50th Anniversary Celebrations
BETFOR Returns To Trieste
22 to 29 October 2004
A Report by Jim Crow
A total of 70 persons descended on Trieste for a period of one week for the celebrations commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the return of the city of Trieste to Italy. The party consisted of 20 husband & wives, 2 fathers & sons, 1 granddaughter, and 25 single status individuals. People travelled from all over the UK and flights were arranged from Stansted, 51 persons boarded this flight although Geoff Fleet and Bob Reade nearly didn't make it! The duration of our flights in both directions was approximately 1-1/2 hrs and on time. Manchester to Venice catered for 7 persons, Bristol to Venice for 3, Channel Islands to Venice for Barry and Brenda Gale, and Eddie Pattison travelled on the Thursday from Leeds/Bradford to Venice. I'm told the train journey from Venice to Trieste was fairly easy. There were 7 other members who travelled out via their own routes and stayed locally with friends and relatives.
On arrival at Ronchi Airport, Trieste, we were met by a coach organised through our Travel Agent in Trieste which took us directly to our respective hotels. The biggest problem with this was getting near enough to the establishments to unload luggage. Traffic in Trieste is a complete nightmare and full marks to the driver of the coach for getting as near as practicable to our destinations. It was fortunate we had booked the coach as bus drivers in Trieste decided to go on strike the day we arrived.
The weather on arrival was pouring with rain and on our departure the rain reappeared. Apart from a period of an hour during our stay, when another downpour occurred, the weather was comfortable, maintaining an average temperature of 16 degrees C.
Most of us were soon settled into our hotels by early evening. This included 12 husbands and wives and one single member at Hotel Italia, the remaining 39 at Semente Nova, including 8 wives and 1 granddaughter. The majority of us ventured out into the city for a quick look and something to eat. We had the advantage of a self-service cafeteria which had a good choice of food and beverages at a reasonable cost and which proved popular throughout our visit. The more adventurous took to various restaurants within the city and reported that the food was good and inexpensive.
Saturday the majority of the group booked for the Tour of the City coach trip. This was a good way of becoming acclimatised with the local landmarks and lasted approximately 1-3/4 hours with a half-hour break at San Guisto Castle. It proved so popular that when I tried to book on the Saturday morning the coach was full. Must have been those Germans with their towels on the seats as I was told later there were 3 empty places.
Sunday morning it was arranged that we should visit the Military Cemetery for a wreath laying ceremony. There were 42 persons attending but unfortunately we were hit by another strike. This time the taxi drivers went on strike. I later learned that they were in a meeting and that after a period of 2 hours they were back on the road looking for fares. This didn't help us and in the end we had to hire a coach from a local company at a cost of Euros 350. The Reverend Jim Crow read the 23rd Psalm followed by Don Goodwin laying a wreath that he had brought with him from Sheffield and the simple ceremony was rounded off with the British Legion tributes. Many stayed on to pay personal respects and to take photographs before embarking to return to the City.
On Monday, in company with John Taylor and Angus Butterworth, I was given a conducted tour of Villa Necker, quite close to Semente Nova where I stayed and home to the Royal Engineers during BETFOR days. Our guide was Colonel Antonio Belvedere, a fluent English speaker and a charming gentleman who entertained us in the Officers Mess and their communal Club. I arranged with him for other visits to Villa Necker and Rossetti Barracks during our stay. I presented him with an Association tie and badge. Later in the day most people were in the Piazza Unita watching a rehearsal for the grand parade the following day, 26th October. Most of our group were either in attendance there or sightseeing. A few of the group took the opportunity to have a day out in Venice. Public transport in Trieste is both cheap and efficient and full advantage was made of it.
Monday evening saw me in company with John & Barbara Horrabin, Angus Butterworth, John Lawrence, and Peter Gilbert at Duino Castle, at the invitation of the Prince to attend a ceremony at the border to unveil a monument commemorating the 50th Anniversary. Three cars were used to convey us to the border although John Lawrence and I had to walk a couple of miles as we had no royal status and the Prince was allowed through by the police to get much nearer to the event. The ceremony attracted a crowd of perhaps 1500 from the small community around Duino. Following the ceremony we were invited back to the Castle by the Prince but declined as we could see our bus in the distance for our return to Trieste. Apart from Angus we all served at the Castle during our stay with BETFOR and the Prince was quite charming and even suggested we pose for photos with him.
Tuesday saw the big celebrations in Piazza Unita when the Italian Army received the freedom of the City and posthumous awards were made for those who lost their lives in the November 1953 riots. As always, speeches went on far too long but it did not spoil the parade. The square was so crowded it was difficult to take photos but in the following days' press there were some good photos and reports.
Tuesday was also, for us, the most important public event. The British Consul, John Dodds, had organised a reception at the Jolly Hotel at which numerous VIPs were invited and I can safely say that there were at least 6 Consul Generals, including our own from Milan, Mr Norman Richmond, 3 Italian Generals, one of whom was ex VG Police, the Mayor, the Deputy Mayor and the Prefect of the region. Approximately 200 people attended, 50 more than anticipated and after speeches that lasted about one hour we retired to the bar and buffet. During the speeches I presented the Mayor with a plaque on behalf of the Association and received a kiss on both cheeks from the Mayor, I was totally unprepared for that! In return the City presented a small plaque to us. The evening closed early, at about 10 p.m. and people drifted off to their respective hotels, no doubt enjoying a nightcap on the way. At least I did.
Unfortunately General Assurance had arranged a cocktail reception for our group on the same evening which we had to cancel due to the higher priority given to the British Consul's event. The popularity of the General Assurance company club is such that we were unable to hold the function on any other evening that week as the club was fully booked. I am indebted to Marco Molino and other senior officials at General Assurance for their kind thoughts and generosity. I was able to meet up with Marco and present him with a miniature replica of the plaque we presented to the city.
Wednesday morning an arranged visit was made to Rossetti Barracks and 15 of us assembled there. Following a slight hiccup we were finally allowed in and escorted around by an Italian Warrant Officer. We were, however, not allowed to go into the billets. The visit did bring back happy memories for most of us. My only association with the barracks was that I played hockey on the square and we had a radio transmitter there that I operated from time to time.
Visits to other establishments, such as the British Military Hospital, Camp HQ (Just behind BMH), Via Cumano, Montebello Barracks, San Giovanni, Via Donadoni, Piazza Oberdan and Lazzaretto Barracks were arranged, mainly, by individuals themselves. Quite a few travelled to Muggia by boat and then by bus to Lazzaretto and one group ended up inside the barracks talking to a couple of Italian Generals. There was great disappointment for many to see their old establishment left to go to rack and ruin but the pilgrimage back was worthwhile to recall old times.
Thursday was a day for shopping and farewells, packing and last minute arrangements. After dinner that evening approximately 40 of us assembled outside our favourite bar in the Viale XX Settembre, De Martins, for an informal get-together and drink prior to the long day ahead of us on Friday. All too soon it was dawn and a lot of hanging around waiting for buses, planes and trains.
We had our one and only Royal Navy member, Ivor White, and his wife Faye, with the group and apart from the fact that we all had to learn about "Heads", "Cabins", and "Stand Easy" instead of toilets, bunks and NAAFI Break we got on quite well. Welcome aboard sailor! Pity I didn't get a photo of us when Ivor slipped at the Airport and ended up on his knees at my feet, and me a 'Pongo'. It would have made headlines in the Navy News.
In organising this visit I was ably assisted by our Travel Agent in Trieste, Susanna Prata, and The British Consul, John Dodds. I met with them both on numerous occasions in planning our trip and I am indebted to them both for their help and hard work to make the occasion the success it truly was. I also have to congratulate all of you for the spirit in which you came to Trieste and the way in which you helped and guided each other. I could not have wished for a nicer crowd of people to look after. You can all come again.
Now that we have made new friends and acquaintances I would hate these relationships to just become one of those 'holiday' experiences and it fizzles out after the first Christmas card exchange. We need to work at it and strengthen the bonds. I shall be investigating a get-together in the Midlands September next year. Watch this space.
Throughout our stay relations with the local population could not have been higher. I received the utmost respect and hospitality wherever I went and heard similar stories from many others in the group.
Our accommodation at Semente Nova was spotlessly clean, spacious and the staff were so obliging and helpful. I have confirmed with them that there are no problems should anyone wish to use their facilities on a future visit, providing there are vacancies.
Finally, should you have any photographs suitable for publication in our Newsletter could you kindly forward them to Guido or myself together with names and locations. Your photos will be returned soonest. Any anecdotes about the trip would also be welcome.
Late news, the winner of the raffle was Yellow 24 - That's nice.
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