The Role of Maltese Women in Second World War: A Case Study

Second World War is over, but we all appreciate that the lives of many people saved us from the enemy. Half of the population was female and it is worth studying about the role of women in the War. Women suffered from hunger, death of their children and husbands, decreases, and they did hard work. We can understand how a woman talks about the war and her sufferings, only by going into her life.


Life History Interview

The ideas about the war put forward in this article are generated by an interview with my grandmother Concetta. Despite the illnesses she has gone through, she still wakes up early to have a wash, keeps everything clear and spends her day crocheting. Cetta remembers not only every birthday of her children and her grandchildren, but also details of her experiences during the war. She speaks very fluently for her age, although she lacks knowledge about the real cause of the war. The interview was quite informal. It was just a conversation between a grandmother and her grandson. She talks only about her experiences, although she was very enthusiastic to help me with this work.

War breaks out!

When the war broke out, the lives of the people changed drastically. The people lived in fear of the bomb attacks from the enemy. Cospicua and the other cities near the harbour, were almost destroyed during the war. Many people were killed and several others evacuated. My grandma had to leave her shop, and continued to sell from the shelter. Her shop was very close to the dockyard, and at first she used to sell from a small window that she had in the wall.



Life was extremely difficult during the war. Many women worked very hard, and many of today’s commodities did not exist. They travelled everywhere on foot.

To earn a living, they used to bring the goods for their shop, from the Valletta Harbour, where there was an area known as Ta\-|iemel to Cospicua. Everywhere by walk, unless they found a boat which used to take them to the Cospicua harbour.

"Sometimes we used to carry them on a cart. Sometimes, even we used to carry sacks on our shoulders, or we used to find a boat to carry us to the Cospicua harbour or Senglea harbour. Then we used to go on foot to bring the goods"

My grandma did not suffer extreme hunger, because of the shop. In fact she had little knowledge about the ration, and the victory kitchen. This is quite surprising, because many people of her age remember the ration of the goods that were in short supply very clearly. She says that "all" the people who knew her suffered from hunger.

"Watching them hungry I used to give them something. Sharing from the little things I used to have. "

Mourning Mothers

Many mothers lost their children, or their husbands during the war. This is surely the hardest moment in a woman and a mother’s life.

My grandma told me:

"I suffered a lot like that, because in those times there were a lot of illnesses. I had small children, and two of them died. Then the other died because of the war. My husband died six months later, after he hurt his leg. I mean, we suffered a lot, I mean in the war one does not suffer from food shortages only but because of a lot of things."

Coping with Evacuation

Whole families during the war were evacuated to a place, which was safer. Cospicua, was rather dangerous, because of the dockyard. In fact, many buildings were destroyed by the bombs.

Everyone used to leave from Cospicua.

My grandma had to remain in Cospicua because of the shop. However, she spent her children to live with their grandfather at Birkirkara, which was sager than Cospicua. Many people used to do the same.


Many women during the war had to enter the labour market to fill the demand for workers. However, although the traditional attitude is that a woman’s place was the war, many working class women, had always gone out to work. My grandma had the shop before the war, and continued to work afterwards. Since the shop was near the dockyard, in Cospicua, she almost associates the war with her job.

"I do remember the war, the Second One, because I had the shop, which was beneath the dockyard. "

However, my grandma, was unaware of this demand for workers, because she told me later in this interview, that there were not so many people who had a shop because they had no money to buy with. Several times she reduced ‘work’ to ‘the shop’, perhaps because there were not many different jobs, and she used to spend long hours inside the shelter.

Although the shop was not necessarily a property of my grandma, she played a very important part in it. She often speaks as "our" shop rather than "my husband’s shop", and sometimes she even talked such a if she was the owner. She used to go to buy the stock with her husband or by herself. My grandma was illiterate, like many people during the war, and it is surprising how she understood the measurement, money, and kept everything in order.

Although I tried to ask her whether it was difficult for a woman to own or work in a shop, she answered me that it was difficult because people did not have money. She did not understand the gender issue.

"It was not difficult for me only, to sell. Even for the people to buy, because sometimes they were penniless. "

I re-asked her about whether she knew about other people that had other similar jobs during the war. Again, she answered through her own experiences, that in these areas, they "were the only people with the grocer shop".

After the war, my grandma stopped working, and lived as a housewife. The reason was because she continued to sell from a shelter, during the war, because the shop was destroyed. After the war, she married again, and together with my grandfather Charles, they found a house in Paola.


During the war, women showed great courage. Those women who experienced the war lived in very bad conditions. Years passed, and the country healed its war wounds. But such things cannot be forgotten

"War is not a nice thing to talk about. But I can tell you this: These are things that one will still remember. And it is very hard, when days pass, and people will speak of them."

Cetta (Essay in Maltese Language)

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