When Keith Killby founded the Monte San Martino Trust in 1990 his intention was “to give something back” to the Italian people for their courage and sacrifice in sheltering prisoners of war on the run in the Italian countryside. He intended to do this by raising money in order to fund one-month study bursaries at language schools in England, and inviting applications from Italians aged 18 to 25
They would come from areas of north and central Italy where PoWs had escaped from camps following the Armistice with Italy in September 1943. The PoWs tended to keep to the mountainous areas, such as the Appenines and the Abruzzo, in order to keep well away from the Germans and Italian Fascists while attempting to reach neutral Switzerland or join the Allied armies fighting their way up from the south. In consequence, often their helpers were contadini (peasants) – subsistence farmers in small villages, goat herders, charcoal burners, etc.
The Trust has a close relationship with schools in the following areas: Sulmona; Castel di Sangro; L’Aquila; Parma and Fontanellato; and Macerata, Fermo and Amandola in the Marche. Students who come from other areas, such as Rome, might have heard about the Trust from friends or relations, or through the website.
After the war, many of the brave people who gave refuge to PoWs were awarded so-called Alexander certificates (named after Field Marshal Alexander) to record the help they had given. Many of the students who have benefited from Trust bursaries have been descendants of families awarded these certificates, although this is not a condition.
In the early years of the Trust, a handful of students came to England each year. This soon increased to a total of about 20 per year. The 300th student arrived in 2007 and, to celebrate this, a special three-month bursary was awarded to Giulia Mattioli, from Modena.
By 2012, the Trust had awarded 460 bursaries.
At the beginning of the programme, each bursary cost the Trust £1,000, spent on tuition at a language school and bed and board with a family nearby. By 2012, the cost had risen to £1,750. This has always been funded through donations.
The objective of the Trust’s Appeal, launched in November 2011 and running until the end of 2013, is to increase the Trust’s funds from £400,000 to £1m, so that the bursaries can be funded through interest on the capital. The bursary programme will thus be secure for the long term. By the end of 2012, the fund was £150,000 short of its target.
The Monte San Martino Trust is a registered charity. In recognition of his work in founding and running it, Keith Killby has been honoured with an OBE and, by the Italian government, with the title of Cavaliere Ufficiale.