Copyright © The Malta Historical Society, 2005.
Source: Melita Historica. [Published by the Malta Historical Society]. 5(1971)4(350-352)
CHARLES J. BOFFA — The Second Great Siege, Malta 1940-1943, Malta, St. Joseph's Home, 1970, 138 pp., illus.
Many have been anxious to reconstruct the events of 1940-1943 as they affected directly the Maltese people. Boffa has managed to do this in a rather original way by presenting an account based on information gleaned from published documents, books, diaries, logbooks, contemporary letters, newspapers and unpublished minutes of two district councils. He also gave a lot of importance to information given by people from all walks of life.
The drama of horror and courage among the people is depicted with vivid colours. As one reads through the book, one feels that on the sun drenched island of the Mediterranean there lived a people who were ready to offer "blood, toil, tears and sweat" for the sake of democracy and liberty. Once Mussolini had declared war, Malta became the target of Fascist air-raids. More intensive attacks were organized over the Maltese Islands when the Luftwaffe joined in to further the fury.
The people, especially those of the Cottonera, suffered great hardships as they saw their homes turned into shambles, their ammunition depleted, and their food stores emptied. Within such a general framework, the author succeeds in reconstructing a lively picture of brave young men and women ready for any endurance test. The attack on the "Illustrious" within the Grand Harbour, the Italian E-Boats attack of 25th July, 1941, the arrival of the Santa Marija Convoy, are presented against a background too well known and remembered by every Maltese [p.351] who lived through the period. Death and destruction as well as feats of courage and bravery are lucidly brought back to mind as descriptions of events follow each other, augmented by references to the reminiscences of various personalities including British, Italian and German officials.
The author also points out the problem of food shortages and the effect of hunger on the people, especially the homeless who flocked out of the target areas. Reference is made to the introduction of conscription and of a Ration Scheme as well as to the so called Victory Kitchens. Although Malta was awarded the George Cross "to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history", the food and ammunition stores were so much depleted that the Administration — which moved its headquarters to the Birkirkara area after February 1941 — had already earmarked the early days of September 1942 as the target date for surrender. It had to be the tanker "Ohio" which saved the situation as it limped into Harbour on the feast day of Santa Marija. But as it is indicated, Malta was declared safe only after May 1943 when the Nazi armies in Tunisia had surrendered. It was only the heroic defence of the Island from within and from without that put an end to the "Operation Hercules" that had been planned for the invasion of Malta.
Further information is given to describe how various notable sites were hit and turned into rubble. Among the notable places that were destroyed by enemy action, mention is made of the Senglea Basilica, the old Clock Tower and the Dominican Church of Vittoriosa, the Opera House and other buildings in Valletta. Particular attention is paid to the medical and health aspects of the war, whilst a tribute is paid to the women of Malta by a chapter written by Melita Boffa.
However, it seems to me, that the author could have given more attention to the attitudes and activities of local Maltese politicians. The only politician mentioned is practically Dr. Paul Boffa, and this only so far as his voluntary activity to alleviate the suffering is concerned. Mention could have been made of popular views and songs about the George Cross and the Victory Kitchens. The setting up of an American aerodrome in Gozo is briefly mentioned without any reference to the attitudes of Gozitan farmers and the destruction of Gourgion Tower. Though the author states that Maltese alleged of pro-Italian sympathies were first interned at Fort Salvatur and later at the camp of St. Agatha Convent, Rabat, he leaves out all references to their plight under the British government, the internment of some in Uganda, and the people's attitude towards them. Finally no reference is made to British diplomatic relations with Italy regarding Malta's future should an agreement have become possible between the two.
It is also a pity that such a book does not have an index and scientific [p.352] annotations and references, though it carries a bibliography of some of the sources at the end. These omissions could of course be remedied in a re-issue.
In spite of these deficiencies, the book is faithful to the gruesome story. It concludes with a list of people who were awarded decorations and commendations in recognition of their bravery.
C. G. S.