Extract From the Latest Story- “Reunion and Salvation”

The war dragged on. It became even more miserable and even more desperate. In August 1942, Malta was down to only a week or two of remaining food supplies. People were starving and subsisting on one small meal a day. Regular bombing raids had reduced much of the built-up area around the Harbour and beyond to rubble and the NAZIS continued to torment the population with multiple daily air raids. It looked like they had no option but to capitulate and suffer a NAZI occupation, along with all the horrors they had heard about and learnt to associate with such a disaster. Surrender was imminent. Perhaps two weeks away, at most.

Then, one sunny Autumn morning, the girls heard a loud commotion outside in the street. People were shouting, laughing and singing. It was September 13th, two days before the feast of Santa Marija. Pupa and Christina went outside their building and out to the piazza of Ħamrun to see what all the commotion was about. It seemed that all the people of the entire suburb were outside of their homes and in the streets. People were crying and hugging one another as they rushed along the High Street towards the city of Valletta. The girls were swept along within the throng and moved down the street with the crowd. It was like a fantastic celebration the likes of which the girls had never seen. As they approached the stone bastions at Valletta, they saw a scene of mass hysteria with people standing on the ramparts cheering and waving. People were weeping with joy while waving flags.

The girls looked into the Grand Harbour to see three ships. They were the good ships Port Chalmers, Rochester Castle and Melbourne Star, three of the five surviving remnants of the convoy of food, medicines, ammunition and fuel codenamed “Operation Pedestal” but later renamed by the Maltese as the “Santa Marija Convoy.”  

Several previously attempted convoys and their precious cargoes destined for Malta lay on the bottom of the sea, intercepted by Axis fighter bombers and U-boats before they could reach Malta. In August 1942, the British decided to launch one last, desperate attempt to land a convoy of supplies to save Malta, and henceforth, the North African campaign of General Montgomery and the Allies. The convoy was ambitious and at the same time, audacious. It included 13 merchant ships and the fuel tanker Ohio, escorted by 44 warships, including two battle ships and three aircraft carriers.

Apart from the three merchant ships that sailed into the Grand Harbour on the 13th, the Brisbane Star, a fourth merchant ship, sailed in the next day. The day after that, the greatest prize of all, the tanker Ohio, limped into harbour half submerged from bomb damage. It was the 15th day of August- the Catholic fest day of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven, known to the Maltese as Festa Santa Marija.

The surviving vessels of the convoy had miraculously navigated through a tremendous onslaught from the Luftwaffe and endured multiple submarine attacks to travel from the Allied naval base at Gibraltar the 2,120 kilometres across the Mediterranean Sea all the way to the Grand Harbour, Malta. Some 53,000 tons of the original 85,000 tons of convoy supplies was at the bottom of the ocean along with nine of the merchant ships. The Ohio had 9,514 tons of fuel remaining from its original cargo of 13,000 tons.[1] One aircraft carrier, two light cruisers and one destroyer were sunk and over 500 men killed.[2] The supplies that did get through lasted until the end of 1942 and allowed the successful harassment of NAZI supply lines from Italy to Rommel in North Africa to continue while also facilitating the defence of the island.

***

During those miserable times for Christina, through the last stages of WWII, the only sibling that she felt showed her real compassion was her little sister, Pupa. Pupa was the one who welcomed her back into the family with open arms and the only one who seemed to understand how lonely and despairing she felt. On one particularly despondent occasion, Pupa went as far as to offer Christina some of her own meagre food rations in an attempt to stop her big sister crying.

The sisters almost died of typhoid while together in St. Luke’s hospital during the epidemic of 1942. They supported and encouraged each other from adjacent hospital beds with kind words and they built up a particularly strong bond.

Many years after the horrors of war were over, Christina married a very kind and gentle man who owned a small upholstering business in Ħamrun and who treated her like a queen. Cristina’s husband woke from sleep early each morning and would bring her breakfast in bed before he left for work each day. She was very happily married until a work-related disease involving toxic chemical use took her soulmate’s life too early. They had two children, a boy and a girl.

Pupa grew up to be a beautiful young woman, married a handsome man from Marsa and immigrated to Australia but the love between the two sisters never waned. Christina spoke to Pupa in Australia on the telephone every day in their later years. Their special bond remained rock solid for the remainder of their lives. The last time they saw each other Christina was aged 89 and Pupa was 84 years old. It was a sad and tearful final farewell at the Luqa airport departure lounge, Malta.


[1] https://bit.ly/2HOpbnM

[2] https://bit.ly/2HMKyps

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