MEMORIES FROM MALTA The history of Sound Mirrors

By Albert Fenech

                                                                                                         Hythe, Kent

If a “sound” is audible to the ear and “a mirror” is reflective to the eye, what links the two? 

…. and how and why is Malta involved together with Kent and Sussex? 

 

The only sound mirror outside England – unless anyone knows better – is on the Mediterranean island of Malta. It is known locally as “il widna”, Maltese for “the ear”.

At Maghtab, Malta

 

The design is the same as the 200 foot mirror at Denge, although the Maltese mirror appears to be in better condition. It retains its painted camouflage pattern, which blends into the colours of the landscape quite effectively.

The site is now used as an earth station for telecommunications company GO (formerly Maltacom), so there is no access to the mirror, though visitors can get quite close and peer through the barbed wire fence.’

                                                      Joss Gap, Kent

http://www.andrewgrantham.co.uk/soundmirrors/

When I first heard the term “sound mirrors” I was entirely perplexed and after much consideration I determined it meant a contraption that receives sound and then techno reflects it as needed. 

Right, and for what purpose and why is the ONLY one outside the UK in Malta? 

A note of explanation, in Maltese the word “widna” means ear but it has a double-meaning and is sometimes used to describe “a listener who then spews all to curry favour”.  

On his superb website, Andrew Grantham explains all.

Malta

“The construction of early warning sound mirrors was proposed in the early 1930s to help protect the key imperial locations of Gibraltar, Malta and Singapore. Four sites were identified in Gibraltar, but there were concerns about interference produced by noises from the local population, the wind and the sea. A system of five to eight mirrors was suggested for Singapore, but it was thought that there would be problems with noises from local animal and insect life.

“The surveys undertaken in Malta during 1933 were more productive, and five suitable sites were identified around the coast. The ideal site should be sheltered from noise behind and to the sides of the mirror, and ‘under no circumstances should the mirror have a view of the breaking sea’, said Dr Tucker, who undertook extensive research into sound-based direction finding.

“The five proposed sites were given letters

  • Maghtab
  • Zonkor
  • Ta’ Karach
  • D.Ta’ Zura
  • Tal-Merhla

 “Priority was given to A and B, which were either side of Valletta and would help to protect the Grand Harbour. The first mirror was to be at Maghtab, on a site a mile or so inland with hills behind. It faces out to sea at a bearing or 20 degrees, towards Sicily around 60 miles away. 

“Construction was underway in the autumn of 1934, with the work completed during the summer of 1935. The design is a direct copy of the 200 foot mirror at Denge, near Dungeness in Kent. Minor differences include small projecting buttresses at the foot of the mirror face, which were found to harm its performance. 

“The electrical equipment was installed in the first weeks of September 1935, and testing was undertaken on 23 September. Training of the operating staff began the next day. The total cost of the development of the first mirror on Malta was put at £Stg4,500.

“Trials using a Supermarine Scapa flying boat found that the range of the mirror was 21 to 37 miles, with an average of 25 miles, and a bearing error of ±2½ degrees. In contrast, the range of the unaided human ear was put at five miles. It was estimated that the mirror would provide a six minute warning of an enemy aircraft approaching Malta at 250 mph.”

Il Widna, Malta | Sound Mirrors (andrewgrantham.co.uk)

 

At Abbott’s Cliff between Folkestone and Dover in Kent

What relates this to Kent and Sussex as twin-localities? Well similar devices – athough nowadays out of use – are found there and have been preserved in both counties when threats began to loom from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy and of course Malta’s proximity to Sicily.

 

At Dungeness and Hythe, Kent

 

There are similar devices at Abbot’s Cliff between Folkestone and Dover in Kent, Dungenness in Kent as well as Hythe, Joss Gap and Warden Point, all in Kent. In addition there is a proliferation in Yorksire and as far north east as Sunderland – and all these face the English Channel for very obvious reasons!

 

The Shattered Remains at Warden Point, Kent

 

The shattered remains at Warden Point in Kent 

Well, their days are over now but they remain part of our history.

  

ALBERT FENECH

salina46@gmail.com

 

Author

  • Albert Fenech

    Albert Fenech was born in Malta in 1946. His family moved to England in 1954 where he spent boyhood and youth before in 1965 returning to Malta. He spent eight years as a journalist with “The Times of Malta” before taking a career in HR Management Administration with a leading international construction company in Libya, later with Malta Insurance Brokers, and finally STMicroelectronics Malta, employing 3,000 employees, Malta’s leading industrial manufacturer. Throughout he actively pursued international freelance journalism/ broadcasting for various media outlets covering social issues, current affairs, sports and travel. He has written in a number of publications both in Malta and overseas, as well as publishing two e-books. For the last eight years he had been writing a “Malta Diary” with pictures for Lyn Funnel’s B-C-ingU.com international travel magazine.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *