Historic Malta draws war buffs

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TRAVEL GAZETTE, MALTA – Valette

NEXT month marks the 70th anniversary of Operation Husky, the allied invasion of Sicily – a critical turning point in European history.

The operation was the start of the Allies assault on German occupied Europe and launched from the tiny Mediterranean island of Malta, where an increasing number of people are visiting to experience War Tourism.

Many people are surprised to hear that during the Second World War, Malta was the most bombed place on earth, with more than 14,000 bombs being dropped on the island, destroying about 30,000 buildings.

You can still see the main battle positions today, the Grand Harbour remains unchanged and the foundations of wartime cannons are spread around the coast line.

At the Malta War Museum, a steady stream of tourists come to browse the collection of obsolete weaponry, airplane parts, old uniforms, and even the butt of a cigar once puffed by British wartime leader Winston Churchill.

“Most visitors come from Britain, Canada, Australia and American, but also from European countries. Most of them according to the visitor’s books we have, come from English speaking countries,” curator Charles Dobono told FG.

Between 1940 – 1942 fascist Italy, along with their German allies sought to capture the island from its British colonial masters, forcing the population to hide in underground shelters to escape the heavy aerial bombardment.

Deep below the streets of Valetta, the Lascars War Rooms is also proving to be a popular attraction. The labyrinth of complex of tunnels and chambers housed the War Headquarters from where the defence of Malta was conducted.

Tony the tour guide, explains that from here, General Dwight D. Eisenhower planned the invasion of Sicily, an operation many describe the practice-run for the D-Day landings.

“Actually this is invasion school,” Tony says. “Everybody is doing things for the very first time, nobody did it before. So here you are learning to get these massive numbers of ships, aircraft and men together to start invading a continent.”

The connection between the UK and Malta is strong, due to long-lasting military and civilian ties according to Dave Raven, a former broadcaster with the British military radio station BFBS Malta.

“There was a very strong bond between the Maltese people and the forces. Many of the forces of course married into Maltese families, so that meant there were many Maltese wives. There was a strong bond of unity obviously dating back from the Second World War, but also Maltese liked the Brits, so it does not surprise me that war tourism is becoming popular, because there’s rather more there than just a beach and a bar.”

In a few weeks Malta will commemorate the 70th anniversary of Operation Husky – the battle for Sicily.

“It was the beginning of the end of fascist Italy – the main enemy of Malta. I’m saying the main enemy of Malta because it was Italy that declared war on Britain and France and attacked Malta on 11th June, 1940,” Dobono adds.

The heroism of the people of Malta during the war earned them a collective George Cross from Britain, it’s a depiction of which remains on the Maltese flag until the present day – and a reminder that this island will never escape ever present war past.

Emirates fly daily to Malta from Larnaca, with the flight lasting just 2.15 minutes. www.emirates.com

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