By City of Charles Sturt
Australia and Malta share a proud history of standing together in the face of adversity. These bonds were forged in the fires of war during the fateful Gallipoli campaign.
Malta, a safe distance from allied front lines in Turkey and Greece, played an important role as a hospital island during the early years of WWI. With 27 hospital camps, treating more than 136,000 men, Malta was nicknamed the Nurse of the Mediterranean.
Never in her history, however, did Malta reach forth her arms, bared for the task to receive such a burden of suffering humanity, the human wreckage of battle, as in the summer months of 1915. (Reverend Albert MacKinnon - The Nurse of the Mediterranean, 1916)
4000 wounded Australian and New Zealand troops were treated in Malta. The first casualties from the Gallipoli landings arrived on 4th May 1915. It took one week by ship to cover the 1300km journey to Malta. Sadly, around 300 Anzacs succumbed to their injuries, and never made it back home.
Reverend Albert MacKinnon, an Army Chaplin, published an account of his experiences serving in Malta, including his encounters with Australian troops:
Forrest Hospital stands on a hill, and its discipline is pretty strict. One day an Australian patient, to whom a rule was like a red rag, determined to go out without permission, but naturally he was stopped by the guard at the gate. He was not to be baulked, and he said so; but the guard only smiled. However, he laughs best who laughs last. The Colonial got twenty others of his fellow-countrymen to "bunch" as they call it and to make a rush through the open gate. It was only a lark and they wheeled round and came back, but not the whole twenty; one had slipped away unobserved, the instigator of the plot!
Very prominent is the Australian. He is a big fellow, and has a free and easy manner and masterful stride. There is something invitingly frank and breezy about him, and there is little self- consciousness.
As a Chaplin, Reverend MacKinnon received many letters from relatives in Australia and New Zealand seeking information on soldiers:
How expressive of the patriotism, the personal anxieties of thousands in Australia and New Zealand! Malta, where their sons are lying fighting with death, is a sacred spot to them. Their hearts are here with their loved ones.
In November 1915, the Australian Red Cross built ‘Australia Hall’ as an entertainment and recreation hall for convalescing Aussie and NZ troops. This hall still stands today but is in serious disrepair.
ANZAC day has been commemorated in Malta since 1916. In May 2013, an ANZAC memorial was unveiled at the Argotti Botanical Gardens in Floriana, Malta. This was the culmination of a great effort by the Malta ANZAC War Memorial Committee of SA, of which Charles Sturt Councillor Edgar Agius was a member. The City of Charles Sturt contributed $5,000 to the memorial campaign to realise Malta’s dream to honour the ANZACs of 1915.