Bronzes of Valletta Part 1: Monument to a wartime leader
There is a relatively inconspicuous corner in Valletta’s Upper Barrakka Gardens which houses a simple but artistic monument. The monument consists of a plain white marble column on which stands a beautifully rendered bust of Sir Winston Churchill, wartime Prime Minister of Britain during the Second World War.
Churchill had a long relationship with Malta, the island he was to describe as “the unsinkable aircraft carrier” for its unwavering defence against the Axis onslaught during the siege of 1941-43. In fact he visited the island on no less than six separate occasions over a forty year period which covered both World Wars. His first visit was in 1907 as a junior minister in the British government and his last two visits took place when the Second World War was still ongoing in 1943 and 1945 respectively. In his 1945 visit he was joined by US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt whom he convinced to meet here before proceeding to Yalta in Russian Crimea for their historic meeting with Joseph Stalin. It was during this visit that Churchill composed the famous couplet:
“No more let us alter or falter or palter
From Malta to Yalta, and Yalta to Malta.”
aimed at creating a strong joint resolve between him and Roosevelt before the decisive Yalta Conference which many see as the birth of the Cold War which was to follow the hostilities of the war which was about to be concluded.
Churchill uttered numerous words of praise about Malta, indicating a love and respect for the island both during times of peace and times of war. In one description he wrote, “You should see the hot stones of Malta, baking and glistening on a steel-blue Mediterranean.”, while during the height of the Axis siege in 1942 he wrote to his Chiefs of Staff, “The fate of the island is at stake, and if the effort to relieve it is worth making, it is worth making on a great scale… the Navy will never abandon Malta”. It was Churchill who in the summer of 1942 guaranteed the success of the greatest sea-going convoy of the War, Operation Pedestal, by convincing the Americans to release the fastest oil tanker in existence at the time, Texaco’s SS Ohio to re-supply Malta before its fuel, food and ammunition ran out. The personal files he kept on Malta during the war exceeded one thousand pages of notes, memos and minutes on matters relating to the island.
The Maltese people had a lot of admiration for Churchill and in 1955, through public subscription, commissioned the prolific Maltese sculptor Vincent Apap to produce a lasting monument for presentation to the heroic leader on the occasion of his eightieth birthday. Apap travelled to London and managed to model the clay bust over the course of a number of sittings at the famous number 10 address in Downing Street. The resulting bronze bust was presented to Churchill by Judge Anthony Montanaro Gauci on August 3rd 1955, after which it was returned to Malta and placed in Valletta’s Upper Barrakka Gardens, overlooking the Grand Harbour on Churchill’s own request.
A request which gains added significance when considering Churchill’s description of Grand Harbour as follows, “We sailed into the most wonderful harbour I could have imagined or dreamt of, harbour of harbours.”
What many consider to be among sculptor Apap’s finest works stands to this very day in the location it has graced for almost sixty years. Definitely worth at least a small stop to enjoy its artistic beauty and the story it tells from a rapidly fading past.