Italian village commemorates sacrifice of WW2 Aussie airmen
On October 12, 1944 an achievable mission ended in tragedy.
The 31st and 34th Squadron of the South African Air Force (under the RAF) took off from their base in Celone, near Foggia in the south of Italy. Their task was to drop off supplies to Italian partisans in the north.
That day 20 B-24 Liberator airplanes left but only 14 returned. Five planes crashed into the Italian Alps and one disappeared, never to be found. A total of 48 out of 160 airmen never returned from this mission.
Australian airmen Flight Sergeant Clarence William Lawton and Flying officer Thomas Roberts Millar were on these flights. Lawton’s plane crashed on Mount Freidour in Piedmont, while Millar’s plane was never found.
Almost 70 years later, the families of Clarence Lawton and Thomas Millar, known as Bob, have travelled to Cantalupa, the town at the base of Mount Freidour.
There, they unexpectedly discovered the great extent to which this town still remembers and honours the sacrifice of these airmen. They also learned about the uncanny way in which the Cantalupa Town Mayor managed to rediscover the lost details of the crash.
To share Kathy and Anne’s journey to Italy, watch the video or listen to the radio documentary in Italian or English.
Piecing together the puzzle
Kathy Hind is Clarence Lawton’s niece. Visiting the site of her uncle’s plane crash helps to conclude this significant part of her family history. Seeing Clarence’s name inscribed on a monument and meeting locals who honour his sacrifice each year is an unexpected experience. All of this is made more surreal by the fact that two locals are able to present her with debris from the crash, which is still scattered around the impact spot.
A letter from the past
Anne Storm is Bob Millar’s daughter. Despite 10 years of research, she is yet to locate the crash site of her father’s plane. In attending memorials for this mission, she hopes to meet someone who may know something. All that she has is a letter her father sent her from Italy for her first birthday.
My Dear Daughter,
This is the first time I have written to you and although you are as yet too young to read it perhaps mother will save it up until the time comes when you can read it yourself. In 2 days time it will be your first birthday anniversary – a great event for your parents. My regret is that I cannot personally be there to help you blow out your single candle but believe me lassie I will be there in spirit.
I am writing this from a place called Italy which is far away from our fair land – a place where I would not be by choice so far away separated from a wife and daughter so dear to me. But I am here, precious one, because there is a war on caused by certain people who wished to rule the world harshly and despotically, imperilling an intangible thing called democracy which your mother and I thought all decent people should fight for. You will understand as you grow up what democracy means for us and how it is an ideal way of life which we aspire to put into practice.
All I ask of you, Anne dear is that you stay as sweet as your mother and cling tight to the subtle thing we call Christianity, which has been the core of her way of life and her mother’s and mine. I hope that you will love and respect me as I love and respect my father.
That’s all young lady. Have a happy birthday – may they all be happy birthdays. I hope to be home again one fine day. In the meantime lots of love to you and to mother.