At its height over 1100 members worldwide have acknowledged that its veterans were the first Allied forces to land in Europe since the Second World War began. Currently there are now only five branches in the UK, plus one in New Zealand and we have a resident veteran representative in Italy, Mr Harry Shindler, MBE. Harry was awarded the MBE for his services in promoting public awareness of the part our veterans played in the Italian campaigns.
The Association continues now in a much smaller form. It has been active at events throughout each year of its existence. Every May saw its annual reunion weekend in Sussex. The weekend included its Annual General Meeting, then on Sunday a service of remembrance and thanksgiving was held in Chichester cathedral followed by a parade through its city centre. The weekend was rounded off with a special dinner attended by civic and military guests, representing allied forces from as far afield as Poland, Canada and New Zealand. The Association continues as the only one nationally active in events throughout the year.
Each year on 10th July, a service of dedication and remembrance has been held at the Association’s national memorial in Westgate Gardens, Canterbury, Kent. That date specifically commemorates the anniversary of Allied troops landing in Sicily.
Association representatives attend the annual Field of Remembrance service outside Westminster Abbey, as well as the Remembrance Sunday service and parade at the Cenotaph. The Association has also been privileged on several occasions to have been invited to parade its National standard at the Royal British Legion’s Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall, in the presence of members of the Royal family. This takes place on the evening before the Cenotaph parade.
Members currently receive a quarterly magazine which keeps them informed of the various key events the Association is involved in, as well as trips that are arranged from time to time. The magazine also contains accounts of campaign experiences and recollections from veteran members, in addition to photographs and humorous anecdotes.
There is a sizeable plot within the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas in Staffordshire, which was dedicated to the Association in 2001; it is delineated as the outline of Sicily and mainland Italy, and populated throughout with pine trees, amongst which markers pinpoint the many battle sites of the campaign, so familiar to veterans. Overlooking this maturing plot, being re-dedicated in September 2016, is a beautifully engraved polished granite memorial, together with commemorative benches nearby. Together these are visible reminders of the geographical scope and human cost of the Allies’ gargantuan struggle, from Sicily and Salerno to Trieste.
When the Association reaches a point where it is no longer financially viable to continue, our website www.italystarassociation.org.uk will continue into the future. We are uploading as much factual history to enable future generations to read the truths behind our veterans’ hard-fought battles and journeys through Italy.
The Association’s epitaph – “Let us remember our comrades in the air, on the seas, in those valleys and on those mountains. When you walk in peaceful lanes so green, remember us and think what might have been” is powerfully emotive for surviving veterans and families. It is very fitting therefore, that we should seek to take the Association forward as far into the future as we can, never forgetting the reasons why we enjoy the freedoms we have today.