Cayman veterans attend Commonwealth conference

Cayman Islands Veterans Association President Captain Dale Banks and Secretary Graham Walker attended a five-day conference of the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League in Malta.  

The conference was an opportunity to closely network with 42 other veterans’ associations from all parts of the world. 

Each country gave a report of its successes and the difficulties it was facing. Solutions and ideas on how to move ahead sprang up constantly. Organised and sponsored to a major extent by the league’s headquarters in London the conference progressed with typical military precision. The opening was a remembrance service with poppy laying at the Anglican cathedral. Two full days of business meetings gave the chance to meet up with other associations to develop common strategies. 

“We renewed our very close friendships with members of the Canadian Legion who do so much to support veterans in the Caribbean. We in Cayman have so much to be grateful for; our own families and other residents who live here, the Canadians and those in London who look after veterans affairs. There is a tremendous bond between us,” Mr. Walker said. 

A cultural day allowed a boat trip to view the various harbours on the island. According to Mr. Walker the whole visit was in fact a fully live history lesson. Malta is located in a central part of the Mediterranean and has for more than 7,000 years been a controlling influence, with some delegates visiting an archeological site dating back to this time. For a short period Napoleon’s armies were in command until these were rudely requested to leave in 1810 when the British took over. 

The Maltese are justifiably proud of their history. In the Second World War, Nazi Germany appeared to be more successful than the remainder of Europe, so in June 1940 Italy chose sides, declared war on the British and attacked Malta. At that time, British forces, fighting alone, were stretched worldwide and could not put up a proper defence of the island from the Italian and Nazi bombing.  

“Bear in mind that Malta is only slightly larger than Cayman and had a population of 500,000, 10 times as many. Supplies of food, fuel and ammunition were desperately low. Most ships attempting to breach the blockade were sunk,” Mr. Walker said. 

Finally in August 1942, another convoy was assembled called Operation Pedestal. It sailed past Gibraltar and headed east to Malta. Very soon, Eagle, an aircraft carrier and two large cruisers were sunk by air and submarine attack. A flight of 40 Spitfire fighters were launched and these headed directly to Malta.  

The pilots were amazed that their ammunition had been removed before they took off from the carrier, being told their numbers should protect them and, to boost the islanders morale, the space in the wings for ammunition was packed with cigarettes. Out of the 17 cargo ships in the convoy, 14 were sunk or so badly damaged that these were scuttled. However, a badly damaged tanker, filled with crucial fuel supplies, just made it into Grand Harbour with a destroyer lashed to each side to stop it sinking. The tankers arrival was considered a miracle by the Maltese people. It reached safety on 15 August, the Catholic Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and has been celebrated as a public holiday every year since. 

King George IV took the unprecedented step of awarding the George Cross medal to the island fortress of Malta, its people and defenders for their bravery.  

Malta was granted independence in 1964 and became a republic in 1979.  

“Cars drive on the left, with steering wheels are on the right, traffic lights, road signs are all British. Even the mail boxes in town are still labelled EIIR,” Mr. Walker said. 

The Maltese national flag still proudly bears the image of its George Cross. 

Cayman veterans

Former Cayman Islands Governor Thomas Russel, Cayman Islands Veterans’ Association Secretary Graham Walker, Cayman Islands Veterans’ Association President Dale Banks and Canadian Dominion President Pat Vargas at one of the sessions of the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League conference in Malta. – Photo: Submitted