Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is with immense pride and the greatest admiration for the inhabitants of these islands that I join you today in commemorating the extraordinary heroism displayed by the people of Malta some seventy-five years ago.
These remarkable islands, with which my family holds such a deep and personal connection, suffered truly unimaginable hardship as the brutal ferocity of war engulfed them. By 1942, after almost two years of intense aerial bombardment, Malta was on the brink of surrender. Indeed, between March and April of that year, more bombs were dropped on Malta than were dropped on London during the entirety of the Blitz. And yet, with characteristic determination and strength of spirit, Malta's valiant citizens held firm. As one of Malta's foremost poets and authors, Oliver Friggieri, put it so well:
Fuh dean lard, fain ill edem inbeda
Isu lbee-rah, mill-ehedem bned-mean,
Cull ponn trab, feeh id-dem, u cull jebla
Tkan-ta stor-ia, ta niess al-ben-een.
"On this land where antiquity was launched
As though it was only yesterday,
Each handful of dust has a story to tell, each stone
Sings a tale about valiant people."
In April 1942 my Grandfather, King George VI, awarded the George Cross to the people of Malta, in recognition of the bravery, fearlessness and conspicuous courage that they displayed in the darkest and most harrowing of times.
The King's message, inscribed on the plaque on the Palace wall behind me, reads:
"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."
As the then Governor, Viscount Gort, read aloud The King's words during the presentation ceremony, the cruel debris of war was strewn around him in this very square. Over the months that followed, the rubble was cleared, the buildings rebuilt and – perhaps more slowly – the wounds were healed. But the George Cross, which toured these islands, visiting the towns and villages of Malta for all proud Maltese to see, remained as a symbol of what they had endured and of the strength and fortitude they had so conspicuously displayed.
As President of The Victoria Cross and George Cross Association, I have had the great privilege of meeting many recipients of these most prestigious awards and have heard remarkable tales of exceptional bravery and heroism. Malta’s story stands proud amongst them, as an example of how a whole people can come together, united in defiance of a brutal attempt to break their will.
It is a story that continues to inspire to this day, kept alive in the testimony of those that survived the siege and in the family accounts handed down through the generations. After all these years it is a particular blessing that we are joined here this evening by civilians and veterans who lived and fought through the siege of Malta. The George Cross is their gift to all who have come after them. Without their courage and determination, Malta would never have become the thriving place that it is today - prosperous at home and with ever-growing influence beyond her shores.
And so I hope that all Maltese, as they look back on the events of seventy-five years ago, and on everything that Malta has achieved since then, will feel a special pride in their country and the greatest possible confidence in her future.
For my part, having not only first come to these islands when I was very young in 1954, but also having spent part of my Summer vacations from University in the late 1960's and served here during my time in the Royal Navy in the early 1970's, I am deeply honoured to be able to share this very special anniversary with you all. The George Cross that proudly adorns your flag will forever bear testament to Malta's essential strength of character. What is more, it serves as a symbol of the profound gratitude that all of us – in the United Kingdom and across the Commonwealth – feel for the sacrifice that Malta made, and of the enduring friendship we enjoy with the people of these ancient isles.