Honorary President of the George Cross Island Association Malta G.C. Branch,
High Commissioners and Ambassadors,
Deputy Commander of the AFM,
It is a great pleasure for me to be with you here today to commemorate the prestigious award of the George Cross to the islands of Malta and its people eighty-one years ago.
This recognition is a reflection of Malta’s enduring strength in the face of adversity. Indeed, from the beginning of time, our country’s rich history developed into a mosaic of both triumphs and challenges.
Most, if not all of you, would agree with me when I say that Malta’s past and its continued existence is itself a testament to the perseverance, versatility and resilience of its courageous people.
Owing to its unique geo-strategic location in the centre of the Mediterranean, Malta has historically earned itself plenty of unwarranted attention from the world’s greatest military powers.
During WWII in particular, Malta was attacked around the clock as the Axis spared no efforts to neutralise the British bases on the islands – at any cost, especially when it came to providing the German Afrika Corps with fuel to keep Rommel’s expeditionary force in Africa going.
In fact, our country is often cited as being one of the most heavily bombed countries during the Second World War, with April of 1942 being the worst month during this dark episode in our history.
In fact, my mother always used to tell me that I arrived on the 24th of April 1942, with the falling German bombs.
While most of these attacks had taken place over military facilities, they also had a devastating effect on the Maltese population, as many innocent civilians were killed in the incessant and indiscriminate bombing campaigns launched over the island.
As the war raged on, the island’s insularity and location meant that the humanitarian situation on the ground became increasingly dire. While enduring relentless attacks of aerial bombardment, the supply of food, ammunition and fuel on the island was diminishing at an alarming rate.
People spent most of their time in underground shelters that had been dug out by hand in the rock. Their health condition declined owing to malnutrition and unsanitary living conditions. Ammunition and fuel supplies were reaching critically low levels.
The country was practically down on its knees.
The tide started to finally turn with the arrival of the Santa Marija Convoy in August of 1942. The fortitude and perseverance of the Maltese people had kept the country from giving in to the immense pain and suffering that its people had to endure, to fall prey to Nazi and Fascist forces planning to actually invade at the right moment in time.
The arrival of Operation Pedestal re-instilled hope in a population that experienced far too much misery and suffering during continuous bombardments.
Against this backdrop, the award of the George Cross is a culmination of the resilient spirit that is central to the Maltese character. As was affirmed by King George VI himself, this medal of great valour has been bestowed to the entire population of Malta ‘to honour her brave people … to bear witness to a heroism and a devotion that will long be famous in history’.
The George Cross has now become a permanent feature on our national flag. We fly this symbol on our flag with pride, without any colonial significance or undertones, as a stark reminder of the heroic people that made the ultimate sacrifice by giving their life so that we could enjoy ours in freedom, unshackled from the tyranny of Nazism and Fascism.
We owe all of this to our forefathers. As they died to defend and protect our liberty, we must ensure that our obligations towards them are fulfilled, just like they fulfilled theirs to us, by strengthening our pursuit towards the cause for peace.
Today, 81 years later, we are proud that our country strives for peace in a turbulent world, a country that holds at heart the value and meaning of mutual respect and understanding. The promotion of peace is embedded in our Constitution, to foster dialogue and diplomacy among nations.
I sincerely hope that our young generations will still attribute in their minds the significant message that this decoration on our flag is meant to convey.
It is regrettable how despite the invaluable and immense sacrifices of our forefathers, we are still witnessing scenes of extreme violence around the globe. The unspeakable atrocities that we had promised ourselves not to ever let happen again are once again unfolding before our eyes.
No one would have thought that barely a generation later, missiles and tanks would be again assaulting towns and cities on the European continent. Few imagined that citizens of a European nation would be sheltering from aerial bombings in subway stations, or that the spectre of armed conflict would once again wreak havoc and threaten the lives of millions of people.
Likewise, the reprehensible and insensate attacks on Israeli and Palestinian civilians in these last days, which claimed and are still claiming thousands of lives from both sides, continues to heighten insecurity in the Middle East, killing indiscriminately Jews and Palestinians, going about their daily lives.
All lives are equally valuable to us. No peace can be achieved through violence. Violence only breeds further violence and makes peace even more difficult to achieve.
We must persist in our cause and moral obligation to promote and protect the value of peace, just like the heroes we are remembering today did when it was asked of them.
As we commemorate all the brave men and women, Maltese and Foreign, who served as beacons of hope in times of darkness, let us ensure that their bravery, heroism and devotion are rekindled in the spirit of our younger generations.