The unknown soldier: a century ago the train journey of the unnamed soldier, whose carriage passed through Venice and Mestre stations

29 October 2021

Venice, October 28, 2021- A train still alive in the collective memory, a one-way trip, a carriage carrying the unnamed body of a young soldier who lost his life in war. A train that passed through 120 stations, from Aquileia to Rome, and slowly crossed all the regions to allow the thousands of people waiting on the tracks to take their hats off, as a sign of respect, to get down on their knees and throw a flower, while tears wiped off their eyes. A symbolic journey to honor the 650 thousand people that died in the battlefields, and the many missing bodies, to whom their wives, mothers and fathers were never able to give a proper burial.

A hundred years have passed, but their memory is still fresh in our minds. It was 8AM on October 29, 1921, when the train convoy began its journey from the Railway Station of Aquileia, carrying over five days the body of the “unknown soldier”, all the way to Rome, passing through Venice and Mestre railway stations. A very touching journey, able to unite Italy in grief, to pay tribute to a young man ready to sacrifice himself for the sake of his country. A journey that is also about a woman, Triestine Maria Bergamas, whose son deserted the Austrian army to fight with Italy, chosen to represent the pain of all Italian mothers, who was asked to select one of the eleven coffins containing soldiers remained without identity and found in the war theaters in which Italy fought.

The oak wooden coffin was placed on the gun carriage and traveled in a wagon specially designed by the architect Guido Cirilli. It arrived in Rome on November 4, 1921, and the shrine is preserved in the Altar of the Fatherland, which still today symbolizes all the war cemeteries scattered throughout the front line. The unknown soldier was awarded the gold medal, with this motivation: “Worthy son of a courageous ancestry and of a thousand-year-old civilization, he resisted in the trenches revealing his courage in the most violent battles and he died on the battlefield, hoping for a victory for his homeland”.

Since 1919, November 4 has been a national holiday, dedicated to the memory of the many Italian soldiers who lost their lives for the freedom of their country.