- Contributed by
- Peter - WW2 Site Helper
- People in story:
- Peter Ghiringhelli
- Location of story:
- Musadino, Lake Maggiore, Italy
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 20 November 2005
For the background to this story please go to my Personal Page and click on "A Childhood in Nazi-Occupied Italy" (A1993403). It was during my time in Italy, from 1940 to 1946, when I lived in my father's village of Musadino in Valtravaglia on Lake Maggiore.
One day I had gone higher in the mountains than usual, beyond Pian della Nave and almost in line with San Michele. It was late 1943 after the fall of Mussolini when the Partisan bands were forming. Whether it was before or after the Battle of San Martino I can no longer remember; just after I think, as it must have been late autumn. I was looking for mushrooms, the now very prized 'porcini' known as ceps in English, they are absolutely delicious, but such niceties didn't come into it then, they were food and that was all that mattered. I was 13; it would be unthinkable now for a boy of 13 to be alone in the mountains without any safety equipment or means of communication whatsoever, but then it was nothing unusual - I knew those parts like the back of my hand although I had seldom ventured beyond the already high Pian della Nave alone.
Well below any snow line, and below the military road of WW1, it was a an area of mature trees, mixed woodland but oak mainly, the very reason I had gone there. I had already found several mushrooms and was already thinking of getting back down when I suddenly saw an empty packet of Player's cigarettes lying amongst fallen leaves, a packet of twenty. I remembered the packet well from my earlier years in England, the bearded sailor framed by a white life belt with 'Player's Navy Cut' on it and, beneath, the sea with 'Cigarettes "Medium"', and inside thin tissue-paper in silver paper.
I remember staring at it confused and wondering what to do, minutes perhaps. Although young, I was already ultra cautious, trusting no one, old beyond my years - like every other boy then in German occupied territory. All sorts of thoughts raced through my mind and I remember sitting some distance away observing and wondering what to do. Either someone had been very stupid and had thrown the empty cigarette packet away or it had been left as a signal. The stupidity lie in the fact that the entire area was patrolled by Germans and had it been found by them the whole area would have been combed thoroughly and lives put in danger. After a while, I called out in mountain style, cupping my hands, in case there were Partisans nearby - deathly silence. In the end I decided that I couldn't just leave it there, it was getting late and I had to start back down very soon, so I went back and picked it up. I then hid it in case I was stopped and searched, but I can't remember now whether I put it under the mushrooms or in the lining of my cap, and hurried back down to Pian della Nave. Then, after a brief rest and a drink from a mountain spring, I headed back down to Musadino. I wasn't stopped and I don't remember seeing anyone on the way down.
I told no one at home so not to implicate anyone, not even my parents. Then, a few days later, when alone, I steamed the cigarette packet open and there appeared some sort of code inside. I cannot remember now what it was, something like ABC 1234-XYZ under the gummed joint of the packet. It preyed on my mind, had I removed an important message?
In 1946, when I returned to England, one of the first things I did was to get a packet of Players and steam it open, and there it was - almost the same code. It was obviously just a printer's batch code, perfectly innocuous, I had worried for nothing. I never worked out who had dropped that packet. Perhaps an escaped British PoW making his way to the Swiss border who had just been incredibly careless. If so, I hope he made it - but would he have English cigarettes? Perhaps it was a British airman who had bailed out, I never found out.
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