A trek in tribute

(See foot of this story for Chris Robillard’s Trek Blog).

On August 31 2017 Chris Robillard embarked on a 150 km trek to pay tribute to his father and to the Italians who helped him after his escape from a prisoner of war camp.

David Robillard had been captured near Tobruk and was transferred initially to Sforzacosta, in the Marche. “My father was there from November 1942 to May 1943. He lost six stones in weight in this place and several others died from the Devonshire Regiment who were captured with him,” says Chris.

David was transferred north from Sforzacosta to a work camp at Zevio, in the province of Verona.

He escaped in July 1943 and set off on a four-month trek with three other men to reach the Yugoslav border. As they could not get across, they retraced their steps back to Asparetto, south of Verona, reaching it in November 1943. They were given refuge for 18 months by Marina Ferrari and her children at their farmhouse, at great risk to the family.

In April 1945, however, David was recaptured and taken up to the Brenner Pass. He escaped again and eventually reached American lines on May 7th.

Chris’s own journey was to take in about one-third of the distance covered by his father. He  set out from Zevio on August 31st and headed towards Padua. He was then returning to Asparetto, planning to reach it on September 6th. He was kindly raising money for the Monte San Martino Trust. Donations can be made at https://www.justgiving.com/montesanmartino/Donate. They can also be sent by cheque to the MSMT treasurer, Justin de Meo, at Cottells, Dinton, Salisbury, Wilts, SP3 5HN.

Chris visited Sforzacosta in 2016 and is very grateful to MSMT Trustee Anne Copley, and her husband David, who helped to make the visit possible. Later in the year he attended the MSMT luncheon. “I found it very inspiring,” he says. “The real affinity, warmth and friendship generated from the event was both moving and motivating. I met two Italian students who had each benefited from a Trust bursary – and oh how it had changed their lives!”

Chris can be contacted at chris@devonmatters.co.uk or by phone at 01626 832070 and 07775612154.

Chris has written a book about David’s escape, entitled From Barry to Bari. To find out how to obtain it, and to read about David’s adventures, go to http://www.msmtrust.org.uk/from-barry-to-bari-david-robillard/

Chris’s Trek Blog:

September 1st/August 31st: I set off from Zevio prison, seen off by Gian Bonato, whose family helped several escaped prisoners in the war. I covered 17 km on the first two days and it has been 30 deg. C. Not good for my feet but very good for the soul!

Walking done, it’s time to give a speech!

September 11th: I finished the Trek last Wednesday (September 6th) and here I am giving my speech in the mayor’s office in Cerea where they held a reception for us. I found out that this was the building my father was brought to in April 1945 when he was recaptured before he went to meet the Gestapo in Verona!

I presented the Deputy Mayor with copies of the book I wrote in 2015 which is dedicated to two local Italian women.

The trek was over 6 days from the prison at Zevio to Bonavigo, Pojana Maggiore and then Teolo and on to Padua, and then back via Lonigo to Asparetto where my father and his companions hid for about 20 months.

The trek was in total 135km and I met over 200 dogs and walked past mountains of fruit. While walking from Pojana to Teolo I had not appreciated that Teolo was in the mountains so the end of that day was tough.

I met an 89-year-old called Edigio who lived next door to where my father was hiding and met my father on several occasions. The whole village kept that secret. For a long time my father was the secret butcher for the area and a fellow escapee Fredrick Riches was the secret baker!

It was a great experience and hopefully I was able to promote the Trust.