Friday, November 11, 2005
|Caring. Remembering. Reconciliation.|
From the London Times:Assisi adopts graves of heroes who fell liberating their city
THE people of Assisi have found a touching way of honouring the sacrifice of British and Commonwealth troops who died liberating their town in June 1944. Aware that the real relatives of the dead soldiers live too far away to visit the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Assisi, locals have begun “adopting” the graves of the 945 men that are buried there.
The “adopt a hero” initiative started last year and more than 300 graves have been allocated so far. Participants promise to visit the grave of their “hero” at least once a year, on the anniversary of his death, and to leave a flower there.
But more important than any practical obligation is a personal commitment to keep the memory of a particular soldier alive. “We want people to understand what this cemetery means and to carry this knowledge with them,” Vincenzo Cavanna, the co-ordinator, said, adding that until recently few people in Assisi had clear ideas about the site’s significance.
Signor Cavanna, 82, said that while allocating graves he has tried to prioritise soldiers from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa because their relatives were the least likely to visit.
The cemetery is almost always empty. Romeo Cianchetti, head of the local Second World War veterans’ association, decided something had to be done. The idea of an “adoption” scheme came to him amid preparations for the 61st anniversary of the arrival of Allied troops in Assisi on June 17, 1944.
Some local people have managed to put behind them past bitterness, taking this opportunity to make a gesture of reconciliation. 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.”