A record number of supporters of the Monte San Martino Trust gathered for the annual luncheon at the Royal Overseas League, London, on 19th November, 2014, to celebrate a period in which the charity has gone from strength to strength.
The events held during the past 12 months have sharply raised the profile of the Trust, attracting new supporters, strengthening ties between the descendants of escaping prisoners of war and the brave Italian families who sheltered them, and boosting the fund-raising appeal.
Among the 134 members of the Martino “family” present at the lunch were four PoWs – Keith Killby, the Trust’s founder, Major Mick Wagner, Major Michael Lacey and Frank Unwin. There were also two descendants of Italian families who had protected PoWs – Anna Maria Orlandi *, accompanied by her husband Marco Ursic, and Alessandro Bellazzi **. Other guests included: Edoardo Napoli, counsellor at the Italian embassy, which in October 2014 hosted a supper on behalf of the Trust; Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council of Voluntary Organisations; and Francesco Trivelloni, deputy mayor of Fontanellato, which hosted a magnificent celebration for the Trust in 2013 to commemorate the mass escape in 1943 from the prison camp at the town.
In his opening remarks, Sir Nick Young, Trust chairman, said he hoped to see increasingly strong links with Italian families that helped prisoners, commenting that he himself, as a son of a PoW escapee, owed his life to Italian people.
He then acknowledged the work on behalf of the Trust by Francesco Trivelloni and by Vanni Treves, a trustee and chairman of the fund-raising Appeal which has raised more than £800,000 towards its £1m target. “He has no friends left,” he said, alluding to the ferocious diligence of Vanni Treves, whose efforts on behalf of the charity were recognised by the award of the 2nd Order of Italian knighthood conferred on him at the Italian embassy in October.
After guests had enjoyed the main course, Nick Young introduced the speaker, Anne Copley, a Trust supporter and in her other guise an employment lawyer. She lives part of the time in Oxford and the rest of the year at Montefalcone in the Marche. She has done considerable research into the history of PoWs and Italian families in the Marche region, where the prison camps of Servigliano, Sforzacosta and Monte Urano were based. As she pointed out, PoWs among Other Ranks wrote fewer accounts of their experiences than did officers, and her talk was built around two artefacts that go some way towards redressing this imbalance.
(Read a full account of Anne’s talk, and the stories she has uncovered, in the News section at in ‘A diary…and a photo)
At the conclusion of Anne’s talk, and after dessert, guests settled down with their coffee to watch an edited version of a film interview of Ray Ellis made a few years ago by Anne and her son. Ray, who died in 2014, escaped from Sforzacosta in August 1943, shortly before the Armistice with Italy, and was hidden for about a year by a local family, named Minicucci, before he eventually made it through the lines to safety with the Allies. The shorter version of this fascinating, and emotional, interview can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYyflZglKJg&feature=youtu.be. The longer version, which was enjoyed by walkers on the Freedom Trail in the Marche in 2014, is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSFAWxPZC4o&index=2&list=HL1402488079.
After the film, a thoroughly enjoyable occasion was concluded by warm applause for Christine English, a trustee and the main organiser of the luncheon, and by a toast to the Italian people.
*Anna Maria Orlandi is the grand-daughter of Luigi Orlandi, who – as the only English speaker in Reginaldo, a village
in the Abruzzo – took the lead when the villagers sheltered Daniel “Jack” Hobbs and his three companions in the autumn of 1943. Jack – the father of Robert Hobbs, who was at the lunch together with his wife Cynthia and Anna Maria – had escaped from Monte Urano in the Marche. During his brief stay at Reginaldo before crossing the Allied Lines and reaching safety, Jack, an armourer by trade, mended the villagers’ clocks and shotguns.
Jack kept a diary, which contained two names – one of them that of Luigi, whose English had been learned during the 11 years he had spent in the USA. After Jack died in 1989, Robert read the diary and eventually set about tracing the Orlandi family. In 2007, when the Hobbs family made its second visit to the Reginaldo area, he succeeded. By then Luigi had died, but Robert met members of the family, was given wine made in 1939 – the same vintage that his father had drunk – and was handed his father’s razor. Since then, Robert has frequently returned to the village. Last year he arranged for a plaque to be put up commemorating the bravery of the villagers.
**The second Italian descendant present at the lunch, Alessandro Bellazzi, is the grand-nephew of Giovanni Bellazzi, who sheltered George Norman Davison. Norman served with the Royal Artillery and was captured in Libya and imprisoned first at Servigliano, in the Marche, and then at a labour camp at Sforzesca, near Vigevano, in Lombardy. He escaped from there after the Armistice in September 1943 and was hidden by the Bellazzi family. Several Vigevano residents then arranged for him to be helped across the border at Lake Como to Switzerland in 1944.
Back home, he turned his wartime diary into a manuscript shortly before he died in 1986. The manuscript was discovered in the attic by his son, John Davison, and published under the title In The Prison of His Days.
The Davison family at first had no success in tracing the Bellazzi family. Then, Dennis Hill of the (Servigliano) Camp 59 Survivors website, put him in touch with Anne Copley, who suggested that John should send a copy of the book to the Vigevano Resistance memorial site.
John says: “A few weeks later I received the shock of my life in the form of an email from L’Informatore, a Vigevano newspaper, with pages from the paper containing full details about the Bellazzi family and others who had helped my father. ‘Storie mai raccontate – stories never told before'”.
Giovanni had died but his daughter Mariella owns a pharmacy in Vigevano. The newspaper editor walked into the pharmacy one day and asked her if she was Giovanni’s daughter. To hear that her father had been involved with the Resistance and had hidden Norman came as a total surprise to Mariella.
The Bellazzi and Davison families then began a close friendship. Mariella was further overwhelmed with emotion when John Davison visited Vigevano in 2010 and, while thanking her family, gave her some money. It was, he told her, the spare money left over from the sum that Giovanni had given Norman to buy railway tickets from Milan to Como – all that time ago.
The Trust was so pleased that John, his wife Lesley and daughter Eleanor, were able to attend the lunch together with Alessandro, who had flown over from Italy for the occasion. “Although we only met four years ago it seems to me as if I have known them for many years, like old family friends,” says Alessandro.