Why The Pope Has Used Swiss Soldiers as a Personal Bodyguard for 500 Years - Men Like John Goldi
Switzerland has been an independent confederacy since 1291, when a small group of hardy mountain folk - from the three central Cantons (provinces) where John Goldi's ancestors came from - defeated the armies of the mighty Habsburg Empire, and gained their freedom.
The fighting spirit and fierce independence of this mountain people has produced probably the finest fighting soldier the world has seen. For hundreds of years, the celebrated Swiss pikemen and halberdsmen, who relied on courage, skill, and physical fitness, carried all before them; they were the wonder of the Middle Ages.
The Swiss had supplied troops to the Catholic Popes in Rome since the 1300s. In 1506 Pope Julius II formally established the Papal Bodyguard entirely with Catholic men from Switzerland, a custom which the Vatican perpetuates to this day. In 1526, during the sacking of Rome, 200 of these Swiss Catholics defended Pope Clement VII against a Spanish-German army of 20,000 men. 147 of the Swiss - including the commander - were killed. The remainder saved the life of the Pope by making a tactical retreat to Castel San Angelo (still standing in downtown Rome), and held out till a surrender - and the safety of the Pope - was negotiated.
Among other famous Swiss units serving - not as "mercenaries for plunder," but under treaties, contracted with the governments of the Swiss cantons - was the renowned "Garde Suisse" of the French Army.
Embodying the finest tradition of this legacy are common soldiers like John Goldi, left, as he was in his private's uniform in 1940, during World War II"
His military tradition is forever emblazoned on the Goldi family crest (above) with red roses - signifying that Goldi men fought for the British House of Lancaster in the Wars of the Roses in England (1455-1487) - and the fleur-de-lis, for serving in the fabled Garde Suisse of the Royal Armies of France.
All part of a multicultural tradition that flows in John Goldi's veins. As a young man he went to live and work in Lausanne and Geneva to become absorbed in the French culture of Switzerland. As well as speaking Swiss, German, and English, he is fluent in French (he was a businessman in Marseilles and Paris during the 1920s and 30s, involved in trading commodities from North Africa to France and England). If he has any ethnic passions they are all, unreservedly for France and the French.
But, when World War II broke out, he returned to Switzerland to defend the homeland against a possible foreign attack, from Nazi Germany.
For over 700 years the Swiss knew that to preserve their independence, every able-bodied man would have to be recruited into the Swiss Army, and so, every Swiss male has to take life-long military training, every year, among the mountains of the Republic.
As a result, every Swiss male is ready to go to war at a moment's notice; each has his uniform, rifle and bayonet - yes even his ammunition - stored at home, at all times, in his bedroom closet. (It remains a tribute to the strength of Swiss democracy that today there is no other government in the world that would dare to provide every able-bodied male citizen with high-powered rifles and ammunition to store in their homes.)
As World War II raged beyond the mountains, above and left, John Goldi - with a broad forehead - patrols with his comrades among the mountain passes.
For hundreds of years this small country has been surrounded by warring nations intent - from time to time - on wholesale bloodletting. For their part, the Swiss simply wanted to be left alone to tend goats, milk cows, and yodel among the mountains.
John Goldi had always prided himself on keeping physically fit and living a healthy lifestyle - no drinking, beyond a medicinal shot of gin, no smoking, and proper diet.
He was a champion swimmer and runner. (right, sitting tall, among the elite Swiss swim team) in an age when personal honour and dedication was the hallmark of champions, not the steroidally driven duplicity of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mark McGwire, Ben Johnson, and Barry, and Floyd... and...
In 1934, at Romanshorn on the Bodensee (Lake Konstanz), he won the Eastern Region Swiss Swimming Championship. Featured on the medal (below) is the romantic "Inseli" in the harbour where he used to court Mom.
(During World War II, the family used to watch the Allied bombing of the German factories at Friederichshaven, a few kilometres across the lake.)
Below, far right, among top runners in the Swiss Army during 1940.)
The Baron: John Goldi married Ruth Suter right, in the summer of 1940; Ruth was 23, John was 35. The marriage caused a scandal; her small town family derisively called him the "Baron" because of his European business travels, and dapper dress, and considered the 12 year age difference atrocious.
He was also a Catholic and she was Protestant - another no starter. Ever the independent, he got a special Papal dispensation to marry her; Dad's only two sisters had both became nuns, with whom, in the 1920s, he had travelled to Rome for a private audience with Pope Pius XI.
The following year the newlyweds celebrated the birth of their first-born Hans Werner (John), who was already showing early signs of following his father's athletic footsteps, busy practicing the proper posture for spending endless hours sitting behind the video editing computer.
But the war was on; Hitler was on the march; the Swiss feared imminent invasion. Swiss physical fitness - already among the finest in the world because of universal military service for all men - was honed into an unprecedented hysteria of perfection; surrounded by warring countries on all sides, the very lifeblood of the nation depended on it. With the defeat of France, and the abandonment of mainland Europe by the Allies, the threat to Switzerland seemed to increase. When would the Nazi war machine stamp out this dot on the map of mainland Europe?
The Swiss prepared to fight if it closed in..
The annual Swiss Army Games were held in 1941, pitting every male in Switzerland against every other, to see who was the best Swiss of them all! The elite competition was the multidiscipline championship for the best all-around Swiss athlete.
Right and below, John Goldi in action, rifle shooting (far right), running, swimming, and hurdling, while fully equipped, to the grenade tossing pit.