I refer to the brief letter by Elizabeth Abel Smith (October 28) on the George Cross. Mrs Abela Smith, the granddaughter of Lord Gort VC, declares that it was Lord Gort who had brought with him to Malta the George Cross awarded by King George VI to the Maltese islands.
In 1997, the late squadron leader Victor Betty, RAF, wrote a neat little book called Cross And Controversy, Malta 1942, published by Valletta Publishing, which threw new light on who had actually brought the George Cross to Malta during World War Two.
Lord Gort VC arrived in Malta from Gibraltar on May 6, 1942, at the height of the siege, by flying-boat from No. 10 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force captained by Flight Lt. Stokes. Field Marshal Lord Gort VC was the Governor of Gibraltar.
He came to replace the Governor and Commander-in-Chief Sir William G.S. Dobbie who flew back to the UK by the same plane on the morrow.
Both flights were conducted at night time. Lt. General Dobbie, KCB, GCMG, DSO, had previously arrived in Malta as Acting Governor and C-in-C on April 28, 1940, and it was during his governorship that Malta was awarded the George Cross.
In his memoirs published under the heading A Very Present Help, published in London in 1944 by Marshall, Morgan and Scott, Lt. General Dobbie had complained bitterly that when he had handed the governorship of the Maltese islands to Lord Gort at Kalafrana air-base, Lord Gort refused to show him the George Cross! Lt. General Dobbie did not know that in fact Lord Gort did not have it in his possession.
Although the original Royal Command was that the coveted award was to be brought to Malta by Lord Gort which would have been more proper and dignified, this was made impossible due to wartime logistical and timing exigencies, demanding that the then flying officer Victor Betty was in a better locality to collect the George Cross than Lord Gort.
In fact, squadron leader Betty was ordered to collect the George Cross from the Air Ministry and report to RAF Hendon and from there to fly to RAF Portreith, in Cornwall. From there he flew to Gibralter from where he left a few hours after Lord Gort to RAF Luqa where he arrived on board a Hudson MK III piloted by flying officer Honeman in the evening of May 7, 1942.
As squadron leader Betty, K.S.J., RAF (Rtd) concluded, "what the arrival of the George Cross in Malta lacked in dignity, it was compensated in its safety".
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