A medal for Dora Pieruccini

On Monday 12th December 2016, at a ceremony in Lucca, Tuscany, the sister of the late Ms Dora Pieruccini was presented with a modern reproduction of the King’s Medal for Courage in the Cause of Freedom awarded to Dora, and a copy of the Allied Screening Commission’s file on her heroism in sheltering escaping prisoners of war. The presentation was made by Commendatore Brian Lett, QC, former chairman of the Monte San Martino Trust and son of Major Gordon Lett, DSO – an escaped PoW who became the partisan leader of the International Battalion in the Rossano area (northern Tuscany) until liberation, and then British Consul in Bologna, Italy and Libya.

Below, Omar Bucchioni, who represented the Monte San Martino Trust at the ceremony, reports on the event.

Dora Pieruccini

“The morning started with a wreath-laying ceremony at the small cemetery of Deccio di Brancoli, a tiny village high in the Apennine Mountains (500 metres above sea level and 20 kilometres from Lucca). It was there that Dora and her family helped many escaped prisoners, and where she lived her entire life. Friends of the Trust, members of the Pieruccini family, representatives of the Gordon Lett Foundation and of the local partisan association ANPI paid their respects. I laid a wreath on behalf of the Trust, and Brian Lett laid one on behalf of the Gordon Lett Foundation.

A few hours later, Prof. Alessandro Tambellini, Mayor of Lucca, hosted the main ceremony in the beautiful Hall of Mirrors of Palazzo Orsetti, a splendid Lucca mansion of the sixteenth century, situated right in the centre of the city. The palace has its foundations built on those of an ancient medieval castle, and is equipped with a picturesque garden and a really spectacular staircase. About 50 people attended the event. They included supporters of the Trust, representatives of the Istituto Storico of Lucca, of the local partisan association ANPI, a number of friends and most members of the Pieruccini family, including the beautiful, few-weeks-old Dora’s grand-niece, Dora!

The presentation at the Hall of Mirrors in Palazzo Orsetti, Lucca (photo by Katia Sebastiani)

In an introductory speech, Prof. Tambellini highlighted the role of Dora Pieruccini and of the resistance movement during the Second World War, and said that the event should set an example for similar initiatives to help preserve the memory of that historical period among the young generations. Brian Lett then delivered a speech in Italian (the English text can be read by clicking on the link at the foot of this article), which can be summarised as follows:

After the Armistice on 8th September 1943, Dora Pieruccini, known by many grateful Allied escapers as the “Mother of Prisoners of War”, who was 29 and unmarried, took charge of the considerable efforts that the Pieruccini family made to help the escaped prisoners. They sheltered some in their house and found huts for others to sleep in the safety of the woods, where she and her sisters would bring them food. Dora arranged medical treatment for a group of five escaped prisoners who had been attacked and beaten up by Fascists, and kept them under the family’s wing for several months, nursing them until they had recovered. Dora herself was arrested and taken to Lucca for questioning several times but each time she gave nothing away. For her enduring and outstanding courage, Dora was recommended and approved for the award of the King’s Medal for Courage in the Cause of Freedom.

I then described how the Trust was set up in 1989 in recognition of the courage, generosity and countless gestures of humanity of many Italians towards escapers, explaining that its purpose is to award bursaries to young Italians to come to England to improve their English skills. I provided contact details so that Italians from the Lucca area aged 18 to 25 might apply for a study bursary. The whole ceremony was filmed by the British company Sea Dog Productions, and should appear as a part of a series of programmes that it is making for Channel 4 Television.

Dora Pieruccini’s tomb in the cemetery of Deccio di Brancoli (photo by Omar Bucchioni)

It is worth noting that this ceremony would not have been possible without the comprehensive research carried out by Brian Lett, both in Italy and in the US. He was able to discover the list of Italians who had been recommended by the Allied Screening Commission (Italy), and approved by US and UK generals in field, for a King’s Medal.

The sad fact is that, with a single exception, those original medals were never presented to the Italians who had won them, due to an embargo against the award of British medals to any Italian national imposed by a political decision of the British government in February 1948. Pressure will shortly be brought upon the current British government to lift that embargo.”

Please click on the link below to read Brian Lett’s speech in full (English version).