Over the past weeks, we’ve seen the events that happened during the worst of the Blitz. Malta lost an icon in the Royal Opera House, and almost lost another in the Mosta Rotunda. Amidst the rubble and the bombs however, one thing shone through; the undying heart and will to survive of the Maltese people. That heart and will is what motivated King George VI to award to the Maltese Islands and its people, Britain’s highest civilian honour; the George Cross.
The George Cross was established in September 1940 during the worst of the Battle of Britain. King George VI saw that there was a desire to recognise those civilians for their bravery and gallantry in the face of the enemy; and so the George Medal and the George Cross were created. The Medal was awarded on a fairly wide basis for acts of great bravery; the Cross meanwhile was awarded to those who conduct “acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger”.
By April of 1942, the Maltese had gone through great deal of suffering. They had fought of bombing raids for almost two years, the Italians had tried (and failed) to invade the island with their torpedo boats, and now the Germans were throwing everything they had at the island; making Malta the most bombed place on the planet. However the now starving and war-battered people would not give in. In light of this, the King saw fit to send a letter to the Maltese people in recognition of their extreme bravery. In this letter, dated April 15th 1942, the King stated the following:
To honour Her brave people, I award the George Cross to the Island Fortress of Malta, to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in History.
– King George VI
The cross was brought to Malta later on in that year. On September 13th, a month after what was left of the Operation Pedestal – or Santa Marija – Convoy steamed into Grand Harbour, a formal ceremony was held amongst the ruins in St. George’s Square in Valletta.
From 1943 onwards, the George Cross was embedded into Malta’s flag, initially with a blue background behind it. The blue background was removed in 1964 upon Independence; however the George Cross itself remains present on the flag to this very day.
The Cross itself can, today, be found in the National War Museum in Fort St. Elmo, Valletta.
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