75th Anniversary of SMC: Son et Lumiere

Start Date & Time: 12/08/2017 - 12:00 am

End Date & Time: 12/11/2017 - 12:00 am

On the evening of Saturday the 12th August 2017 Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA) held its biggest and most challenging event ever, attended by VIP’s and their guests, together with FAA members.  The ‘Son et Lumiere’ event held at the Senglea Point waterfront commemorated the 75th Anniversary of the Santa Marija Convoy – the great episode of Maltese history in which the ‘SS Ohio’ tanker and its escort barely made it to Malta during the Second World War.  The ships provided vital supplies to save Malta from surrender.

Prior to the event, son and daughter, Peter and Patricia, scattered ashes in the sea of their father Allan Shaw, the last man from the crew of the ‘Ohio’ to pass away.  Amanda Ciappara and Astrid Vella introduced the event, which began by Amanda interviewing invited local guests who recounted their experiences living through the war effort.  These memorable interviews were filmed and screened on the bastion walls.  This segment of the performance was followed by the violinist Lorenzo Meraviglia playing ‘Schindler’s List’ on his Stradivarius violin.

The Santa Marija Convoy narrative, written by Alfred Mallia, featuring never before seen diaries, letters and historical film and interview footage, was recounted and given life by Paul Xuereb, Monica Attard, Paul Portelli and Alfred Mallia and projected onto the bastion wall backdrop.  Narration of the war from June 10, 1940 to August 10, 1942, during which time convoys from Gibraltar (Operation Harpoon) and Alexandria (Operation Vigorous) attempted to bring badly needed supplies to Malta, were detailed, keeping the audience captivated and in complete silence throughout.  At this point, violinist Lorenzo Meraviglia played ‘Chaccone’ on his Stradivarius violin.

The narrative continued by Alfred Mallia, who quoted Winston Churchill “Malta had to be Saved’, and so Operation Pedestal was launched to bring badly needed supplies, especially fuel, to Malta at all cost.  The convoy comprised 14 merchant ships including the ‘SS Ohio’, the only large, fast tanker available, loaned by the US to the British with a British crew.  The convoy was protected by 2 battleships, 4 aircraft carriers, 7 cruisers, 32 destroyers, and 7 submarines, the largest Royal Navy escort force yet, sailing from Britain on the 3rd August 1942 and passing through the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean on the night of 9th/10th August.  Narrators gave a daily, if not an hour by hour, account of the Axis attacks on the convoy using bombers, German E-boats, Italian MAS and MS boats, mines and submarines to prevent the convoy reaching Malta.  The audience were continuously held spellbound and in silence as they listened to the tragic events of the Axis attacks, which claimed the lives of 360 Merchant and Royal Navy sailors and airmen.  Although it was one of the greatest British strategic victories of the war, only five of the 14 merchant ships reached the Grand Harbour.  The arrival of the ‘SS Ohio’ strapped each side to the destroyers HMS Bramham and HMS Penn, with HMS Ledbury astern pushing with her bows, limped into the Grand Harbour on the feast of Santa Marija on August 15th 1942 to large crowds of cheering and flag waving Maltese lining the bastion walls.  Its cargo of aviation fuel subsequently saved the Maltese people and revitalised the Maltese air offensive against the Axis shipping.

Re-enactors and the Armed Forces of Malta then participated in a ceremonial capacity together with members of the Royal British Legion, the Royal Navy Association and the George Cross Island Association carrying their respective standards.  A musical piece was played by the Armed Forces of Malta  Band, followed by a gun salute fired by the Malta WWII Command Group re-enactors.  The ‘Son et Lumiere’ was concluded by violin prodigy Lorenzo Meraviglia performing ‘Ave Maria’ on his Stradivarius violin as a homage to Santa Maria.

Amanda Ciappara and FAA’s Astrid Vella expressed thanks to all the sponsors and to those who contributed to the evening’s great success.  The event was sponsored by:

with support from RNA (Malta Branch), British Legion, St. John’s Ambulance, Transport Malta, ECB Catering, The Armed Forces of Malta, Signal 8 Security, and to the many individuals who volunteered on the night.  Last but not least thanks were expressed to Sue Ferrito, Simon Cusens and Manuel Ciantar for producing the event.

The Son et Lumiere performance was followed by a reception in the Gardjola Garden of Senglea above the Bastions, and declared open by a speech from the British High Commissioner (Mr. Stuart Gill).  In the Gardens there was an Art Exhibition of the Santa Marija Convoy comprising 20 paintings by Raymond Dominic Agius, a well-known artist.  The musical entertainment was performed by the Police Jazz Band.  Light refreshments were offered to VIPs, their guests, and to FAA members.

Derek Moss

FAA Volunteer

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