By Bernie Jaworsk

Lieutenant Dan Giannini, a former Lake Shore miner and underground superintendent at the Toburn mine, was instrumental, along with his company of Royal Canadian Engineers, in restoring a water supply to 260,000 people in a European city during WW II.

The Allied Forces in 1944 were slowly moving northward along the Italian peninsula. The Germans were retreating but not without a fight. Many tough battles had taken place and numerous casualties were sustained on both sides as the battle front gradually moved towards the Arno River. The city of Florence, located on the river, was bombed by the Allies for 18 days and the Italian Partisans fought the Germans in the streets for a week. The street fighting was brutal with the Partisans suffering many casualties including 300 killed. As the British Eighth Army approached the city the Germans retreated across the river to make their stand on the other side.

In advance of the infantry, Dan Giannini’s unit of Canadian Engineers was selected by the Allied Forces Commander to cross many times, no-mans land—the Arno, from the south shore to the north shore, to complete a mission.

Geographically, the flowing waters of the Arno divide Florence. Northern sections of the city had been provided with potable water by a pipeline running across the river from the southern shore.

As the British Eighth converged on the city from the south, the retreating Germans hastily and deliberately set charges, damaging this water system before fleeing over the river.

Giannini, of Italian parentage, was a valuable asset since he was fluent in Italian. He made contact with the Partisans and in company with them secretly crossed over the river on many occasions to gather information despite obvious dangers.

The water supply, it was learned, originated from eastern wells in the southern part of the city and from there it was piped westward to a pumping station and then across a weir to the northern bank. The pumping station was powered by revolving turbines turned by the flowing waters of the river. However, the Germans in their retreat had blown up the sluice gate and thus lowered the depth of the river to the point where the power source to the pumps was eliminated.

Despite enemy rifle and machine gun fire from the north bank, Giannini’s unit erected a temporary wooden sluice gate in the weir. In the meantime a British division had moved to the river and, finding almost all bridges destroyed, used the weir as an access to the other side. The wooden sluice gate was now a barricade to them, therefore, they blew it up. The Canadians grimly watched as about 30 German retaliatory shells exploded in the vicinity of the weir, causing damage to the pumping station on the south shore.

The Canadian Engineers returned quickly to rebuilding the sluice gate, this time with metal, and completed repairs to the pumps at the station. The system was put into operation but unfortunately a hitch was soon realized as there was an immediate loss of pressure due to a large hole in the 24-inch diameter pipe, crossing the river.

The city’s chief engineer was ultimately located and from him it was learned where a suitable plug could be procured. To reach the hole and install the plug the brave engineers had to again expose themselves to enemy snipers.

Somehow, Giannini and his men made their repairs much to the glee of the thirsty, but patient, northern Florentines.

For “gallant and distinguished services in Italy,” Daniel Giannini of the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers was awarded, on May 31, 1945, the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire: Member Of British Empire (Military) Medal.

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In Memory of Daniel Giannini

Daniel worked in the mines of Northern Ontario, as an underground supervisor at the Toburn Mine, before volunteering as an Engineer in WWII . He served with the Canadian Tunnelling Company in Gibralter, England and Europe, rising to the rank of lieutenant and earning an MBE. At the time of the incident, Lt. Giannini was in command of 3 Drill Pl (Sec), Canadian Tunnelling Company.

After the war, he returned to Canada and moved with his wife, Cecely, from Kirkland Lake to Burlington, Ontario. Daniel switched to insurance with Empire Life rising to Vice-President by retirement. After retirement with no slowdown in sight, Dan became chairman of D.A. Stuart Oil Co.

Later in life Giannini delved into philanthropy, establishing the Daniel Giannini Fund, (http://www.hcf.on.ca/resources/archives/fund-histories/daniel-giannini-fund) with the Hamilton Community Foundation, to assist medical students.

Daniel and his wife Cecely are now deceased. Daniel passed away 15 August 2003.

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Reproduced with the permission of the author; Bernie Jaworsky. Bernie continuously writes stories concerning Kirkland Lake area personalities for the local museum, websites, newspapers and magazines and anyone else who wants such stories. Daniel Gianninis’ story was one of them.

 This article appears in the book “Lamps Forever Lit” The book pertains to the 309 miners that were killed while at work in local Kirkland Lake mines. It doesn’t necessarily pertain to miners who served in the armed forces and were killed while on duty, although numerous soldiers returned home after the wars and worked in the mines here and lost their lives while at work.

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