Soldier hero finds honour in Piazza Ernest Foster

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It took 53 years and a touch of Italian fantasy, but Private Ernie Foster of the Fifth Hampshire Regiment, 46th Division, has finally found his place in the history books. In the hamlet of Suio, not from from the monastery of Monte Cassino - the scene of protracted fighting where Ernie struggled to break German lines in the early months of 1944 - a plaque was unveiled in a small square yesterday bearing the legend: Piazza Ernest Foster.

The honour, a small but significant gesture bestowed upon a very ordinary infantryman, has a long and complicated history stretching back to a touching act of heroism that endeared Ernie to this part of central Italy for ever. In February 1944, as the Allies struggled in vain to break the Gustav Line established by the Germans in the southern Appenines, the sallow, 19-year-old Ernie found himself under heavy bombardment in Suio.

From the rubble of a devastated building he heard a dying female voice imploring: "Save my child! Save my child!" Ernie rushed over and picked up the child, a 14-month-old boy and took the trouble to deliver him to the local infirmary where the boy's father, Erasmo Lefano, gave him a golden locket with an image of the Madonna as a token of gratitude.

Years later, after Ernie had retired, he returned to Italy to find the child he had saved. Alessandro Lefano, it turned out, was now the village postman and the two became friends, remaining in close contact until Ernie's death in 1992.

Suio has always had one nameless piazza, and in due course Lefano had the idea to name it after his saviour. After five years of campaigning and petitioning, he succeeded.

Yesterday the occasion was marked by a special mass in the village church, a display of folk dancing, a colourful military parade and a grand unveiling, attended by local officials, British diplomats and the widow and three children of Ernie himself.

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