Remembrance day, Monday November 11th, went by with not a poppy to be seen in Rome. This was not very surprising as the day for paying tribute to soldiers who have died in battle is November 4th which marks the end of the 1st World War in Italy in 1918. However, thinking about the number of young soldiers who have died in war made me remember the Canadian cemetery in Abruzzo. On our recent trip to Puglia, we were driving back to Rome through Abruzzo when we realized that we wouldn’t get back until midnight. Since we were driving along the coast we decided to stop and stay in one of the small towns along the way for the night. We randomly picked San Vito Chietino and as we turned off the highway towards the town, we saw signs for a Canadian Cemetery. I was fascinated and the next day we went to visit it.
It was a very moving sight as 1,375 Canadian soldiers are buried there out of a total of 1,600 or so Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in that area during the 2nd World War. After an Armstice was made with Italy in September 1943, the Allied forces were moving northwards towards German lines. The 1st Canadian division went on to cross the Moro river on December 6th and to take Ortona after 8 days of bitter fighting losing many of their men. The site of the cemetery was chosen by the Canadian Corps in January 1944 to hold the remains of those who died in the Ortona battle and in the weeks following it. Around 500 soldiers died in the Ortona battle alone, some of them just 18 years old. It was sad to see these graves of young men who had no opportunity to live their lives and buried so far from home. At least the cemetery is in a peaceful spot and is well kept. Its a good thing to remember and honour those who gave up their lives so that we now have the freedom to enjoy ours.