At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Lazzaro Ponticelli – war veteran

Wounded soldier survived to set records for longevity


Lazzaro Ponticelli as a young soldier in the First World War
Lazzaro Ponticelli as a young
soldier in the First World War
Lazzaro Ponticelli, who became the oldest living man of Italian birth and the oldest man living in France, was born on this day in 1897 in a frazione of Bettola in Emilia-Romagna.

Before his death at the age of 110 years and 79 days, Ponticelli was the last surviving officially recognised veteran of the First World War from France and the last infantry man from its trenches to die.

He had moved to France at the age of eight to join his family who had gone there to find work. At the age of 16, he lied about his age to join the French army in 1914.

Ponticelli was transferred against his will to the Italian army when Italy entered the war the following year. He enlisted in the 3rd Alpini regiment and saw service against the Austro-Hungarian army at Mount Pal Piccolo on the Italian border with Austria.

At one stage he was wounded by a shell but continued firing his machine gun although blood was running into his eyes.

He spoke of a period when fighting ceased for three weeks and the two armies swapped loaves of bread for tobacco and took photographs of each other, as many of them could speak each other's language.

The Ponticelli Brothers' headquarters in a Paris suburb
The Ponticelli Brothers' headquarters in a Paris suburb
After the war Ponticelli founded a piping and metal work company with his brothers. As of 2017, Ponticelli Brothers was still in business.

They produced supplies for the war effort during the First World War and Ponticelli also worked with the French Resistance against the Nazis. He managed the company until his retirement in 1960.

Every Armistice Day until 2007 Ponticelli attended ceremonies honouring deceased veterans. But in his later years he also criticised war.

He said he felt unworthy of the state funeral the French Government offered him, but eventually accepted it. He asked for the occasion to focus on the many ordinary soldiers who died on the battlefield.

Ponticelli pictured in 2007, aged 109
Ponticelli pictured in
2007, aged 109
He died in France on 12 March 2008 at the age of 110 years and 79 days, at the home he shared with his daughter in Kremlin-Bicetre, a suburb of Paris.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy honoured Ponticelli’s wish and dedicated a plaque to the soldiers who had been killed in battle during the super centurion’s funeral.

On the first Armistice Day after his death, the street where he had lived was renamed Rue de Verdun-Lazare-Ponticelli in his honour.

Travel tip:

Lazzaro Ponticelli was born in Cordani, a frazione - the Italian equivalent of a ward or parishof Bettola in the province of Piacenza in Emilia-Romagna. It is claimed that the explorer Christopher Columbus was born in the nearby frazione of Pradello and the main square of Bettola is named Piazza Colombo.

Remains still exist of military positions built on Mount Pal Piccolo during the First World War
Remains still exist of military positions built on
Mount Pal Piccolo during the First World War
Travel tip:

During the First World War, Lazzaro Ponticelli fought in a series of furious battles against the Austro-Hungarian army at Mount Pal Piccolo in the region of Udine. An open air museum has been created on Mount Pal Piccolo where you can visit Italian and Austro-Hungarian military installations. For more information visit www.itinerarigrandeguerra.com.



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