BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

BBC Homepage
BBC History
WW2 People's War Homepage Archive List Timeline About This Site

Contact Us

Players Please!

by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

You are browsing in:

Archive List > World > Italy

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.

© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.

Forum Archive

This forum is now closed

These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - Brave lad

Posted on: 25 November 2005 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

A well told story the thing being you were either brave or taking and awful risk carrying that packet. I would have been tempted to turn a rock over and hide it.
If you had been caught and searched by a patrol you would have not been writing the story, it would have been a slow and painful death so what on earth made you carry it back with you. I can guess, at thirteen we have no fear and we dont have the sense to think it through either.
I always knew there must be more Peter so get them on before the end.


Message 2 - Brave lad

Posted on: 27 November 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Many thanks for your comments, Frank. But honestly bravery didn't come into it and I have never thought of it in such terms, either then or now. I merely posted the story as an unresolved minor mystery. It wasn't all doom and gloom, there were great days boating, sunbathing, and swimming in Lake Maggiore.

I think at times we were far more frightened of getting caught pinching fruit than we were of the Germans. The villagers didn't mind losing a few cherries, peaches, figs, or pears, those were a clip round the ear offences <injured>, but all hell was let lose <yikes> if you pinched grapes meant for wine. And grapes could be irresistible, straight off the vine. On reflection, I suppose I was a brave lad.

Peter :-D


Message 3 - Brave lad

Posted on: 28 November 2005 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Brave lad indeed, I remember raiding an orchard and when we came back through the hole in the hedge a stout pair of legs in Police trousers were blocking the escape route.
We were lined up but one lad ducked back inside. Dire warning do not move and the Bobby went through the hedge coming back with one lad grasped firmly by the ear and protesting loudly. We had not moved we just dare not and after a good clip on the ear we were marched up to the house to apologise to the Widow who owned it. Four very downcast looking lads agreed to do some chores in payment and were told to just walk in and take the fruit as she could never use all of it. I never did take any because the fun was in the scrumping.
I can imagine those bunches of grapes hanging there Peter and the temptation it would be so yes a brave lad.

Archive List

This story has been placed in the following categories.

Italy Category
icon for Story with photoStory with photo

Most of the content on this site is created by our users, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of any external sites referenced. In the event that you consider anything on this page to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please click here. For any other comments, please Contact Us.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy