The awarding of an Italian honour to MSMT chairman Sir Nicholas Young is special enough. To have it presented by the Italian Ambassador at the Trust’s annual lunch makes it doubly a cause for celebration.
Ambassador Pasquale Terracciano pinned the award on Nick’s lapel – “the Queen does it with a sword but I only have a pin” – at the Royal Overseas League on Tuesday November 8th 2016 in the presence of 110 guests, all members of the Trust’s “family” of supporters. The event was both an extremely enjoyable occasion and a very moving one, taking place as it did against the background of the earthquakes that have brought such suffering to central Italy.
The guests included many long-time supporters and a considerable number of new members, testifying to the interest that MSMT continues to attract. In addition to the Ambassador, guests included Mrs Karen Teracciano and colleagues from the Embassy, and Jonathan Newby and Sonia Ashmore, the children of Eric Newby, author of Love and War in the Apennines, and his wife Wanda. Also present were supporters living in Italy and one PoW, Frank Unwin, and his daughter-in-law Maggie. Frank, who is aged 96, was a prisoner of war at Laterina, in Italy. He confided that he had been in hospital the day before the lunch and that, if he had not been released, he would have “tunnelled out” to attend it.
Another “Original”, Trust Founder Keith Killby, unfortunately was unable to attend. Nick Young called for a resounding Three Cheers for Keith in the hope that he would hear them from his home three miles away. Tribute was also paid, by MSMT Secretary Letitia Blake, to the individuals who greet our bursary students on their arrival at UK airports, and to members of the three groups working on development projects.
Presenting the Italian Republic’s award of Cavaliere Ufficiale to Nick, in recognition of the Trust’s services to charity through its bursaries, Ambassador Terracciano said that the experiences of his own family gave him reasons for endorsing the Trust’s commemoration of the bravery of escaping prisoners of war and the Italians who gave them refuge at risk to their lives. His grandfather, who was Chief Prosecutor in Salerno during the Allied Landings, told his children how impressed he had been by a British officer who persuaded the Americans not to reinstate the death penalty.
Mr Terracciano said; “As a country, Italy owes a debt of gratitude to the Trust. You found a way to recognise unsung heroes.”
Thanking the Ambassador, Nick Young told the remarkable, and very moving, story of his own father’s escape to safety behind Allied Lines. While crossing minefields as they approached Anzio, two young Italian partisans who had offered to guide Leslie Young and his New Zealand companion, were killed. Their names were Eugenio and Silvia Elfer and this year Nick visited the Jewish section of the Verano cemetery in Rome where they are buried.
It is only recently that Nick made contact with relatives of the couple. He said: “I am delighted that four of them are here today.” It was, indeed, a pleasure and an honour to welcome Anthony and Peter Elfer, and Joan Siddall and Frances Tulett – namely the four children of Walter Elfer, the first cousin of young Eugenio and Silvia.
Nick then introduced our guest speaker, Christopher Prentice, who retired recently as British Ambassador in Rome and has now become a Trustee of MSMT. Christopher said he could not resist the Trust’s offer. “My reasoning was similar to the reason why being British Ambassador in Rome had been such a rich and rewarding experience. Relations between two countries operate at many levels and have many constituent elements. But the best relationships depend on a bedrock of mutual affection and esteem between peoples. The British and the Italians are not easily categorised. We come in so many different shapes and sizes. But wherever I went in Italy, I encountered a broad warmth towards Britain and I am confident that Quito [Pasquale Terracciano, Italian Ambassador] has had a similar experience in his visits around the British Isles; as also Patrick Fairweather, also here today, during his time as Ambassador in Rome.”
He said that the Trust epitomised the best of the virtues on both the British and the Italian sides – humanity, generosity, bravery and sacrifice. He then digressed to express to Ambassador Terracciano, on behalf of all present, condolences for the terrible suffering caused by the recent earthquakes.
Finally, he said that, since the vote to leave the EU, the work of the Trust was even more important. “We must at all costs sustain the friendship and mutual understanding between Britain and Italy of which the Trust is so potent a symbol.”
Please click on the pdf below for a full version of Christopher Prentice’s address.
Returning to the microphone, Nick Young summarised the current work of the Trust in expanding its profile within Italy, making its archive accessible, and exploring the possibility of a permanent memorial.
We then heard briefly from Jeremy Llewellyn-Jones, of Seadog Productions, which has been commissioned to make a Channel 4 TV series about Escape Lines in the Second World War. The team has already been assisted by Roger Stanton, a member of MSMT and director of the Escape Lines Memorial Society. Besides Escape Lines in France/Spain and in Slovenia, the series will cover two Escape Lines in Italy, namely Rossano and Sulmona. Jeremy appealed for further help in contacting “Originals” and the Italian families who helped them. “These are important stories to tell and we shall do them pride with your help.”
Letitia Blake then brought a highly successful event – brilliantly organised as on previous occasions by Christine English, a Trustee, – to a conclusion, expressing a wish to see all the guests again next year.
(Please click on the link above for Christopher Prentice’s speech)