Remembrance In Tuscany

Badge of the Central India Horse

Last weekend was spent in Tuscany as the guest of the local government and ex pat community.

I was asked over to commemorate two George Cross awards from WW2, and to represent Great Britain.

The plaque on the village wall in Monterchi has always had its wreath laid by the village mayor. It was my honour, to be the first non Italian to lay a wreath for almost 70 years, in fact since the plaque was placed there. I was also honoured by laying the first wreath, normally in the gift of the local mayor.

The region was the scene of fierce fighting and the area was strewn with German “shoebox mines”
The Schu or Shu-Mine is a small wood box fragmentation mine. It measures six-inch by six-inch and contains a detonator and a solid charge.  Another name or spelling of this mine is “Shoe Mine” or “Shoe Box ” mine. The “Shoe Box” was a favourite among the Germans. Small in size and constructed primary of wood, the Schu is next to impossible to discover with a normal metal mine detector.  It seldom kills instantly, instead the sinister device mutilates the unfortunate victim.

The citation in the London Gazette for 20th July 1945, states that the posthumous award of the George Cross was made “In recognition of most conspicuous gallantry in carrying out hazardous work in a very brave manner.” Lieutenant Young, in charge of night patrol realised that they were in a middle of an enemy minefield. Lt. Young received the full force of a blast and both his legs were shattered. Despite the terrible pain he continued to give such great encouragement to his men that the majority of them managed to reach safety in the early light of morning. One of Lt. Young’s soldiers, Sowar Ditto Ram, Central Indian Horse was also awarded the George Cross for actions in this same incident. Both died of their wounds on the following day.

I was welcomed by the entire village and the local Bersaglieri. The Commandante il Carabinieri invited me for coffee with him in his office, and the after the remembrance service-very much like our own here in Britain-most of the village attended a large meal at a a local restaurant. here the band of the Bersaglieri entertained us with songs and tunes.

At the end of the meal I was surprised to be included in the presentations by the Bersaglieri, and given a book on the history of this famous unit of Light Infantry.

Monterchi memorial plaque Laying the first wreath Bersaglieri

 

My thanks to Debbie, Roger, Chunky, Trevor et al involved  🙂

Anniversary of VE Day – 8th May 1945

On the anniversary of VE Day I have been taking a look at some old newsreel of the celebrations and trying to imagine what it must have been like to hear the news and know that a six year nightmare was nearly at an end.

But try as I might, I find that it is almost easier to imagine what it must have felt like to be “at war” than what it must have felt like on the 8th May 1945 when you knew that, at least in Europe, the war was over.

These scenes captured by Pathe and shown in cinemas in a special extended Pathe Gazette, can only provide a snapshot of the “spontaneous” celebrations.  A series of black and white newsreel shots, many set up for the camera, which are now such familiar images we almost take them for granted.

But inside each and every head in the crowd are memories of hardship, pain and fear, grief for loved ones lost, lives on hold, homes and families destroyed, friendships made, courage, relief, disbelief, joy and so much more – such intensity and variety of emotions that there isn’t a word which encapsulates it all.

With luck it is a word we will never need to define again.

The Fruits of Victory, 1945, Pathe Gazette

THE FRUITS OF VICTORY

 

Sisters, Secrets and Sacrifice – Two brave women who led double lives in Nazi occupied France

Sisters, Secrets and Sacrifice: The True Story of WWII Special Agents Eileen and Jacqueline Nearne

By Susan Ottaway.

What must life have been like for two young women plucked from their ordinary lives and transformed into SEO Agents fighting the Nazis in occupied France?  And what was life like when the war was over and it was time to pick up where they left off?

It is over seventy years since the start of the Second World War and there are still so many awe inspiring tales to be told.

This new book tells the story of two amazing women. Sisters in arms who faced unimaginable danger, and made astonishing sacrifices, the effects of which were to last long after they returned to civvy street.

False identities, hidden radios, secret messages – all the stuff of Hollywood films. But what followed was the sickening reality of capture, torture and hard labour in a German concentration camp –  experiences not many would have had the strength and courage to survive.

Their hidden contribution to the war effort cost them their youth, their chances of motherhood and almost cost them their sanity. They were remarkable women who went on to lead modest lives, keeping their heroic past to themselves.

Now it is time for the inspirational story of these two brave sisters to be told.

Sisters, Secrets and Sacrifice: The True Story of WWII Special Agents Eileen and Jacqueline Nearne by Susan Ottaway is published by Harper Element and you can order your copy now.  Sisters, Secrets and Sacrifice also available for Kindle.

 

PATHE NEWSREEL – OCCUPIED PARIS
And for a look inside occupied Paris during WW2 take a look at this Pathe Newsreel It Happened in Paris (1944).

 

At great danger, Pathe cameraman Gaston Madru concealed his film camera in a bicycle basket under a pile of wine bottles and then rode through the streets of Nazi occupied Paris. He filmed Nazi flags flying from buildings and offices of the German Slave Labour Todt organisation. There are shots of a cinema for German soldiers only, German officers at the races and a Nazi rally at City hall.

We see Nazis in the heart of Paris – at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior and the Arc De Triomphe. We also see ordinary Parisians queuing for bread and fighting breaking out in the streets as they object to the Nazi presence.

And then as the long occupation nears its end, we see German troops  on the retreat, resistance posters being put up and celebrations as the French flag is once more able to fly freely .