Some years the Government of Canada awarded my mother-in-law a medal for service in the Battles of Montecassino, Ancona, and Bologna. As a soldier, her main duty was picking up corpses from the loamy soil of the battlefield & delivering them to freshly unearthed graves. The corpses were sometimes clasped in a deathly embrace & such memories never really left her.
During these same battles, my father-in-law had the difficult burden of identifying & neutralizing German intelligence activity & was awarded numerous medals, all of which he refused to wear once the war ended. My maternal grandfather was primarily a gunner in these battles & had adequate scars which never really faded nor went away.
Some decades ago I visited Montecassino, in the Province of Frosinone, on his request & laid wreaths on the graves & final resting places of family & friends who had died storming the bombed-out Benedictine abbey atop the mountain. Such bravery, sacrifice and an immense loss of lives in the pursuit of freedom. They paid the ultimate sacrifice. One of the main inscriptions reads: "Our soul to God. Our life to the soil of Italy."
Grandfather often remarked that during the dark moments of the war, in the middle of utter destruction, were these strikingly beautiful ancient monuments, statues, Baroque churches & buildings, many of which were dismembered, so one walked with a heavy heart, yet one experienced a small break from the fighting by dreaming of what the absolute breathtaking and amazing beauty of Italy could have been before the air raids arrived, before the destruction started.
Grandfather was beside himself with joy when he first laid eyes on the Rotunda at the Columbus Centre. It took him back to the past and brought back so many memories. The green space with the many mature trees was a joy for him. "So peaceful, so unique...a familiar place...a place that feels like home" he once said.
If my grandfather were alive today, he'd be totally devastated by the re-development plan and one of the first in favour of designating the Centre as a historic site. He passed away in 2004 & every time I see the photo of the Rotunda, I recall how my grandfather was able to shed a tear & appreciate the sight of lavender in the fields - which often surrounded the broken villages, towns and treasured buildings... such was the brutality of war.
Lily M. Boraks
B.A., B.S.W., M.S.W., CELT