The George Cross awarded to Malta

The George Cross was instituted on the 24th of September 1940 by King George VI. It is the highest award given by the British government for non-operational acts of gallantry and remarkable actions carried out without the immediate presence of the enemy. Between July and October 1940, The Battle of Britain was raged on and civilians were exposed to a new, brutal kind of warfare. Never in recent times had the enemy operated on the doorstep of the civilian population in such a manner as in aerial bombardment. In light of this, the British government felt that existing civilian rewards were an unfit compensation for this newfound suffering. Thus, the George Cross was born, a reward which is on par with the Victoria Cross: the highest military gallantry award. 

In order that they should be worthily and promptly recognised, I have decided to create, at once, a new mark of honour for men and women in all walks of civilian life. I propose to give my name to this new distinction, which will consist of the George Cross, which will rank next to the Victoria Cross, and the George Medal for wider distribution.

– King George VI

Why was the George Cross awarded to Malta?

The struggle and resilience of the Maltese people between 1940 and 1942 is renown all over the world among historians and readers of the second world war. In the span of two years 3,340 air raids were registered, more than 15000 tons of bombs were dropped on the island, 10,761 buildings were destroyed, and 1581 civilians were killed. Due to the trials and tribulations that Malta had endured up to that point, Leopold Stennett Amery suggested that the Victoria Cross should be awarded to Malta. Due to the fact that the Victoria Cross was an award meant for military personnel, King George VI saw fit to award the George Cross to the people of Malta on the 15th of April 1942. 

The George Cross medal arrived on the island in Governor Lord Gort’s pocket who flew to Malta via Sunderland flying-boat, landing at Kalafrana on the night of the 7th of May (however, this fact is still debated by historians). The presentation of the medal was to take place during that same month. However, the axis onslaught of Malta was at its zenith. The island was struggling through unwavering aerial attacks and under the constant threat of invasion. Due to this, the presentation of the medal was to be delayed to a later date. A letter sent by King George VI was sent to General Sir William Dobbie reading the following: 

“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”. 

– King George VI

Due to the precarious situation in Malta, British authorities sought to keep the stipulated date of the ceremony in secret. Only after the ceremony took place, could any official news concerning the important award be made public. The official ceremony was held on the 13th of September 1942 in Valletta, at a bomb-damaged and debris littered St. George’s Square, then known simply as Palace Square. Present on the day lining the square were the Royal Malta Artillery and representatives of the Army, Royal Navy, Royal Air Force, Malta Police and the Air Raid Precautions. Captains and Officers of the ships that took part in Operation Pedestal were also present. Situated in the centre of the Square was a raised platform from which Lord Gort addressed those present and spoke the following:

On my appointment as Governor of Malta, I was entrusted to carry the George Cross to this Island Fortress of Malta. By the command of the King, I now present to the People of Malta… The decoration which His Majesty has awarded them in recognition of the gallant service which they have already rendered in the fight for freedom… Battle scarred George Cross Malta… stands firm, undaunted and undismayed.

– Lord Gort, Governor of Malta

After his speech, Lord Gort handed the glass-fronted wooden encased George Cross to Sir Gorg Borg (Chief of Justice) who accepted it on behalf of the Maltese population. The case was then carried to a plinth guarded by members of the King’s Own Malta Regiment and was left on the square till the evening before being transported to safe custody.

The George Cross exhibited in Maltese towns and villages 

The journey of the George Cross in Malta did not end with the presentation ceremony in Valletta. After, the George Cross travelled to multiple towns and villages across Malta for people to see. Busses left from Valletta to ferry people to the following outlying districts: Attard, Birkirkara, Birzebbuga, Cottonera, Dingli, Gharghur, Gudja, Ghaxaq, Imqabba, Kalafrana, Kirkopp, Lija, Luqa, Marsa, Mellieha, Mosta, Mtarfa, Naxxar, Paola, Qrendi, Rabat, Safi, Siggiewi, Sliema, St. Paul’s Bay, St. Julian’s Zabbar, Zebbug, Zejtun and Zurrieq. Below one can find extracts from newspapers describing some of the individual visits. 

“The George Cross was on Thursday, October 8th exhibited at Sliema. Mr. Xuereb, Superintendent of Police Representing the Commissioner of Police brought the George Cross at 4:30pm to St. Patrick’s Ground where a large concourse of people had already assembled. Mr Jones, Superintendent A.R.P, was i/c Parade, then brought the parade to attention and the George Cross was handed over to Mr. Scicluna, Regional Protection Officer who while the Malta Police Band played the opening bards of the Maltese Hymn placed the decoration on a plinth.”

-Times of Malta, Wednesday October 21, 1942. ‘The George Cross at Sliema’.

“On Monday September 28th, the George Cross was displayed at Mellieha on the Church Square… The people of Mellieha were eager to see the Royal award and attended the ceremony in great number. As the George Cross was carried to the square at 5 pm, the National Anthem was played by the Band of the 1st K.O.M.R. Mr. George Zammit. B.A., (Lond.), then made a short patriotic speech. He drew a parallel between the black days when Malta was involved in a sanguinary struggle against Napoleon and the days of stress through which we are passing today. In that dark period, the sword of Damocles was hanging over all Europe. Every nation was plunged in Cimmerian darkness. Yet our small island, the little isle in the Mediterranean fought the inveterate enemy tooth and nail. In spite of the fact that the Maltese lacked material weapons, they possessed the greatest and most powerful weapon – their faith.”

-Times of Malta, Friday October 2, 1942. ‘The George Cross at Mellieha’.

The Malta George Cross is now kept and exhibited at the National War Museum inside Fort St. Elmo, Valletta.

Matthew Sacco and Christian Debono, on Behalf of Battlefront Malta.