* World War II Malta the right island : evacuations








World War II: Malta--Evacuating Children (1939-40)

Malta World War II refugees
Figure 1.--The British evacuated some children from Malta during the first year of the War. We do not yet know how many or when. Here we see some of the children in Britain. We are not sure just where, probably not London. The wire service caption read, "Milk from U.S. donations for young refugees: Maltese children refugees receiving donations of milk bought with funds sent by Sunday school children of the United States." The photograph was dated September 3, 1940. This was of course at the peak of the Blitz. The children are in a large town or city. One with a Mayor. He is dressed in his robes of office giving out the donated milk.

When Italy entered the War, the Admiralty debated evacuating Malta. While Churchill decided to hold the island, this did not preclude civilians from evacuating. And Lord Gort attempted to evacuate non-combatants. Some Maltese children were evacuated to England. We do not know how many were evacuated. It must be remembered that at first the situation in Malta was relatively quiet, but to get to Britain there was the U-boat danger and then of course the Battle of Britain and the Blitz unfolded. We thought they were mostly British children living with their families on Malta, but many of the children and teenagers in the photograph look Maltese and not just British (figure 1). So apparently the evacuations were not limited to the British. We are not sure just when these evacuations took place, but were mostly in 1940. Before the fall of France, it was a fairly easy matter to evacuate children from Malta. We know that many British children stayed on the island. After the fall of France (June 1940), evacuations became more difficult. Even so, Malta was not at first major Axis focus. This changed when The Germans dispatched Rommel and the Afrika Koprs to save the Italians in Libya (March 1941). Malta became the cornerstone in the British efforts to interdict Axis supplies to Libya. It is at this time that the Germans began to focus on Malta. The Luftwaffe was deployed on Sicily and Sardinia (September 1941) to bomb the island and prepare for an invasion. Evacuations as a result became impossible.

Italian Declaration of War (June 1940)

Hitler and Stalin launched World War II by invading Poland (September 1939). Malta at the time was far away from the War, securely guarded by the Royal Navy and French Mediterranean fleets. This changed dramatically with the fall of France and the Italian declaration of war (June 1940). Italy had a powerful navy. Without their French ally, the British were outgunned , but Italy did not immediately launch an offensive against Malta.

British Strategy

When Italy entered the War, the Admiralty debated evacuating Malta, concerned that they did not have the naval power to hold it. They were preoared to do so. Churchill decided, however, to hold on to the Mediterranean. The island was bital to this effort. It was of immense strategic importance. Given the threats at home, Britain was unable to strengthen the island defenses significantly. That decesion would have enormous consequenves, both in the fight with the Itakian Navy to control the Mediterranean and in the groiund war in the Wesrern Desert. Makta was in a oerfect posutiion to interdict Axis supply lines.

Evacuations (1940)

While the Admiralty was ordered not to evacuate Malta, this did not preclude civilians from evacuating. It must be remembered that at first the situation on Malta was relatively quiet, but to get to Britain there was the U-boat danger and then of course the Battle of Britain and the Blitz unfolded. We are not precidely when the evacuations begam. Informatioin from the Doiwn County Museum suggests that the evacuatiions began soom after th outnrral of the War which would mean late-1939-early 1940). One source says that Lord Gort who after Dunkirk saw a need to evacuate civilians. We are confised vher brvause Gort dif not get to rehuin until 1941 (Fibraltar 1941 and Malta 1i42), so someone else must have been involved. The concern was not safety, but food. Malta was not self sufficient in food. Thus a large non-combatant population made the island vulnerable to siege which of course is just what happened. And food would become a major problem. Gort thus began evacuating civilians. The individuals selected were dependents on the island, both service and civilians. Unemployed civilians and people with chronic illnesses were selected. The Colonial Office complained (October 30, 1940). They were concerned that the Maltese would lose faith in British resolve and begin to think that that were being abandoned to the Axis. Gort continued, however, with the evacuations. A plane carrying evacuees crashed in Gibraltar (late October). Fifteen evacuees were killed. The War Cabinet intervened, curtailing further evacuations (November 3). [Williamson] We thought they were mostly British children living with their families on Malta, but many of the children and teenagers in the photograph look Maltese and not just British (figure 1). So apparently the evacuations were not limited to the British. We are not sure just when these evacuations took place, but appear to have been mostly July-November 1940. Before the fall of France, it was a fairly easy matter to evacuate children from Malta, but at the time there was no danger. We do not know how many children were evacuated. We know that many British children stayed on the island. After the fall of France (June 1940), evacuations became more difficult. Even so, Malta was not at first a major Axis focus.

Care in the United Kingdom

We know next to nothing about how the evacuees were cared for in Britain. The issue was sensitive. The BBC prepared for a Christmas Party for Malta evacuee children (December 1940). The Ministry of Information vetoed it. Here we see a scene some where in England (figure 1). A reader tells us that some if the evacuees by 1942 were billeted in Northern Ireland--at Ballykinlar Camp. Ballykinlar Barracks was Abercorn Barracks, a military training camp during World War II. It is located Ballykinler in County Down, Northern Ireland. It was used an internment camp during the Irish War of Independence (1919-21). And fir refugees during Wirkd War II which is why the Makteser refuff=gees would up there. A teacher there provided some information to the Down County Museum. " Nora McClean was born to a Catholic family at Drumgreenagh, Rathfriland, on 4th June 1926, the daughter of Arthur McClean and his wife Margaret, née Mallon. Arthur was a local councillor, and had been a witness at the Boundary Commission in 1924 to review whether Newry should be in the new Free State or Northern Ireland. When Nora was about 18 years old, she got a job teaching English to Maltese children at Ballykinlar Camp, and cycled there every weekday from Drumgath, where she lived. The children were being housed at the Camp with their mothers, having been evacuated from Malta as refugees early in the Second World War. Most Maltese people spoke Italian or Maltese dialects before the war, but English became more widely used from this time. The British evacuated some mothers and children from Malta during the first year of the War, but we do not yet know how many or when. Evacuations would have become more difficult after June 1940, when France fell, and Italy entered the War, but this would not have prevented evacuations of both British and Maltese women and children. Nora McClean kept 12 photographs of the children she taught, and their mothers, in front of the huts where they were housed in the Extended Camp at Ballykinlar. Some of them may be British and some Maltese. Some of the boys are wearing caps given to them by the US troops stationed at the Camp, probably the second group of soldiers to occupy the Camp, in 1943-1944, when Nora would have been old enough to teach the children. We don’t know what happened to the refugees, but we think they returned to Malta after the War. " [King, 'Nora'.]

Malta Targeted (September 1941)

The situation on Malta changed when Hitler dispatched Rommel and the Afrika Koprs to save the Italians in Libya (March 1941). Malta became the cornerstone in the British efforts to interdict Axis supplies to Libya. It is at this time that the Germans began to focus on Malta. The Luftwaffe was deployed in strength on Sicily and Sardinia (September 1941) to bomb the island and prepare for an invasion. Hitler also ordered Adm. Dönitz to deploy U-boats into the Mediterranean. Evacuations as a result became impossible. And as Gort anticipated, food became a real problem and had to be severely rationed. Interestingly, the vGermans had used airboirn troops to seize Crete (April 1941). They were spectacularly successful, although suffering grevious losses--sone 6,000 casualties. Hitler was appled and decided agaimnst another drop. Histotrians sometimes describe Create as the 'wrong island' meaning Malta was the 'right' island. We wonder about Hitler's thinking govem that in the renaining months of 1941. The Germans would lose some 1 million men in the Soviet Union. The losses in Create were essenbtially a rounding error compared to what was happening in the East.

Reader Comments

A reader writes, "We have a dozen photos of Maltese children and some mothers at Ballykinlar Camp in Northern Ireland during World War II, here at Down County Museum in Downpatrick. Your photo has provided some much needed evidence that civilians from Malta were evacuated to Britain. ! Our photographs show boys wearing GI soft caps, suggesting that the photos were taken after May 1942, they could have been moved from England due to the Blitz, as were Gibraltarians – photos of them always include men and entire families – not so with the Maltese, mostly children and a few mothers, some English/Irish, some Mediterranean. it’s a good mystery to unravel." [King, E-mail.]

Sources

King, Michael. Heritage Manager, Down County Museum, E-mail messages (June 2020).

King, Michael. "Nora McClean and refugees from Malta".

Williamson, Donald G. Siege of Malta, 1940-1942: A Mediterranean Leningrad Campaign Chronicles Series (Casemate Publishers: 2007), 224p.







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Created: 6:30 PM 9/1/2010
Spell checked: 2:17 PM 6/15/2020
Last updated: 5:08 AM 6/20/2020