In 1942, Malta was the most bombed place on Earth. This small island strategically placed between Italy and North Africa, was a British military base that everyone wanted. The Italians used high level bombs, most of them falling into the sea. But when the Germans took over, it was a different story.
Unfortunately the German Luftwaffe took over the bombing raids from the Italians. We then knew what bombing was all about. We got bombed day and night, sometimes as many as 7 days on the trot. We had good air raid shelters under the rocks and the bombs couldn’t penetrate into them.
Somewhere in the back of my mind I had an image of what an air raid shelter would look like: a rather large basement. What I didn’t expect was 500 metres of tunnels with little rooms carved into the walls. All dug by hand. Over 4000 people crammed into this space, each with about 1 square metre to themselves. Families of six or more could pay for the right to carve out a room of their own in the walls. There was even a maternity wing. I can’t begin to imagine what life might have been like back then – to hear the sirens and know that you were facing another day underground, packed in like sardines, breathing in the smells of so many.
To put it into perspective – Malta is smaller in size than Greater London. In two months in 1942 (March and April) the tonnage of bombs dropped on the island (6700 tons) was TWICE that dropped on London in the whole of the worst year of the blitz. London’s longest continual raid lasted 57 days; Malta’s lasted 154. There was only one bomb-free 24-hour period between 1 January 1942 and 24 July. The mind boggles.
Walking through the air-raid shelter at Mellieha is quite a sobering experience. There were no sirens, no huddled masses, no smells of the great unwashed. And still it was disturbing. Once again I found myself wondering how I would have coped – the challenges I face in my life in 2012 seem trivial in comparison.