Following the Francigena Road towards Rome on a Sunday drive that started early morning in Proceno in Tuscia, we were touring around Lake Bolsena about 100 km north of Rome and stopped for a shoot of the lake in a small area where just one car can fit.
There was an obelisk and a small white stone wall in front of which we parked and noticed a few words engraved on the wall.
‘Bolsena War Cemetery’ and a little plaque on the side identified it as a Commonwealth cemetery
Totally surprised. A long marble path was leading downhill towards the lake and I couldn’t stop but to follow it. I found much scenic beauty and tranquillity, sometimes from the views of the lake sometimes associated with the field and overhanging trees.
Bolsena is known for its archaeological pre-Roman remains such as those of the Volsci but specially for the Miracle of Eucharistic. In any case it is a wonderful medieval town with ancient castles, alleys, stairs, churches and gates.
Nothing about a Military War Cemetery!
So, what a surprise driving from Bolsena to Montefiascone to find it and observe the grand view over the lake from the road around the hill about half way from Bolsena. It is a site that must surprise nearly all who espy it as not many know about the pace of war in this peaceful area.
Yet, just 75 years ago there was trauma and chaos in this region.
A bite of history: after the Gustav Line was breached and the allies reached Rome on 3rd June 1944, the German troops withdrew to this place and there was a major tank battle in June 1944 between the German Panzer Division and the South Africans that resulted in many losses.
Now, tracing history, I learn that the site of this war cemetery was that of the camp occupied by General Alexander and was visited by King George VI at the end of July that year, before the cemetery was initiated in November.
After several hundred metres, the marble path down to the cemetery reaches an open iron gate with a memorial monument and record of the cemetery on the left. To the right stand close to 600 headstones, all identical except for the insignia, recording the name and allegiance of the soul whose remains rest hereunder.
The cemetery records the countries of origin of the soldiers and servants of the military who gave their lives so far from home, about 150 from South Africa, about 15 from far flung New Zealand and a lone Australian sharing the company of many British partners.
Strolling among the tombstones is a special experience creating peace, awe and sadness for the loss of so many in the primes of their lives, human beings destroyed by hate and greed not emanating from their souls. A war with no winners among those who gave everything.
As I returned to the road, slowly climbing the path, I looked back and felt that I could see the souls of all those soldiers bound together as one in a halo over the cemetery.
The sun shone through the branches and a single bird called out. It is time.