Obituary: Harry Shindler, Anzio battle veteran who campaigned for expatriate votes
ROME – Harry Shindler, one of the last surviving British veterans of the battle of Anzio in 1944, a tireless, anti-fascist campaigner who spent decades tracing the graves of servicemen killed or listed as missing in action in the Second World War, has died at the age of 101. Working for the Italy Star Association, Harry helped commemorate the Anzio Landing that began Jan. 22, 1944, while constantly raising awareness of the fallen and their sacrifice through talks at schools and universities in Italy.
“No engagement fought in western Europe between 1939 and 1945 evoked the experience of the Great War as much as the linked operations at Cassino and Anzio,” historian Richard Holmes wrote. Codenamed ‘Shingle,’ the landings at Anzio and Nettuno achieved absolute surprise as predicted by Ultra intelligence. Unfortunately the American commander at Anzio obeyed his own cautious instincts and failed to exploit the unopposed landing. Winston Churchill commented that “instead of hurling a wildcat on to the shore all we got was a stranded whale.”
Shindler described his experience as a young man in the battle in a 2016 memoir, co-authored with Marco Pattuchi, My War is not Over. The book was the basis for a documentary film about Harry directed by Bruno Bigoni in 2017.
“Anzio is my second home, I have spent my whole long life passing on information about the atrocities of war to young people and I will continue to do so as long as I have the strength,” Shindler said at ceremonies to mark the 78th anniversary of the battle last year. “We must never forget.”
As a radical teenager in London Shindler was a Trotskyist, but later became a Labour party supporter. He was always concerned by the resurgence of ‘post-fascist’ ideas through parties such as Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy.
Shindler said Italy hasn’t faced up to its past in the way Germany has and lamented the fact that fascist memorabilia was widely on sale, despite being illegal.
"Italy hasn’t come to terms with its past. Until it does, it will never be a normal country," he said.
In 2012 he was given honorary citizenship of San Benedetto del Tronto, where he settled in 2006. In 2014 he was awarded the MBE for his work tracing the graves of servicemen in Italy followed by an OBE in 2021 for his services to Britons abroad.
Shindler campaigned vigorously for 5 million British citizens living overseas to retain their ability to vote in British elections, ultimately founding the association of British Ex-Pats in Italy in 2010. The campaign climaxed in 2022 with British expats having restored the vote for life.
Shindler liked to reflect that if the law restoring the rights of expatriates to vote had been passed earlier then Brexit, which he opposed, would never have happened.
“I was surprised and disappointed to hear that the older generation voted “out,” he said. “They went through the war, and we have had 70 years of peace because of the European Union. It was very disappointing indeed.”
Harry’s archeological detective work received widespread recognition after he traced for Pink Floyd founder Roger Waters the exact spot near Anzio where the musician’s father, Eric Fletcher Waters was killed during the war by German tank fire. His death leaves some 30 British Anzio battle veterans still alive, the Italy Star Association said.
“Usually people of my age sit on a bench of the seafront, counting the buses that come by. I decided to do something useful and significant,” he said.
“I don’t do this to have people thank me. It is rather a duty to maintain and defend the memory of men who have been so important for this country.”
Harry Shindler. Soldier and campaigner. Born Lambeth, London, July 17, 1921.
Died San Benedetto del Tronto, Feb. 20, 2023.
© COPYRIGHT ITALIAN INSIDER
UNAUTHORISED REPRODUCTION FORBIDDEN