Category Archives: Italian Helpers

Raimondo Illuminati on Sidney Seymour Smith


Raimondo Illuminati at the site of the Sidney Seymour Smith memorial plaque.

Tenna Valley Freedom Trail Walk activities last month included the installation, on May 10, of a plaque in memory of British soldier Sidney Seymour Smith on the road outside the village of Montelparo where Sidney was shot to death. Sidney was known to the Italians as “Giorgio.”

See “Sidney Seymour Smith—A Mystery Solved” and “Sidney Seymour Smith—the Interviews.”

Just prior to the unveiling of the plaque, Raimondo Illuminati, who as a boy knew Sidney, spoke about his memory of him at the Montelparo town hall.

I am grateful to Anne Copley for her translation of the speech from Italian into English. Anne’s comments are in brackets.

Raimondo Illuminati’s Speech

“8th September 1943; church bells were ringing in all the villages, the Armistice had been declared between Badoglio’s Italy and the Anglo-American troops. In our district, at Servigliano, there was a concentration camp; the gates were opened and the prisoners were free. It seemed it was over, the war which had not touched us, which had taken place far from our peaceful lives. But it ended up in our houses, with the immediate occupation by the Germans, endorsed by the Salo Republic. The prisoners, once free, took refuge in our countryside, welcomed with love into our homes. And indeed our own soldiers were prisoners in their lands.

“One of these prisoners was called, or at least he gave himself the name GIORGIO. He was an English soldier. He took refuge in the contrada Santa Maria di Montelparo with the family “Ndunucciu” [Italian peasant families had a real name and then a nickname—it seems likely this was the nickname for the Mazzoni family], adjacent to the Tirabassi elementary school. I was seven years old and went to the primary class, I remember Giorgio because sometimes he came to our school when the master was away, and he read us books and stories. Giorgio was “a boy” [I’m not sure how to translate ragazzo, which literally means “boy” but here seems to have a deeper significance], about thirty-six years old, tall, slender, blond with blue eyes. He was always smiling and he was very dear to us, we always behaved well and kept quiet whilst he was reading to us. But one day the brutality of war took him away. One day in March he received a visit from three individuals—“friends” they called themselves, but they were two Germans and a local Fascist and they slaughtered him, unloading into him forty machine-gun bullets. This unhappy event happened north of the contrada Santa Maria and right next to the house of Paolo Traini (Cucurre). I passed that way the next morning and saw signs of his blood and fragments of his body on the edge of the road. He was accompanied to the cemetery by a large cortege, and by all us schoolboys to give him a final farewell.”

Upcoming Italian Freedom Trail Walk


A wreath-laying ceremony in Monte San Martino, Italy, during the Freedom Trail Walk in September 2013.

A Tenna Valley Freedom Trail Walk sponsored by WW2 Escape Lines Memorial Society and Monte San Martino Trust is scheduled for May 7–12. The annual walks, begun in 2001, retrace routes taken by Allied escapers and evaders caught in enemy territory in Italy during World War II.

The last Freedom Trail walk was held just seven months ago, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the September 1943 Italian armistice and the subsequent escape of prisoners from camps across central and northern Italy.

The walks are dedicated to the people of the Italian countryside, the contadini, who, at great risk to themselves and their families, provided shelter, food, clothing, and medical assistance to the young Allied servicemen.

This year’s walk will cover approximately 80 kilometers and include visits to the villages of Monte San Martino, Massa Fermana, Montappone, Montelparo, Montalto delle Marche, Monte Urano, Fermo, and Porto San Georgio.


A shady rest during the Freedom Trail Walk last September.


Program cover for the first Freedom Trail Walk, 2001.

Fyrtle Myrtle Story Included in New Book

salerno-1943 r72

On the morning of Friday, July 16, 1943 a formation of B-24 bombers left Berka, Libya, on a mission to destroy the airport facilities at Bari, Italy. The planes belonged to the 513th Bomb Squadron of the 376th Heavy Bombardment Group of the United States Air Force.

On the return flight from their mission the group encountered Italian Royal Air Force and German fighters. The Fyrtle Myrtle was shot down. Only three of the airmen were able to exit the plane before it crashed. Two of them, Cyrus F. Johnson Jr. and Edward T. Dzierzynski, were later interned in Camp 59 at Servigliano.


Aircrew of the Fyrtle Myrtle

In 2012, the Salerno Air Finders, a group of volunteers from the Italian organization Salerno 1943, explored the crash site of the Fyrtle Myrtle and published a report of their findings on the Salerno 1943 website. That report is now one of 25 investigations included in a newly published volume by Matteo Pierro entitled Salerno 1943: Gli aviatori, le storie, i ritrovamenti dell’Operazione Avalanche (Salerno 1943: The aviators, the stories, the findings of Operation Avalanche).

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“A Symbol of the True Italy”


First page of Guido Calogero’s essay

Researcher Brian Sims discovered the following essay, entitled “The Handful of Flour,” among the files of the Allied Screening Commission (Italy) in the British National Archives at Kew.

The task of the Allied Screening Commission was to investigate and acknowledge Italians who helped escaped Allied prisoners-of-war.

The purpose of this essay among the commission’s files is not entirely clear to me. Although it includes information about a particular Italian “helper,” Nunziata, the essay doesn’t seem to be intended as justification for a specific recognition or compensation. Rather, it seems a broader appeal to the commission to exercise fairness and generosity in their task.

Brian wrote, “What ‘Handful of Flour’ tells me is that the peasants gave what they really couldn’t afford to, while such people as businessmen gave several thousand Lire without too much ill effect on their everyday life.”

The sacrifice is best measured not in what was given, but rather in “the cost to those who gave.”

Translation in areas of the essay seems a bit awkward, but the sentiment of Calogero’s message rings clear.

Guido Calogero was an Italian philosopher and essayist.

Read a Wikipedia biography of Calogero in Italian, or translated into English.

The Handful of Flour

In the Autumn of 1943, some groups of friends went into hiding in the mountainous zone of the Abruzzo, which surrounds the lake of Scanno. The Germans had already placed garrisons in the villages, and the proclamations in two languages menaced the destruction of the houses and the families where Allied prisoners were found being sheltered. However, the prisoners liberated on 8th September from the Concentration Camp of Sulmona continued to pass through the mountain paths, stopped over in the houses, proceeded towards the South. And I was often taken for one of them. “Lordship do you wish to stop?” the mountaineers used to ask me (down at Anversa red posters announced the execution that had taken place of a shepherd who had given something to eat to come prisoners in his hut). “Come and eat a little bread and cheese with us. We are friends of the Americans.” I tried to use my best Abruzzo accent to convince them that I was Italian. But they looked at me with unbelief, and almost rancor, as if I had shown that I did not trust them.

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Lost Airmen Remembered in Pietragalla


On August 4, Pietragalla Mayor Rocco Iacovera and Lieutenant Colonel Robert Ruffolo, representing the United States Embassy in Rome, unveiled a marble tablet honoring the seven airmen who died when the B-24 Bomber known as the Fyrtle Myrtle was shot down over Pietragalla in 1943.


Michele Potenza, who witnessed the crash of the Fyrtle Myrtle as a boy, speaks at the ceremony.

On July 16, 1943, a formation of three B-24 bombers left the Allied airbase in Berka, near Benghazi, Libya on a mission to damage or destroy the Axis airport at Bari. The fliers belonged to the 513th Bomb Squadron of the 376th Heavy Bombardment Group of the United States Air Force.

On their return, the first of the three planes, the Fyrtle Myrtle, was shot down over Pietragalla. The other two bombers were shot down soon after—near Altamura and Tricarico.

In 2012, the Salerno Air Finders, a group of volunteers from the Italian organization Salerno 1943, explored the crash site of the Fyrtle Myrtle and published a report of their findings on the Salerno 1943 website.

Then, last summer, a tablet was installed in Pietragallo comemmorating the men who lost their lives in the crash.

For the announcement of the ceremony, see “B-24 Bomber Crash Commemorated.”

The research and archaeological investigation into the crash of the Fyrtle Myrtle was first covered on this website through “B-24 Bomber Fyrtle Myrtle Discovered.”

Below is a transcript of the message Michele Potenza delivered at the ceremony.

It is presented in Italian, with translation of each section into English alternating throughout.

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Sidney Seymour Smith—A Mystery Solved


This photograph from the file of inquiry into the death of Signalman Sidney Smith by the Special Investigation Branch (SIB) of the Royal Military Police shows the spot on a road outside the comune of Montelparo, Italy, where the soldier was killed.


This detail (from the above photograph) shows the wooden cross erected by local Italians in remembrance of Sidney Smith, the man they affectionately knew as “Giorgio.”

The killing of an escaped prisoner of war outside the village of Montelparo is a subject that has come up twice on this site recently. In “Tenna Valley Memorial Walks,” Anne Copley recounted how, two months ago, Freedom Trail walkers visited the spot outside Montelparo where a young British soldier, known to locals only as George—or “Giorgio” in Italian—had been shot by German soldiers.

And in “War Crimes—Sorting through the Accounts,” I questioned whether George Godfrey was the same soldier killed at Montelparo.

But now, thanks to help from British researcher Brian Sims, we have a clear answer to the identify of the soldier and a detailed account of the tragic end to the life of Sidney Smith.

Below is the official summary of an investigation by the Special Investigation Branch (SIB) of the Royal Military Police into the death of Scottish soldier Sidney Seymour Smith, Signalman, Royal Corps of Signals.

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Anne Copley in the Italian American Journal


Author Anne Copley

Anne Copley’s excellent article on the escaped Allied prisoners and their Italian helpers, Italy’s Courage: The unknown story of WW2 escapees and the Italian peasantry, is now online on the website of the Italian American Journal.

The following description of the author is posted on the IA Journal site:

Anne Copley is a lawyer living and working in Oxford, England. She bought and renovated a house near Montefalcone Appennino in Le Marche region of Italy 10 years ago, and now spends as much time there as possible. She became fascinated by the story of Allied PoWs and their Italian saviours when she found that most of her neighbours’ parents and grandparents were involved. She now takes part in guided “Freedom Trails” in the area, reviving the memories of 70 years ago. She is also involved with the Casa Della Memoria in Servigliano, a museum dedicated to this subject.

Tenna Valley Memorial Walks


Fording the River Tenna

This post is an account by Anne Copley of the September 5–8 “memorial walks” based out of Camp 59 in Servigliano. The walks were arranged jointly by the Escape Lines Memorial Society (ELMS) and Monte San Martino Trust (MSMT).

Here is Anne’s story:

“A Syrian photojournalist, a very famous Italian photojournalist (being filmed for his own life story), a Canadian woman seeking information about her father, and the CEO of the UK Red Cross mingled with Italian students, retired soldiers, a Jack Russell dog and others with various connections to Italy at the start of three days of walking through the Southern Marche countryside.

“The reason? to commemorate the date on which Italians signed the Armistice and many of the fathers and grandfathers of those taking part escaped singly or en masse from prison camps across Italy.

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War Crimes—Sorting through the Accounts

British researcher Brian Sims recently sent me an interesting affidavit from the British National Archives (file WO 311/1336), “In the matter of German war crimes and in the matter of the death of ‘George Godfrey’ in Italy about March, 1944.”

About a week later, Anne Copley mentioned to me that in the commume of Montelparo a British escapee variously called George or David was shot while running from the Germans/Fascists.

I began to wonder if this George or David might be George Godfrey or another fellow named George mentioned in the affidavit, as Montalto delle Marche is very near to Montelparo and Montalto is where the war crimes mentioned in the affidavit occurred.

Here is the full text of the affidavit, given by Forrester Hart:

In the matter of German war crimes and in the matter of the death
of ‘George Godfrey’ in Italy about March, 1944.

I, Forrester HART, with permanent home address in Barnsley Road, Dodworth, New Barnsley, Yorkshire, make oath and say as follows:

During the War I served with the R.A.S.C. [Royal Army Service Corps] and was serving with that Unit, attached to the Royal Artillery (Medium), in North Africa. My rank was Acting Lance Corporal and my regimental number T/230944. On the 21st June, 1942, I was taken prisoner by the Germans on the fall of Tobruk.

At the back end of July or the beginning of August, 1942, I, along with the other prisoners, was taken to a transit camp at TARANTO, via Derna and Bengazzi. About a fortnight later I was transferred to No.65 Camp, near Barri, where I was detained approximately 10 or 11 months. In June, 1943, I was taken to MACERATA Camp. About this time the Italians Capitulated.

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More on Giovina Fioravanti

After I added the post on Giovina Fioravanti to the Camp 59 Survivors site this week, I heard from Joely Carter. Giovina is her husband’s grandmother. On her blog,, she has shared some personal reminiscences:

“My husband’s grandmother, Bella, has always been larger than life. A typical Italian matriarch, she is fiery and protective, and always wants to feed you! When I first met her around 7 years ago, I was struck by how beautiful and elegant she was, and couldn’t believe it when she told me she was 86! Bella is a term of endearment, her real name being Giovina Fioravanti. Originally, Bella aspired to be an actress however on the outbreak of World War II Bella volunteered her services to her country. Over the years, Bella has shared many stories with me, the most memorable being that during a boat crossing from Albania back to Italy, a Bulgarian man had taken a bullet for her using his body as a shield. When I first went to her house, I was proudly shown a certificate, which was hanging in the dining room. Bella explained that this was for bravery during the War, but never elaborated on what she had done to obtain this. It was always assumed that this was an award given to all Italians who played their part in the War.

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