I can remember my grandfather talking with fondness about Malta. He had visited several times thanks to his Naval background but I thought of him as I visited some of Malta’s museums relating to World War Two. In some ways I wish I had listened more when he talked about his travels and I regret not asking him more questions. That’s a lesson for us all perhaps.
But I was in Malta to learn more about what he may have done or where he was. All I really knew about his wartime career was that he took part in the Sicily invasion in 1944.My first visit took me down the narrow Strait Street, known to sailors as The Gut because it is so narrow. It was once full of bars and brothels- I wondered if he had been here- most definitely for the bars I think.
The National War Museum was a real eyeopener. I was fascinated by the story of the Great Siege of 1565 when the Turks invaded. Immediately I understood why the island got the name Fortress Malta with its impenetrable walls, ramparts and rocks. Walking on through the numbered rooms I came to the 1790’s when Nelson arrived on Malta. My great great great great grandfather served in the Navy at that time, having been press ganged. A shiver went down my spine as I realised he too would have sailed into Grand Harbour.
I walked onwards and learned about the role the island played in World War One, receiving wounded troops from Gallipoli. And then I came to World War Two and learned about the drama as the siege of Malta was broken by the Navy in 1942. Malta earned the George Cross shortly afterwards. I’m not sure if my grandfather was here at that time but the next display confirmed he was. This was the Operation Husky display when the allies prepared for the Sicily landings. I realised why he spoke Italian fluently- troops were encouraged to learn the language as part of their preparations.
This museum held more family connections than I had planned for and the third surprise came when I walked through the museum display about the Suez crisis of 1956. Royal marines had been stationed here whilst waiting to travel to Egypt. Dad had also talked about Malta- and he loved it too. So he had also been here. I remember him telling me how proud the Maltese were to have won the George Cross.
Within one museum there were connections to three members of my family. I was thrilled and captivated at the same time by the history of this island. And as you’ll see in my next posts there was even more to discover in Valletta.