DAY 7 Friday 27 May 2005

The Tribunale Building and Departure from Trieste

For Colonel Donald and the New Zealanders who first arrived in Trieste, the Tribunale (Law Courts) building was occupied by belligerent SS officers who refused to surrender.  To quote the Official History

"At the Tribunale Donald could not persuade the garrison commander to surrender; he was an SS officer who ‘was still humbugging undecidedly and was apparently under the influence of alcohol.'  Donald therefore arranged with the Yugoslav commander that tanks of C Squadron of 19 Regiment and C Squadron of the 20th would surround the building and give it a 20-minute pounding with their guns and Brownings. First the square was cleared of all troops and civilians, and at 7 p.m. 18 tanks at ranges of from 20 to 50 yards blew gaping holes in the walls and through the windows of the Tribunale. The Germans took shelter in the cellars and had few casualties, but the Yugoslavs entered the building and by morning had rounded up some 200."

In his reply to the mayor's address at the Tuesday Reception, Colonel Donald acknowledged the damage he had ordered to the Tribunale and voiced his regret that he had been forced to damage such a magnificent building. He was pleased to see that it had been fully restored.

Before the buses departed this morning we walked up to the Tribunale.

The Tribunale
Front of the Tribunale
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There is more information about the Tribunale, and more photographs of its damage here.


We boarded the buses at 0920, departed at 0945 for Muggia, a small ancient town beside the border with Slovenia. Apparently some of the New Zealand troops had been billeted there prior to their return home. Many of us found the visit to Muggia rather disappointing and somewhat pointless - The two hours would have been better spent visiting Ponte di Piave where we had high expectations of visiting the local cemetery and viewing the brass plaque to Russell who had been awarded the George Cross for bravery here. The plaque had been funded a few years prior by New Zealanders, many of whom were on this tour.  But this highlight of the tour was not to be.

The Town Hall in Muggia
The old Church across the piazza from the Hall
Flowers in a side street
Part of the Harbour at Muggia
Ice cream time
Waiting for the buses at Muggia

Soon after departure from Muggia, the air conditioning on Bus 1 (our bus!)  broke down and the temperature in the bus climbed to dangerous levels. We stopped beside the road for repairs, effectively preventing any possible diversion to Ponte di Piave later in the day..


Surgery time on Bus 1
Listening to the story of David Russell GC while the surgery continued
Another way of passing the time

Once repaired we were off towards Udine, passing around the outskirts of Trieste, then climbing the hills to the northwest. As we left Trieste, we had some final views of the hills;

From the autostrada, looking across to the new Trieste Hospital
Looking across the hill suburbs of Trieste

Udine Cemetery

Udine Military Cemetery, a few miles north of Trieste is where many of the Commonwealth troops killed in the area are buried. Udine was the first cemetery our tour had reached, and for many it was their first opportunity to visit a war cemetery maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Everybody was impressed with the upkeep of the cemeteries, the neat rows, the mowed grass and the well-tended roses and other flowers.

The entrance gate to Udine Cemetery
Looking through the gates to the Cross of Sacrifice
The avenue of grass leading to the graves


A panorama of the Cemetery at Udine

At Udine we were especially interested in two graves - both named Russell, both Lance Corporals, both from the 22nd Battalion and both buried in the same row.

David Russell GC

David Russell, as an escaped prisoner of war, was shot by the Germans on 28 February 1945 at Ponte di Piave. He was buried in that town, but his body was later moved to Udine. He was awarded the George Cross for his bravery in the face of the Germans - the only New Zealander to receive this honour in the war.

There is more information and further photographs here.

David Russell's headstone - note the different style of headstone with the usual cross replaced by  the George Cross and the wording "For Gallantry"
Doug Froggatt reading the George Cross citation for David Russell
The group around David Russell's grave
Russell's grave
Fellow members of the 22 Battalion beside David Russell's grave
Doug & Haddon compare notes

John Russell:

John Russell was killed by a Yugoslav mortar while A Company was trying to negotiate the surrender of the German Garrison at Villa Opicina, in Trieste. His death on 3 May 1945 is widely regarded as the first casualty of the Cold War, the Germans having surrendered on 2 May.

To quote from the Official History:

About half past eight that morning 3 May, after a message was received from the commander of the 1200-strong German garrison at Villa Opicina, a village a couple of miles north of Trieste, A Company of 22 Battalion and three tanks of A Squadron of 20 Regiment were sent to negotiate the surrender. One of the tanks was ditched on the way, and the infantry three-tonners could not pass a demolition, but the two remaining tanks carried a platoon up the road. Here again the Germans were willing to become prisoners of the New Zealanders but not of the Yugoslavs. While the company commander (Captain Wells) was negotiating with the Germans, the Yugoslavs opened up with mortars and small arms. A Company came under fire, ‘and to the sorrow and anger of the battalion,’ Lance-Corporal Russell was killed and another man wounded

J.N. Russell's headstone
Frank Burcher with Russell's headstone

An Unusual Headstone at Udine

Set to one side of the Udine Cemetery, at the foot of a solitary tree is a lone headstone. The CWGC description of Udine refers to this grave thus: 
There is also one special memorial in the cemetery, commemorating a soldier of the First World War who was buried at the time in Versa Communal Cemetery, but whose grave is now lost.

The solitary WWI grave of  A.U. Evans
Headstone of Arthur Uriah Evans

Roll of Honour of 22nd Battalion interred at Udine

Surname Names Rank Age Date of Death Number Plot Row Grave
FEAST IAN WILFRED Private 24 25/05/1945 255633 IV. D. 11
PRESTIDGE COLIN EDWARD Corporal 24 30/07/1945 258829 IV. F. 1
RUSSELL DAVID Lance Corporal 34 28/02/1945 30169 IV. D. 2
RUSSELL JOHN NORRIS Lance Corporal 25 3/05/1945 297309 IV. D. 14

And on to Venice...

The drive from Udine to Venice was uneventful and we arrived at our Hotel (ex-Ramada Inn) by late afternoon. The hotel had seen better days, and it was obvious why Ramada had on-sold the hotel. Dinner was not one of the better meals of the tour - Green Pea and pasta soup, roast chicken with small potatoes and cauliflower. Dessert was apple cake.

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Last updated: 20/09/2010