One of the very few existing images that show the work of the Russian sailors engaged in rescuing the survivors after the disastrous earthquake that struck the Italian town of Messina in 1908
The earthquake of Messina, in 1908, was an exceptional event for many reasons. One was it size; with some 150.000 casualties, it was one of the largest recorded in history up to then. One curious facet of this story was the role that the Russian Navy played in it.
Yet, the Russian rescue expedition created an exceptional feeling of gratitude in Italy. There was something in the way the Russian sailors acted that left a deep impact.
So much that Italian poets engaged in praising Russia and the Russian sailors that went on for a few years after the earthquake. Below, a poem by Tommaso Cannizzaro (1838 – 1921). As poetry, it must be said it is not so great, but it seems sincere. It shows that there is some kind of natural mutual sympathy between Italians and Russians which still exists today (unless propaganda convinces them to hate each other)
The Russian LegionThey were young, handsome and they had
On their face the ray of the stars of the Great Bear
And they jumped into the flames
As lions into a thick forest.
And they took out of the fire the wailing people
While at their feet were falling
Walls, beams and a shiver took hold
Of the trembling crowd overlooking
Leaning down on the rubble to hear
If a rattle were coming from the bottom
Of living people to help and save,
They were there, and their efforts were blessed
By the merciful sky - Century old history
Wrote their names in its great book.
By Tommaso Cannizzaro, February 19, 1909
Eran giovani e belli e il raggio in volto
a lor della polare Orsa splendea
e si slanciâr dove l’incendio ardea
come leoni dentro il bosco folto.
E i gemebondi da le fiamme han tolto
mentre in frantumi ai loro piè cadea
la trave e il muro e un brivido correa
nel popol trepidante ivi raccolto.
Chini sulle macerie ad origliare
se dal lor fondo un rantolo salisse
di vivi da soccorrere e salvare,
stavano e i loro sforzi benedisse
pietoso il ciel – La storia secolare
il nome lor nel suo volume scrisse.
Di Tommaso Cannizzaro, 19 febbraio 1909