Italy joined the conflict on the side of Britain in May 1915. Troops from the Italian Army fought along her border with Austria in the mountains of the Italian Alps, on the Western Front and also in the Middle East.
Due to the large number of troops needed on the Italian Front during the First World War, women were used as porters to take supplies up to the front-line in the mountains. The women who volunteered for the work were aged between 16 and 60 years. They wore a red arm band with an identification number stamped on it.
They hauled loads of concrete and wire as well as ammunition, food and supplies for the troops in the mountains. Although all the women were extremely brave in very harsh conditions and worked hard clearing snow away as well as delivering supplies, three of them stood out as particularly brave: Maria Muser Olivotto, Maria Silverio Matiz, Rosalia Primes and Maria Plozner Menthyl. Maria Plozner Menthyl was one of the leaders, encouraging her co-workers when they were tired and urging them to pray when they felt their courage slipping when they came under fire.
On 15th February 1916 after delivering supplies, Maria and her friend were resting before returning to their base, when they came under fire from an Austrian sniper. Maria was shot and badly wounded. She died in a field hospital at Paluzza a few hours later and was buried with full military honours in the cemetery at Timau. Maria, whose husband was fighting with the Italian Army at Carso, left four children - the eldest was ten and the youngest six months.
In 1997, the Italian President awarded the italian gold medal for military bravery - The Motu Proprio - to Maria Plozner Menthyl to commemorate all Italian the women porters of WW1. The medal was presented to Dorina - Maria's daughter.
With thanks to Elena Branca of the Italian Red Cross for posting a link about Italian women porters in The First World War: http://www.cimeetrincee.it/portatri.htm