A Roman hero: Enrico Toti

A Roman hero: Enrico Toti

Enrico Toti was an Italian patriot who fought in the ranks of the Bersaglieri during World War I.

However, he could also be recognized today as the first Paralympic champion in history, as he achieved remarkable sporting feats in swimming, diving, and with his beloved bicycle, all with only one leg.

He was born in Rome in 1882 and enlisted in the Royal Navy at the age of fourteen, becoming a skilled electrician. He served on various naval vessels, including the training ship Ettore Fieramosca, the battleship Emanuele Filiberto, and the cruiser Coatit. In 1904, he was involved in clashes against pirates in the Red Sea near the Italian colony of Eritrea.

After leaving the navy in 1905, Toti found employment with the State Railways as a fireman. However, tragedy struck on March 27, 1908, while he was lubricating a locomotive at the Colleferro station. His left leg became trapped and crushed by the machinery, leading to its amputation at the hip. Despite this severe disability, Toti persevered, redirecting his life towards other interests.

While continuing his interrupted studies, Toti dabbled in inventing everyday objects, such as a safety bandage for horses and a protective brush for bicycles, many of which were patented and are still housed in the Bersaglieri Museum. Another remarkable aspect of Toti’s life was his passion for travel. Despite his disability, he embarked on adventurous journeys to distant lands with his bicycle, which still astonish and inspire today, considering the challenges of the times and his physical condition.

His travels faced numerous difficulties due to limited financial means. In his writings, he described being stranded by ice for two days in a countryside cottage and falling more than twenty times during a 15 km of travel in Streinstrasse. However, he persisted, undeterred by setbacks. “But they are light falls and I do nothing to myself in the snow; I get up and go again,” he wrote. His journey was eventually halted when British authorities denied him permission to continue alone through the Sudan without an escort or caravan. Reluctantly, he returned to Italy.

Back home, Toti established a woodworking industry, which provided him with a comfortable and peaceful life. However, with the outbreak of World War I in 1914, he keenly felt the weight of his disability and voluntarily donned a uniform to join the front lines. Despite facing enemy fire, he endeavored to contribute in any way possible, capturing Austrian rifles and ammunition and inspecting telephone wires for efficiency.

His reckless behavior led to his return to Rome until he obtained proper authorization from the War Ministry. He then joined the 3rd Battalion of Bersaglieri Cyclists and actively participated in combat, displaying valor and courage. His commanding officer wrote of him in August 1916, praising his tireless efforts in inspiring patriotism among the Bersaglieri.

On August 6, 1916, Toti insisted on following his comrades to Hill 85 near Monfalcone. He was immediately in the trenches among the first, fighting tenaciously, he sneaked into the trenches and crawled towards the Austrian positions under infernal fire. The wounded man continued to fight, encouraging his fellow soldiers; wounded a second and third time, he fell, throwing his crutch at the enemy.

In his diary, Corporal Piferi says: “A bullet had passed through his left shoulder. I tried to get closer, but he said “No, no, help Lieutenant Botta who is injured”. Then Toti, as he stood up to throw a bomb, took a bullet in the chest. I see him raise his torso again and throw the crutch at the enemy. A third bullet had hit him in the forehead. When I got closer, he had his mouth resting on the helmet, it gave me the impression that he was kissing it.”

His body, initially placed in the Monfalcone cemetery, was transported to Rome on 24 May 1922, where he received solemn funerals.

In memory of him, on 27 August 1916, the Gold Medal for Military Valor was awarded, with the following motivation:”Volunteer, although without his left leg, after having rendered important services in the battles of April at altitude 70 (east of Selz), on 6 August, in the battle that led to the occupation of altitude 85 (east of Monfalcone) He boldly threw himself into the enemy trench, continuing to fight with ardor, although already wounded twice by a third bullet, with heroic exaltation he threw the crutch at the enemy and died kissing the plume of his helmet, with stoicism worthy of that man. highly Italian soul. Monfalcone, 6 August 1916.”

A bronze monument was erected in his memory in Rome’s Pincio Gardens, honoring his indomitable spirit and sacrifice for his country.

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