Malta’s flag, apart from its white and red colours, proudly displays in its left canton the emblem of the George Cross medal. This honour was bestowed upon the Maltese nation with a citation by King George VI, from Buckingham Palace, on 15 April 1942, to acknowledge the tenacity and heroism shown by the islanders during the darkest hours of the war years.
With the conferment of the GC medal the King wrote a citation:
“To honour her brave people I award the George Cross to the Island Fortress of Malta to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history.”
Indeed in April of 1942, the Axis powers appeared to have the upper hand, Malta was being submitted to a ferocious series of air raids by the Luftwaffe. The island was incessantly bombarded in an attempt to neutralise the British efforts to fly their aircraft to attack and thus deter Axis efforts from supplying Rommel’s North African troops with much needed provisions from Sicily.
At the time Malta was also suffering from lack of fuel and food. Ammunition was running out, so much so that the Anti-Aircraft (AA) guns were permitted to fire only a few rounds per day. Fuel was restricted to military action and was heavily rationed. The population was on the brink of starvation and rumours had it that the army was deliberating an armistice.
Information had reached the Allies through espionage, that the Axis powers were even concocting a plan to invade Malta at some time or another. The secret code of this operation was Operation Herkules. Luckily the plan was shelved.
The George Cross was brought over to Malta eventually, by Viscount Lord Gort, the new Governor of Malta, who replaced General Dobbie. The actual ceremony of the conferment of the medal by Lord Gort to Chief Justice Sir George Borg in Palace Square, was eventually held on Sunday, September 13. During the ceremony, the medal was carried out ceremoniously from the Governor’s Palace, on a wooden box covered by a glass top and supported on a dais. After the speech that was delivered by Viscount Gort, Chief Justice Borg received the honour on behalf of the Maltese nation.
Today this honour is cherished with pride. The G.C. on Malta’s national flag is not only to be seen in Malta, but proudly displayed in other countries too, wherever the president of Malta is on a state visit.
Salient Episodes in WWII
3rd September 1939 Britain and France declare war on Germany following the latter’s invasion of Poland on September 1.
June 10, 1940 Mussolini declares war against the Allies.
June 11, 1940 First Air Raid on Malta launched from Sicily – six soldiers die at Fort St. Elmo.
16th January, 1941 Blitz on Grand Harbour in order to destroy HMS Illustrious. This was the first Luftwaffe attack.
March 3, 1941 Conscription of all men aged 16 – 56.
July 26, 1941 E boat attack on Grand Harbour.
April 15, 1942 Citation by George VI bestowing the people of Malta with the George Cross Medal.
August 15, 1942 What was left of the Operation Pedestal Convoy (known also as the Santa Marija Convoy) reached Grand Harbour, thus saving Malta from certain starvation or surrender.
September 13, 1942 George Cross Presentation Ceremony in St. George’ Square (Palace Square) is held.
September 8, 1943 Italy surrenders to the Allies. Italian Navy was anchored at St. Paul’s Bay.
June 9, 1943 Invasion of Sicily by the Allies commences.
August 1944 Last Air Raid on Malta.
1945 Terms of surrender with Germany on April 29 and with Japan on August 14 bring an end to World War II.
Some facts about Malta in WWII
Population in Malta and Gozo at the beginning of the War : 270,000.
Air Raids registered throughout the war over Malta: 3,343.
15,000 tons of bombs were dropped on the Maltese islands.
1,500 people killed – 3780 injured.
9,000 buildings destroyed especially in the towns around the Grand Harbour and the military airfields.
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