Cana­di­ans Re­mem­bered In Vil­lanova

Stanstead Journal - - NEWS - Spe­cial col­lab­o­ra­tion

Takingan in­ter­est in my fam­ily’s mil­i­tary his­tory I be­gan a jour­ney start­ing back in 2003 that has taken me to France, Hol­land, Ger­many and Italy. I have learned an in­cred­i­ble amount par­tic­u­lar­ily about the fight­ing in Italy but more im­por­tantly along the way, I have met some ex­tra­or­di­nary peo­ple.

It is said the Ital­ian Cam­paign is the for­got­ten cam­paign and that the D-day Dodgers were not given due recog­ni­tion for their ser­vice and sac­ri­fice. The Ital­ian Cam­paign lasted from 19431945 and fol­low­ing months of heavy fight­ing, im­mense ca­su­al­ties and loss of life, these sea­soned sol­diers con­tin­ued on to fight­ing in North­west­ern Europe. In Italy a to­tal of 92,757 Cana­di­ans served their coun­try, 5,764 died, 19,486 were wounded and 1,004 cap­tured.

In France nu­mer­ous me­mo­ri­als can be seen along the D-day beaches and small towns. There ap­peared not to be the same re­flec­tion on mil­i­tary his­tory in Italy as there was in France. I saw few me­mo­ri­als for their ef­forts but from what I learned about our sol­diers who showed great tenac­ity, de­ter­mi­na­tion and achieve­ments, I won­dered why this was not so. What I did find was a quiet re­mem­ber­ance and re­spect along the way.

Dur­ing my «tours’» in Italy I met Ital­ian Cit­i­zens near Cassino and in Vil­lanova in North­ern Italy in who were very knowl­edgable about the fight­ing in the area dur­ing WW2. Three years ago I be­gan help­ing with re­seach for a re­seach group in Vil­lanova. Re­view­ing cana­dian news­pa­pers from 1943-1945 and talk­ing to Ital­ian cit­i­zens I have learned so much about our coura­geous, de­ter­mined sol­diers, the legacy they have left, and the im­pact they had on the Ital­ian cit­i­zens of whom they lib­er­ated.

In North­ern Italy in the Prov­ince of Ravenna, in the Com­mune of Bag­nacav­allo lies the Vil­lanova Cana­dian War Ceme­tery. It was se­lected as a ceme­tery by the 5th Cana­dian Ar­moured Di­vi­sion which is heav­ily rep­re­sented there. Most of the Cana­dian war dead be­long to one of four reg­i­ments. The La­nark and Ren­frew Scot­tish Reg­i­ment, the 4th Princess Louise Dra­goon Guards, the Perth Reg­i­ment and the Ir­ish Reg­i­ment of Canada. The ma­jor­ity of these 4 reg­i­ments were killed fol­low­ing the La­mone River cross­ing in De­cem­ber 1944.

It was in the vicin­ity of Vil­lanova that troops of this Di­vi­sion suc­ceeded in es­tab­lish­ing a bridge­head over the La­mone River De­cem­ber 10-11 1944. West of the bridge­head was heavy fight­ing in the fol­low­ing days when at­tempts were made to cross the three canals that run from Faenza to the sea. From De­cem­ber 12-15 the La­nark and Ren­frew Scot­tish Reg­i­ment and the 4th PLDG suf­fered heav­ily in these at­tempts. 85 of the buri­als in the ceme­tery come from these two reg­i­ments. Oth­ers in­clude those killed in the ad­vance to the final line held by the Cana­di­ans on the River Se­nio be­fore they left Italy in Fe­bru­ary 1945. The Vil­lanova Cana­dian War Ceme­tery con­tains 212 Com­mon­wealth buri­als of WW2 - 205 are Cana­di­ans and there is one Un­known Sol­dier, the other 6 mem­bers of the Bri­tish Army.

In the Vil­lage of Vil­lanova lives Ros­alia Fan­toni. As a small child she lived in fear and hunger as war raged on around her. Her fa­ther and un­cle (par­ti­sans) were hung by the SS in front of their home just two weeks be­fore the Cana­di­ans lib­er­ated Vil­lanova. Vil­lanova was lib­er­ated on De­cem­ber 11, 1944 by the Cape Bre­ton High­landers. For many years Ros­alia has re­mem­bered their sac­ri­fice and wanted to know all she could about «Cana­di­ans». She read books, trav­elled to Canada in her dreams, re­mem­ber­ing the kind­ness and peace brought to her by these men. She wanted to know about them to «un­der­stand the gen­eros­ity that drove their ac­tions.» She has writ­ten a book called Casa lon­tano da casa (Home away from home). It is a col­lec­tion of sto­ries, po­ems, some mil­i­tary his­tory and all the Cana­dian War dead rest­ing in Vil­lanova are listed in the back of the book. She feels so very strongly these men be not for­got­ten.

An ex­cerpt from Ros­alia’s book is as fol­lows:

«For many sol­diers, time stopped on the soil of Ro­magna, in the town of Vil­lanova, on the river Se­nio. Their homes were far away in Canada, where the rays of the moon lay gen­tly on the faces of chil­dren fall­ing asleep in a young and healthy fa­tigue.

Their «home away from home» was the war-torn coun­try of Italy, the towns of Vil­lanova and Bag­nacav­allo.

Here, a place where fear kept peo­ple in­doors, hold­ing their breath while the dis­tant noise of bombs loomed ev­ery­where. By night, only the voice of the foun­tains sounded through the streets of towns fright­ened into sub­mis­sion by the spec­tre of death, where only the in­no­cent vic­tims of unan­nounced aerial bom­bard­ments re­mained, their bod­ies strewn amid shards of glass and rub­ble.

The lib­er­a­tors, caked in mud and dust, made their way through vil­lages of de­stroyed houses, schools full of evac­uees and refugees, un­us­able rail­ways; and in the back­ground, the con­stant rum­ble of bombs, the grenades that wrought havoc on so much hu­man life, ar­tillery fire that made the walls shake and the air trem­ble.

The mem­ory of these days survives in its telling; and suf­fer­ing, in its telling is like a great thaw - the thaw that turned the snow of Auschwitz to tears.

It is vi­tally im­por­tant that we keep these mem­o­ries alive!»

Ev­ery De­cem­ber 11th a cer­e­mony is held at the Ceme­tery and each grave glows with a small can­dle.

The re­search group of Vil­lanova/bag­nacav­allo want to pub­lish an­other book. They want to know more about the men buried in Vil­lanova. They would like to place a face to the name of these men, know some­thing about them. They con­sider these boys as their own sons, ex­act words spo­ken to me by an Ital­ian gentleman who was there to greet us at the ceme­tery. As he spoke to me he cried as he told me he had two boys. Clearly these men have not been for­got­ten.

I was not sure how suc­cess­ful I would be in search­ing for fam­i­lies of the 205 men buried in the ceme­tery, but have found 105 fam­i­lies to date. Ap­prox­i­mately 70 pho­tos have been ob­tained. The re­search group is work­ing very hard and is very ex­cited about this project. Other Cana­di­ans are also help­ing dig­ging up War Diaries of these reg­i­ments work­ing to­ward mak­ing this project a suc­cess. I am hon­oured to be in­volved and more than that want to let fam­i­lies know that a lit­tle «prairie» like town in North­ern Italy Re­mem­bers.

Vil­lanova is so like the lit­tle prairie town that so many of these sol­diers came from.

Ros­alia’s dream came true and she and her son Alessan­dro vis­ited Canada in 2010.

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