In Malta, March 31st is “Freedom Day,” the day of the final withdrawal of British troops and naval units from the island.
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Freedom Day is one of the many public holidays of Malta, which has more holidays than any other nation in the E.U. There is even debate among islanders over whether it is appropriate for Malta to have multiple national days, including not only Freedom Day but also Independence Day, Republic Day, Victory Day, and Sette Giugno. Nonetheless, Freedom Day is celebrated with great patriotism every single year, along with the other patriotic remembrances.
The British first took control of Malta after wresting if from the French in 1814, during the Napoleonic Wars. Malta then became a key naval base on the route between Gibraltar and the Suez Canal and an important air base during World War II. In 1947, the UK promised to give Malta its long-desired independence, which officially came in 1964. However, the British army and navy remained.
In 1971, Malta raised the rent on British forces in Malta after prolonged negotiations. The lease was then set to expire in seven more years. In 1979, on March 31st, the British left the island forever, and the long-time defence treaty between Malta and the U.K. came to an end. The Maltese only got $36 million in rent, whereas they had sought $72 million, but it was far more than they had ever been paid before. The exorbitant lease rate was a prime reason for the British finally abandoning the island. For the first time in 1,000 years, there were no foreign troops stationed in Malta.
Freedom Day Activities
Four of the main activities for tourists and locals to take part in on Freedom Day are as follows:
- Watch the military parade and band travel from Cospicua to the Freedom Day monument in Vittoriosa, the capital city. National leaders will place commemorative wreaths at the base of the stone monument. The building has several Maltese flags, is situated near the waterfront, and is overlooked by a Medieval church.
- Attend services at the War Memorial in Floriana. Here, bouquets of flowers are placed at the foot of marble column with a shining, gold-and-bronze eagle perched on its top. The monument bears the inscription: “Per ardua, ad astra,” which is the air force motto, meaning, “Through struggles, to the stars.” This monument is dedicated to the over 2,000 air force crew of the British Commonwealth who perished in the sea in the aftermath of numerous air battles all over the Mediterranean.
- Watch the Grand Harbor Regatta, where numerous Maltese boats compete for the “Regatta Shield.” There are interesting, colourful boats that are raced by teams, and there are plenty of refreshments served. The events begin around noon.
- See the Siege Bell War Memorial, which is located at Great Harbor in Valletta. It was built in 1992 to honour the 7,000 who perished during the famed Siege of Malta of 1940 to 1943. A small stairway leads up to a limestone tower, which consists of a round roof upheld by squared pillars. A 10-ton, bronze bell at the tower’s top rings out daily at noon.
Malta is a small archipelago of seven islands, but it has a rich history that is extremely unique. It had long been passed back and forth by empire builders, but on March 31st, 1979, it became 100 percent independent in every respect. Those visiting Malta on Freedom Day will have chance to celebrate this fact with the locals and to learn about Maltese culture and history.