Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Remembering a Veteran: Enrico Toti—Civilian Volunteer for the Italian Army

Volunteer Enrico Toti

Enrico Toti (1882–1916) at age 14 enlisted in the Royal Navy as an electrician. After his discharge, he lost his left leg while working for Italian railways, at the age of 24. After his injury he became a cyclist. In 1911, riding on a bicycle with one leg, he cycled to Paris, and then through Belgium, the Netherlands, and Denmark, up to Finland and Lapland. From there, via Russia and Poland, he returned to Italy in June 1912. In January 1913, Toti started cycling again, this time in Egypt; from Alexandria, he reached the border with Sudan, where the British authorities, considering the trail too dangerous, ordered him to end the journey and sent him to Cairo, whence he came back to Italy. 

When war broke out between Italy and the Austrian Empire, Toti tried to volunteer for the Italian Army but was not accepted due to his injury. Undaunted, he reached the front line with his bicycle and managed to serve as an unpaid, unregistered, fully non-regulation “civilian volunteer” attached to several units, finally to the 3rd Cyclists Bersaglieri Battalion. When he was sent to the front he wrote patriotic letters to his family, friends and newspapers.

Killed in August 1916, By October He Was
a National Hero

Volunteer Toti was killed in the Sixth Battle of the Isonzo. The legend goes that as Toti lay dying on the field during the Sixth Battle of Isonzo, he hurled his crutch at the enemy. While the details of his death were never fully confirmed, his story quickly became well known, and he was almost inztantly a national hero. The postwar government of Mussolini promoted his story as well.

On 27  August 1916, he was awarded with the Gold Medal to the Military Valor, with this citation:

Volunteering, even if he was devoid of a leg, he rendered valuable services in the battle of April at quota 70 (to the east of Selz) and  on 6 August in the battle that led to the occupation of quota 85 (to the east of Monfalcone). In the enemy trench, he continued to fight ardently even if he was wounded twice. Shot dead by a third bullet, he launched heroically his crutch to the enemy and died by kissing the plumage of his hat at Monfalcone, 6 August 1916.

Statue of Toti at Villa Borghese, Rome

He is buried at the Cimitero Comunale Monumentale Campo Verano in Rome. At least two statues honoring Toti stand today in Rome. Since his official military service was actually with the Italian Navy, two submarines (no longer active) were named for him.

Sources:; Wikipedia

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