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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Camilleri

The Battle for Malta (1940 - 1943): 'Under Attack' - Life Under Siege

Updated: Apr 12, 2023

The war affected all aspects of everyday life for the Maltese people. Yet despite this, they adapted to the situation as much as they could.


Although limited, some forms of entertainment were provided in order to keep up morale. A number of broadcasts were received over the radio and Rediffusion system, which also gave the 'Air Raid Alert' and 'All Clear' signals.


However, as only a few households had a wireless set, the only regular contact with the outside world was through the Times of Malta and Il-Berqa, which never missed an issue. Besides covering the local scene, these newspapers also gave news from other theatres of war. Another newspaper that maintained regular publication was Leħen is-Sewwa, the official organ of the Malta Catholic Action, which throughout the darkest days of the war, did its utmost to boost the morale of the population.


Besides covering the local scene, newspapers also gave news from other theatres of war

The cinema was extremely popular, and most picture houses even had their own air-raid shelter on the premises, to encourage people to attend. Other popular forms of entertainment were the Opera, operettas and musical comedies, whilst the village 'teatrin' organised dramatic representations. Band clubs played their part by performing in refugee receiving centres, as did various regimental bands.


Education was also severely affected. Besides those schools that were bombed, others were taken over to accommodate refugees, or to serve as hospitals or ARP centres. Many teachers were conscripted, while others joined the civil defence forces such as the Special Constabulary or the ARP. There was also a shortage of books and teaching equipment, such as copybooks, chalk, pencils and paper.


However, the most serious impediment to education was the constant interruption due to alerts, as children had to spend long hours in shelters. Classrooms were split, so as not to house too many pupils under one roof, and lessons were held in private homes close to shelters. To make the most of the little time that could be spent in class, the curriculum of primary schools was reduced to its barest essentials, and many subjects almost completely disappeared from the timetable.


The increasing number of civilian casualties meant that hospitals were too congested to retain all but the seriously injured; many were given first aid and sent home, or to nearby shelters. To cope with the situation, several schools and other buildings were converted into emergency hospitals. Despite the fact that they were clearly marked with the Red Cross, they were by no means safe places, and at one point or another, nearly all of them sustained damage of some kind.


Overcrowded shelters and refugee centres led to diseases such as scabies, a skin disorder caused by parasites. The poor sanitary conditions, not helped by restrictions on the use of water and soap, increased the risk of a number of infectious diseases.


Overcrowded shelters and refugee centres led to diseases such as scabies, a skin disorder caused by parasites

Children were paraded for medical examination, and suspected cases of infection were sent to emergency wards, while free vaccination was offered by the government. However, there were still outbreaks of tuberculosis, typhoid - mainly the result of drinking contaminated water - and polio - a disease that mostly affected young children left weakened through malnutrition.


The Church suffered along with the civilians and the military, with many churches being destroyed or damaged. Nonetheless, it continued with its pastoral mission, while working closely with the government to help in the war effort. Church buildings, excluding churches, were made available to the authorities, and approval was given for work to be carried out during religious public holidays. Sisters from various orders also gave nursing services in hospitals.


Overall, the church played a vital role in boosting the morale of the Maltese population during such a difficult period.

 

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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