Before WWII broke out, there were 85,000 people living in Valletta, Floriana, the Three Cities and the surrounding urban areas. As soon as the first bombs fell on Malta in June of 1940, they had to see what they were going to do to find refuge in the villages and towns which were not the target of the enemy. lt is estimated that in the first few days of the war, around one-third of the population sought refugee further inland.
The problem of the refugees was a huge headache for the authorities, more than the fact of the air strike or the lack of shelters. They were terrified that complete chaos would be created in society which could hamper the efficiency of the military defence of the island.
During the documentary ‘Malta fil-Gwerra’ TVM journalist Mario Xuereb and researcher Martin Debattista explained how the Maltese took shelter in every type of building away from the Grand Harbour. Some even made their way to Gozo and Marsalforn started looking like the Sliema front.
As the war raged on, appeals started being made for refugees who had lost their homes to be welcomed into the homes of other Maltese. To this end, Governor William Dobbie gave permission for those homes which were hosting refugees to draw a Maltese cross on the facade of the house for every family of refugees they were accommodating, as evidence of their generosity. This gesture also made it easier for district officials to house the refugees in homes where there was still space.