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Christmas in Ortona
by David Cale

Last summer I visited Ortona  a smallish town on the Adriatic sea
directly across from Rome on Italy's boot.

"By the winter of 1943 the German armies in Italy were defending a line
stretching from the Tyrrhenian Sea north of Naples, to the Adriatic Sea
south of Ortona. The Allies prepared to break through this line to
capture Rome. For its part, the 1st Canadian Infantry Division was to
cross the Moro River and take Ortona. The battle for the seaside town of
Ortona was one of the most bitter of the war. Ortona was taken after
eight days of fierce fighting. On December 28, having been driven to the
town's northern outskirts, the Germans withdrew. In all, the fighting in
December cost the 1st Canadian Division over 500 fatal casualties." *

"The Moro River Canadian War Cemetery is located on high ground near the
Adriatic Sea at San Donato, in the Commune of Ortona (about 5 kilometres
south of the town) and the Province of Chieti.

In January 1944 the Canadian Corps selected this site, intending that it
would contain the graves of those who died during the Ortona battle and
in the fighting in the weeks before and after it. Today, there are 1,615
graves in the cemetery, of which over 50 are unidentified and 1,375 are
Canadian." *

* The above is quoted from the web site of Veterans Affairs Canada.

The poetry is mine.


December 1943
A time, a place
branding them far below the skin
searing the soul
its own veil of tears

They grow old
Where do memories
go when covered by earth?
Tears cried that unholy Christmas
never dried
mixed with blood
they grasped the soil
holding secretly silently
beneath our feet
the history of the streets

Almost sixty years past
and the life above
sings in Italian
Lovers stroll embracing,
new life to come

Amigos lean towards each other in cafes
sip espresso, red wine
laughter mixed with smoke rises
surrounding their friendship

And outside children of children
who have never known war
point fingers and shoot
bullets of innocence

While just out of town
under stones of sadness
one thousand three hundred and seventy five
Canadian sons, husbands and fathers
left behind so long ago
guard this peace
with mute testimony
"This heaven was once hell."


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