Memories of war and peace
Francesca Attard meets a survivor of the Siege of Malta in the Second World War, and finds a story of hope.
"I remember going, in secret, behind my parents’ backs, and scratching away the lime from the walls of our little house with my fingernails so I could eat it. It was odourless and tasteless. It was like eating dust. I was starving and it satisfied my starvation for brief moments. I was young and I was hungry."
I’ve come to ask Dolores what the UK means to her. She tells me that to her, the UK meant hope. But when she starts to talk about the war, she shivers despite the warm blanket around her and the cup of coffee in her hand. "If I could, I would delete that horrendous time from my memory," she says.
Dolores Scicluna was born on 15 March 15 1934. She was only six years old when Italian bombers from Mussolini’s army attacked Valletta, bringing Malta suddenly and sharply into the Second World War. Malta quickly became a base for the Allies launching attacks on enemy shipping routes, and a constant target for aerial bombardment as a result.
"The Nazi airmen were barbaric animals," says Dolores. One day she saw a man shot dead in front of her own eyes in a square not far from where she lived.
"I distinctly remember the man was coming along with his karozzin – a horse-drawn cab – and I heard the rat-tat-tat of repeat fire from a German plane. This memory still haunts me to this very day even though decades have passed since.
"Worst of all were the air-raid warnings," she continues. "We would hear the siren piercing through the silence and scramble to the shelters for protection."
Dolores recalls how she, together with her five siblings, would spend the night in a cold and clammy shelter cut in the rock, trapped like petrified animals waiting for the enemy to attack.
"Food was scarce and we were dying of hunger," says Dolores. "For months, every day, we would call at the 'Victory Kitchen' and we were served soup and sometimes a slice of bread." Such kitchens were set up across the two islands by the government to ration out food to the starving population.
The intensity of the attacks on Malta only increased as the war raged on. From April until the summer of 1942, the 'Siege of Malta’, the heaviest sustained bombardment in all the years of the war, almost pushed the islands to surrender.
But on 15 August 1942, the Santa Maria Convoy - so called because it arrived on the Catholic feast of Our Lady – struggled into the Grand Harbour of Valletta bringing in food and other provisions to help the islanders survive.
"The convoy was like the light at the end of the tunnel," Dolores says. "We were given cheese and butter. For us it was heavenly food."
Growing up in my modernised world, I can barely imagine the tragedy and famine of the war Dolores experienced. But Dolores smiles at me as she snuggles up in her blanket. With her coffee, her TV shows, and her friends, she gives me hope for the present and the future.
For me, Dolores’s story is not only about remembering the troubles of the past. It is about embracing the present and in turn appreciating what we have.