Photo portrait initiative to mark the 80th anniversary of Operation Husky

Canadian Agira CWGC War Cemetery with photo markers

Photographic portraits of Americans, Britons and Canadians who died in Sicily in 1943 are to be placed in the island’s war cemeteries this July as part of the 80th anniversary commemorations to mark Operation Husky.

The project was initiated in 2019 by Jimmy Hilgen, a police sergeant from Nijmegen in the Netherlands, who visited the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) Agira Canadian War Cemetery in 2019.

He wanted to know more and — in partnership with his friend Tjarco Schuurman  —  started the Faces of Agira Facebook group to collect photographs of those buried there. They subsequently set up the non-profit D-Day Dodgers Foundation supported by volunteers in Canada, Italy and the UK to preserve the memory of the Italian campaign.

Canadian army veteran Roger Chabot invited Hilgen and Schuurman to attend a memorial service at the Agira cemetery in November 2021 for Bravery in Arms, a documentary series about Canadian armed forces in the Italian campaign. They placed markers with laminated photographic portraits on the graves of more than 350 Canadians who lost their lives in Sicily in 1943.

The first episode of Bravery in Arms was premiered on 28 January.

Hilgen and Schuurman are to return to Sicily this July to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Operation Husky. They aim to place photographic portraits on all 490 graves in the Agrira cemetery on 29 July as part of the 325km Walk for Peace organised by the International Forum for Peace, Security & ProsperityThe forum was founded by Canadian businessman Steve Gregory.

A similar event is planned around 23 July at the CWGC cemetery in Syracuse, where 1,059 are buried.

Work has also started on a photographic project for the CWGC cemetery in Catania, the largest in Sicily with 2,142 graves, and another for the 2,200 Americans who died in the Sicilian campaign. They are mainly buried in the Sicily-Rome American War Cemetery at Nettuno near Anzio on the Italian mainland.

Operation Husky began with airborne and amphibious landings in south-east Sicily on 9/10 July 1943. The campaign was completed in 40 days. The Allies suffered 23,000 casualties in Sicily in 1943. Italian losses, including prisoners, were around 135,000. German casualties totaled 30,000.

The Allied landings in Sicily in 1943 are the subject of the Sicily 1943: Peace, Security & Prosperity conference in Catania organised in partnership with  Museo Storico dello Sbarco in Sicilia 1943 and the IFPSP.


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