April 2015 Event

Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 May 2015 By Administrator

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World War I:  Malta, Australia and the ANZACS
Mario Bonnici

On Tuesday 21 April, Mario Bonnici gave a fascinating talk to the Maltese Historical Association.  We saw how the assassination of the Archduke of Austria started the Great War. The main combatants were, on one side, the Allied Powers, which included France, Russia, Britain and later Japan and the United States, and on the other, the Central Powers, which included Austria-Hungary, Germany, Bulgaria and Turkey.

Malta was part of the British Empire but it was not directly involved in World War I. However, there were about 30,000 Maltese enlisted in the Royal or Merchant Navies and many Maltese civilians were engaged at the Malta Dockyard, as the Mediterranean fleet was partly based in Malta.  Most of the Maltese in the Navies were employed as stewards, cooks, stokers, firemen and bandsmen. As many worked below deck, they lost their lives when the ships were sunk by enemy torpedoes.  A large number hailed from the Grand Harbour area.


 We also saw how Britain had asked for help from the colonies. Australia answered the call by assigning its Navy to Britain and initially sending 20,000 troops. Among these was Charles Bonavia, who was born in Sliema and had migrated to Australia. He went missing in action at Gallipoli.  Other Maltese-Australians lost their lives, particularly on the Western Front in Europe. About five hundred labourers were recruited from Malta to dig trenches, especially in Suvla on the Gallipoli Peninsula.

During this time Malta was nicknamed ‘The Nurse of the Mediterranean’ as aroundfacebook 1430344861065 58,000 servicemen were housed in hospitals around the Island. Many Maltese doctors and nurses, together with other international medical staff, provided care for the injured who arrived from Gallipoli and the Western Front.

Some of these servicemen succumbed to their injuries in Malta and were buried in several cemeteries on the Island. The Pieta Cemetery, where the annual Anzac Commemoration is held, is the resting place to 274 Anzacs, 202 are Australian and 72 New Zealanders.

To entertain the soldiers while they recovered from their injuries, the Australian Red Cross collected two thousand pounds in Australia to build Australia Hall in Malta. The activities held in this building included movies, bingo, variety shows and others. Unfortunately, this building now is in a dilapidated state.

Other interesting facts we discussed included:

·         the grenades used in Gallipoli were manufactured in Malta from jam and milk tins,

·         there were 1,600 prisoners of war held in various camps around Malta,

·    Japan joined the war in 1917, and kept 14 destroyers and a cruiser in the Maltese harbours as a convoy escort against German submarines.

After the Battle of Amiens in France, the Allied Powers took the upper hand and the Central Powers gradually retreated. An Armistice was signed on 11 November 1918 and all hostilities ceased on that day.

Mario then showed us an excellent BBC Video clip titled Malta: The Nurse of the Mediterranean

The feedback from the audience afterwards was very positive.

Mario’s full talk can be downloaded here:

His PowerPoint is here:-


and the BBC video clip can be found at:-