Marking the fulfilment of this treaty, the remaining British Forces left Malta on the 31st of March 1979. That day, Malta became independent de facto (by fact) and de jure (by law), appropriately being christened as Freedom Day.
31st March 1979
After the events of the French Blockade in 1800, the British Empire eventually gained full sovereignty over Malta and its people. Malta spent over 150 years under the British rule, a period that has shaped Malta’s cultural heritage through the years, with some influences being strongly present to this day. After Malta’s effort and bravery in the Second World War, negotiations for the country’s independence were being discussed.
However, even though Malta officially achieved Independence on the 21st September 1964, a treaty with the British Empire remained in full force until Malta became a Republic a decade later. This treaty stated that Malta, now an Independent Sovereign State and a member of the Commonwealth, would still serve as a British Military base with the Queen of Malta, Elizabeth II, acting as a Head of State.
Picture: HMS Sheffield and the White Star Line Britannic behind in Valletta Grand Harbour, Malta, 1957.
Upon being re-elected into power in 1971, the Labour Government worked towards re-negotiating this constitutional treaty, making Malta a Republic in 1974. This amended treaty allowed British troops and the Royal Navy, to use Malta as a naval base, effectively maintaining Malta’s ties with the United Kingdom through both financial and defensive support.
Picture: Dom Mintoff on his way to light the torch at the Freedom Monument
Freedom Day is a Maltese national holiday celebrated annually on the 31st of March. This holiday marks the day when Malta officially became free from British occupation.
Commemorating Freedom Day
Given that Freedom Day marks an important chapter in Malta’s history, the annually celebrated national event is commemorated by a series of ceremonies taking place in various localities around the island.
As a preparatory celebration of the event, the Malta Police Force as well as the Armed Forces of Malta, hold a yearly musical display at St George’s Square, Valletta. This display is followed by a series of commemorative ceremonies in front of the War Memorial in Floriana, as well as the Freedom Day Monument in Vittoriosa. During both ceremonies, government officials and dignitaries, including the President, Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader, place flowers on the memorials and perform speeches as remembrance. The ceremonies also includes a band march by the Armed Forces of Malta followed by the National Anthem.
Perhaps the most awaited event is the Regatta organised by the Malta Rowing Association. The event sees teams from coastal towns around Malta, including those from Valletta, Vittoriosa (Birgu), Senglea (Isla) and Cospicua (Bormla), challenge each other in exciting row boat races within the Grand Harbour. After these races, the honorary shield award is given to the highest ranking teams.