The Santa Marija Convoy
At about this time of the year, mid-August, we are invariably regaled with many articles in the newspapers about the subject, and also with the occasional book. The story is told by historians or survivors, or by someone who had a relative or a friend who served as a sailor on board some warship, or as a civilian on board some merchantman. But Christine L. Dvonch, who was a journalist and business executive, and who has a great passion for the history and culture (among other aspects) of the world, tackles the narrative from quite a different perspective.
She takes each and every ship, were it a warship or merchant ship, and Squadron of the British Royal Airforce, giving full specifications and all other relevant information of each ship and aircraft, and relates its role from the very beginning of the journey to Malta, till the ship or aircraft turned back to its base (as planned beforehand), was destroyed by enemy action, or entered the Grand Harbour safely, or damaged to the extent that God’s intervention must be acknowledged.
We are told that fourteen ships of the Merchant Navy that set out to deliver the much-needed supplies to Malta, and some of which unfortunately never made it to our Island, were to cross the Mediterranean Sea under the guidance and protection of ships of the British Navy.
The Royal Navy’s ships task was to aid, protect and lead the merchant ships with their precious cargo into our Grand Harbour. We learn that not all of them made it, either, and the loss of personnel and battling power was considerable. But the courage and determination shown during this highly dangerous sea voyage put to shame today’s non-committal and lethargic behavior of some when it comes to helping other people who find themselves in very dangerous situations.
The Royal Airforce that was to provide air cover over the convoy, is represented by eight Squadrons. Use was made of the Short Sunderland Flying Boat, the Bristol Beaufighter, the Supreme Spitfire, and the AirSea Rescue HSL 128. Though, at times, heavily out-numbered, the Royal Airforce engaged the enemy air- and sea-craft with great success in the Meditarranean skies.
The story has a foreward by Peter C. Smth, a prolific author, who researched and told the story of ‘Operation Pedestal’ in the 1960s. Since publication in 1970, his book has remained continuously in print, and Smith up-dated the story for each new edition. His book presents a fully factual account of what had really taken place during ‘Operation Pedestal’, until the crippled H.M.S. Ohio and other supply ships entered Malta’s Grand Harbour with the life-saving cargo.
In his foreword Peter C. Smith tells us that the courage of the Maltese during World War II is well and truly admired, especially by English people who served in the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean Sea during the war. This may account for the high number of tourists from the United Kingdom that have holidayed in our Island throughout the years. British Navy personnel always relished their being stationed in Malta before, during and after the war. They never forgot having fought a most cruel war shoulder-to-shoulder with brave Maltese citizens who, in the long run, became bosom friends with their British counterparts.
Smith also recalls the granting of the George Cross Award to the Maltese people. The Award was given to a brave and courageous people who never say ‘die’ in the worst of circumstances to defend their beliefs and principles. Smith shows that Malta truly and fully deserved this Award, and in this way he tells us how proud we should be of having earned it; thus rubishing the idea of a few who want the George Cross to be wiped off our national flag.
Lastly, I feel compelled to write about the delightful, high value, illustrations that embellish the book. They are the work of art of the highly talented, Maltese born, Raymond Agius. He has a very good eye for detail, even in the use of colour; so much so that the objects of his paintings are rendered alive, making the onlooker, or observer, feel that the action is taking place at the very moment when he is face-to-face with his paintings. It is a very good idea that these paintings will be on exhibition at the launch of the book, and for some days thereafter.
Raymond Dominic Agius was born on the island of Malta on the 24th May 1955.
He grew up with stories of hardship and sacrifice from a population just two decades out of WWII. In the 1950s and 1960s, most Maltese were living a subsistence existence in surroundings still marred by un-repaired bomb damage. Stories told by the elders in his village and fourpenny war comics influenced him greatly, and rarely a day passed without a sketch or a doodle from his young hand.
In the following years, his interest in the machinery of war led him to study engineering. He specialized in large guns and high-speed machinery. After seven years of service with the British Royal Navy in Malta, he immigrated to Australia in 1978.
There he returned to his university studies, and later joined the automotive industry, working for the General Motors subsidiary, Holden. He progressed through increasingly responsible leadership positions in various departments, including safety, tool and die, automotive body engineering, and design.
He also re-discovered his love of art. His one great hobby away from work was painting and drawing, making the pen and brush his new weapons of choice.
Since retiring in 2007, he has specialized in portraiture as well as figurative, technical and military art. He has worked as an illustrator for books and designed comic and graphic novels. In 2008 he partnered with Guzi Gatt and Michael Galea creating the Maltese language “Gaw Gaw” comics.
In 2013 he presented his first solo art exhibition in Malta, “Behold the People,” a highly-praised collection of portraits of well-known Maltese poets, writers, artists, musicians, entertainers and social activists.
“The Malta Pedestal Convoy” is his second exhibition, and harks back to his love of war comics. A new book on important Maltese personalities through the ages, written by the renowned Marquis Nicolas DePiro, also includes many portraits by Mr. Agius. A third solo exhibition scheduled for 2015 will be based on legends, myths and ghost stories from Maltese folklore.
Raymond lives in Malta, Australia and the USA with his partner Christine.