The Column of Liberation 2012
an HMV and reenacting event in Italy
By Filippo Spadi, #24493 – Scarperia, Florence, Italy
For several years, Italian MHV enthusiasts have been arguing in favor of one of two points of view about HMV events. On the one side, there are those who value the technical perfection of a restoration project and are fond of their preserved vehicles mostly as examples of past technologies to be valued as such. On the other hand there are those who share this attitude to a certain extent, but feel HMV events should be more an occasion to use HMVs to further the knowledge and remembrance of one’s Country’s history than a show of individual vehicles with a special eye for technical prowess at restorations.
In between these two points of view, as far as WWII era HMV’s are concerned, the marrying of restored HMV’s to uniformed reenactors – or drivers/owners – proves to be a very contentious issue – the first group strongly objecting to what they see as little more than clowning around, the others stressing the importance of these type of events both in terms of historical consciousness for the younger generations as well as for promoting HMV’s collecting itself.
The debate is not going to end soon, to be sure, and the issue is not unknown in other countries too. And, while some of our best friends in the hobby belong to the first group of collectors we mentioned in the previous paragraph, let it be said the Column of Liberation was conceived several years ago specifically as an event to celebrate, in ways capable of getting the attention of a broad range of the Italian population, the concluding phase of WWII in Italy, which saw the Allied armies completing the liberation of our country, as well as the whole of Western Europe, from Nazi and Fascist dictatorship, paving the way to the new era of postwar democracy and the birth of a new Europe.
The idea of organizing a mass event bringing together HMV collectors and Italian reenactors, gathered together in a route column traversing specific areas in Italy was conceived by several associations, museums and research centers which form together theNorth Apennines Po Valley Park
The Column of Liberation 2012, the fourth edition of the event, took place in Emilia Romagna, starting in the Bologna suburban area of San Lazzaro di Savena, where the Museo Memoriale della Libertà is located, progressing to the Adriatic seacoast towns of Cervia and Cesena and back to Bologna, covering more than two-hundred miles in three days. We are glad to say, the economic climate prevailing in Europe notwithstanding, the Column of Liberation 2012 confirmed its appeal on Italian HMV collectors and reenactors, with more than 130 registered vehicles and 370 individual participants. More important, it also confirmed the spirit bringing together so many people in sharing a unique experience. And, living behind our everyday cars and civilian clothing to join a community of like-minded people aboard our loved HMV’s on a unified column across places where Italian history was made seventy years ago (and changing locations every year) is indeed a unique experience, taxing our stamina and endurance but worth every bit the weariness one feels in the end. April 25 (National Liberation Day in Italy) was spent in Bologna, welcoming collectors who had brought their vehicles early to the event, scheduled to start on April 27, 2012. That morning was a busy one, with more people coming, vehicles undergoing last minute checks, and the usual challenge of assembling a column fit for travelling long-distance on public roads. Luckily, fair weather had taken the place of the previous bad spells, and we moved on schedule with the capable escort of the Sermide motorbikes club riders and the city policemen of the several towns we went through. The Po valley is sometimes monotonous with its flat terrain, but it surely makes it easier for a column such as ours to proceed in good order, even with the busy traffic of a workday. We follow our planned route through Lugo di Romagna and Bagnacavallo, where we stop for a midday aperitif followed by a hearty lunch at the “Two Roosters” restaurant, welcomed there by our friends of the Romagna Air Finders – an association devoted to the recovering of air crash relics from WWII.
After lunch we started the second leg of our route, heading towards Alfonsine, a town almost completely destroyed during the opening phase of the Po valley campaign in the Eight Army sector, liberated in 1945 by the Italian troops fighting alongside the Allies. Alfonsine is also the seat of an excellent museum on the Senio river battles, and we stop for a very interesting visit while our vehicles park in the spacious square in front of the museum.
Two Half Tracks and an M8 armored car are already part of our column, but for obvious reasons the tanks are waiting for us in Cervia. We leave Alfonsine heading towards Ravenna, and after a few miles we stop again at the Camerlona WWII Memorial, honoring the Italian soldiers of the Cremona Battle Group who gave their life for the liberation of Northern Italy in 1945. There, a short ceremony takes place where a few reenactors of “The Black Watch” association pays homage.
We leave the memorial and proceed directly towards Cervia, where we are expected for dinner at the “Casa delle Aie” restaurant lodged in a beautiful villa set in the countryside. We arrive there on time, thanks also to the able escort provided by our Sermide bikers, which we have learned to trust during previous events. The column is more than two-miles long, but their presence at intersections and street light assure our safe passage, and allows the column to stay united during our long route. Our long day is almost over. We are tired but the first leg of our trip was enough to produce the right atmosphere of sharing which characterizes these events. And a delicious meal served at the restaurant enhance this feelings even more. Too bad the day is over and we must lock up our vehicles for the might at the closed parking lot provided for us by the Municipality of Cervia. A shuttle bus brings all participants to our booked hotels, and its is only a few who have the energy to be tempted by the nightlife which is as lively as ever at the summer resorts in the area. While mechanical troubles prevented two jeeps to leave Bologna in the morning, only another MB had a breakdown during our trip, suffering a broken radiator: but, where is the problem in finding a Willys radiator late at night in Italy, with no previous notice, when we have in our mid people such as our friends Rota and Fucci? None at all, apparently. Rumors have it the jeep owner was extremely glad to offer a heartily breakfast to the two night-shift mechanics, who also made the needed substitutions and repairs under the starry sky.
We assemble again early in the morning on Saturday, April 28, reaching the vehicles deposit by means of our shuttle bus service. Many more vehicles and people have reached us in Cervia for the second day of the event. Our program for the day will see us in Cesena during the morning and for lunch. We will then go back to Cesena where we will rendezvous with the tanks for the official parade through town. Our column is led by our British and Commonwealth vehicles, as these were the first Allied troops to enter Cesena in WWII. We follow Corso Garibaldi to Piazza della Libertà,
where we are welcomed by the Town Mayor, Mr. Paolo Lucchi, the Alderman for cultural affairs Ms. Elena Baredi, Dr. Lodovici of the local Center for the History of the Resistance Movement and other notables. After a short exchange of welcoming speeches and of commemorating plaques,
we are honored and moved to listen to the address given by Lodovici, who as a young man fought with the Partisans forces. His words, meant for the younger, but meaningful for all of us, tells us a story of people who made difficult and dangerous choices at a time when they could have waited in safety for others to fight and die for their Freedom. His final invitation, “Go to the woods where people fought, suffered; walk the ground where young people like you are today died. Try to understand, and do not forget”. We stop in Cesena for a couple of hours, among a crowd of people visiting the square to admire the vehicles and ask questions, and we can visit an exhibition of historical photos of Cesena in wartime which has been set up on the occasion of our coming.
Nearby, another exhibition of military radios is also open, thanks to the expertise and vintage apparatuses owned by the “Rover Joe” association headed by Alberto Campanini, who is with us with his remarkable HMV’s. we can also carry out such little repairs as are necessary to assure all of our vehicles run safely for the rest of the event.
We are about to start away when an old lady approaches on her bicycle, gets in front of my vehicle and nods to me to get closer. After I introduce myself and explain her the purpose and intent of our event, she just tells me she wants to congratulate all of us for what we are doing. And tells me her story as a young girl in wartime Cesena, her most beloved possession an overcoat which she had received as a present and had carried her through a hard and hungry winter, till the day some foreign soldiers wearing the same uniforms we were dressed with today, riding similar vehicles, had reached her town and put an end to the war, for her. A final look at us, and she bade farewell and left.
After a hearty lunch in Cesena, we start on the way back to Cesena, where the tanks are waiting for us. When we get there, the two Sherman tanks, the Hellcat TD, and a rare Italian AB41 armored car, have already acted as a point of attraction for a large crowd of people.
Our program for the afternoon includes a representation taking place in downtown Cervia, where “German” reenactors are scheduled to play the part of a military garrison abandoning the place before our arrival, complete with mining the place. Hence, the German vehicles in our column leave in advance from our collection point at the outskirts of Cervia: they will get to the city and pick up the troops there, leaving Piazza Garibaldi open for our entry our entry into town. Thus, while we form our column integrating the tanks into it, our would-be occupiers are following a prepared screenplay in the town square, till the moment when the German vehicles arrive and take them away, heading north.
Their departure is timed with our arrival soon afterwards. Heralded by the sound of Scottish pipers, the “Allies” enter Cervia, guided by the “Partisans”. The roar of the tanks’ engines resounds in the narrow streets of Cervia, and our vehicles overflow from the square, too small to accept all of them.
The Town Mayor, Mr. Roberto Zoffoli, welcomes us and delivers a short speech, introducing the event organizers. We thank all participants and others who contributed to the organization of the event. With us at the mike is Edo Ansaloni, dean of the Italian HMV collectors’ scene, witness of the Liberation of his native Bologna as a boy in 1945, and founder of the Museo Memoriale della Libertà. He cannot hide his emotions when he receives from the mayor a plaque celebrating the occasion and gives us his view of what we stand for, what we have accomplished over decades of collecting and developing the hobby in Italy.
We spent the afternoon in the square, flooded by visitors. A national TV network also covered the event in the evening news, and this was a very good fact for enhancing the hobby.
At night, we go back to the “Casa delle Aie” restaurant for dinner, tired but satisfied. We have turned the midpoint in the event, people and vehicles have become a well unified force, and we are ready to go to sleep after a long day. Others, maybe younger than we are or feel, instead, choose to join the local nightlife, and it’s refreshing to hear, the following morning, their tale of how their arrival at a fashionable spot along the seaside, on top of a massive DUCKW, relegated the several roadsters and luxury sports car owners out of the “spotlight” with the girls! On Sunday April 28, 2012, our last day together will see us going back to Bologna by way of Faenza, which we reach on schedule.
The historic downtown is very nice, our vehicles attract the usual crowds of admiring people, and we take the time for a group pictures on the Church stairs. We resume our movement so as to reach our lunchtime destination at Zello – near Imola – on time.
We easily go across Imola, since the local Police have seen to it that we only see green lights at the many intersections we encounter en route, and we reach Zello right on time. Zello is a small town in the countryside, hardly more than a name on the map, and getting there is like getting home, such is the family atmosphere surrounding us when we are welcomed there by the locals. The smell of a huge barbecue fire spells good for our hungry appetites, and when the roasting activities begin, we do not need any urgings to assemble in the large fairground where we will be served lunch.
Being our last meal together during the event, this is also the right occasion to extend our final thanks a to all who helped us, and our warmest farewells to everybody. And, a special, enthusiastic roar greets our German hosts Raphael e Melanie, who came from Berlin riding their WC51, on a very special honeymoon. We feel it proper to extend again our deepest thanks to the North Apennines Po Valley Park staff, and particularly to Simone Guidorzi and Luca Bambagiotti, for their outstanding job in organizing the event. We also thank the newly born HMV Italia HMV Italia, collectors club, the MVPA-affiliate branch which contributed officially to the event. Obviously, we thank the authorities and staff of the Municipalities of Cervia and Cesena, without whose support the event would not have taken place, as well as the local Partisans associations, and finally the several reenactors groups which participated – such as “The Black Watch”, “Progetto 900” and the “Great Generation Airborne Reenactors Group”. We thank all LEO’s who assured our safety during our long trip, as well as the Sermide Motor bikers association members who acted as our escort. Finally, we wish to thank all associations which supported the event and contributed in many ways to its success: the Gotica Romagna association and our friend Marco Alsini from Milano Marittima; the Tracce di Storia association, the Rover Joe association, 92nd Buffalo association from Sarzana, the Highway Six club from central Italy, the Historica club and the Raggruppamento SPA association, the Linea Gotica della Lucchesia association. And, of course, each and everyone of those who participated to the event for its duration or a day alone. Italians, mostly, but also from Brazil, to pay their tribute to the history of the BEF, from the USA, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France. I hope I haven’t forgotten anybody, and I wish to close by picking out to photographs which, for me, epitomize the taste of our days together and stand in tribute to those who fought for our freedom so many years ago.
Thanks all, and see you on our next adventure!
Filippo and the Gotica Toscana team