Saturday, March 04, 2006

Lest We Forget?

Local Assisi resident, and veteran, Vincenzo Cavanna has instigated an adoption programme for the city's Commonwealth War Cemetery. He had noticed that the cemetery received few visitors, largely due to the distances relatives would have to travel to get there.

Old enmities have been put aside and, so far, 300 of the 945 graves have been adopted. Priority has been given to soldiers from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, as their families were least likely to visit.

This contrasts sharply with a cemetery in Leeds, which has recently been vandalised for the fifth time.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission maintains the headstones and Cross of Sacrifice in the cemetery. Thousands of pounds of tax-payers’ money has been spent in repairs and costs for the latest attack are estimated at £5,000.

A spokesperson for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission said,

We are disgusted at these appalling acts of mindless vandalism. The Cross of Sacrifice in our cemeteries is a tribute to the fallen who lie there and these acts of desecration are an insult, not only to the dead but to their families and the entire local area."

27 Comments:

Blogger Peter G said...

Steve

A timely post about the mindless vandalism we are currently experiencing throughout Britain, not just in Leeds.

But a phrase you use regarding Assizi's Commonwealth War Cemetery in Italy puzzles me. You say that "Old enmities have been put aside and, so far, 300 of the 945 graves have been adopted". What old enmities?

Saturday, 04 March, 2006  
Blogger Peter G said...

Most of the Commonwealth War Cemeteries in Italy may be seen here. The Anzio and Cassino war cemeteries are treated separately here.

Some Italian text, but most are described in English.

Saturday, 04 March, 2006  
Blogger Steve Wright said...

What old enmities?

The text for this Comment was taken from a post on another forum. I have checked the original source, which was the Times. The reporter actually words were: Some local people have managed to put behind them past bitterness, taking this opportunity to make a gesture of reconciliation.

Saturday, 04 March, 2006  
Blogger Peter G said...

Steve

Having lived through that period in Italy I can assure you that all the enmity was against the Germans and the small percentage of die-hard fascists.

From late 1943 the Allies were looked upon as liberators. This wasn't just a light-hearted switch of allegiance, it was founded on almost countless brutal massacres, mass public executions, and horrors of the vilest kind.

From early 1944 there was an ever escalating civil war in central and northern Italy, very bitter, and with few prisoners taken by either side.

Saturday, 04 March, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

I too was puzzled by the "old Enmeties" phrase but understandable if one was not there at the time.It shows a great deal of thought for the fallen of the 300 Commonwealth lads who are buried at Assisi, the Australian Pilots - the men of the 6th South African Div and the 2nd NZ. Div - who strangely mainly fought on the other side of the valley from Assisi but the cemetery at Perugia was obviously available at that time.
The mindless vandals it seems will always be with us as long as we treat them as deprived of the better things in life etc. and hand out community service to go along the the inevitable slap on the wrist. We have brought this on ourselves - and we must restore some form of respect for all.

Saturday, 04 March, 2006  
Blogger Steve Wright said...

Peter, Tom

I returned to the article, on the Times website and finished reading the paragraph, from where I took the quote, and the one which follows. The 'locals' may in fact be members, and friends, of one family in particular:

Emiliano Zibetti was 3 in April 1944, when his father was strafed and killed by the machine guns of an RAF aircraft. The incident happened as he drove to a funeral in a lorry laden with wreaths.

Signor Zibetti admitted his family had been bitter for years because of the circumstances of his father’s death. But he has adopted the grave of Harry Barnett, a gunner in the Royal Horse Artillery (2nd regiment), who came from Ledbury, Herefordshire. He was killed about ten weeks after Signor Zibetti’s father, and was the same age. “I’ve come a long way mentally. But now, whenever I go to my father’s grave I also go to see Harry’s, too. They’ re buried only a kilometre apart.”

Saturday, 04 March, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Steve -
That is perfectly understandable as the main "tactic' at that time was to destroy everything in front of you no matter what it was in an attempt to let metal do the job of men.
We cannot forget the thousands of civilians who died by our hands, but who managed to forgive as this family has done and to start a wonderful cause of memorial.
I had a similar feeling in 2004 when I visited Coriano Ridge Cemetery and took pictures of some the lads headstones. The next day I went to the developers and while waiting for the prints - I was astounded to see so many people come from the back of the shop and wish me "Buona Fortuna."
These families had suffered tremendously and were cooped up in the Neutral San Marino for weeks on end with few provisons but they still smiled at their "liberators" as they obviously still do!

Saturday, 04 March, 2006  
Blogger Ron Goldstein said...

Gents

As someone of the Jewish faith the words 'mindless vandalism' is not completely unknown to me.

I don't want to muddy the waters of this excellent thread that Steve has started, but I feel that I must tell you of something within the bounds of my own experience.

During the past few years, the cemetery where my own parents are buried was subjected to the aforesaid 'mindless vandalism'and many headstones were toppled, smashed and daubed with swastikas.

The authority in charge of the upkeep of the cemetery wished to place 'razor' wire round the perimeter walls.

They were refused planning permission on the grounds that the intruders might injure themselves!

I was gratified and relieved to see, as Tom did on his own visits, that the Cassino cemetery had escaped the work of these mindless vandals.

Sunday, 05 March, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

I can only concur with Ron's comments on the untarnished state of the CWGC cemeteries, as here we have respect inculcated from a very early age.
Each class of the local Coriano Village adjacent to the cemetery every year are allocated a section of the area to manage and to keep in a pristine condition with weeding and replacing flowers etc in concert with the eight part time gardeners. I just happened to be present when the eight gardeners descended and six lawnmowers roared into action - in three hours they were gone leaving all in order.
Ron's other comment that the intruders MIGHT hurt them selves is fairly typical of the "do good" attitude of too many of our present day 'leaders'who are scared to death that someone might sue them to the detriment of all so called ciilisation.We have a similar condition over here.
Some three years ago four "rust bucket" ships from China landed some six hundred illegal and many sick immigrants on our Pacific Coast. Instead of refuelling these rust buckets and turning them around - we took the 600 and flew them into the interior, fed and clothed them,cured their illnesses, interviewed them for landed immigrant standard during which some 200 disappeared - kept the rest in luxury for six months - then hired three super jumbo's to return them to China who then jailed them - cost to the fuming tax payer - $4 million !

Sunday, 05 March, 2006  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Although I was born after the war, my relatives who remembered the war years tried to ensure that the memory of those they had known should be passed on and not forgotten. At the time, perhaps as children we were too young to fully understand. However, because our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles told us it was important we knew it was so.

Many years later, after I had found the "People's War" website, these memories that had been passed on formed the basis of several of the accounts I posted to the site. Fortunately, I was able to do this with the help of other relatives, family photographs, some letters, newspaper cuttings or other items that had been kept over the years.

So, getting families and young people to 'adopt' some of the war graves and tend for them is a really excellent way of ensuring the memories are passed on to today's younger generations of whatever nation or creed. I have mostly visited the War Graves in France, Belgium and the Netherlands rather than Italy, and in those countries many of the graves have been 'adopted' for many years. The result is many of the 'younger' folk seem to realise the importance that what happened in the World Wars should not be forgotten. For example, at the Menin Gate there is effectively a 'Remembrance Service' every day of the year. In Britain, there is a similar service once a year (Remembrance Sunday).

Perhaps this is largely because Britain and much of the Commonwealth were unoccupied in the war years and nowadays we take much of what happened for granted and that Victory was 'inevitable'? Education about the war and engaging the younger families and especially the children seems an excellent way of ensuring the sacrifices are not forgotten. Possibly, there could be an exension of a similar 'adoption' scheme of war graves like they have in Europe for those in the local cemeteries? It might not totally stop graves being vandalised, such as at Leeds, but it might help change attitudes a litte.

This has been an important thread about the war, with some excellent thoughts. Thanks to everyone for sahring your views.

Sunday, 05 March, 2006  
Blogger Steve Wright said...

Thank you all for the way you have helped this thread to develop. It has inspired me.

First, some background. I work at King's Norton Boys' School. In the car park, at the front of the school, is a semi-circular wall on which are recorded the names of the twelve Old Nortonians who were killed during WWI. These names are also on a bronze plaque in the school hall. Also in the hall is a plaque which records the names of the seventy-seven Old Nortonians who were killed during WWII. On Remembrance Day, current Old Nortonians hold a service by the memorial wall. We also have representatives from the local Royal British Legion come into school, in the week before Remembrance Day, to talk about why we have poppies at that time of year. One of our Music students plays Reveille and The Last Post.

Two years ago, I organised a D-Day 60th assembly for our 11-14 year olds. Two pupils read a script, to accompany a slide presentation. It instigated a lot of discussion. I also had two pupils help me do some research on the Old Nortonian casualties from WWII. We put up a display, which focused on those from the RAF (who make up the largest percentage). The display had the names listed in rank order and information on the El Alamein and Reichswald Forest cemeteries and the RAF Memorial at Runnymede. At that time, I was too busy to undertake any meaningful research on the effect the display had had on staff and pupils.

Now, as I settle into a new non-teaching role, and buoyed up by this thread, I will be seeking to make all our Old Nortonian fallen the subject of a Citizenship project. I'll keep you informed!

Sunday, 05 March, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello from Jane Perkins, Site Helper, in Cardiff. Just to say, l miss you all and -what a good site this is!Best wishes.

Sunday, 05 March, 2006  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Hello Steve,

What you describe you are doing at your school is exactly the kind of thing that will ensure the importance of remembering is passed on. It is a fine thing having former veterans and the British Legion representatives involved.

Good luck and keep up the good work!

Sunday, 05 March, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Steve -
this is excellent stuff that you are doing and I wish you great success. Out here in Agassiz(pop 5000) we have a full day holiday on Nov 11th and it is celebrated all over this great land with ceremonies led by the Canadian Legion and always includes the local schools, with their various cadet groups = boy scouts a et al.
This is invariably followed by a march to the local Cenotaph led by the legion and R.C.M.P's, and a luncheon at the Legion Hall.
I am always astounded by the amount of yougsters who go out of their way to extend their thanks for what we did in those momentous years. Sadly last year cermonies in Vancouver were without the attendance of the last Cndn V.C. of WW2 - Sgt Ernest "smokey" Smith of the Seaforth Highlanders who often times would ride on the back of my Tank into yet another "skirmish".
It is good that the young are brought to learn of those deeds.

Tuesday, 07 March, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Further to my last comment - many people are spending their time in reminding others of the days of war and sacrifice. I am thinking here now of Colin Hotham of Wootton Bassett in Wiltshire who - every year - gets permission to set up a display in the Local Library to bring to the attention of all the many books on the various battlefronts. His specialty in the past three years has been the Sicily campaign and he has travelled to Sicily for two weeks to follow the battles all over and to visit the cemeteries there.
I must give him a call as his input is far reaching.

Tuesday, 07 March, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

.....also a welcome to Jane - site helper - from soggy Cardiff - or has the sun finally shone on the Hills ???? Your input would also be invaluable Jane.

Tuesday, 07 March, 2006  
Blogger Steve Wright said...

I spoke to our Head of History, today. She was very enthusiastic about what could be achieved. The idea is still very much in the 'thinking it through' stage, but we are planning to have a whole day devoted to students researching those we remember, the cemeteries in which they are buried (or memorials on which their names are recorded), their Squadron, Regiment or Ship and the battle or operation in which they died. We are hoping that we will be able to get representatives from the CWGC, Army, RAF and RN to work with the students.

Tuesday, 07 March, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Steve -
this thread has obviously led you on to greater things as I am reminded of the small pebble into the large calm pond and the subsequent ripples.
Best of luck to all at Kings Norton from one who spent many long nights in Nuffields at Washwood Heath producing Crusader Tanks before getting his own !

Tuesday, 07 March, 2006  
Blogger Steve Wright said...

Tom

Thanks for the encouragement. I don't think you'd recognise much of Washwood Heath!

Inveterate researcher that I am, I have completed the list of all 77 Old Norts on our memorial plaque. Three were in the RN. One was on the Exeter, and died in the Battle of the River Plate; one was on the Hood and one on the Laurentic, a White Star Line auxiliary cruiser sunk by U99.

Wednesday, 08 March, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Steve -
That Old Nortonian died early in the River Plate Battle - we have a friend out here from Uruquay - Montevideo in fact, who thought that the Graf Spee was a U Boat and couldn't quite understand what all the fuss was about.... so I spent some time in enlightening her ..and also about how my old regiment nearly conquered her city in the mid 1700's but ran out of steam ! as I said Notta Lotta people know that !
I'm not too surprised about Washwood Heath as the Daily Express has characterised Alum Rock/Saltley et al as an East Indian Suburb. My sister some time ago dragged me through the City Centre to see all the many changes - during an Islam awaremess week - I felt like shouting "snap" when another white face came by ! My brother has just beaten a retreat from Hodge Hill to a village near Nottingham !

Wednesday, 08 March, 2006  
Blogger Steve Wright said...

Last Friday, I visited the Education Show at the NEC. I had a very rewarding conversation with a representative from the CWGC. He was very supportive and said the Commission would be pleased to help.

Tuesday, 14 March, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Steve -
you can't go too far wrong if you get CWGC on your side as they have a tremendous data base which lists just about everyone who died in both conflicts and others,
so I should keep in touch with him - maybe get somepush for schoolchildren to become more involved in the upkeep of the cemeteries, as they do in Europe.

Wednesday, 15 March, 2006  
Blogger Steve Wright said...

Tom

The idea is developing that our 14, rising 15, year-olds will have a day learning about the work of the Commission, including the multiplicity of jobs/occupations which are undertaken by its employees, and designing a product - leaflet, CD etc - which will promote the Commission.

One of the 77 Old Norts is buried in the local churchyard, in a plot of 16 War Graves. I'm hoping that enough interest will be generated to take a hand in caring for these graves.

Wednesday, 15 March, 2006  
Blogger Steve Wright said...

I went along to the churchyard today. The graves are not, as I presumed, in one plot but scattered around. As I walked down the path, and scanned the numerous headstones, those marking the War Graves stood out in sharp relief. I wonder how many people, if they have in fact noticed, have ever wondered why there are these uniform headstones. Have they investigated?

The majority of the graves are bordered with the common "surrounds". They don't look particularly cared for. I'm going to ask someone from the church if they know of any family members who visit.

Saturday, 18 March, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Steve -
you raise an interesting point regarding the uniformity of the War Graves headstones.
For myself I had always assumed that while rank is recognised alongside each of the deceaseds name - the fact that we are all equal in death appeared to be the primary criteria.
In the Italian cemeteries the main material for the headstones is that of the Carrera Marble which will last an eternity but I am sure that each country had it's own particular material for this purpose.
I am not too surprised at the state of the Church yard you describe as at one time - with only hand shears employed this was a laborious task,nowadays with better and more efficient garden implements, this is no longer a chore but the will seems to have departed.The "out of sight - out of mind" becomes paramount !

Sunday, 19 March, 2006  
Blogger Steve Wright said...

Tom

I thought the Commission's principles were worth sharing:

1. Each of the dead should be commemorated by name on the headstone or memorial

2. Headstones and memorials should be permanent

3. Headstones should be uniform

4. There should be no distinction made on account of military or civil rank, race or creed

Monday, 20 March, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Steve -
we can only congratulate the CWGC for having those four main princilpes...and sticking to them !
Gerry Chester asked me to look up the grave of his Regimental Commander when I was at Coriano Ridge - I found him - Lt.Colonel the 3rd Earl of Antrim - right next to a private in the Infantry.
That said it all ! They were equal in death,with exactly the same headstone as all the other 2000 in that cemetery.

Monday, 20 March, 2006  

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