7th to 10th September 2023
80th Anniversary Commemoration of the Italian Armistice
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From 6th – 10th September 2023, more than 70 supporters of the Monte San Martino Trust took part in four days of action-packed celebrations to mark the 80th anniversary of the Armistice with Italy, the event that precipitated the escape of thousands of Allied servicemen from PoW camps into the Italian countryside.
The event took place in the central eastern region of Le Marche, at Servigliano, the site of the former camp PG59. The reason for choosing Servigliano for such a landmark commemoration was prompted partly by the Italian parliament’s recognition of PG59 as a national monument, which has greatly increased the interest of Italians in the story of Italy’s PoW camps. It has raised awareness, too, of the bravery of thousands of ordinary Italians who, at risk to their own lives, hid escapees attempting to rejoin Allied lines. The recognition has also released funds to pay for the partial restoration of PG59.
Another reason for the choice of Servigliano was that every year the WW2 Escape Lines Memorial Society, MSMT’s sister organisation, stages four days of Freedom Trails based on Servigliano, walking through villages where Italian families hid escapees from PG59 and two other camps in Le Marche, Sforzacosta and Monte Urano. Normally held in May, this year the Trails took place in September to coincide with the actual anniversary of the Armistice, on 8th September.
It is significant, too, that PG59 was where Keith Killby, the founder of MSMT, was imprisoned. He named the Trust after the nearby village of Monte San Martino, where he first received assistance.
A third organiser of the celebrations, in addition to MSMT and ELMS, was the Casa della Memoria, which looks after PG59, renamed Parco della Pace, and which holds talks and exhibitions at the former railway station, now a museum.
The packed programme of talks organised by MSMT (see our detailed events guide) – was the outcome of months of painstaking preparations by two trustees, Anne Copley and Nermina Delic, assisted by Italian residents.
Thursday 7th September
A prominent Italian journalist, Mario Calabrese, interviewed Isabella Insolvibile about her new book, Allied Captivity in Italy, 1940 – 1943.
Isabella is an expert on the anti-fascist Resistance movement and was one of the researchers who worked on the English/Italian website about the PoW camps, alleatiinitalia.it. The website was created in 2022 by the Milan-based Parri institute and was co-funded by MSMT. Following the talk, the Trust held a welcome dinner for supporters at a restaurant in Servigliano, a truly joyous occasion attended by descendants of PoWs from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and America, as well as from the UK. Representatives of the Parri institute were also present.
Friday 8th September
The day began with a tour of PG59 and an explanation of the restoration plan. We were honoured by the presence of the British Ambassador, Lord Llewellyn, who had come from Rome, and also that of the UK and USS Defence Attache, Matthew Smith and the US Defence Attached, Lt Allen Juno.
Then, at the Casa della Memoria, we listened to Dennis Hill, from America, who set up the Camp 59 Survivors website and whose father Armie was held at the camp.
Dennis’s site has frequent references to Servigliano Calling, a diary made by another prisoner, Robert Dickinson. In a talk of great emotion, Robert’s nephew, Steve, then told us the story of that diary and of his decision to present it permanently to Casa della Memoria.
After lunch, supporters were driven to Montelparo, catching up with ELMS walkers who had arrived on foot – not without some discomfort on a very hot day. Montelparo is a key site in the story of escaped PoWs as it was there that Sidney Seymour Smith, who had taken refuge in the village, was murdered. A ceremony was held at a memorial to him in the lane where he died.
Saturday 9th September
Again we linked up with ELMS walkers, this time at Smerillo. The speaker on this occasion was Marco Ercoli who related how his grandmother hid two American soldiers. Marco, with the help of Dennis Hill, is searching for their descendants.
A wonderful lunch was served at the Osteria del Lago on the shores of Lago San Ruffino.
From Lago San Ruffino, we were driven to Monte San Martino where historian Gianluca Vagnarelli explained the sharecropping system which for so long kept peasant farmers (the contadini) in feudal servitude to their landowners.
An all-too-brief tour of the village included Largo Killby, named after Keith Killby, who was an honorary citizen of Monte San Martino.
Back at Casa della Memoria in Servigliano, we enjoyed a talk by Eric Hunt who has researched the colourful life of Manuel Serrano, a PoW and partisan. Serrano is one of the PoWs featured in a book by historian Filippo Ieranò, entitled Antigone nella Valle del Tenna. Filippo, in a talk following that of Eric’s, explained how, for his book, he had interviewed members of families who hid escapees in Le Marche. Antigone has been translated into English by four MSMT trustees under the title A People’s Courage, Civil Resistance in German-occupied Italy.
Sunday 10th September
As is usual on the Sunday of the Freedom Trail at Servigliano, we gathered at the war memorial in the main square to lay wreaths to honour those who had fallen in war and to remember the brave Italians who hid escaped PoWs.
Unfortunately, Nick Young, MSMT chairman, had suffered an injury the previous day and his speech was read out by fellow trustee Ian Laing. Among the dignitaries present were Marco Rotoni, Mayor of Servigliano, and Senator Francesco Verducci, who piloted the bill through parliament that recognises PG59 as a national monument.
After the ceremony, a party left to view the former PG70 camp at Monte Urano. Those who stayed in Servigliano enjoyed an excellent buffet lunch in the town hall and grabbed some rest before the closing dinner, attended by MSMT, ELMS and Italian residents at Chiostra da Zena, the cloisters of a former convent at Servigliano.
Seated along two tables the length of the cloisters, it was a resounding way in which to celebrate the long-lasting bonds formed by the experiences of so many nationalities following the Armistice in 1943.
In attendance at a farewell meal was Antonio Millozzi who was instrumental in working with Keith Killby in setting up the trust.