‘We’ll meet again’: Queen Elizabeth’s long goodbye to beloved Malta

Agence France-Presse

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‘We’ll meet again’: Queen Elizabeth’s long goodbye to beloved Malta


Queen Elizabeth II: 'Visiting Malta is always very special for me. I remember happy days here with Prince Philip when we were first married.'

VALLETTA, Malta – Cannon shots rang out across the harbor in Valletta on Saturday, November 28, in tribute to Queen Elizabeth II as she sailed across the bay on the final leg of her state visit to Malta.

The 89-year-old monarch and her husband Prince Philip were aboard the “Maryanne”, a boat from the early 1950s and the period when the couple had called the Mediterranean island home.

The trip on the dghajsa – a traditional water taxi – was the highlight of a nostalgic day, which saw the royals return to several of their favorite haunts from their youth – possibly for the last time.

Dressed in a bright turquoise A-line coat, the queen held her hat on in the wind as the red, yellow and green-striped boat, with the royal standard flying from its stern, sailed towards Britain’s HMS Bulwark assault ship, which was adorned with colorful signaling flags.

The queen lived in Malta between 1949 and 1951 as a princess with her new husband, who was stationed on the island as a Royal Navy officer.

It was reportedly the happiest time of their lives and the pair have returned several times over the years – most recently in 2007 to celebrate their diamond wedding anniversary.

A royal three cheers

“Visiting Malta is always very special for me. I remember happy days here with Prince Philip when we were first married,” the queen said in a speech before the boat ride.

On their return in 2007, which was dubbed a “second honeymoon”, “we could not help but be impressed by the progress and the sense of optimism” in Malta, she said.

As a princess, she had a dghajsa commissioned by the Royal Navy to ferry her around, and looked pleased to be hopping back on one despite the overcast day.

As the cannons fired from the Barrakka gardens on the sea front – where Elizabeth, then in her early 20s, used to come and wave in the navy fleet – the crew of the HMS Bulwark performed a royal salute, holding their caps aloft and cheering “hip hip hooray!”.

Security was heavy, with snipers on the rooftops and four patrol boats with armed sailors circling the bay for the ride, which wound up a 3-day state visit that began Thursday, November 26.

VISITING MALTA. Britain's Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh (L) disembark after a tour of the Grand Harbour in a traditional Maltese fishing boat during the State Visit and Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Valletta, Malta, November 28, 2015. Toby Melville/Pool/EPA

The British monarch had requested to land at Customs Wharf, 72 years after her father King George VI disembarked there to award Malta the George Cross for its bravery during a World War II siege. It was the only time the award has been bestowed on a country.

Bygone age

Earlier, the couple had visited the Heritage Malta center which conserves the country’s historical sites, including ancient temples which folklore has it were built by giants.

The centre is in the former Bighi Hospital – a major navy infirmary that served a vast area from 1832 until 1970, giving Malta the nickname “The Nurse of the Mediterranean”.

The hospital tended to casualties of the first and second world wars, and the then-princess paid tribute to their service in 1949, visiting patients here on Christmas Eve.

It was a hugely independent time for the future queen, who used to beetle around the island in her own car and enjoyed shopping, partying and spending the day at the races.

The queen spent her last hours on the island at the Marsa racecourse, where she reportedly used to come to ride but also to dance the night away at an on-site club.

The royals viewed children’s trotting races at the club – the second oldest polo club in the world – before awarding prizes to the victors.

They then set off for the airport in cars from the 1950s – Austin Princesses with leather seats and walnut wood interiors – in a final nod to a bygone age of liberty.

The Maltese armed forces band played them off, with a medley including the 1939 British song “We’ll meet again” – one of the most famous tunes from the Second World War and a sign the island hopes this might not be the last visit from the elderly monarch. – Ella Ide, AFP / Rappler.com

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