Henriette Chevalier Memorial Garden
The ceremony of the unveiling and blessing of the memorial plaque was held on Saturday, 24 November, 2012 at 3.00pm. The Hon. Life Patron of the Malta Aviation Museum Foundation, Mr Frank Salt, carried out the unveiling of the plaque, who followed by saying a few words on Henrietta Chevalier and the importance of giving credit, where due, to Maltese persons who distinguished themselves in the most difficult of times. The blessing of the plaque was carried out by Father Josef Sciberras.
A small troop of Malta Command re-enactors helped recreate a wartime military significance. Specially invited guests were relatives of Henrietta as well as a number related to the various listed religious. Attending also were MAMF members.
During the Second World War, an Irish Catholic priest, Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, a senior official of the Roman Curia, was responsible for saving 4,000 Allied soldiers and Jews. Due to his ability to evade the traps set by the German Gestapo and Sicherheitsdienst, Monsignor O’Flaherty earned the nickname of “the Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican”. Aiding Monsignor O’Flaherty were several others including priests, nuns and lay people who worked in secret with him, even hiding refugees in their own private homes and convents around Rome. Among these were Augustinian Maltese fathers, Egidio Galea, Aurelius Borg, Ugolino Gatt and Brother Robert Pace of the Brothers of Christian Schools. Another person who contributed significantly to this operation was the Malta–born widow Henrietta Chevalier, who hid refugees in her house with her children, and was lucky to escape detection.
Born in Malta on 2 April, 1901, to Emmanuel Scerri and Maria, neé Mamo. Henrietta was known to everyone as Chetta. She married Thomas Chevalier on 15 May, 1920, at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in Sliema. They settled in Rome where her husband was the representative of Thomas Cook. Thomas Chevalier died just before the outbreak of war in 1939, and the family found themselves unable to leave Italy. One of her sons was imprisoned as Italy entered the war due to being a British subject while her other son, Paul was a clerical officer with the Swiss Legation therefore his diplomatic papers ensured his freedom. The youngest daughter had been sent to a convent, while Henrietta, her elderly mother and her five other daughters lived in a small third floor apartment in Via Dell’Impero just outside the Vatican.
Chetta played a huge role in the organisation, providing shelter for escapees. Mrs. Chevalier showed tremendous courage constantly taking risks, which if found out would have resulted in her execution together with her family. At one point in time she had four British soldiers staying with her and when asked by the Major about the risks her comment was “They are absolutely grand, these boys. They are just like my own children. It is all so marvellous”. O’Flaherty warned everyone lodging with her that in the event of any danger, her safety and that of her family had to come first.
Her flat was used as a depot for food and supplies, which was risky as the movement of black bags could easily arouse suspicion. Eventually the Gestapo suspected the Chevalier household and had it watched around the clock as well as conducting a number of raids but each time the lodgers managed to escape on time due to a system of tip-offs. The daughter Gemma, had a very narrow escape on one occasion while buying supplies, which she kept from her mother. Despite the close escape and the warnings, she always wanted lodgers back.
Mrs. Chevalier, who also had some nursing experience, used to venture out and provide medical assistance to various escapees around the city with Milko Scofic, a Yugoslavian. She made everyone feel welcome: “at Christmas she served brandy instead of tea, Christmas gifts were exchanged among the family and the three British lodgers”.
Eventually it was felt that Mrs. Chevalier and her family, due to the close scrutiny, should be evacuated, and one by one they left and were brought to a farm on the outskirts of the city. Escaped POW Lieutenant Furman recalls of Mrs. Chevalier: “What can be said of this incredible woman, who I guessed to be in her forties? I would not call her brave for it seemed to be she had noconception of fear. Her kindness and generosity were unparalled, her maternal spirit and compassion boundless”.
All organisation members held codenames. Mrs. Chevallier was known as “Mrs. M.”, Brother Robert Pace “Whitebows”, Father Galea “Sailor”, and Father Borg “Grobb”. Mrs. Henrietta Chevalier was awarded the British Empire Medal. She died in her native Malta on 9 July, 1973. She is buried at The Santa Maria Addolorata Cemetery in Pawla. Her grave can be found in Division East, Section A, Compartment I, No 6.