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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Camilleri

The Battle for Malta (1940 - 1943): 'Epilogue' - Post-War Malta

Updated: Apr 13, 2023

Immediately following the end of hostilities, Malta was faced with several new challenges, the most obvious of which was the need for urgent reconstruction, following the devastation caused by aerial bombardment. The British Government allocated £30 million for this purpose, and work started in earnest, but recovery would be a slow progress.


Following the end of hostilities, Malta was faced with several new challenges, the most obvious of which was the need for urgent reconstruction, following the devastation caused by aerial bombardment

Malta entered the post-war era with an acute housing shortage, as besides numerous public and religious buildings, over 10,000 private dwellings had been totally destroyed or were in need of reconstruction, and almost twice that number needed repair. On 9th April 1943, a War Damage Commission had also been set up to pay compensation for war damage to buildings, private property and business equipment, and up to 31st March 1954, it had received over 50,000 claims.


Another challenge that Malta faced was the danger of mass unemployment, resulting from the release from service of thousands of men. The rehabilitation of ex-servicemen, especially conscripts, was no easy task for both the government and the individuals themselves. Some of them had been specially released from service for reconstruction work and other essential industries, while the Department of Labour and Social Welfare set up a demobilisation centre, to advise and help every man return to civilian life and a new job. Training centres were set up, covering 23 different skilled trades. Notwithstanding this, the lack of job opportunities, coupled with the sudden growth in population, resulted in mass migration in the years immediately following the end of the war, particularly to Australia, Britain, Canada and the USA.


The lack of job opportunities, coupled with the sudden growth in population, resulted in mass migration in the years immediately following the end of the war, particularly to Australia, Britain, Canada and the USA

The problem of constitutional development also required attention. In July 1943, the Governor of Malta had announced that it was the intention of the British authorities to restore internal self-government to the Maltese after the war. A National Assembly was set up for the purpose of making recommendations for the new constitution, which was announced on 5th September 1947. It was very similar to that of 1921; Malta was granted responsible government for local affairs, but the British Crown retained the right to decide on certain reserved matters. General elections were held in October 1947, resulting in a victory for the Malta Labour Party, with its leader, Dr. Paul Boffa, becoming the first Prime Minister of post-war Malta.


Over the next decades, there would be several important developments. Between 1955 and 1956, there were even discussions over the possibility of integrating Malta with the United Kingdom, but when an agreement could not be reached, the Maltese instead sought independence, which was obtained on 21st September 1964, with Malta becoming an independent monarchical state. Malta became a republic on 13th December 1974, with the last Governor-General, Sir Anthony Mamo, as its first President, while the British military presence ended in 1979. On 1st May 2004, Malta became one of the member states of the European Union.


It was only natural that Malta’s wartime story inspired a number of monuments and commemorations, which today serve as a reminder of the sacrifice and courage of those who lived and died during the Battle for Malta.


The War Memorial, Floriana

The War Memorial in Floriana had been initially unveiled on 11th November 1938 by Governor Sir Charles Bonham-Carter, to commemorate the lives of those Maltese who died during World War One. It was later decided that it should also commemorate those who lost their lives during World War Two, and the original panels at the base of the monument, recording the names of 592 Maltese who paid the ultimate sacrifice during the Great War, were replaced by tablets reproducing the texts of the tributes paid to Malta by King George V, King George VI and President Roosevelt.


The Commonwealth Air Forces Memorial, also in Floriana, is a 15-metre-high column of travertine marble, surmounted by a gilded bronze eagle. It was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II on 3rd May 1954 and serves as a memorial for 2,301 airmen of the Commonwealth Air Forces who lost their lives whilst serving in the Mediterranean, and who have no known grave. Also in Floriana are the memorials of the Royal Malta Artillery and the King’s Own Malta Regiment, while the Royal Naval Association Memorial, unveiled on 5th May 1995, is in Msida.


The Commonwealth Air Forces Memorial, Floriana

Probably the most evocative of all the memorials is the Siege Bell Memorial, overlooking the entrance to the Grand Harbour. Erected on the initiative of the George Cross Island Association, it was unveiled jointly by the then President of Malta, Dr. Vincent Tabone, and HM Queen Elizabeth II on 29th May 1992, and serves as a tribute to the 7,000 servicemen, merchant seamen and civilians who died defending Malta during World War Two.


The Siege Bell Memorial, Valletta, overlooking the Grand Harbour

In addition to these monuments, the local branch of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission looks after four military cemeteries on the island, which contain burials from both world wars. But apart from monuments in the strict sense of the word, the memories of this great battle are kept alive by a number of museums and attractions that help locals and visitors alike to better understand the events that took place over eighty years ago.


Foremost among these is the National War Museum in Valletta, where highlights include the Gloster Sea Gladiator 'Faith' and the George Cross awarded to Malta. The Malta at War Museum in Birgu focuses on the daily life of wartime Malta and enables visitors to explore an original underground air raid shelter, dug underneath the museum. The Malta Aviation Museum, situated in what was once part of the former RAF Ta'Qali aerodrome, displays some unique exhibits related to Malta's rich aviation history, including a restored Hurricane and Spitfire, while the Lascaris War Rooms in Valletta give a glimpse of what went on in the secret underground complex of tunnels and chambers that housed the War Headquarters, from where the defence of Malta was conducted during World War Two.


Even as the number of people who lived through the war diminishes with each passing year, one hopes that these monuments will help keep the memories alive, so that this glorious episode of our history and the courage and sacrifice of those who lived through it is never forgotten.

 

References


Vella, P. (1985). Malta: Blitzed but not Beaten. Valletta: Progress Press Co. Ltd.


Zarb-Dimech, A. (2003). Mobilisation in Action. Malta.

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