By NEIL WAUGHFLORENCE, ITALY – High atop the highest of Rome’s seven hills, the Palatine, – higher even than where the Roman emperors’ palace once stood – is a white villa with a spread-eagle crest hung on its stucco wall.It is the grand palazzo of the mighty Benito Mussolini – El Duce – whose fascist regime was to basically pick up where the Roman Empire left off.At least that was the plan.As a building I’ve seen better-looking small-town Alberta hockey barns.But it was here that the fascist movement which swept across Europe and beyond began.And culminated in World War II.By the time the Loyal Edmonton Regiment pulled up on the south bank of the Arno River opposite Florence on August 3, 1944, they had already fought their way across Sicily, landed in Italy at Reggio, battled their way up the Italian boot with their wingers the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada and the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, smashed a gaping hole in impregnable Hitler Line:And, of course, had their finest hour when they fought house-to-house on Christmas Day, 1943 to clear German paratroopers from the ancient city of Ortona.In his great book, A City Goes to War, George Stevens described how the Seaforths’ rifle companies were withdrawn from battle for a “slap-up dinner” in the shattered Cathedral of Santa Maria di Constantinopli while a signals officer played carols on the church organ.“The Edmontons were compelled to dine where they stood,” he wrote.“The quartermasters and company cooks did a magnificent job preparing and delivering Christmas fare,” Stevens noted. Season’s greetings, boys.By this time the Italian king has already thrown in the towel and Mussolini and his girlfriend Clara Petacci were holed up in northern Italy.But Adolph Hitler’s paratroopers and panzers – indoctrinated in Third Reich BS– hadn’t given up.The Fourth Paratroop Division had already blown the gorgeous statue-encrusted bridges of Florence but spared the famous Ponte Vecchio where the jewelry shops cling to the span, believing it would collapse under the weight of the Allied tanks.All a great big gotcha to hold the Germans in place while the real attack was being assembled on the Adriatic coast.“It apparently was beyond the German mentality to believe that English-speaking races , if they possibly could avoid it, would never damage or destroy a city synonymous with culture, civilization and the glories of the past,” Stevens wrote.Still the Eddies were taking casualties.“A party of Italian partisans was brought forward to deal with the snipers on the roof tops,” Stevens added.“As raggedy as Billy Bones crew.”A few klicks above where the Canadian Brigade was positioned the little Sieve River enters the Arno at a place called, what else, Pontesieve.For several kilometres below a power dam a tailwater trout fishery has developed where beautiful Apennine brown trout thrive in the reservoir-cooled emerald water.
Italy’s Sieve River is a beautiful, emerald tailwater trout fishery. Neil Waugh/Edmonton Sun
My Tuscan fly-fishing guide Stephano and I had come to a stretch of the Sieve below where the high-speed Frecciarossa trains to Milan thunder over the crossing.But there had been rain in the drainage overnight and the Sieve was discoloured.I fished with a beadhead nymph called an Orange Tag under a putty strike indicator to minimize the line slap.We caught a few orange-spotted beauties – if not as raggedy as Billy Bones crew definitely as colourful.
Neil with a Sieve River Apennine brown trout. Neil Waugh/Edmonton Sun
Then retired to the café in San Piero where they sell the fishing permits for penne with pesto sauce and a glass of vino rosso.On April 26, 1945 Billy Bones crew bushwhacked a German convoy and captured Benito and Clara.The partisans put them against a farm wall and shot them.Then hung them upside down on meat hooks from an Esso station roof in Milan where the townsfolk came out to shoot them some more and pee on them before the Americans showed up.Which is how it usually ends for dictators, world rulers and new emperors of the Roman Empire.