A poignant commemoration of the fallen heroes of World War II.
In the second of our series about monuments in Malta and Gozo, we take a closer look at a solemn reminder of World War II, lest we ever forget.
©viewingmalta.com - (Peter Vanicsek)
Every day at noon, the largest bell in Malta rings gravely, its boom resonating over the peaceful waters of Grand Harbour. Once a theatre of war, the harbour’s tranquillity today belies its turbulent past.
During World War II, Malta was subjected to incessant bombing raids, particularly between 1940 and 1943. They brought the island to its knees - its spirit crushed, but never defeated. My generation grew up listening to our parents and grandparents recounting stories of everyday hardship and heroism during those distant days of unimaginable horrors: my grandmother gave birth in an air raid shelter, and my father remembers queuing at victory kitchens for food.
"More than 7,000 civilians and servicemen and women died during the three year siege."
Between February and June 1942, the Siege of Malta (as it was known), intensified to such an extent that only two out of 24 merchant vessels arrived and successfully unloaded their cargo, bringing much needed supplies to the island. During the first half of 1942, Malta endured 154 days and nights of continuous bombing.
The siege was finally broken with the arrival in August of 1942 of 14 Merchant Navy ships, escorted by the largest and most powerful escort the British fleet had ever assembled in what became known as Operation Pedestal. Only five of these ships eventually limped into Grand Harbour, rescuing Malta from starvation. As many as 400 Allied troops lost their lives in that operation. More than 7,000 civilians and servicemen and women died during the three year siege.
Every single person was a hero in one way or another, whether on the frontline or at home praying for an end to the atrocities. The Siege Bell Memorial in Valletta commemorates all those heroes who gave their life to protect others.
Malta’s defiance and courage during World War II were already acknowledged by King George VI when he awarded the island the George Cross “to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history”. 50 years later, the George Cross Island Association commemorated that momentous award with a new memorial designed by Michael Sandle.
The association chose a secluded location on Castille bastion, the furthermost point of Valletta within Grand Harbour, to instil a sense of quiet reverence and contemplation, away from the distracting hustle and bustle of the city. Unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II in 1992, the colonnaded belfry, designed in the form of an elliptical neo-classical temple, contains a bourdon bell, the largest in Malta. The bell was cast on 10th February 1992 by the world’s largest bellfounders John Taylor & Co Founders of Loughborough, England. A Latin inscription quoting a verse from Psalm 140 adorns the mulley groove. The inscription reads Obumbrasti Super Caput Meum In Di Belli MCMXL - MCMXLIII which translates to “You cast thy shadow upon my head during the time of war 1940-1943”.
Next to the belfry is a bronze catafalque overhanging the bastion parapet, symbolising the burial of the corpse of the unknown soldier at sea.
The annual ceremony commemorating the award of the George Cross to Malta will this year be held on Saturday 14th April at the Siege Bell Memorial.