The Youngest and Smallest

Across the world there are kind friends of our nation who help the Commonwealth Graves Commission in the tending of the graves of our fallen. None more so than in Holland where the cemeteries are immaculate and school children lay flowers on the graves around the country on Armistice Day.

One such friend is Jan de Wilde, who lives in the village of Sittard where 253 British soldiers lie. Jan helps tend the graves and maintains a record of the fallen on his website.

Most of the men buried in Sittard belonged to the 52nd Lowland Division and whilst reading about Jans work on a veterans website I came across an interesting story about a young Royal Scots Fusilier Victoria Cross winner, the youngest VC of the Second World War in fact.

19 year old Fusiliar Dennis Donnini VC was a Durham boy, the son of an Italian immigrant who was in fact interned. Of his two elder brothers, one was captured at Dunkirk and the other died of wounds in 1944. When he left home he said to his Mum, "When I get there I'll finish the war."

His citation reads, "on the 18th January 1945, a battalion of The Royal Scots Fusiliers led the assault on the German positions between the rivers Roer and Maas. When Fusilier Donnini's platoon was ordered to attack a small village, it came under intense fire from the houses and he was wounded in the head. On recovering consciousness a few minutes later he charged down the road, threw a grenade into the nearest window, and with the survivors of his platoon ran in pursuit of the Germans. The British soldiers reached the cover of a wooden barn only thirty yards from the German trenches. From this cover Fusilier Donnini first went out under intense fire to carry into safety a wounded comrade, then a second time and though again wounded, he advanced firing a machine-gun until a bullet hit a grenade that he was carrying and killed him. His great gallantry and self-sacrifice in drawing the enemy fire on himself enabled his platoon to capture the position, and his comrades to overcome opponents more than twice their number."

His father, Alfredo Donnini was initially refused permission to visit the Palace to collect his son's medal. He was eventually given leave, however, to accept his son's VC medal at Buckingham Palace. Local legend has it that, when he confided in George VI about his internment during the ceremony, the King told him to go home to Easington – which he did.

I also notice that someone called Wendy Ugolini recently gave a talk at the Imperial War Museum called, "The embodiment of British Italian war memory? The curious marginalisation of Dennis Donnini, VC." I suppose the son of an immigrant Italian ice cream seller might not be the media's idea of a typical VC but he should be remembered nonetheless.

Oh, and by the way.............

Fusilier Donnini was 4'10'' tall..................