During World War II, Malta became one of the most bombed places on earth. At the beginning of the War, the population was ill-prepared for what was to become our island's finest hour.
In Mellieha, people took to the many natural caves around the area until the central government started undertaking the digging of shelters cut into the soft limestone rock.
The largest of 46 shelters, eventually dug in Mellieha, reaching a length of over 500 metres, was recently opened to the public by the Maria Bambina Choral and Orchestral Society of Mellieha.
The same society signed a management agreement with Mellieha council to restore these shelters at the society's expense for the public to witness the hardships of life during war.
In July 1941, 13 diggers, 11 assistants and six other workers were employed to dig shelters and were paid between 40c and 60c a day. Three women were also paid 12c plus a war bonus every day to keep the shelters clean.
The population of Mellieha stood at 3,842 inhabitants with an additional 1,117 refugees coming from badly hit parts of the island. The quota of space inside was 2 square feet (0.6 m2) for each person which was extended to 4 square feet (1.2 m2) because of prolonged attacks.
A family could apply for a permit to dig a small private room. Digging had to be on the same level as the public shelter and could not be closed by any type of fixed door.
In 1942, as the war progressed, two cubicles were reserved, furnished, tiled and closed to the public for adoption as a maternity hospital and clinic.
Another section was closed off to the public to store the most valuable works of art from the Valletta Museum. Being first stored in the Royal Malta Library, the works were moved to the Mellieha shelters and moved again after six months, owing to dampness and lack of ventilation to Verdala Palace at Rabat.
Life during the enemy blitz is not an experience we wish to relive, hence the Mellieha World War II shelters stand as a testimony to those who endured the adversity of war until victory was won.
The shelters are open to the public every Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3.30 p.m.