Enrico Toti may have the most fascinating World War I story I’ve ever read:
Enrico lost his left leg while working for Italian railways, at the age of 24. After his injury he became a cyclist. In 1911, riding on a bicycle with one leg, he cycled to Paris, and then through Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark, up to Finland and Lapland. From there, via Russia and Poland, he returned to Italy in June 1912. In January 1913 Toti started cycling again, this time in Egypt; from Alexandria, he reached the border with Sudan where the English authorities, considering the trail too dangerous, ordered him to end the journey, and sent him to Cairo where he came back to Italy. When war broke out between Italy and the Austrian Empire, Toti tried to volunteer for the Italian army but was not accepted due to his injury. Undaunted, he reached the frontline with his bicycle and managed to serve as an unpaid, unregistered, fully non-regulation “civilian volunteer” attached to several units.
This statue of Toti is tucked inside Villa Borghese, along one of its many dusty paths. Placed among the classical statues and busts of the Villa Borghese, this statue is striking for its size and design. Of particular interest is the crutch Toti holds in his hand:
The legend goes that as Toti lay dying on the field during the Sixth Battle of Isonzo, he hurled his crutch at the enemy.
Enrico Toti is one of the only civilians to have earned (posthumously) the Medaglio d’Oro di Valor Militare, or Gold Medal of Military Valor, Italy’s highest military honor.