November 4th is the closest Italian equivalent to Great Britain’s Remembrance Day, also commemorated in November and which remembers the fallen, not just of the last century’s two world wars, but of every other military conflict as well.
I say “closest” because the day was originally instituted in 1919 to commemorate the end of the First World War in which Italy’s victory against the Austro-Hungarian Empire cost them over eight hundred thousand men on the Trentino and Istrian fronts fighting in unbelievably harsh conditions in the Alps.
November 4th is now known as the “day of national unity and of the armed forces”. It is Italy’s only national commemoration which has survived liberal, fascist and republican regimes and, until 1976, was a public holiday. In 1977 the plethora of Italian public holidays was greatly reduced and November 4th lost its status, steadily declining in importance during the eighties and nineties.
Former President Ciampi, however, reaffirmed its importance and, November 4th has now returned to something like its former standing in the national calendar, second only to liberation (from Nazi-fascist forces) day, celebrated on April 25th.
Part of this reason is that the emphasis is now concentrated on “war and the pity that is war” rather than just the glorious armed forces which won Italy’s victory back in 1918.
On November 4th, and the days immediately preceding it, the highest offices of state pay tribute to the Unknown Soldier, whose body lies at the Altar of the Fatherland in Rome,( otherwise known as “the wedding cake”) ,
and they visit the Shrine of Redipuglia (an impressively stirring place I saw in 2007) which houses the remains of one hundred thousand soldiers killed in the Great War ,
as well as in Vittorio Veneto, where the last battle between the Italian and Austro-Hungarian forces took place and where the peace treaty was signed.
Bagni di Lucca, too, commemorated this poignant day yesterday at its fine statue to the fallen in the market square. Mayor Betti emphasised the fact that the occasion had now been restored to national importance and was to be treated primarily as a day of mourning for the fallen (which, even in the smallest villages in this area, stun one by the number of their names on local war memorials) and as a tribute to the Italian armed forces which today remain among the most respected troops serving in desperate places like Afghanistan and Iraq.
PS the characteristic feathers on the bersagliere’s (sharp-shooter’s) hat are sharp-tailed grouse ones.
It was a wet and miserable morning, quite in keeping with the solemnity and sadness of the event memorialized. I was particularly moved by the sound of the last post, superbly intoned by a young cadet.
Returning home in the evening we were glad to see that even the tiny war memorial in Longoio had been graced by a wreath, although no official service was held there as it had been a couple of years ago when the following was read out by us in both languages.
Per i Caduti
Non invecchieranno come noi, che siamo sopravvissuti.
Non conosceranno mai l’oltraggio né il peso degli anni.
Quando verrà l’ora del crepuscolo e quella dell’aurora,
ci ricorderemo di loro.
For the Fallen
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,