The final victory commemorated on Victory Day marks the ending of World War II for Malta in 1943. Since Malta was located at a strategically significant vantage point for the British Army, the Italian and German forces were desperately trying to take control of the island for themselves. Malta served as a base where British forces could attack passing supply Axis ships and reinforcements. In turn, the Axis (Rome-Berlin-Tokyo) bombed and starved Malta for two consecutive years, making the island one of the most heavily bombed areas during the Second World War, thereafter referred as The Siege of Malta. Things took a turn for the better when a badly damaged convoy miraculously made its way to Maltese shores on the 15th of August. The convoy was appropriately named as The Santa Marija Convoy, since it arrived on Maltese shores the day the Assumption of the Virgin Mary is celebrated. This event brought hope to Malta, motivating and helping the population and the stationed British Force to survive starvation. After two long years of bombardment, starvation and death, Malta emerged victorious on the 8th of September 1943, after the Italian navy surrendered its attack. This effectively ended the war in Malta, coincidently on the same day The Great Siege ended in 1565. As a commemoration of Malta’s bravery during the War, the country and its people were given the George Cross by King George VI, which was then incorporated to the National flag.
This national holiday marks three significant victories that the Maltese people have had over their usurpers during the course of history.
The first victory occurred in 1565, after the Sicilian fleet helped Malta and the Knights of St. John to overcome the Ottoman Invasion. The Ottomans first besieged Gozo in 1551, taking its entire population into slavery and captivity. After a three month war, the Turks also managed to capture Vittoriosa and Senglea in June of 1565. Having lost their commander Dragut Reis in an accident, as well as most of their troop to the war and diseases, the Ottoman attacks ceased on the 8th of September after being scared by a bluff-defence from Mdina. This event is one of the bloodiest battles in the history of the world and is now referred to as The Great Siege of Malta.
Picture:The Siege of Malta and Bombardment of St Elmo - Matteo Perez
The second of the three victories occurred in 1800, when the French troops were driven out of Malta by the British Empire after a two year blockade of the Valletta’s French Garrison, Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua. In 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte bombarded the city of Valletta after being refused access to supplies from the Grand Master Ferdinand von Hompesch zu Bolheim. During their rule, the French removed the Roman Catholic Church, ransacking and looting its property. This resulted in thousands of angry Maltese nationals, led by Emmanuele Vitale and Canon Francesco Saverio Caruana, to drive the French Garrison into Valletta. Together with Lord Nelson’s troops, Maltese soldiers managed to blockade the French troops’ supplies causing them to become desperate for rations. With their troops dying of starvation and disease, the French came to an absolute surrender to the British Forces on the 4th of September 1800. This event is referred to as The Siege of Valletta or the French Blockade, essentially paving the way for the Napoleonic Wars.
Picture: Operation Pedestal: The Allies Rescue Malta
Victory Day is a national holiday celebrated annually on the 8th of September. The holiday commemorates Malta’s three greatest victories: The Great Siege in 1565, The Siege of Valletta in 1800 and The Second World War in 1943.
Commemorating Victory Day
On the 8th of September of each year, Malta gathers as a nation in order to remember the bravery and resilience of its forefathers.
The festivities commence two days prior with a commemorative event held during the evening in front of the Great Siege Monument in Valletta. This is followed by a speech and a wreath laying ceremony where government officials decorate the monument to pay respects to Malta’s war victims. The speaker is traditionally chosen by the Prime Minister of Malta and usually speaks about Malta’s past and current advancements. The first speaker in this commemorative event was Dun Karm Psaila, Malta’s national poet, in 1927. The national anthem is played after the ceremony is finished.
On the eve of Victory Day, a Pontifical Mass (lead by the Bishop of Malta) is held in the evening. This mass is held in Mellieħa, Senglea, Naxxar and Xagħra (Gozo), the localities that celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Victories. The location of this mass changes annually from one town to another respectively; with this year’s mass being held at Xagħra, Gozo, in the evening.
On the day marking the holiday, the President of the Republic of Malta and the Chairman of the National Feasts Committee, place flowers on the Great Siege monument in Valletta, followed by a parade from the Armed forces of Malta. After which, wreaths are also laid on the graves of the Great Siege victims in Fort Saint Angelo and the Victory monument in Vittoriosa, the monument of Victories in Senglea and the World War II victims’ grave in Addolorata Cemetery. In the afternoon, a rowing boat competition (the Regatta) is held in the Grand Harbour