To those who died here in the cause of liberty and democracy. We will always remember them. 1/7/2014
The Rossano Freedom Trail, taking place between 1-5 July 2014, commemorates the lives lost and the sacrifices made, both by Italians and Allied soldiers, in the cause of freedom against the Fascist and Nazi aggression during WWII. As such, it was fitting that the day before the walk was spent remembering the bravery of four young SAS men, who were executed in Lunigiana by the Germans in contravention of the Geneva Convention.
The group of 2014 Rossano Freedom Trail walkers and supporters attended a British Service of Remembrance at the monuments dedicated to Captain Patrick Dudgeon and Gunnar Bernard Brunt at the Passo di Cisa and to Sergeant William Forster and Corporal James Shortall at Ponzano Magra. The monuments were erected close to the sites of execution and original burial sites of these incredibly brave men.
The ceremonies, which were led by Brian Lett, son of Gordon Lett, the leader of the International Brigade in the Rossano Valley in World War II, included the playing of The Last Post, Reveille and the British National Anthem. Wreaths were lain by Brian Lett and Rob Hann, whose father served with the SAS in the Rossano Valley. Brian’s in-depth knowledge and descriptions of events painted pictures of valour that today are almost impossible to comprehend.
All four SAS men were executed under an order issued by Hitler, known as “The Commando Order”, which dictated that any enemy caught engaged in commando raids were to be executed. The execution should be kept secret, the bodies should be buried in unmarked graves, and no report should be made to the International Red Cross as to the fate of those executed. Brian Lett’s endeavours in working with the local comune to erect the monuments, together with annual ceremonies at each of the sites, ensures that Hitler totally failed in his attempt to “disappear” these four brave men.
At the Cisa Pass a wreath was also laid at a monument to four local shepherds, executed by the Germans for leading Allied soldiers to safety over the pass.
In August 1945 the bodies of Dudgeon and Brunt were disinterred and moved to the Military Cemetery in Florence. The bodies of Foster and Shortall were disinterred in October 1945 and moved to the Staglieno Military Cemetery in Genoa.
To learn more about the SAS and the International Brigade in Lunigiana, I highly recommend both Brian’s book, as well as that of his father.