Wednesday, October 8, 2014

War museum chronicles WWII heroism

After our caramel and chocolate cake accompanied by vanilla gelato, it was time to walk. Once again we took to the narrow streets and finally ended up by the water facing Marsamxett Harbour and the National War Museum.

This museum is mostly about the important role Malta and its people played during World War II, but also includes exhibits dealing with Malta’s military role after 1800 under British rule, and items from the First World War and from the two years of French Occupation.

For Malta, the war began with Italy's declaration of war on Britain in June 1940 and lasted until Italy surrendered in September 1943. Throughout this period German and Italian bombers based in nearby Sicily conducted 3,340 raids against Malta, dropping 16,000 tons of bombs that destroyed 35,000 homes and many priceless artistic and cultural monuments. 50,000 people were made homeless, 1,468 killed and 3,720 injured, out of a total population of 275,000. In the skies above fierce aerial battles saw the loss of 1,637 axis aircraft and 707 British.

Badly mauled and nearly starved the Maltese and their British defenders remained defiant and their efforts played a critical role in thwarting German and Italian military strategy in the Mediterranean. Consequently, King George VI, wishing to “bear witness to the heroism and devotion of its people” awarded the George Cross medal to the entire population of Malta.

In the museum’s main hall are displayed an Italian E-Boat, a Bofors anti-aircraft gun, the Willys Jeep ‘Husky’ that General Eisenhower used during his visit to Malta’, the Gloster Gladiator ‘Faith’, the George Cross, the Book of Remembrance, the illuminated Scroll presented by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and wreckage of a Spitfire and a Messerschmitt Me-109 fighter aircraft recovered from the sea bed.

Photographic panels portrayed the harsh conditions that Malta and its people endured during the war, and the extensive damage inflicted. Also featured are numerous awards and decorations received by Maltese servicemen and civilians during World War II, the most important of course being the George Cross Medal mentioned earlier. Incidentally, this is the origin of the cross featured on the flag of Malta.

We made our way back to the palazzo, plodding slowly through the blistering heat. There were no trees or green spaces to speak of, just the stone buildings. We were glad to sit out on our terrace and watch a couple of cruise ships pass right in front of us as they went out to sea. It was so lovely we decided to stay right there and have some very smooth Maltese red wine with some olives and snacks for dinner.

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