Souvenir Italian Fascist scarf : 1st Blackshirt Division, the Implacable 23 March

Accession Number REL31041
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Heraldry
Physical description Silk
Maker Unknown
Place made Italy
Date made c 1940-1943
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945

Black silk fascist scarf shaped like a reversed triangle printed with white text and illustrations. The Fascist symbol of the axe and fasces is shown on two sides of the triangle and a twisted rope design is threaded between these. The Italian text along the top of the triangle reads 'S. A. R. IL DUCA DI PISTOIA COMANDANTE DELLA 1 DIVISIONE CC. NN. '23 MARZO' 'IMPLACABILE' SI DEGNO INVIARE IL 5 MARZO 1936 XIV DALLAMBA TZELLERE (TEMBIEN) AL PODESTA DI FIRENZE IL SEGUENTE' with the English translation as follows 'S. A. R. The Duke of Pistoia Commander of First Division CC. Nn. '23 March' 'The Implacable' made the effort to send on 5 March 1936 XIV from Amba Tzellere (Tembien) to the Prefect of Florence the following telegram:'. The telegram is written in the centre of the flag within a border 'TELEGRAMMA AMBA TZELLERE, 5.3.1936 XIV Cl. 1249 'ALL IMBRUNIRE DEL GIORNO 28 FEBBRAIO LA 192 LEGIONE DELLE CAMICIE NERE FIORENTINE, DOPO AVERE COMBATTUTO E VINTO, CONQUISTAVA AMBA TZELLERE, IMPEDIVA AL NEMICO LA RITIRATA, LO BATTEVA NUOVAMENTE IL GIORNO APPRESSO, OCCUPAVA TUTTO L'ANDINO, DOMINAVA I VALLONI DI ABBI ADDI, CUORE DEL TEMBIEN. ANCORA UNA VOLTA, SEGUENDO LE ANTICHE E RECENTI TRADIZIONI, IL POPOLO DI FIRENZE, IN ARMI NELLA MAGNIFICA LEGIONE 'FRANCESCO FERRUCCI' FECE VEDERE CHI SIA'. The English translation is as follows 'At dusk on the day 28 February Legion 192 of the Florentine Fascists after having fought, won and conquered Amba Tzellere, prevented the enemy from withdrawing. The legion struck the enemy again the next day, occupied all of the Andean region, dominated the valleys of Abbi Addi, heart of the Tembien. Once again, following the ancient and recent traditions, the people of Florence, armed in the magnificent legion 'Francesco Ferrucci' showed their power'.

History / Summary

Scarf worn by members of the Italian Blackshirt 1st Division '23 Marzo', so called in honour of the founding of the Italian Fascist Party on 23 March 1919. Little is known regarding the event in Florence commemorated on the scarf (5 March 1936), but the date coincides with the declaration of a pro-German stance by Mussolini (6 March 1936) and is closely followed by the success of the invasion of Ethiopia by Italian forces. The 1st Division '23 Marzo' in fact served in both Ethiopia in 1935-36 and the Spanish Civil War in 1936-39 and later fought in the Second World War as part of the Italian 23rd Corps, in Cyrenaica (eastern Libya) and was involved in the unsuccessful defence of Bardia in January 1941, where it was completely overcome (one of 10 Italian Divisions destroyed) by the 7th British Armoured and 6th Australian Division, and its members made prisoner.

This scarf was souvenired by VX9534 Private (later Lieutenant) Desmond John Peck who served with 2/7 Battalion, AIF. Peck was born in Woollahra, NSW in January 1922 and, eager to serve, he added four years to his age when he enlisted on 15 December 1939. He embarked for Egypt aboard the 'Empress of Japan', trained in Palestine and was posted with Headquarters Australian Overseas Base. His age was eventually discovered but rather than being sent back to Australia he was permitted to stay in Gaza to serve as General Blamey's Batman. In 1940 he transferred to the infantry, joining 2/7 Battalion and moving to Libya in the Western Desert for further training. He saw action for the first time at Bardia in January 1941 and later at Tobruk and Derna. Peck's Battalion was then transferred to Crete in April 1941, where his platoon was ordered to patrol the island for scattered German paratroopers; however, being on rearguard duty to cover the evacuation of troops from the island, he was captured by Austrian Alpine troops at Kalives and placed in Galatos prisoner of war camp. He escaped shortly after with the help of friends from Georgioupolos and roamed Crete for nearly a year; where he and New Zealander Noel Dunn trained groups of Cretan partisans in infantry weapons and tactics. Peck also teamed up with a British naval intelligence officer, Commander F G Pool and helped coordinate the escape of many prisoners from the island by submarine. Peck contracted malaria around this time and missed two Royal Navy undercover submarine evacuations. He was eventually caught in May 1942 with a RAF radio set on his person and was taken to Italy for trial as a spy. He managed to avoid the firing squad and ended up at Bari camp PG 75 in Athens.

After spending 1943 in three Italian POW camps, teaching himself Italian, he again escaped and, over the following year organised and assisted in the escape of over 1,500 allied POWs into Switzerland, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM). His citation reads, in part 'At the time of the Italian Armistice he was released from Vercelli prison and immediately formed a small organisation to care for PW and sent them to the partisans. When, at the beginning of October 1943 the Germans dispersed the guerrilla force, Pte Peck arranged to evacuate PW to Switzerland. Early in November, because more funds were required, Pte Peck got in touch with the Committee of Liberation. Under their auspices he toured many districts to convince PW of the sincerity of the scheme and, during December, induced the Committee to reorganise and improve their machinery for helping PW. On 12 February 1944, Pte Peck was arrested by the Gestapo. After three months imprisonment he escaped from a working party employed at Lambrate marshalling yards; when the guards took shelter during an air raid, Pte Peck ran in the opposite direction. Making his way to Intra he met members of the organisation and with their assistance reached Switzerland on 22 May 1944'.