixteen years, which many close friends attributed to his strong faith. I met him a few years before he passed away and realised he was very artistic; a poet, a painter and a musician. Robert was also a kind and business-minded man who always stood by his views and beliefs. I used to call him the storyteller because every time he spoke, he had a way with words; an insight about life that has become a rarity nowadays. When his time came Robert knew and accepted it, and awaited his reunion with his beloved wife Carmela.
“Till we meet once again, you and I, Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye”