I recently had the great honour to represent the school at the 75th commemorative anniversary of the death of Archibald Donald MacKenzie (B), of the Cameron Highlanders, near the city of Piacenza. For the people of this area he is a hero. After the Italian armistice, and his release from a POW camp in Veano, he chose to stay in the area, leading Italian partisan groups to liberate the villages around Piacenza, and continue fighting the Italian Fascist forces and units of the German Army.
Over the course of the weekend, we were welcomed by seven different mayors of the towns where he fought and was imprisoned. We were welcomed into the Church of Bettola where Donny’s funeral took place in late 1944, in the midst of war. Hundreds of local people had lined the streets and photographs show a procession, with the partisans carrying his coffin. A conference on Sunday morning in the town hall of Ponte dell’Olio, was extremely moving, with lots of local people attending alongside those who had travelled considerable distances. I had the privilege to meet two partisan veterans aged 95, who had fought alongside Donny, and to listen to school pupils who had “written a letter” to Donny, thanking him for their freedom. There was also three generations of a family from the US, whose father/grandfather/ great grandfather had been saved by Donny.
The event was inspired by a book about Donny’s experiences, written by Shaun Hullis, former Classics teacher (2001-2007). MacKenzie’s story is much better known in Italy than in the UK, but he was truly an inspirational Old Wykehamist.