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  • Writer's pictureSue Adams

Red tears that really do fall from the sky

I had been told about the helicopter that dropped rose petals on the Italian prisoners’ graves, but only when a petal landed on my shoulder and an old Italian soldier wiped away a tear clutching a petal in his hand, did I appreciate what a sad and special story this is about Zonderwater Prisoner of War Camp.


Every first Sunday of November at Zonderwater Cemetery near Cullinan in South Africa there is a memorial service to commemorate the Italians soldiers who died while incarcerated at Zonderwater Prisoner of War Camp during World War 2. While children play amongst the white crosses laid in in military precision, flags are inched up to full mast, a brass band blasts forth and a Catholic priest blesses the gathering. The congregation all have links to mostly deceased POWs, some are descendants, some are South Africans who came into contact with these Italians and some are just here to pay respects to men of war.


The Italian government sends out representatives, the South African military top brass attend and dozens of wreaths are laid out from various governments and organisations. But the atmosphere is not a dark one. Families that might only see each other once a year catch up with news, picnics are laid out and the well curated museum is busy with interested people.


But the most poignant moment is without doubt when the final notes from the band fade away, the rotors of the helicopter come thudding over and the rose petals rain down on the graves.


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