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Campaign for the War Memorial

During the First World War Britain and Italy were allies. Some returned home to do service in the Italian army, but many Italian immigrants living here, having settled with families, chose to enter the British army. They fought for this country, and inevitably, many died for it too.

A rememberance square was proposed in 1921 by Manchester Corporation as a memory to those who had fallen. Part of this was to be for the Italian dead, and with the help of generous donations from the Italian communities, a marble monument with a large bronze inscription was erected in 1924.

During the Second World War the original bronze inscription in the Italian war memorial was replaced with a dedication to the British Legion

With the outbreak of the Second World War, however, Manchester Corporation had the plaque surreptitiously removed, without permission of the Home Office. The Italian marble which housed it now carried a new dedication to the British Legion, which can still be seen today.

There followed nearly fifty years of represenations to have the plaque re-instated, including an unsuccesful request for help to the Italian Consulate Agent in the 1950s. As time passed memory of the plaque faded, and indeed the council began to doubt its very existence. A member of the Manchester Italian Catholic and Mutual Aid Society, Mr. Di Felice, was determined to see the matter resolved. He provided documentary evidence of the plaque, and pointed out the benevolence of the Italian authorities towards British war graves. I attended several meetings at the Manchester Town Hall with him and the secretary to the Mayor, Mr. Bernard Lawson, who was most sympathetic to the request. With the tireless efforts of Mr. Di Felice, the backing of the members of the Society, and the Italian Consul, a new plaque was finally approved by Manchester City Council.

After 50 years the council finally apologise and a new memorial was dedicated in 1990

With an apology from the council, the memorial was unveiled at the Cenotaph in St Peter's Square in central Manchester in 1990. The inscription reads, ‘To our Italian comrades 1915-1918’. Today, on Rememberance Sunday, every year, members of the Italian associations lay wreaths at the cenotaph to commemorate those who gave their lives.


May 1915, Italians on Great Ancoats Street,celebrating Italy's entry into the First World War as a British ally

Schedule of the days events of the unveiling of the new war memorial, 1990
(click to enlarge)

Letter from my maternal grandfather to my grandmother, First World War, showing the flags of allied countries, and the royal emblem of the Italian king
Newspaper image from October 20, 1916, showing Mass for the dead before the burial of some Italian soldiers*

All text and images (unless marked *) © Anthony Rea 2010
not to be used without permission. All rights reserved