Steve Sims, on behalf of the committee of the Escape Lines Memorial Society, reports here on the successful and enjoyable Tenna Valley Trail from May 6th to 11th 2015, organised by ELMS and co-hosted with the Monte San Martino Trust.
Those attending arrived by air, rail and road from the UK, Australia, the Veneto and Sicily. A smaller group, than originally booked (UK Election and VE Day celebrations at same time), but an enthusiastic group. A few familiar faces, some returning from last year and others for the first time. Myles, Charles, Roger, Boris, the Haughie’s, the Stewart’s, Brian Lett with Gus, Gillian, Eleanor, Anne, David, Rob and Steffi to be joined by locals Ian, Giuseppe, Paolo and others.
We received a very warm welcome from Alessia and the staff at the San Marco Hotel in Servigliano which has undergone a major refit, with work in progress. We assembled at the Casa Della Memoria Museum [the old railway station adjacent to PG 59] with a musical greeting from the Northumbria Army Cadet Force ‘Cassino’ Band. They were on a concert tour of the area. One number played was the ‘Great Escape’. They attracted the local people. Following the band concert, members, guests and local people retired to the museum and after welcome speeches, Giuseppe and Ian introduced local people whose families had hidden escapers in the area in WW2 and we listened to their stories. We later all retired to the San Marco Hotel for a superb dinner.
The weather was very warm, sunny and dry, the local temperature recorded 31C during the afternoon. Everything was set for the walk. Unfortunately the flow rate of the Tenna River was too fast for safe crossing as I discovered, so the road route was the only option for the first part of the walk. It served to remind us that those who had travelled this area to freedom had to cross regardless of the flow.
Thursday morning dawned with a cool breeze and rising temperatures. We formed up at the Camp entrance and walked to Monte San Martino, stopping short of the village to have lunch, as guests of the Barcetta family whose daughter, Lucia had being the recipient of a bursary from the Trust. We were entertained by the family with food wine and music and by mid-afternoon we were in the square of Monte San Martino and a wreath was laid on the War Memorial by the Mayor and Roger. The Cassino band also gave an excellent concert in the town with Sgt Brian Hindmarsh giving an excellent rendition (as usual) of the Last Post and Reveille.
Friday was again a cool start, but warmed steadily. The route today took a white road, past the Olive Press and strawberry fields heading ever higher towards Montappone and Massa Fermana. The story of the day was of Ray Ellis and his contempories who had been hidden locally. During the break at Montappone a local family renewed their connection with escapers, sharing the book of memories sent to them by local helpers.
Saturday followed the pattern and we set of around 8.30am from the Camp gates and headed towards Montelparo via white roads, shady woods and a very steep incline to arrive in the village for lunch in the undercroft of the old abbey. The group had grown in number on the way with the addition of local residents and the remainder of the Hill family from Australia [David was walking for all the family]. After the telling of the family’s story and the connection with Sidney Smith, the Royal Signals soldier executed by the SS in the town, the group made its way to Sidney’s memorial for a wreath laying. An ELMS wreath was laid by Roger together with Valeriano Ghezzi, the Mayor and Christina Franca, who with her family had been placing flowers on Smith’s memorial for over seventy years. We returned by road via various properties of ‘escaper’ significance and visiting other families who had hidden escapers.
The Sunday was a day for memorial visits, meeting families who had assisted escapers and wreath-laying. A change to the programme this year was a visit to Offida, where a lecture was given at the town hall on the ‘Rat-Line’ by Prof Rainieri. Later we went to the Villa Stipa for lunch provided by the local Partisan/Escape Line veterans. An ELMS wreath was laid on the Partisan/Resistance Memorial at the villa. The villa had been the start of the Rat Line heading south and where escapers had been hidden. We then moved on to the Villa Salvadori, another safe-house that had hidden numerous escapers over a long period of time. Clare Muzzarelli Formentini had invited a number of safe-house families to the villa, provided food and drinks for visitors and walkers, and gave the visitors a short talk on the villa and its history with escapers in WW2. Finally we visited PG 70 at Monte Urano which had held over 8,000 POWs. Later in the evening our final dinner took place at the San Marco.
On the route back to the UK the Support Crew visited Rimini War Graves and laid an ELMS wreath on Sydney Smith’s Grave.