25 April 2013

ANZAC Day - Remembering our lost soldiers

Australian soldiers, ANZAC spirit. world war two, Italy, escaped prisoners of war, reflections, Alpe Barbero, Trivero, 5th May 1944

Today is ANZAC day here in Australia. I was up and out of the house by 4:15am to get to the Dawn service I was playing at, then drove back into the city to play in the main parade. Big day! I think I sent about 5 hours holding 6kg of brass up in front of me! My arms hurt!

What was a thinking of during the silence, I hear you ask? My mind went back to when I was in Italy, and stumbled on a memorial for 5 Australian and 1 English soldiers in a remote valley in the mountains. They were escaped prisoners of war, killed here while waiting for the weather to improve enough for them to cross the mountains into the safety of Switzerland.

Maybe it was the unexpected nature of my discover, but finding this little memorial nestled into those steep hills really struck something in me. I couldn't help thinking I was one of the only visitors that this place has received. I couldn't find any information on it when I searched, and there were no signs of life other than that very weathered-looking bunch of flowers. I spent a while there, reflecting on their story and thinking how much strength they must have had to survive all they did.
They weren't heroes. 
They weren't superhuman. 
They were (probably) young men who had been shipped off voluntarily to the far side of the world, fought and been captured, survived as a POW until they could escape then survived in the mountains, a place where I had so many precautions in place to make sure I was safe and yet still felt uneasy. And then they were ambushed and shot.
To get as far as they did must have taken so much inner strength. I hope that I can find those same reserves in myself if I should ever have to, but hopefully because of their sacrifice I never will have to face what they did.

One of the four key responsibilities we agreed to when we became Australian was to defend Australia should the need arise. Having to agree to that rather than having it sitting in the background is a very confronting thing to do. I left a river stone on the memorial, with "Lest We Forget" and some flowers marked on in paint marker. I don't think it will last the weather conditions, but I'm happy that I marked their sacrifice as well as I could.

Since I couldn't find any information, here is my bad translation of the sign near the memorial. The location is shown below, but there are no roads recognised by google, so to get there you get to Castagnea village, and turn right at the T junction at the top of the town (western side) and follow the dirt road down into the valley, past the Santuario della Novareia to the river and the hydroelectric powerstation (Piancone). Then follow the river south until you notice the little sign. Its a one track dirt road and you will need a car with good clearance.

Around September 8, 1943, the Allied soldiers who were in the fields of Vercelli plain as prisoners of war gained their freedom and tried to get to safety in Switzerland.The flow to the Swiss territory was assisted from the first anti-fascist organizations that had set up a system of accompaniment through which many of the former prisoners were guided from the plains to the mountains of Biella and Valsesian and Ossola and then to Switzerland, usually through the Passo di Moro Macugnaga. Not everyone, however, managed to reach Switzerland, as the Germans occupied militarily the crossing points and also because, with the passing of time they became weather conditions deteriorated.Among the prisoners who remained in Italy, some were again captured, others joined the Resistance, and many took refuge in the hills or in the mountains, surviving thanks to the generosity of the local population or to aid liberazion National Committees.In the spring of 1944, several hundred former Allied prisoners were still in the Biella area waiting to ripen the conditions for the move in Switzerland. These include a group of soldiers had settled here at the Tagliamento Legion [part of the fascist National Republican Guard], department commanded by Marico Zuccari, who made ​​numerous and frequent roundup actions against the Resistance and looking for draft dodgers, both in Valsessera in Sesia Valley.
The presence of a group of soldiers [the escaped POWs], who were not part of the Resistance, was reported to the command of Tagliamento Legion by an informant.On May 5, the former prisoners were surprised by the fascists as they were returning from Mosso, where they had gone in search of food and information, and shot. In the event five soldiers were killed Australians, and one Briton.The pastor of the Alpe Barbero, Lorenzo Verzoletto, escaped through luck, but was forced to dig the graves of the soldiers along with Agusto Massaro.The names of the fallen are shown in the plaque erected in memory of the massacre.
C Ladell (AIF)
H Blain (AIF)
E Woolf (AIF)
T Nichols (AIF)
S Harvey (AIF) 
I English

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