I Was There! - 'Down With Mussolini and Death to the Duce!'
Extraordinary scenes of jubilation were witnessed by Ross Munro, Canadian Press Correspondent in Sicily, when news of the resignation on July 23, 1943 of the Pinchbeck Ceaser – Benito Mussolini, Dictator of Italy – reached the ears of the islanders.
This battered front-line town of poverty-stricken Italian citizens received the news of Mussolini's resignation with shouts of “Bravo, bravo!” The people shook hands and cried, “Down with Mussolini and Death to the Duce!”
They swarmed in the main street gesticulating wildly, laughing and shouting with relief at the Italian leader's fall. It was one of the most unexpected and spontaneous scenes I ever witnessed.
Early in the morning Canadian war correspondents heard the news in a B.B.C. Broadcast and headed for the town. I found a signaller from Cochrane Ontario, who spoke Italian fluently, and he came as my interpreter.
I stopped with him in the main street, which was a centre of bloody fighting when the Canadians assaulted the place, and we walked up to a group of civilians. The signaller asked them if they had heard the news. No, they had not. Then he told them.
I had seen civilians in every town give troops the “V” sign in the march from the coast and sometimes heard them cheer. But I never really expected to see a group of people in a Fascist country expressing their relief at the collapse of their dictator and the chance of freedom they saw ahead.
In a few minutes the news spread through the town, and it changed from a miserable, down-trodden place into a place of high excitement and enthusiasm for our cause. Overjoyed Sicilians vented their hatred of their Fascist overlords by tearing down Italian propaganda posters of Mussolini. They threw stones at Fascist emblems.
A Canadian patrol came up to me, asking anxiously if a riot was brewing. I told them they need not worry, because they were seeing the Italian reaction to the best news they had had for years.
The people told me they had been taxed to the hilt, reduced to dire poverty and forced to fight while the Fascist group at the top had indulged in Roman luxury in Sicilian country mansions. I talked to a grey-haired distinguished Italian, mayor of the town 22 years before, when the Fascists established their rule. He had been thrown out then, but was in great spirits now. The citizens said that they would make him mayor again, for he knew their wants and would work for them.
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