Today Good Friday commemorates the suffering of a person 2,000 years ago. This year, Good Friday, is marked by the suffering of whole populations. These circumstances of sufferance are uppermost in the memories of very elderly persons because 78 years ago Malta was in the throes of the worst month during World War II. Today, all these years after, Malta is once more in the throes of another war.
From 11th June, 1940, Malta suffered 2,375 hours of aerial attacks and it is estimated that Malta received three times the total bombardment suffered by London throughout WWII. The victims were many with the loss of 1,580 lives direct from aerial attacks … thousands of buildings destroyed … families totally losing all their possessions … and the lives of people totally disrupted.
All these years later, Malta is now once more undergoing war, but this time against an invisible enemy. However, this is not a group of countries confronting another group of countries but a war in which the whole world is against a common enemy. Over the last month, life has become totally disrupted with directives to remain indoors and to maintain social distancing from each other. During WWII many became refugees having to flee from their homes in the vicinity of the Grand Harbour. Today, many have had to find alternative accommodation or are confined to quarantine to separate them from their family.
The hospital is overloaded with work, not just caring for those needing hospitalisation but struggling against a virus for which there is yet no cure. The media has remained the main channel of communication; in those days it was Redifussion … today it is radio stations, television and the social media. As in WWII, retail outlets and schools are closed, people are stockpiling foodstuffs and essential items and others have lost their jobs. Social life is virtually strangled. This year there were no Good Friday processions and this also happened during WWII with the first processions emerging again in 1944 in Valletta, Qormi and Rabat.
April 1942 has gone down in Malta’s history as the worst month of suffering for the people throughout WWII. In that month alone, 6,700 tons of bombs were dropped on Malta, three volumes more than the previous month and six times more than February. In that April over 11,000 building were demolished or damaged including the Royal Theatre in Valletta and a number of auberges and palaces in Valletta, as well as Floriana’s St Publius Church, Boffa Hospital in Floriana, the Vittoriosa parish church and clock tower and churches in Luqa and Mqabba. The Mosta Rotunda was also hit.
With the population shattered, Britain’s King George VI sent a hand-written message to the people of the Maltese Islands and awarded the Islands the George Cross for Bravery, and the commitment and courage of the people.
Just as World War II passed, COVID-19 will also pass and it is hoped will once more mark the unity, resilience and commitment of the people of the Maltese Islands.