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Memorial to honour Scottish PoW shot by SS 70 years on later

For almost 70 years locals have devotedly laid wreaths at the spot in a village in central Italy where an escaped British prisoner of war was shot in the head by German soldiers during the Second World War.

SCENE: An iron cross marks where Sidney Smith was killed.
SCENE: An iron cross marks where Sidney Smith was killed.

But the identity of the Tommy whose body was found in a lane near the village of Montelparo, Fermo province, on March 21, 1944 had remained a mystery until last year.

Then researchers uncovered an official summary of an inquiry by the Special Investigation Branch of the Royal Military Police in 1945, which identified the dead man as Scots soldier Sidney Seymour Smith, who served with the Royal Corps Of Signals.

Now the London-based Monte San Martino Trust, a educational bursary-awarding charity supported by former prisoners of war, wants to replace an iron cross that currently marks the spot with a memorial stone and is trying to trace descendants.

John Simkins, one of the researchers, revealed how the details were uncovered and made a request for help.

He said: "We were on a freedom trail, in which we go to areas where brave Italian families sheltered prisoners of war - people like my dad, in fact - at great risk to their lives.

"The locals had known, as we did also, there was this cross marking the spot where a prisoner of war had been shot dead. So after we finished the trail in September, we came back and one of my fellow members rolled her sleeves up and investigated the military records and we found out who he was.

"We would be honoured to have any of Sidney's kin at the unveiling, but we have hit a brick wall in tracing his descendants."

The research discovered the 34-year-old soldier, a Glasgow University graduate who came from Old Kilpatrick, West Dunbartonshire, was known to the Italians who sheltered him as Giorgio. He had escaped from the PG53 Sforzacosta concen­tration camp, near Macerata, in the Marche region of Italy. A memo left with the Mazzoni family who looked after him talks about receiving "the best of treatment".

His body was first interred in the village cemetery and, after the war, was moved to the war cemetery near Rimini.

Evidence from John Meyers, a fellow Scots PoW, suggests two SS officers captured Mr Smith when, posing as "English parachutists", they requested to the family he was staying with that all former PoWs had to be "behind the lines".

Mr Meyers was shot at but managed to escaped by jumping out of a bedroom window. His fellow ex-PoW was not so lucky and Mr Meyers said the SS men, along with seven comrades, shot Mr Smith with four to six rounds near the Church Of Santa Maria, Montelparo.

Giuseppe Mazzoni, the 32-year-old farmer who had provided refuge for Mr Smith for five months, was among those who gave evidence to the Special Investigation Branch that implicated the SS and an Italian fascist in the Scot's murder.

He described to investigators how he found Mr Smith's body, saying: "The body was lying face upwards and I recognised it as being the body of 'Giorgio.' I saw the head was mutilated by numerous bullet wounds and recognition was difficult due to a large amount of blood covering the face."

A plaque to be placed at the spot where Mr Smith died will be scripted in English and Italian.

It will say: "On this spot on 21st March 1944 2372205 Signalman Sidney Seymour Smith, Royal Corps Of Signals, aged 34, known as "Giorgio", was shot by the Nazifascisti.

"This stone is to commemorate him and all Allied PoW escapers who passed through Italy 1943-44, together with the Italians who, despite the danger and sacrifice, sheltered, fed and clothed them. Your children and grandchildren honour your memory."

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