Summer Students Visit Ortona

Summer Students Visit Ortona

Ortona had become a German stronghold in the fall and winter of 1943. The position was heavily defended as it ran along the Gustav Line connecting the Adriatic to Rome. December saw some of the bloodiest battles of the Italian campaign, certainly so for Canadian troops whose mission was to liberate the city.

After weeks of fighting through the Moro River Valley and then house to house in the centre of the city, the Canadians forced a German retreat on December 28. The town was left devastated. An estimated 1300 civilians perished, and 1375 Canadian soldiers are now buried at the nearby Moro River Canadian War Cemetery.

CCI met Tommaso at the cemetery on Wednesday to learn about his experiences as a civilian during the war. He was only ten years old at the time but the memories remain fresh. He recounted stories of the battle, told us of the shrapnel wounds suffered by his father, and what it was like to be separated from his mother who was stuck on the opposite side of the front. Yet, his most emotional memory which brought tears to his eyes - and to ours - was that of Canadian troops who generously shared their food and kindness with him, a traumatized young boy, in the aftermath of the battle.

After Tommaso’s talk, students had time to explore the cemetery. For many, remembering the soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice was a moving experience and we left feeling tremendously grateful.

Before heading home, we stopped in Ortona where Tommaso was proud to show us the main piazza which was recently transformed and renamed Piazza degli Eroi Canadesi or “Canadian Heros’ Square”. The centre of the piazza is now outlined in the shape of the Canadian maple leaf with a fountain at its centre. Before leaving, Tommaso’s last message to our students was to return to Canada and let folks know that there are still Ortonese, like him, who remain thankful to Canada.