Category Archives: Italian Helpers

Onore al Merito—Search for a Long-Lost Film

I would like to draw readers’ attention to an interesting article that appeared last week on The Text Message Blog, on online publication of the U.S. National Archives.

“‘Let’s Make a Movie:’ The Allied Screening Commission (Italy) and the documentary Onore al Merito (To Whom Honor is Due), 1946″ was written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.

The story is intriguing. As early as April 1944, an idea was proposed for a film to recognize and honor the scores of Italians who helped Allied evaders and escapees from prisoner-of-war camps. The film concept quickly drew interest and support, and the work came to fruition in the summer of 1946, a joint effort of the Allied Screening Commission (Italy) and the British Embassy in Rome.

Entitled Onore al Merito (To Whom Honor is Due), the film was about 25 minutes in length. Both Italian and English language versions were produced.

The Italian version of the film premiered in the village of Camarda, Italy, where much of the film was shot. It was later shown both formally and privately in Rome. It’s doubtful the film was ever shown in the United Kingdom.

Greg Bradsher writes in his post that neither the U.S. nor British National Archives possesses a copy of the film.

“Perhaps a reader knows where a copy might reside,” he writes. “My guess is that it will be in Italy.”

If any readers of this post have knowledge of the film, please contact me at hilld@iu.edu. I will gladly pass along any information.

Mario Mottes

I.S.9 agent Mario Raoul Mottes

Belgian-born Mario Mottes served as a parachutist and radio operator agent for Allied I.S.9 operations. His task was to locate escaped Allied POWs in enemy-occupied Italy and guide them across the lines—a mission known as Ratline evacuation.

However, on March 10, 1944, while performing his duty, he was arrested by the Germans and executed with three escaped Allied prisoners of war.

The two photos of Mario Mottes in this post were given to my colleague Luigi Donfrancesco by Dr. Lino Beber, a retired physician and historian from Pergine Valsugana (in the province of Trento, Northern Italy), the hometown of Mario Mottes’ mother, Pia Paoli.

The photos were provided to Lino by the the daughters of Mario’s cousin Gina Paoli, daughter of a brother of Mario’s mother. Today Gina Paoli is nearly 100 years old.

Mario Mottes with his cousin Gina Paoli at Lake Caldonazzo, near Pergine Valsugana, Italy.

For more on Mario Mottes, see “War Crime—the Ponte Dragone Executions,” “Ponte Dragone Deaths—A Second Report,” and “Honor Recommended for Mario Mottes.”

Service at Ancona War Cemetery

A rededication service for Private Lionel Brown, 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment, and Privates Daniel Hollingsworth and Thomas White, 1st Battalion The Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment) took place this past week. The three, having escaped from Italian prisoner of war camps during WW2, were shot along with I.S.9 agent Mario Mottes, near the village of Montedinove, Italy.

Read an official Ministry of Defence news story about the event, “Bravery of 3 World War 2 soldiers shot for escaping from a POW camp finally recognised after nearly 75 years.”

Read also “Heros Honored” by The Sun.

On this site, read “War Crime—the Ponte Dragone Executions” and “Ponte Dragone Deaths—A Second Report” for the details on the Special Investigation Branch war crime investigation into the soldiers’ capture and execution.

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Ponte Dragone Deaths—A Second Report

A page from the Ponte Dragone Special Investigation Branch (SIB) file

On May 16, 1945, Sergeant W. Mottram filed a formal report on investigations into the Dragone Bridge execution of three British soldiers and an I.S.9 agent (see “War Crime—the Ponte Dragone Executions”).

Twenty-two days later, SIB Captain E. Lister issued a memo concerning the event that is more concise, but offers additional details and clarifications.

Lieutenants Fischer and Rommel were identified as officers of the Montalto Marche detachment of the “Brandenburgers,” the group implicated in the crime. Fischer was officer in charge, and Rommel was his second in command.

A possible close family connection of young Lieutenant Rommel to Erwin Rommel was clearly of interest to the investigators, as twice in the report the lieutenant was referenced as a nephew of the late field marshal.

Decades later, this connection is just as intriguing. In 2001, a day after the release of the secret war crime file for this incident, the Guardian did a story entitled “Rommel’s nephew linked to war crime.”

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War Crime—the Ponte Dragone Executions

The River Aso between Petritoli and Ortezzano, in Fermo Province—a few miles downstream from Ponte Dragone, where three ex-prisoners of war and an Italian I.S.9 agent were executed in March 1944
Image—Wikimedia Commons

In dark of night on March 10, 1944, three escaped British POWs and an I.S.9 agent involved in Ratline evacuations of POWs to Allied territory were executed on the Dragone Bridge. Ponte Dragone is three miles from the village of Montedinove. Earlier that day, the four men had been captured and interrogated by officers of the Montalto Marche branch of the German S.S. Brandenburg Regiment.

One year later, members of the Allied Forces’ Special Investigation Branch (SIB) conducted an investigation into the matter.

According to Italy: Imperial Prisoners of War Alphabetical List, Section 1, British Army, the POWs who were killed had been interned in two camps:

Gunner Lionel H. J. Brown (Parachute Regiment, Army Air Corps) had been interned in P.G. 70–Monteurano, near Fermo, Ascoli Piceno.

Private Daniel R. Hollingsworth (The Buffs, Royal East Kent Regiment) and Private Thomas White (also of The Buffs) had been interned in P.G. 53–Sforzacosta, Macerata.

These killings are referenced in the recent “Service in Italy for Three Soldiers” post on this site. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission announcement refers to the killings as having occurred at Ponte Del Diavolo. However, the official account references Ponte Dragone as the site of the killings.

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Service in Italy for Three Soldiers

Ancona War Cemetery
Image—Wikimedia Commons

The following graveside rededication service announcement is from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC).

A rededication service for three soldiers who were killed in Italy in the Second World War will take place on Tuesday, March 28, 2017 in Ancona War Cemetery, Italy. Private Lionel Brown of the Parachute Regiment and Privates Daniel Hollingsworth and Thomas White of The Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment) were Prisoners of War and whilst being transported with Sergeant Mario Mottes (an Italian soldier) were shot on March 10, 1944 at Ponte Del Diabolo [Ponte Dragone]. They were originally all buried as unknowns in Montedinove Cemetery. However, the soldiers were later transferred to Ancona War Cemetery and now have individual named headstones.

The service has been organised by the Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre and will be attended by family of Privates Brown and Hollingsworth. The Parachute and Princess of Wales Regiments will provide support.

Mario Mottes was an I.S.9 agent who was working with Allied forces in the rescue of escaped prisoners when he lost his life. See “Honor Recommended for Mario Mottes.”

Identification of the British soldiers who were shot at Ponte Del Diabolo [Ponte Dragone], as well as work on confirming the identity of Mario Mottes, seems to have been due to the work of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Huggan, OBE.

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Brave Young Fighter Gino Beer

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Gino Beer, with some girls at Farneta, near Montefiorino, 1944

I corresponded this week with Italian Michele Becchi concerning Gino Beer, who as a young man served in the fighting group headed by escaped POW Victor Styles. (See “Trooper Victor Styles—P.G. 52 Prisoner.”)

Michele Becchi researches WWII British Liaison Officers in Italy, ex-POWs, and downed pilots trying to reach the Allied lines. He is particularly interested in partisan warfare in his area of Italy, as well as Special Operations Executive (SOE) and Office of Strategic Services (OSS) missions.

Michele knows and has interviewed Gino.

Michele wrote, “Victor Styles was leader of a special ex-POW fighting group working for the ‘TOFFEE’ mission. I’m trying to find the names of other POWs and Italian partisan members of that group. Gino served in the group.

“I meet Gino Beer years ago, when I was researching ‘Operation Tombola,’ an SAS [Special Air Service] operation against a German headquarters not far from my town.

“Gino was an Italian Jew from Genoa; he and his family was persecuted by the Nazis and fascists due to his origin. After a brief spell with the Ligurian partisans, Gino and his family transferred to Modena, in 1944, to avoid death. But the situation worsened, and Gino was forced to join the partisans of the Reggio-Modena mountains.

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Update—Search for the Soldier Hidden in Petritoli

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The comune of Petritoli in the Italian Marche. Photograph by Monica Vitali (Wikimedia Commons).

There is a new development in the search for information about the escaped POW who was helped in the comune of Petritoli during the war. (See “Escaped Prisoner Sheltered in Petritoli.”)

My earlier post explained that Roberto Lucci is attempting to make contact with the family of an escaped prisoner who was sheltered by his great-grandfather, Luigi Lucci, in 1943–44.

Recently, Roberto was told by elders in Petritoli that William and David were part or all of the first or last names, so the soldier’s last name might have been something like David Williams or William Davidson.

However, since I published the earlier post, a document has surfaced in Petritoli identifying the escapee as “David Grif. prigioniero inglese” (David Grif. English prisoner).

Although the first name was recorded as David, is is conceivable that William was his middle name, or that William was his first name and David his middle name and that he preferred to be called David.

Grif is not a common English name, and the period suggests the name might be abbreviated. The “Alphabetical List” sent to me by Brian Sims, contains 81 soldiers with names beginning with “Grif”—Griffin, Griffith, and Griffiths.

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Escaped Prisoner Sheltered in Petritoli

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Roberto Lucci’s grandmother, Elvira Lucci (center), was 19 years old when her father sheltered a prison camp escapee in their home.

Roberto Lucci is an Italian who is attempting to find the family of an escaped prisoner who was sheltered by his great-grandfather in 1943–44.

Given the close proximity of his family’s village, Petritoli, to Servigliano, Roberto believes the POW likely escaped from P.G. 59.

Roberto wrote (translated here into English from Italian), “I’m a young man from Petritoli, a village 15km from Servigliano.

“I have started to ask some of the elders who have fragmentary recollections of this man [for help]. I know that William and David are the first or last names.”

Roberto explained that the man’s last name might have been something similar to David—such as Davidson, Davison, Davis, or Davies.

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Italian Helpers—Two Queries

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Two chits on which British soldiers recorded their names and addresses

My friend Anne Copley is researching two situations of Italians providing assistance to escaped prisoners of war.

Anne wrote, “Local Italians are producing ancient pieces of paper with names and addresses” that have been kept since the Second World War.

Query One

The first query came to her from Giordiano Viozzi. Giordiano shared three documents:

Two scraps of paper with names and addresses written on them, and an Alexander Certificate issued to Oreste Belleggia for his assistance to escaped POWs.

The addresses on the scraps of paper are:

Ronald P. Holmes, Esq.
16, Crundale Avenue
Kingsbury, London, N.W. 9
England/Inghilterra

(On this paper is also written some simple notes about Italian pronunciation.)

George Hart
32 Lynn Street
Oldham
England

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