Carmen, the four boys and their sister packed their meagre belongings into small cardboard cartons and rode with them in an Austin 16 that Carmelo had hired for the journey. The family was very proud of their policeman-father and they bragged to neighbours and friends about the fact that he was one of only a few locals who had earned a driving licence. They drove north past the village of Mellieha to the very northern tip of Malta. Along with several other women and children, the family then embarked onto the small ferry that was to take them across the water on a half-hour journey to their new adventure and safe haven away from the misery of wartime bombings. Carmen and the children almost did not make it.
Partway across the strait that separates the islands of Malta and Gozo, an enemy aircraft spotted their boat and made a dive towards them while firing a burst from its machine guns. Fortunately, the bullets missed the boat and sprayed into the sea, but the terrified women and children watched in panic as the plane circled and prepared for a second sortie. The aircraft had already begun another swoop when one quick thinking woman collected her thoughts and began furiously waving the boat’s white flag above the screaming crowd. Other women and children seeing this inspirational response frantically waved their handkerchiefs or items of clothing at the rapidly approaching airplane. The pilot did not fire again.
Either the pilot had taken pity on the desperate waifs at the last minute and changed his mind or he had decided to save his ammunition for a more appropriate target. He dipped his wing, altered direction and flew off into the horizon, mercifully allowing the vastly relieved and cheering exodus to safely reach its final destination of Gozo’s Mgarr harbour.
Gozo is a beautiful place. The smaller of the two inhabited islands that make up the nation of Malta is about half the size of its sister island and not as flat. Its gently rolling topography and mainly rural character gives it an idyllic ambiance that has been recognised over the ages. The island also has several, pretty little bays and sections of stunning rocky coastline. It is believed that Gozo is the inspiration behind Homer’s isle of Ogygia in the Odyssey.It was in a cave on the isle of Ogygia that the nymph, Calypso, held Odysseus as her sexual companion for seven years. Like the main island, Gozo has a fascinating history including the stone remnants of an ancient megalithic society that is among the oldest, freestanding, human constructions in the world. Older than the Pyramids or Stonehenge, the Ġgantija templesare a stone structure dedicated to a goddess of fertility constructed in the shape of a pregnant woman with a rather novel entrance. The temple is accessed through a passage representing the vagina.
The view from the ancient citadel on top of a hill near the centre of the island shows most of Gozo in all its stunning glory. During the sixteenth century, its inhabitants were required to return to the citadel each evening and spend the night there, in order to prevent being abducted by Muslim corsairs. These measures were necessarily implemented after 1551, when the Turkish fleet attacked Gozo, captured the entire population of about 5,000 Christians and sold them off into slavery.