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Biking into Florence with Anna on the crossbar; Diary of a PoW Today, in the latest part of our Second World War series, Anthony Laing risks his life investigating Resistance fighters, in October 1943. This episode is a tribute to the bravery of the former PoW, who died two weeks ago, aged 89.

Byline: Anthony Laing

Don Egidio Brogi, the elderly parish priest of Acone, had taken over the entire situation, finding PoWs shelter in caves or well-hidden huts.

In the Florence area, he met a man called Nello Nocentini, who claimed membership of the Par-tito d'Azione. Don Egidio had been encouraging the POWs to make their way south before the onset of winter. Nocentini offered to transport them down to the outskirts of Rome, in vehicles belonging to friends in the Resistance. At Rome they would be handed over to another escape organisation or hidden to await the advancing Allied Army. Several groups had been organised and seen off by Don Egidio, but he had received no further news of them and was now beginning to have doubts about Nocentini ...

We discussed various ways of checking Nocentini and it was agreed I should meet him.

Two days later I was introduced to him. He argued passionately that, as a good antifascist and a soldier in the first war he was doing his best for his country and particularly for his allies of two wars. It must have been clear to him we were not totally convinced for at the end he invited me to attend a meeting of his committee the following evening in Florence. This seemed to me to be a reasonably safe invitation for, if he was intent on siphoning off all the remaining troops, he would surely not prejudice the success of his venture by not returning me, one very junior officer.

The following afternoon, Nocentini collected me from Acone. We drove off and entered Florence in the evening rush hour, joined a long queue at a road block on the outskirts of the city, and eventually passed through to the centre and arrived at the Casa dei Mutilati, the Italian equivalent of the British Legion, where Nocentini appeared to be very well known. Another man was there waiting for us and three other men arrived individually.

After various introductions we were shown into a committee room. I understood the other four - or some of them - were also members of the Partito d'Azione.

Points were discussed at some length, and in detail, in what seemed to be a genuine and constructive meeting, between people enthusiastic about helping the cause at great personal risk, aimed at continuing and improving the ferrying of more ex-POWs south. I was of the opinion the meeting was genuine and I saw no sign of collusion between them.

I reported to Don Egidio, but he was not convinced - which is not surprising, callow youth that I was.

On returning to the village I was informed two men were looking for me by name that morning. The Tarchianis said I should leave immediately. I said my goodbyes to the Baldis and to some of the Tarchiani family, and to Don Egidio Brogi who gave me advice on which routes to take.

So on the evening of 26th of October I cycled into Florence with a bicycle carrying ten-year-old Anna Tarchiani on the crossbar. In all it was 20 km, but Anna knew her way perfectly to the Tarchiani home, 35 Via Ciro Menotti, where they generously replaced my wardrobe, gave me money and maps, and Leopoldo pressed his Berretta automatic upon me.

NEXT WEEK: Anthony's Berretta comes in handy

The diaries and recollections of PoWs Anthony Laing, Jack Clarke and Marcus Kane Berman are being abridged by Clarke's daughter Rosemary. This summer she will be recreating their escape when she retraces their 600 mile walk through Italy's Apennines. www.birminghampost.net/ap-ennines or www.rosemaryclarke.info

The diaries and recollections of PoWs Anthony Laing, Jack Clarke and Marcus Kane Berman, are being abridged by Clarke's daughter Rosemary. This summer she will be recreating their incredible escape from a PoW camp when she retraces their 600-mile walk through the Italy's Apennines, meeting many of the brave families who helped the trio along their route. Anyone wishing to sponsor Rosemary's journey, donate equipment or accommodation, can contact her at ppiglett@sagainternet.co.uk. She will also be raising money for the Monte San Martino Trust (registered charity 328532); donations can be sent to the Hon Sec Keith Killby in an envelope marked Friendship through the Apennines, at Flat 7, 18 Lambolle Road, London, NW3 4HP; cheques should be made payable to the Monte San Martino Trust. For more information about getting involved visit www.birminghampost.net/apennines
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Geographic Code:4EUIT
Date:Apr 28, 2007
Words:739
Previous Article:Snap up a chance to learn from Lichfield.
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