Malta in 1942 was the most heavily bombed place on earth. Between March 20th and April 28th of that year, the Luftwaffe flew 11,819 sorties and dropped over 7,000 tons of bombs on Malta. Between June 1940 and April 1944 there were 1,581 civilian deaths in Malta from a population of only 270,000. That meant that one person in every 171 was killed. There were also 3,780 people injured and 7,500 deaths from within the armed services.
Air raids destroyed more than 5,000 dwellings and seriously damaged almost 10,000 others as well as destroying or seriously damaging 50 hospitals, 111 churches and many other buildings (around 30,000 buildings in all). This created a serious housing shortage that continued for a decade after the war finished and which significantly contributed to the mass migration of Maltese to all corners of the globe during the 1950s. The Maltese diaspora is a large one, especially in Australia, Canada, the USA and Britain.
Many of the homes left standing were overcrowded with displaced relatives and friends. Maltese families during 1942 were reduced to living in air raid shelters or in ancient catacombs. The appalling underground living conditions, along with the starvation caused by the German and Italian blockade led to ubiquitous disease and death.
It was within this background that a family of 13 were offered exclusive use of a large house to live in, rent free, for six months.
Dionisio and his wife, Lucia, their six girls and five boys were experiencing tough times since the breadwinner had lost his job at the hospital due to health issues. Dionisio and Lucia supplemented the family’s meagre and inadequate rations by administering injections to people in their homes, charging two shillings at a time. They had a good reputation for competent care and would also do some minor private nursing such as washing and redressing wounds, along with giving basic medical advice. Lucia was also a highly respected and popular midwife. The paltry income they received for their services however, did not stretch far enough with 11 children to feed and clothe. They struggled to pay expenses like the monthly rent on their small apartment in Ħamrun. The apartment was crowded, with the entire family sleeping in one of two bedrooms and in the living room, but it had to suffice as it was all they could afford. Lucia was a small but impressive woman with high cheekbones, fair hair and piercing blue eyes. Her short stature belied her commanding presence to the point where people would be surprised if they ever happened to noticed just how tiny she actually was. If strength of character was commensurate with physical size Lucia would have stood over six feet. As it were, this woman who had given birth to 14 children, 11 of whom had survived beyond infancy, was less than five feet tall. She had a wicked sense of humour and a sharp, alert mind. Lucia kept her children and husband on their toes at all times. Sometimes, she would lead them on and they became unable to tell whether she was joking or not until her high pitched squeal of laughter would give the game away.