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South Africans get a special welcome in Castiglione dei Pepoli, a town high in the Apennine mountains, halfway between Bologna and Florence. There is probably nowhere else in Italy that payment for coffee is acknowledged with "dankie". The reason for the special link between SA and Castiglione dei Pepoli is a very sad one. In the last week of September 1944, the soldiers of Germany’s Waffen SS began a programme of systematically killing the women and children of the small villages of the Monte Sole region. The idea was to deny support to the partisans operating out of the forests. Most of those villages are now empty and silent because of those terrifying few days in 1944. Soldiers of the South African 6th Armoured Division were among the first Allied troops to come across these massacres and are credited with saving many lives. At least 770 civilians were killed in what became known as the Marzabotto massacre, after one of the villages. Nearby Castiglione dei Pepoli became the base...

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