Copyright © The Malta Historical Society, 2005.
Source: Melita Historica. [Published by the Malta Historical Society]. 8(1981)2(165-166)
JOSEPH ATTARD, The Battle of Malta, William Kimber, London, 1980, pp. 252 + illus., £M9. 95.
Another addition to the growing number of books about Malta during the Second World War, this book may in some ways be termed as an eye-witness report. The author, not yet fifteen years of age at the outbreak of war, delves deeply into his personal reminiscenes and supplements them by an appreciable amount of research to try and present the reader with a vivid picture of our island in one of its most tragic and equally glorious times. The sixteen chapters of the book are replete with vivid and very lucid portraits of the memorable events now part and parcel of Maltese history, episodes which were sad, tragic sometimes joyous, and most certainly glorious.
Mr. Attard is a well-known writer but, essentially, he is not a historian. This book shows him at his best as a writer but also betrays his lack of the historian's approach to the writing of history. His understandably very rapid - but equally not so understandably the rather flowery - survey of Malta's pre-1940 history is inaccurate at times as when he asserts that "whenever there was cause, Maltese Bishops and priests repeatedly led the people in peaceful protests and more than once an armed insurrection, and when circumstances warranted it Grand Masters of the Order were unseated." I disagree. It is true that many peaceful protests existed but there is record of only ONE armed insurrection, the Rising of the Priests of 1775, and, as far as is known only one Grand Master was deposed. I am referring of course, to La Cassiere, and even this episode was only an internal matter of the Order. The image of the Maltese people as liberty-loving folk has to be built up on known solid facts and not on generic statements of the kind quoted. Also, there is no real proof that the mass of the [p.166] Maltese appealed to "Napoleon to destroy the aristocratic Republic of the Sovereign Order', as stated by Mr. Attard. And how does the author know that the Maltese called in the Normans to expel the Arabs?
After noting such inaccuracies, I was afraid that I was in for more in the actual subject-matter of the book. Happily this fear did not materialize and what emerged in general is a well-balanced account which I would fault only on two main items. Being a writer, it seems that Mr. Attard could not desist from inserting a number of pen-portraits of fictitious persons. Admittedly, they represent people who actually existed, but they remain fictitious all the same. Secondly, I believe that more details should have been forthcoming on the question of food distribution and the lack of foodstuffs on the island.
On the whole, the rest of the many details are accurate enough though it must be pointed out that the episode concerning the Gozitan wheat supplies for Malta happened in July 1942 and not in October 1942 and that there were no actual antiaircraft guns at St Elmo before 1941, as implied in the book.
On the whole, a book worth reading.
Joseph F. Grima