John Simkins reports on the sixth annual Freedom Trail in the Tenna Valley region of le Marche
THE weather omens had not looked good. In the run-up to May 16th, 2019, the first day of the sixth annual Tenna Valley Freedom Trail in le Marche, it had rained hard and was unseasonally cold. The Tenna river was in spate.
In the nick of time, the sun came out and allowed three days of excellent walks based on the village of Servigliano. It was no more than the Trail organisers – the WW2 Escape Lines Memorial Society – deserved. Among the walkers were members of the Monte San Martino Trust, the co-hosts, who owe a huge debt of thanks to ELMS director Roger Stanton and his colleagues Steve Sims and Boris Spence.
The ELMS crew, along with local guides Giuseppe Millozzi and Ian McCarthy, and David Runciman, who drove one of the back-up vehicles, escorted us as we walked through the villages, laying wreaths at memorials in tribute to the contadini who in 1943-44 sheltered the many Allied servicemen who had escaped from the PoW camps of Servigliano and Sforzacosta. On several occasions, we were treated to concerts by the Cassino Band of the Northumbria Army Cadet Force.
The three walks were to Monte San Martino, where we attended a ceremony dedicating a small piazza to the memory of MSMT founder Keith Killby, Penna San Giovanni and Montelparo. On three occasions we crossed the swirling waters of the Torrente Salentino. On the way to Penna San Giovanni we received refreshments in the hamlet of Santa Lucia at the house of Pancrazio Tulli and his wife, Margret Cornelius, where we listened to a tragic story, told by Cesarina Di Biagio. Cesarina was a young girl when her uncle was killed by a former prisoner. The uncle had objected to the man’s romance with his daughter.
In Penna San Giovanni itself we encountered Lorenzo Falcioni, who was eleven and a half years old when he came across escaped prisoners from Sforzacosta hiding in the wood. His family sheltered a prisoner named Jimmy Wilson for six months.
At Montelparo, as on previous trails, a wreath was laid at the memorial to Signalman Sydney Smith, an escaped prisoner executed by the S.S. The village had great affection for Smith, who read to children in the local elementary school while hiding out in the village. Local families, particularly that of Cristina Franca, have for the past 76 years put flowers at the spot where he died.
During the trail, walkers from the UK were joined by British expatriates and, for the walk to Montelparo, by a group of female students of Istituto d’Istruzione Superiore “A. Capriotti” from San Benedetto del Tronto, together with their teacher Fiorella Marchei.
The fourth day was dedicated to memorial services and included a visit to the “safe house” of Villa Salvadori, which sheltered many escapers and evaders.