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Remembering the Convoy

From actual war footage to beautiful violin music, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar’s 75th anniversary commemoration of the Santa Marija Convoy promises to be a unique event for anyone with an interest in history. Jo Caruana talks to Timothy Alden to find out more.

Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar is renowned for doing whatever it can to safeguard our physical environment while also protecting our intangible heritage. And it is with the latter in mind that the organisation will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Santa Marija Convoy through a narrative performance on August 12 that will bring to life aspects of this milestone that have, sadly, largely been forgotten. This will be followed by a concert on August 14 at St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral and a World War II exhibition by Raymond Agius at St George Band Club, Cospicua, on August 16.

“It’s vital to mark the history of the convoy,” stresses Timothy Alden, the FAA’s cultural coordinator and whose own grandfather’s memories are woven into the narrative of this production. “After all, there’s no denying the fact that, for Malta, the Santa Marija Convoy was the most significant event of World War II – and the most memorable.

“In fact, there are many people around today who recall it entering Grand Harbour, including my grandfather. He told me about the day he saw the ships lumber in – he had climbed a tree in Floriana and sat waving along with countless others along the bastions as the ships entered Grand Harbour. The jubilation of the crowds still gives him shivers. That was the day that Malta was saved.”

As part of the research process, Alden and the team learnt of other tidbits from the day – such as how crowds of people walked all the way to Valletta from the villages to witness the convoy entering, once news had spread of its impending arrival. “You see, if not for the convoy, then the award of the George Cross to Malta mere months earlier would not carry the same meaning today. If Malta had surrendered, then Maltese identity would be very different.

If not for the convoy, then the award of the George Cross to Malta mere months earlier would not carry the same meaning today

The Great Siege of 1565 is considered the biggest single event in our history. If we had lost the second siege – that of the Germans and Italians – then we would not today see ourselves in the same proud light that we do now,” he continues.

Thus, the convoy’s 75th anniversary is important to mark and this event hopes to bring past and present together by enabling memories to live on. Most of the evening will take the form of a narrative performance that follows the convoy’s journey – accompanied by lights, sound, music played by Milanese violinist Lorenzo Meraviglia on a 1730 Stradivarius and actual war footage. “Together they will take us back in time by creating the aura of one of those old propaganda films,” Alden says.

It’s especially interesting as some of the footage that will be shown has been taken from interviews conducted in the 1990s with survivors of the event. Some of it is taken from a documentary made by Texaco – the company that owned the iconic Ohio tanker.

Other footage has been collected and saved by World War II enthusiast and historian Simon Cusens, who obtained the rights and brought it back from the UK. Now, with a sponsorship from Studio 7, the FAA has converted the footage into a modern format and will be showing some of it for the first time. “This will be combined with never-before-seen diary entries that will certainly offer unparalleled insight into what life was like at the time,” Alden continues.

It’s this unique content that will really set the event apart by taking us into the midst of things as if we were there ourselves. “Here’s a sneak peak from the script and from one of the preserved diaries,” Alden offers. ‘Mines – bombs and aerial torpedoes, were now being rained on all ships in a desperate effort to finish us off.  But still we went on, not flinching for one moment.  Land was by this time very close and the sun was setting.  Before long we were entering Pantellaria Channel and we knew what that meant for us as this channel was fortified with mines and seething with E boats – so much so that we dubbed it E boat Alley!  The attack was still going on in force when suddenly Almeria Lykes was enveloped in flames.  There were no survivors.’

Asked about who is most likely to enjoy this event, Alden stresses there’s something for everyone. “History aficionados have a lot to delight in but there’s also plenty to be entertained by – from the music to the footage and the narration.” he says.

The performance will take place at Xatt Juan B. Azzopardo at 7.30pm on  August 12, followed by a reception in Gardjola Gardens with a performance by the Police Jazz Band. Those with an entrance ticket for the 12th will also get a reserved seat for the Convoy concert on August 14. Supported by the Malta Arts Fund.

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