Malta's defenders still stand even if aged over 90
The sun blasted the balding heads of George Cross Island Association members, mostly octogenarians and above, as they attended a wreath-laying ceremony at the Siege Bell Monument in Valletta yesterday.
Their numbers are dwindling - some are in their 90s - but those that can climb the stairs continue to make it to the event, which, this year, commemorates the 67th anniversary of the award of the George Cross to Malta.
But to keep it alive, the GCIA had opened up to the second generation of the war veterans and other service personnel, who worked in Malta.
National secretary Julia Gaw is one of them. The daughter of a submariner, who worked in Malta during the 1940-1943 siege, she was proudly sporting his medals. "I believe we should remember... My father died nine years ago and I am here in honour of him."
President George Abela attended the ceremony, laying a wreath at the foot of the monument, together with other dignitaries, before the bell rang. He took time to stop to talk to every single tourist, gathered on the periphery of the event, and they were honoured by the attention and interest "Mr President" showered on them.
Among the participants at the ceremony was former Royal Air Force engineer Jack Vowles, accompanied by his beloved filming equipment, which he has had a passion for since his first movie camera, pinched off his father in 1933. Mr Vowles had brought it to Malta and filmed the award of the George Cross 67 years ago.
"In wartime, you were not supposed to be filming," he said, with a twinkle in his eye. That footage ended up in the BBC's historical archives and Mr Vowles continues to produce his documentaries, using his full-blown movie editing system.
Last year, he was in Malta to film the first re-enactment of the 1942 event, organised by the Malta Tourism Authority in St George's Square, Valletta.
Mr Vowles has been returning since 1992 as a member of the GCIA but, last year, he said he could not commit for 2009... Nevertheless, last night he was back in position, looking through the lens of his high-definition camera, attached to his four-wheel pusher to assist him both in walking and carrying it.
Later in the evening, the historic awarding of the George Cross to Malta was commemorated by the MTA in Valletta's St George's Square for the second consecutive year.
The event differed slightly from the first edition, being a semi-re-enactment, complemented by slides of the dramatic events that led to the awarding of the George Cross. Among these were 3,343 air raids; 2,357 hours under attack; 15,000 tonnes of bombs; over 9,000 casualties; 10,761 buildings destroyed... and only 17 convoys.
These staggering figures are what the Maltese had to endure during World War II. Between 1941 and 1942, Malta was bombed more than London, a city seven times larger than the island.
The Maltese fought against this adversity while on the edge of starvation, yet they refused to surrender.
They were armed with strong faith, pride and grit, standing by the Allies, with only basic defences to overcome odds that even the top military brass thought were impossible.
More than 60 members of the GCIA of the UK and another 20 members of the Malta branch attended the commemoration.