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To the Gateways of Florence

24 August 2011

To the Gateways of Florence

New Zealand Forces in Tuscany, 1944

Edited by Stefano Fusi

For 50 years after the end of the Second World War, most people in the Chianti region between Florence and Siena did not know that New Zealand forces had been the ones to liberate them from Nazi German occupation in the summer of 1944.

It took research by Stefano Fusi, then mayor of Tavarnelle (near Florence), and his New Zealand wife Jill Gabriel, to affirm that the liberators had been not Americans but soldiers of the 2nd New Zealand Division, many of whom never made it home.

Now those sacrifices, and the bonds they forged between New Zealand and Italy, are being celebrated in a new book – To the Gateways of Florence: New Zealand Forces in Tuscany 1944.

Launched at functions in Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland over the next fortnight, To the Gateways of Florence remembers the men of the 28th Maori Battalion and 21st Infantry Divisions who showed immense tenacity in battle, and compassion to the Italian people that is warmly remembered to this day.

A delegation composed of Stefano Fusi (now a Florence Provincial councillor), Jill Gabriel, Sestilio Dirindelli (current mayor of Tavarnelle) and his wife Gianna has come to New Zealand in order to launch the book.

“Sharing our history has helped forge a deep friendship with the New Zealand people who live so far away from Tuscany and from the Chianti area, but to whom, for obvious reasons, we feel so close,” says Fusi.

“Our friendship has strengthened over time and has also been sealed by the decision made by the municipalities of Tavarnelle Val di Pesa and Scandicci to erect two monuments to the fallen New Zealanders.”

Translated from a 2009 Italian book, To the Gateways of Florence enables New Zealanders to read Italian historians analysing New Zealand’s pivotal role in Tuscany, alongside contributions from three of our own leading military historians – Christopher Pugsley, Monty Soutar and Jeffrey Plowman

The testimonies, diaries and letters of the New Zealand soldiers are matched by moving testimonies from the Italian civilians who lived through the battles that decided the war.

One contributor, Franca Ferrantini, recalls singing for New Zealand soldiers at Florence’s Hotel Baglioni: I send dear thoughts to all those boys from way back then on the other side of the world.”

Publishers Peter Dowling and Alessandra Zecchini committed to translating the work after attending commemorations in the Chianti region on Anzac Day (also Italy’s Liberation Day) in 2010.

“We were overwhelmed by the warm welcome and the efforts that had gone to honouring the New Zealand soldiers,” Dowling recalls.

Zecchini, whose late father fought for the partisans in the mountains to the north of Tuscany, says that the book embodies the close bonds that sprang up between Italians and Kiwis in the course of the Second World War.

A rich selection of photographs and memorabilia from archives in New Zealand and Italy illustrates the work.

To the Gateways of Florence will be launched at the following events:

Wellington, 26 August: Te Papa Store

Christchurch, 1 September: University Bookshop Canterbury,

Auckland, 8 September: Council Chamber, Auckland Town Hall

Release Date: 26 August 2011 | ISBN: 978-1-877514-23-4 | RRP $44.99

276 pages (20 colour), 12 contributors, 200 images


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