National War Museum
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There is much about the Maltese as a nation for which they can be justifiably proud. They are friendly, passionate and unfalteringly loyal. But, you rub them up the wrong way and get on the wrong side of them and they will kick your ass! If you have any doubts about how bloody-minded and resilientthey can be when someone threatens their island then visit the National War Museum.
The most obvious and best-known illustration of this fact has to be the episode in the mid 16th century that came to be known as the Great Siege of Malta. In the blue corner representing Islam came the fierce, previously undefeated Ottoman Empire in the shape of an armada numbering some 40,000 experienced fighting men. And in the red corner was little Malta, led by the Knights of St John, representing Christianity.
Suffice to say when the dust settled that the Ottomans were no longer undefeated or all-conquering but battered and retreating.
The Germans dangerously disregarded this warning when they chose to go up against the Maltese, not once but twice, in both of the World Wars. Twice the Germans finished on the losing side. And while the Maltese would never claim to be responsible entirely for those defeats, they certainly played their part in both conflicts.
The War Museum focuses on the island’s military role when it was under British rule, so there is particular emphasis on the two World Wars. You’ll find it in an apt location too. It’s in the former Drill Hall of Lower Fort St Elmo, in Valletta.
This fort was designed and built in 1552 by military engineer Pietro Pardo and fell under heavy bombardment by the invading Ottomans during the Great Siege of 1565. It finally fell to the Turks on June 23 but when the siege was over and the Maltese emerged victorious, it was retaken and reconstructed.
The fortified stronghold experienced serious action again in WWII when the guns based at St Elmo were used to help see off an attack on the Grand Harbour in June 1941 by Italy’s warships.
How it became a war museum however is quite a convoluted story. It stems from Malta’s Museums Department setting up a Gloster Sea Gladiator – a warplane called ‘Faith’ - along with a War Relics Exhibition in the Drill Hall in 1974. This was done with help from the Armed Forces of Malta and the newly formed National War Museum Association.
The exhibition proved very popular so it was then decided that a permanent display should be established – thus creating a National War Museum.
That Gladiator is still a museum highlight along with the famous George Cross medal awarded to the entire island King George VI. This unprecedented move was to "bear witness to the heroism and devotion of its people". It’s a unique achievement and for that reason an image of the medal is shown on the Maltese flag. That’s what the cross is in the corner!
You can also see a scroll presented by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, many awards and decorations received by Maltese servicemen and civilians plus uniforms and other equipment.
The most striking thing about the museum though is the description of the hardships suffered by the Maltese people and the damage that was sustained to their homes and the rest of the island between 1940 and 1943. This is described and depicted on panels in the museum.
You’ll discover what events led to the two worlds wars from a Maltese perspective and find out about the sacrifices made by the people of this brave little nation as they fought for their freedom.
Malta’s National War Museum opens every day from 9am to 5pm. Standard adult admission is €6 with a discounts for OAPs and students and children aged 12 to 17, who all pay €4.50. Kids aged six to 11-years-old pay €3 and it’s free for fives and under. Fort St Elmo is extremely easy to find as it sits at the very tip of the peninsula that is home to Valletta. So keep walking towards the horizon and when you can’t go any further look for a big fort!
Address: Lower Fort St Elmo, Spur Street, Valletta VLT 1741
Phone: +356 2122 2430
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