Posts Tagged ‘after’

Grandmother honoured with three war medals after a 70-year wait

January 1st, 2015

“I’m deeply honoured but a bit embarrassed too. I’m an old girl now and it all happened 70 years ago, for God’s sake.”

Mrs Banti had no idea that she was eligible for the medals until a chance encounter at Easter with a retired British brigadier, Bill Bewley.

He was staying in an apartment owned by Mrs Banti’s son-in-law, John Pepper, a photographer and theatre director who was brought up in Italy and lives in Palermo, Sicily.

The pair got chatting and Mrs Banti mentioned to the brigadier that as a school girl in Rome under the German occupation she had helped the resistance, distributing anti-fascist literature and even helping to transport dynamite around the city.


Rossana Banti, 1945 (John Pepper)

Hearing by chance of a clandestine British organisation that was looking for recruits, she made contact with British officers and joined up, first with the FANY (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry) and then with No 1 Special Forces Unit SOE, where she served as a radio operator.

Brig Bewley did some research in British military archives and discovered that Mrs Banti was entitled to three war medals which she had never received.

She served with the cloak-and-dagger unit from Sept 1943 until the end of the war, maintaining contact with British agents working with Italian partisans behind German lines.

At the time, southern Italy and Rome had been liberated by the Allies but the north of the country was still occupied by German and Italian fascist troops, who fought bitter rear-guard actions all the way up the peninsula.

“We were dealing with secret agents who were parachuted into the north to make contact with Italian partisans. We kept them supplied with weapons, food, clothing, that sort of thing,” she said.

She also helped brief and prepare agents, including anti-fascist Italians and Yugoslavs, who were kept at a secret base in the countryside prior to being parachuted behind the lines.

“It was all top security. They weren’t told until 24 hours before that they were going to be dropped by parachute. It all happened at night – the partisans would light up the drop zone.

“It was the most incredible human experience I’ve had in my life. I was only 19 but I just went with my heart. They saw me as a sister, a mother.

“Sometimes they cried – they had no idea where they were going or what they would find when they got there. It was a very difficult psychological situation. I helped them get into their parachutes and off they went.”

Many did not return. A Yugoslav agent whom Mrs Banti knew was caught and shot by the Germans.


Senora Banti with Major Williams

Initially based near Bari in the southern region of Puglia, and then in Siena in Tuscany, Mrs Banti also trained as a parachutist and hoped to be sent behind enemy lines with the other agents.

“But then the war ended. I was very disappointed.” She ended up marrying one of the secret agents – an Italian named Giuliano Mattioli, who went by the British alias of Julian Matthews.

They married just days before he was sent off on a mission, parachuting behind enemy lines near Bergamo in northern Italy in early 1945.

He fought with the partisans and helped liberate the city from German control. After they were both demobilised at the end of the war, they had two children.


Rosanna Banti aged 89 ( John Pepper)

Mrs Banti, who turns 90 on Jan 8, established a career as a television producer, working for RAI, the Italian state broadcaster, as well as for the BBC in London.

“This brave woman has been unaware of the impact of her wartime service and is finally being given just recognition 70 years later,” the British embassy in Rome said in a statement.

The medals will be presented by Christopher Prentice, the British ambassador.

It will be a long overdue recognition of her contribution to one of Britain’s most fabled clandestine intelligence organisations.

“From humble beginnings, SOE became active in every theatre of war, dispatching thousands of trained operatives to harass enemy garrisons, attack important installations, and encourage, arm and fight beside movements as diverse as communist partisans in the Balkans and headhunting tribes in Borneo,” historian Roderick Bailey wrote in Target:Italy, a recent book on the secret network’s activities against Mussolini’s fascist regime.

Mr Pepper said his mother-in-law had initially been reluctant to receive the medals.

“We had to apply for them in secret. We only told her 10 days ago because we knew that at such short notice she couldn’t back out. She has been very demure about it all but I think she’s warming up to the idea,” he said from Sicily.


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Ex-Royal Marine in military dress attacked after Remembrance Sunday service

November 12th, 2014

Members of his family are with him, including his wife Margaret, and three children.

Labour councillors and friends have spoken of their shock and upset.

Bradford Council leader David Green, who has visited Mr Niland in hospital, said: “He is clearly not in good physical shape. His face is badly cut and bruised and there was some concern about possible internal bleeding.

“But he was still typically Tony and keen to get out of hospital. He said he had been walking to get a cab when he was attacked by three young men.

“I was told by his family he was found unconscious on the ground. He was wearing the suit and tie he had worn to the Remembrance service, a poppy and war medals.”

Councillor Green added: “There are many people in Bradford who will know Tony and who Tony has assisted over the years, either in his political role or as a member of the community.

“He has always had time for everybody and anybody, and anyone who has information that will help police catch the people who carried out this cowardly attack, I urge to come forward, or contact me and I will make sure it gets passed on to the police.”

Imran Khan, another councillor, visited Mr Niland in hospital on Tuesday afternoon and said: “He’s in quite a bad way, but he was surprisingly upbeat and taking what has happened in his stride.

“He is a very courageous man and anybody else wouldn’t have dealt with it as well as he has.”

Councillor Khan added: “He told me he was set upon by three people as he walked with his stick, innocently minding his own business. It is a disgraceful and cowardly act.

“I can’t believe someone would do that but Tony said he didn’t want anyone to take retribution for what happened to him. He wants the police to deal with it in the usual way.”

Councillor Ruth Billheimer said she had spoken to Mr Niland’s wife, Margaret, who said her husband had been attacked.

She said: “He is an ill man to begin with. You wouldn’t want that to happen to anybody, but he was the worst person in the world for it to happen to because it has triggered these reactions. It’s really sad he has this underlying condition which means it’s far more serious for him.

“It was a shock when I heard about it. People who know him are very upset.”

Mr Niland served for 10 years as a Labour councillor in the Wyke and Bowling wards on Bradford Council, and was the party’s deputy chief whip and deputy chairman of West Yorkshire Fire Authority.

He lost his seat in 2006, but remained active within the Labour group.

Before his political career, he served with the Royal Marines and had several spells of duty in Northern Ireland.

He is a staunch attender of the Remembrance Sunday service. He also worked at the Sunblest bakery in Bradford and was a shop steward and union convenor.

Acting Sergeant Vikki Tyrell, from West Yorkshire Police, said: “We are investigating a report of an alleged assault in Piccadilly, which is believed to have occurred around 9pm on Sunday, November 9.”


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Army Cadet suffers burns in blowtorch attack after selling poppies

November 3rd, 2014

The cadet, who was wearing his camouflaged uniform, suffered minor burns to his face and singed hairs in his face and right forearm, Greater Manchester Police said. He and his family are in “total shock”.

Police said that he appeared to be under the influence of alcohol and was staggering.

Detective Inspector Liam Boden said: “This is an absolutely appalling attack on a young man who was raising money to help remember all those who gave their lives fighting bravely for their country.

“At this stage of our inquiries, we’re keeping an open minded as to what motivated the offender to commit such an act.

“Given the initial description we have of the offender, it may be that he was under the influence of something but whatever his motivation, his violent actions could have scarred this young man for life. Although he has suffered some minor injuries, it is pure luck that he did not sustain more serious burns to his face and body.

“Understandably both he and his family are in a state of total shock and cannot believe someone would do this.

“We need to find whomever is responsible for this crime and I would therefore appeal to anyone who has information that could help. This happened at a very busy time in the city centre, near a main bus route, and there could be lots of people who saw this man staggering around.

“If you do have information then please come forward.”


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Royal Mint to cast coins from bullion recovered after 70 years on ocean floor

April 5th, 2014

The ship spent 70 years lost beneath the waves before being found in 2011, 300 miles off the Irish coast, at a depth of three miles, half a mile deeper than the Titanic.

The deepest rescue operation in maritime history was carried out by a US company and the silver bullion was recovered from the seabed.

A portion of it was passed to the Royal Mint which began striking the coins on Friday, edged with the name SS Gairsoppa.

Shane Bissett, the Royal Mint’s director of bullion and commemorative coin, said: “This incredible story marks yet another exciting moment in the Royal Mint’s fascinating 1,000-year history.

“The traditional Britannia coin design, Philip Nathan’s elegant portrayal of a windswept Britannia looking out to sea, is the perfect image for the coins struck from SS Gairsoppa’s long-lost cargo.

“We are so pleased to be able to bring these coins to the market at long last, albeit more than 70 years later than expected.”

In December 1940 the Royal Mint was running dangerously low in stocks of silver due to the onset of war and called in emergency supplies from India.

The SS Gairsoppa sailed from Calcutta carrying the silver under the protection of a naval convoy.

But after battling a heavy storm it began running short of coal off the coast of Southern Ireland and was forced to break free and head for the safety of Galway Harbour.

The slow merchant ship was spotted by a German U-boat patrolling the British waters and was torpedoed at 12.08am on 17 February 1941.

It sank within 20 minutes.

Three lifeboats were launched but only Second Officer Richard Ayres made it to land and survived to tell the tale.

His lifeboat started with 31 men but after spending 13 deadly days he was the only sailor to make it to dry land alive.

He was awarded an MBE in recognition of his heroic efforts to keep fellow survivors alive, as well as a War Medal for bravery at sea, and amazingly returned to sea nine months later.

The 412ft ship was eventually found sitting on the seabed 300 miles off the Irish coast in September 2011 by US marine exploration company Odyssey.

And after a five-year rescue operation on behalf of the Treasury they recovered the silver bullion from SS Gairsoppa at an astonishing depth of three miles.

Odyssey’s senior project manager Andrew Craig holds a Gairsoppa Coin (Wales News)

Andrew Craig, who project managed the five-year rescue operation, said: “Nobody has ever done anything like this before at this depth.

“There were so many unknowns and when you took a step back it looked incredibly daunting – but we just took each challenge as it came.

“Finally bringing the silver bullion back to the Royal Mint, 72 years after it should have arrived, will bring the incredible story of the ship and its crew to light.

“Not many people have heard about the SS Gairsoppa since it sank but now it will be one of the most famous wrecks to be worked on and those sailors will never be forgotten.”

The rescue operation recovered 2,792 silver bars totalling approximately 3.2 million troy ounces of silver – worth around £38,272,000 at current prices.

Mr Craig said the record-breaking depth of the salvage operation left them with unique challenges to overcome and some eye-watering operational costs.

He said: “For the final stage of the project to retrieve the silver bullion we chartered a boat at a cost of £100,000-a-day – and were there for two seasons for around 180 days.

“It took three and a half hours to send out remotely operated submersible down to the sea bed and then we had to work our way through the boat to find where the silver was stored.

“Up until the last 10 years the technology hasn’t been there to do anything like this.

“But after silver prices rocketed it became financially worhtwhile to give it a go and we believed we had the technology and skill to do it.

“This has been a great challenge for us but now we know we can work any depth of water.

“Coming to The Royal Mint and seeing the silver bullion coins struck was quite emotional – now after 72 years we have seen the story come full circle.”

Odyssey kept 80 per cent of the silver bullion they recovered and the Treasury were given 20 per cent.

Some of this is being used for the striking of the 99.9 pure quarter ounce silver Britannia bullion coins.

Royal Mint historian Dr Kevin Clancy added: “This shipment of silver bullion should have got here 72 years ago and now it has finally come home.

“I don’t think anything like this has happened before – bullion destined for us which didn’t make now finding it’s way here.”

“It’s a very romantic and evocative story.”


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