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Maria and Francesca LaSorda

In October 1999, a monument was erected at the Piazza Plebiscito (since renamed to Canadian Heroes Square) in Ortona, Italy to commemorate the Canadian soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice at the Battle of Ortona during Christmas 1943. In attendance for the unveiling were two sisters, Maria and Francesca LaSorda. Roughly 56 years earlier, the sisters had befriended the Canadians as their town was reduced to ruins.

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Maria Francesca Lasorda

The Battle of Ortona was one of the fiercest of the Second World War. The German 1st Parachute Division, who had been ordered to defend the town at all costs, filled the steep, narrow streets of Ortona with piles of rubble from demolished buildings. When they arrived to take the town, the Canadians were in effect funneled through the narrow streets and swept by enemy machine gun fire.

The central town square was turned into a war zone. Sadly, victory came at a huge cost to Canadian soldiers and residents of the town. For the residents of Ortona, the battle will not soon be forgotten.

“But as the actual survivors of the battle are passing away and the eye-witness memories are no longer spoken aloud, the battle takes on an almost film-like aura, of something that is no longer a tangible concept.”

“[The Battle of Ortona] is still a terrible episode and its impact is still seen in some of the streets around Ortona. But as the actual survivors of the battle are passing away and the eye-witness memories are no longer spoken aloud, the battle takes on an almost film-like aura, of something that is no longer a tangible concept.”

- Angela Arnone, a close friend of the LaSorda sisters

During the battle, residents of the Adriatic port city were forced to abandon their homes and seek shelter. Hiding in a cramped barn with 26 other people were two sisters, Maria and Francesca LaSorda. They spent the days of the battle there with no food, no heating and no sanitation. They remained there, away from their home, until the town was liberated.

Although the town was officially liberated on 28 December 1943, fighting continued until the early summer of 1944. The Canadians made Ortona their home in those months and the LaSorda sisters survived by working for them. This arrangement came about by chance. A young Private asked them one day if they would do some laundry for him and his comrades. The LaSorda sisters, in turn, bartered their laundry services for food.

Francesca LaSorda, third from the left, with her family and friends”

Francesca LaSorda, third from the left, with her family and friends (Autumn 1944). This is now Canadian Heroes Square.

Though they didn’t speak the same language and it was difficult to understand each other, they became close. To the sisters, the Canadians were not just soldiers, they were like their brothers. Angela Arnone, a resident of Ortona, knew the LaSorda sisters well. She says they often spoke of how friendly the Canadian soldiers were; that they were kind, polite and not much older than them. They also spoke of how difficult it was when some young Canadians “didn’t make it back”.

“Francesca never forgot the young men who brought their shirts and often did not return to collect them. Their companions would come to explain – ‘he didn’t make it back’. One in particular was the stretcher-bearer who made her wash and iron his Red Cross flag. He hit a mine as he went to rescue a companion and was killed outright.”

-Angela Arnone

“For all those whose names they never knew and for all those who are laid to rest in Ortona, Francesca and Maria laid fresh flowers on the Price of Peace monument until they passed away.”

In October 1999, the sisters attended the unveiling of the Price of Peace monument at Canadian Heroes Square. In the week that followed, they noticed the flowers placed on the monument wilt away. In honour of the brave Canadians who made the ultimate sacrifice, they volunteered to clear the wilted flowers away and replaced them with fresh flowers. The sisters performed this act every week for almost 15 years. Even after the passing of her sister, Francesca continued to place fresh flowers on the monument up until she herself passed away.

“For […] the stretcher-bearer, for all those whose names they never knew and for all those who are laid to rest in Ortona, Francesca and Maria laid fresh flowers on the Price of Peace monument until they passed away; Maria in 2009 and Francesca in 2017.”

- Angela Arnone

The Price of Peace Monument at the Canadian Heroes Square, erected by a group of Canadian Veterans, evokes the fierce battle that took place during Christmas 1943. The base of the memorial incorporates bricks from original buildings that had been smashed in the fighting. There is also a bronze life-sized sculpture that depicts a wounded Canadian soldier being comforted by a comrade who is kneeling at his side to help him. The monument is also located in a square where a bomb blew up a house and killed 23 Canadian soldiers. The monument was designed by Canadian artist Rob Surette, who will join the Government of Canada delegation for a ceremony of remembrance at Canadian Heroes Square on 2 December 2019.

In honour of the 75th anniversary of the Italian Campaign, Maria and Francesca LaSorda are featured as Faces of Freedom. Veterans Affairs Canada is proud to once again return to Canadian Heroes Square to commemorate those brave soldiers who fought and died during the Battle of Ortona.


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