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A Childhood in Nazi-Occupied Italyicon for Recommended story

by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Contributed by 
Peter - WW2 Site Helper
People in story: 
Peter Ghiringhelli
Location of story: 
Northern Italy
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Contributed on: 
08 November 2003

My passport photo in 1946 in my best clothes, aged 16. I had forgotten how to smile.

An Account of my life in Italy 1940 — 1946

'The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there'
'The Go-Between' LP Hartley

This is an account of my years in Italy under Nazi occupation and of the series of events that took me there. It is, of course, an account of my own personal experience but I hope it will give some idea of what the Italian people suffered in 1944 in the Fascist Republic of Salò, during the later stages of the Second World War.

Early years in Leeds

I was born in Leeds on the 9th of June 1930. My father, Pietro Ghiringhelli (known as Rino), was Italian. He came to Leeds in 1919 at the age of 17 to work for his uncle, Peter Maturi, a cutler. Shortly afterwards he met my mother, Elena Granelli. She was born in Leeds in 1905 of Italian parents. They were married in 1928.

My father joined the Italian 'Fascisti all'Estero' association (Fascists Abroad) and I can recollect going to social gatherings, around 1936, at the Italian Consul's office in Bradford. During the Italian invasion of Abyssinia (now better know as Ethiopia) I can remember my mother giving up her gold wedding ring there. To applause, all the married women walked up to a basket and placed their gold wedding rings in it as 'a gift' to the Duce, in return they received steel rings (fede d'acciao) with the date and details of the donation inscribed inside it. From 1936 it was not very easy being Italian or having an Italian name; my earliest recollections of nationalism is being held down in the school playground by several boys and made to inhale again and again from a bottle of smelling salts as my mouth was covered. I was about seven when this happened. I remember the injustice of it and the dismissive attitude of the teacher when I told her.

I spent the first nine months of the war in Leeds. I can still distinctly remember Chamberlain's solemn declaration on the wireless that Britain was at war with Germany. I remember being issued with a gas mask, and gas mask drill at school, and the Anderson air-raid shelter in our garden. This was the period which later became known as the 'phoney war', but it didn't seem phoney then with the blackout strictly imposed, groping about with torches in the dark and cars driving along with the dimmest slit of light from their masked headlamps. Then, early in 1940, I watched newsreels of the French roads blocked with fleeing refugees and, later, the Dunkirk evacuation.

On the 10th of June 1940, a day after my 10th birthday, Mussolini made his ill fated decision to enter the war. The police went into action that very night all over Britain. There was a knock on our door in the late evening and two Special Branch officers came and arrested my father. He was ordered to pack a small suitcase. I remember that we had two photographs on display in the living room, one of Vittorio Emmanuele III, the King of Italy, and the other of the Duce, Benito Mussolini, both in steel helmets. In confiscating them one was smashed. I remember my mother in tears, clearing up the glass from the carpet, after my father had been taken away. We had no telephone and it was only the next morning that we learnt that my maternal grandfather, Ferdinando Granelli, had also been arrested as had other Italians in Leeds and elsewhere. A few days later next of kin were informed that all the arrested men were interned on the Isle of Man. My grandfather was released in 1943, he died in 1945.


About three weeks after his arrest, without warning, my father was unexpectedly released under police escort. We were given a few hours to pack one suitcase each and to catch a train to Glasgow; my mother and father, myself and my young sister, Gloria, aged four. The train up north was crowded with soldiers and I remember sitting in the corridor, with a kilted soldier, on his kit bag. The train went right into the Glasgow docks where we got off to board a ship, the Monarch of Bermuda. After a rigorous search, my collection of stamps and an atlas I had just got for my birthday were confiscated and thrown aside. There were 629 of us, led by Giuseppe Bastianini, the Italian Ambassador, a high ranking Fascist who was subsequently made governor of Italian occupied Dalmatia. A senior member of the Fascist Grand Council, Bastianini later played a prominent role in the downfall of Mussolini in July 1943.

From Glasgow we sailed for Lisbon, constantly zigzagging to avoid mined areas and U-boats. I remember there was lots of boat drill, when we were all kept on deck standing in lifebelts for what seemed like hours. No doubt it was necessary given the constant danger, but a little anti-Italian feeling may also have crept in, in dealing with what were enemy nationals; we were treated fairly, but coldly. The crew were no doubt brave merchant seamen charged with an unusual task (one of my own maternal uncles, John Granelli, served with distinction as Second Engineer on the British ship, the SS Sacramento, constantly sailing between Hull and New York throughout the war). On 26 June we arrived in Lisbon. We were not allowed ashore, but were transferred directly to the Conte Rosso, an Italian Lloyd-Triestino liner, which had arrived from Italy with the British Embassy staff and a reciprocal number of expatriate British citizens.

In contrast to the Monarch of Bermuda, on the Conte Rosso we were given first class treatment and the finest food and wines. We were in the dining room when Bastianini and his entourage appeared resplendent in full Fascist uniform. Prior to this I had only glimpsed him in on the Monarch of Bermuda in a drab suit. Bastianini went from table to table, briefly chatting with all of us. Several weeks before the fatal 10th of June I had double-fractured my right arm and it was still in plaster, and it was way past the date for its removal. I can remember Bastianini asking me about it, talking to my parents, and ordering that the plaster be removed the next day; which it was. We arrived at Messina in Sicily where we disembarked. Other than being issued with rail passes, we were now completely on our own.

Arrival in Sicily

One thing has remained vividly in my mind. As we left the ship to go to the sea ferry from Messina to Reggio Calabria, on the Italian mainland, a teenage sun tanned Sicilian boy asked if he could carry our luggage. He was in bare feet with trousers that came down mid calf. We had four heavy leather suitcases packed solid and my father said yes, expecting that he would take two. Instead the boy put a broad leather belt through the handles of two and slung them on his shoulder, then picked up the other two and set off at a trot to the ferry. There he quickly dropped them, was paid, and dashed back for more.

Italy, after only a few days of war, seemed at peace. We stopped off in Rome for a day sightseeing and visited the Vatican. Then we stayed above Santa Maria del Taro, in a hamlet called Pianlavagnolo, behind Chiavari in the Apennine mountains for several weeks, with my mother's sister's family. Then by train again to Porto Valtravaglia on Lake Maggiore, to the tiny village of Musadino, where my father was born. News filtered through of the sinking by U-boat (U-47 commanded by the famous Gunther Prien, in the night 1-2 July 1940) of the Andorra Star' off Mallin Head, the northernmost point of Ireland. The Andorra Star' was bound for Canada, with about 700 interned Italians, most of whom drowned. My father would have almost certainly been on that doomed ship had he not opted for deportation; many of the men he knew were lost. It also brought home to us how lucky we had been to have sailed through the Irish sea, the Bay of Biscay, and the Mediterranean on two ships in wartime without mishap. The Conte Rosso also fared badly, used as a troop ship after we disembarked, it was torpedoed and sunk in 1941 with the loss of 1,212 lives.

My father's family had settled in France during the 1920s, so the family house in Musadino was empty. There was electricity in the house but no running water; that had to be fetched in buckets from an outside public fountain. The house was sturdy, built in the mid-18th century, on three floors, but there were no inner stairs nor drainage; to get to the first floor (where we lived) you had to ascend a gloomy outside stone staircase; this led to a balcony from which a steep wooden flight of stairs led to the top balcony and a large bedroom. A window facing the outside street was iron barred with inner wooden shutters, the two balconies faced an inner rectangular courtyard, onto which other houses faced. The closet was just a walled in door-less hole, in a corner of the courtyard, over a huge septic tank; when it was full it had to be emptied by hand and the contents were used as fertilizer.

All this hit my mother very hard. We had had a comfortable life in Leeds and, most unusually for those days, we had a fully equipped modern bathroom, a washing machine, and a Hoover vacuum cleaner. Quite apart from having no water my mother couldn't speak a word of Italian. Disaster struck almost at once. Within a few weeks my father was called up and sent to Yugoslavia, serving mostly in Split (then called Spalato) in Dalmatia.

Starting school

I started school in Italy in the 1st elementary class, which I found totally humiliating. My class mates were all six years old, apart from one seven-year-old boy who had learning difficulties and had to repeat the year. I, as a ten-year-old, towered over them. Moreover, for the first few weeks I had to wear an infantile smock like the rest of them. In class it wasn't too bad, but at playtime I rapidly became a figure of fun.

It was during this period that something happened which made me a life-long anti-nationalist. I was set upon by a group of lads after school and stoned, the group rapidly growing as more joined in to shouts and yells of 'Inglese!' Having been nearly suffocated in England with smelling salts and called 'eye-tie', I was now being stoned and called 'English'. None of the stones hit me, but I ran home feeling rejected and an outcast in both countries.

Following an accident in 1940, I developed an acute double hernia and had to have an operation in Luino, about eight kilometres from Musadino. It must have been a desperate time for my mother, but somehow she coped. Just before my operation my parents came to visit me, my father in full uniform as an infantry soldier. He had finished his training and was bound for Yugoslavia, (although at the time he didn't know where he was being sent). I didn't see him again until 8 December 1942, when he was unexpectedly discharged from the army.

This is one date I can accurately pin-point because it was a public holiday, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, when he walked into the house. He should have been home a week or two before, he told us, but the first train he was on was ambushed by Tito's partisans. The line was blown up and the train was machine gunned. My dad had jumped down from the carriage and lain down on the track behind a train wheel until it was all over.

Following my operation, in early 1941, I was sent to recuperate in Loano, a sea resort in Liguria, at state expense under the auspices of the 'Gioventù italiana del littorio' (the Fascist youth organisation). My mother accompanied me to Varese; I was wearing a black shirt and army green shorts, not quite the full Balilla outfit. At the station in Varese I joined several other boys and girls on a train to Genoa, where we changed for Loano. From Genoa the train went slowly past several areas which had been heavily shelled by the British navy (by the battleships Renown and Malaya, and the cruiser Sheffield, on 9 February 1941, I discovered after the war). This was my first sight of heavy war damage, but I was to see plenty of it in the years ahead, culminating in my standing in Hanover's railway station, as a British soldier in 1948, and seeing the utter devastation of the city for miles around.

At the Loano recuperation centre I first became aware of what a totalitarian state really was. There were several news bulletins a day, and we had to listen to two of them, one at breakfast and one at lunch time. As soon as the martial music began, which preceded the newscast, we all had to rise and stand to attention in silence until the news finished. Then to a teacher's cry of 'A chi la vittoria?' (To whom victory?), to which we all responded with the Fascist salute (known as 'il saluto romano') and the shout 'A noi!' (To us!), we at last sat down to our meal. All we heard were reports of victories, unprecedented heroism acknowledged by the enemy, and victorious strategic planned retreats in the desert to trap the enemy.

At the time I believed all this, only much later did I learn of the defeats suffered by the Italian army in North Africa. A lot of my new companions were girls, a few of mixed race, from Libya. Apart from the dreaded news bulletins and everything done to a strict timetable, we were treated well. I cannot now remember how long I was there, it could have been three months or perhaps less.

Hunger and cold

When I returned to Musadino I spoke Italian reasonably well and the humiliation of the first elementary class was over. I was put in the 2nd class. By now though, my clothes were beginning to be in tatters and my sister was rapidly outgrowing hers. I had no shoes nor boots, just bare feet in 'zoccoli', these were roughly carved wooden soles held on the feet by a leather strap. This was normal village footwear, the only difference being that I didn't have any socks. My trousers and shirt were patched and re-patched. The winter of 1941 was also the coldest in living memory and at times I used to nearly pass out from cold and hunger. I remember being constantly hungry from 1941 to 1945, although the worst year was 1944. There was a ration system, but seldom were there any goods available to fulfil it in the village.

Milan was only a few miles away, but it might have been a thousand. We passed through in 1940 when we first arrived and visited the Duomo, but Milan had already been bombed, and I didn't return there until 1945 when I was with the South African Army. It was bombed again several times in 1940, but the really huge devastating raid was in daylight in October 1942. After this we had a stream of refugees, mainly women and children. This had a curious effect on my fortunes - suddenly I was accepted by all the village boys as one of them and the poor Milanese boys became the object of our scorn and taunts. We would taunt them in dialect with 'Milanaiz, spetascez, mangia scerez, a deëz a deëz' ('Milanesi, spetezzatori, mangiate ciliegie dieci alla volta' - Milanese, farters, eat cherries ten at a time).

It was on 28 October (anniversary of the March on Rome, and the Fascist seizure of power) either 1941 or 1942 (I now forget which) that I saw and took part in a great fascist rally in Porto Valtravaglia. The whole school had to attend in black shirts, 'Figli e figlie della Lupa' ('sons and daughters of the she-wolf', very young children, the equivalent of cubs), Balilla (boys from 8 to 14), 'Avanguardisti' (boys from 15 to 18) were drawn up in ranks together with soldiers of the 7° Reggimento Fanteria (from the local barracks in Porto Valtravaglia near Lucchini glass manufacturers), along the broad lake front, which was festooned with flags and banners. The Balilla (us) were led by teachers who were members of the MVSN ('Milizia Voluntaria per la sicurezza Nazionale' - 'National Voluntary Militia for National Security) and the 'Avanguardisti' were led by officers of the MVSN. In Porto Valtravaglia there was a kindly middle aged doctor, Doctor Ballerò, small with a paunch. I was amazed to see him and the local chemist as MVSN officers in full Fascist uniform with their stomachs pulled in by blue cummerbunds.

There was lots of smirking and suppressed giggles amongst my school chums. Another vignette which has stuck in my mind was that, at the end of the parade, we were all, except for the soldiers, marched off to church for a solemn mass and a blessing of the flags. All the flags and banners were held by bearers in full uniform including their fascist 'fez' headgear or alpine hats. At first it surprised me to see men wearing hats in church at mass and the priest not complaining about it, but suddenly, and I am fairly sure this is not hindsight, I saw the whole thing as a farce.

My father comes back

Following his discharge from the army my father went to work as a machine grinder in a factory (Ditta Boltri) in Porto Valtravaglia. He worked 10 hours a day, from 6am to 5pm, five and a half days a week. But after that, nearly every day, he and I would go to the mountains to cut wood for fuel or to cultivate three pieces of land we owned. When he returned from the army he discovered that my mother had run up a huge bill at the only village shop and bakery and he paid this off by felling wood after work for the shop owner, it took him months to do so. By now my father's eyes were opened. He was told by the village men, gradually as they came to trust him, of the Fascist atrocities from 1920 to 1922, when the Fascists took power, and of the second wave of terror in 1925; of the ferocious beatings with the 'manganello' (a cudgel like a baseball bat), the doses of castor oil they forced their opponents to drink (about a litre), and the murders. He became strongly anti-fascist and, later, a clandestine member of the Partito Socialista di Unità Proletaria, as the Italian Socialist Party was then called.

A few months after he came home my father went by train to the Po valley rice fields south of Milan to see if he could buy rice. He returned empty handed, and it was the first and last time I saw my father burst into tears. A few weeks after this, desperate for food, he went to the Po valley again. This time he took me with him. We tramped from farm to farm - long, hot, seemingly endless dusty roads. We had many refusals, some polite, some not, some offered to sell us any amount we wanted but at exorbitant prices. Finally we found a farm where we bought rice and maize at a high but reasonable price. The rice was for eating but my father wanted the maize for seed.

The return journey by train was, no doubt, a nightmare for my father but very exciting and enjoyable for me. We finally got on an already crowded train with many people clinging to the sides. We managed to stand on the buffers between two carriages with our suitcases full of rice and maize, I well remember my father clutching me tightly. We stopped at one point and a long train passed by slowly heading south, it appeared to be an entire German division, flat car after flat car loaded with tanks, and on every flat car German steel-helmeted soldiers at the front and back with rifles. This was the first time I saw German soldiers, I was to see many more.

(The armoured division I saw heading south was probably the newly reformed and renamed Panzer-Division 'Herman Göring, formed from the few survivors of the Division 'Herman Göring' in Tunis and scattered elements from France, Holland, and Germany. The new armoured division was worked up in Brittany, France, and then transferred by rail to the Naples area.)

The railway also passed close to a prisoner-of-war camp and I could clearly see British soldiers in khaki in the barbed wire compound. Some waved and I waved back, I thought they were waving to me, but it was probably to young women on the train.

The rice didn't last long, but my father felled all the mulberry trees on a plot of family land and dug the entire field by hand. He made me dig too but my contribution was very small. The mulberry trees were grown for feeding silk worms, which the women of the area specialised in rearing before the war. (I saw the last season of rearing silk worms in 1940). Every square foot was planted with 'grano turco' (maize) and after that we subsisted mainly on 'polenta' until 1945. We were always hungry, but my father made sure we didn't starve. He knew every mushroom and wild plant that you could eat. We caught and ate every kind of animal, every sort of bird. We caught and ate frogs, snails, fresh water shrimp, hedgehogs, and on one occasion, a squirrel. From mid-1943 we also kept guinea pigs, which were another useful supply of protein.

I should also record the great kindness of many people. Like Signora Isabella, the mother of my friends, Amatore and Anita. Her husband had died in 1929 as a result of a severe beating by Fascists. I used to pass her house on my way to the factory and time and time again she would have a bowl of freshly milked goat's milk for me. Or Virginia, another lady, who occasionally would give me a new laid egg which I would crack and suck raw there and then.

The fall of Mussolini

The fall of Mussolini in July 1943 and the King's appointment of General Pietro Badoglio as head of a new government, came as a complete surprise. Everybody went absolutely wild for about three days and every Fascist emblem was torn down. Long suppressed political parties sprang into life with a plethora of newspapers.

Badoglio said on the radio that Italy would continue the war alongside Germany, but everyone took that with a pinch of salt. There was great happiness in the belief that the war would soon be over. A phrase from his speech was 'La guerra continua' (The war continues) and this phrase stuck in my mind because just about every newspaper headlined it. Mussolini was said to be under arrest in a secret place and it was assumed by all that the Fascists were finished. There was a blaze of red flags everywhere and the Musadino village band brought out their hidden instruments and played for the first time since 1922. The band was headed by a man who had always been very kind to me, but I can only remember his nickname, 'Corbellin' (Basket maker), now. He too had been severely beaten by Fascists in the 1920s.

On 1 September news came through that the Allies had crossed unopposed from Sicily to the Italian mainland at Reggio Calabria (where we had arrived in June 1940), and on 8 September 1943 Badoglio announced what had been expected all August, that Italy was unable to continue the war and was seeking an armistice. Then we learnt that Badoglio's government and the King had fled from Rome. A few days later the Italian garrison in Porto Valtravaglia deserted and the barracks were ransacked. No one stopped the looting which carried on all day. I came home with boots and as much clothing as I could carry. From then on until 1945 I was dressed in a variety of Italian army clothes as were many in the area.

The prisoner-of-war camp I had seen from the train emptied too. Some prisoners were recaptured by the Germans and sent to Germany, but many joined the rapidly forming Italian partisan groups in the mountains and were helped back to Allied lines or to Switzerland. Those that couldn't get back, I learnt later, stayed on and fought with the partisans until 1945.

Shortly after this the Germans moved in force into Porto Valtravaglia, using the Albergo del Sole, the main hotel, as their headquarters. At this time I was in the 4th elementary class (4th and 5th primary classes were held in Porto Valtravaglia) and I was in Porto Valtravaglia every day. People were absolutely stunned that this had happened but it was still hoped that somehow the war would end.

The Germans seemed to be using Porto Valtravaglia, right on Lake Maggiore, as a leave centre. The lake front was full of them, and they seemed harmless enough in those first few days. They even gave away their left-over soup after their evening meal, when two or three huge soup cauldrons were trundled out and the left-over soup distributed to kids. I went a couple of times with a can until most of our parents told us not to. Then came the shattering news that Mussolini had been rescued by a daring raid of SS paratroopers and that a Republican Fascist party had been formed with such die-hard ultra fascists as the notorious Roberto Farinacci and the fanatical Alessandro Pavolini.

Mussolini tried to reconstitute the Italian army under General Graziani. But the Germans would not allow them to fight the Allies on the front line. Instead they were used against the partisans, freeing up most of the German army to fight at the front. This new Fascist republican army was called La Guardia Nazionale Republicana (GNR) and it now included remnants of the fascist MVSN, now disbanded, as a sub-unit called 'Corpo di Camice Nere' (CCN - The Black Shirt Corps). GNR soldiers were indistinguishable from the previous Italian army except for their black shirts and ties. Many of these troops were forced recruits, desertions were high and their performance, from a Fascist point of view, poor, and the inclusion of fanatical Fascists of the CCN pleased neither Graziani nor their leader Renato Ricci. As a consequence, in July 1944 several official but semi-autonomous Fascist groups were formed such as the 'Brigate Nere' (the Black Brigades), formed by Pavolini, and 'La X Mas' (The 10th MAS), commanded by Juno Valerio Borghese. Of the two the most notorious and murderous were the Brigate Nere. They were noted for their extreme youth, taking recruits from 16 upwards, mostly recruited in central Italy. In addition to these groups there were the Italian SS, this was the 'Legione SS Italiana', volunteer ultra-fascists, of the '29. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (italienische Nr.1)', commanded by SS-Staf Lombard and SS Brigaf. Hansen, and nationalist Russian Cossack groups, also under German command and operating in north east Italy. The Brigate Nere and La X Mas operated mainly in the area where I lived. In addition there were German SS and rear line support troops who carried out independent patrols.

The Battle of San Martino

Within weeks of the fall of Mussolini one of the very first Partisan battles in Italy took place, now known as the Battle of San Martino. I actually witnessed this battle from my bedroom window in Musadino at the age of thirteen. I was awoken one morning to the distant muffled roar of many trucks and half-tracked vehicles. By now I seldom saw any vehicles, a lorry used to come to the village about once a week but that had long stopped, so the sound of engines was a rare novelty.

The sound was from a German motorised column going up the winding mountain road to San Martino, a small church with a couple of stone summer-grazing houses, but also with concrete strong-points from the First World War (being near the border), the old 'Cadorna Line'. About the same time Stukas appeared and began to dive-bomb the mountain. When the Stukas finished, machine gun and rifle fire started and continued most of the day before a deafening silence descended on the valley.

The small group of partisans consisted of 10 army officers and 70 Bersaglieri soldiers from the Porto Valtravaglia barracks, together with 20 Allied soldiers from the prisoner-of-war camp I had seen in the Po valley. They had escaped on 8 September but had not managed to get across the Swiss border. This partisan group was known as 'Gruppo Cinque Giornate' (The Five Days Group — in commemoration of the 'Five Days of Milan', when there was an uprising against the Austrians in 1848). It was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Carlo Croce, his Partisan name was 'Giustizia' (Justice), he later crossed back into Italy and died in a later battle.

At the time I did not know this, I got these facts later from the official Italian records which state that the action began 'on the night between 13—14 November 1943' and that the Stukas were brought in on the 15th, but my distinct recollection is that it was early morning when it began unless it started whilst I slept. Two thousand Germans took part, plus a battalion of 'Brigate Nere' (The Black Brigade). Despite being outnumbered, there was unexpected stiff resistance, and even two aircraft were shot down. Most of the partisans, I learnt later, broke through the cordon to Switzerland during the night of the 15th, leaving about 50 dead. Six partisans were captured and taken to Luino, where after extreme brutal treatment, during a prolonged interrogation, they were shot. A few days after this battle the Germans blew up the small church. When I saw San Martino in June 1945 it was just a pile of rubble.

During this action the younger brother of the village shopkeeper, Benedetto Isabella, had gone up to San Michele to prepare it for when the village cattle were taken up for the summer. There was still heavy snow on the mountain. No one knows exactly what happened, but at the entrance to San Michele there was a German improvised check-point and he was shot through the head. (There is now a memorial stone dedicated to him at the spot where he was murdered). As the hours went by his family were getting concerned when a Fascist militiaman called to officially inform them that he had been shot 'resisting arrest' and that the body could be collected the next day where it still lay, before the curfew. I have always been very proud of my father for what happened next. He and several other men of Musadino said enough is enough; they lit torches and climbed the mountain that very night through the snow, in defiance of the strict curfew, and brought his body down on an improvised stretcher taking turns to carry it four at a time. By dawn they were down with him.

The Germans then said that only family members and close friends could attend his funeral, but the whole of Musadino went to it, we boys included, and many more people from the surrounding villages. As his coffin was carried through the village, followed by his relatives on foot, to the next village of Domo, where the church and cemetery was, more and more people just left their houses silently and joined in. The cemetery was full and spilled outside the gates. I don't think anyone organised it; it was a spontaneous gesture of defiance.

German 'recruitment'

At age 14, in June 1944, after a short stint working for a builder, I joined my father working in the factory in Porto Valtravaglia. I was put on a lathe making screws. After a few weeks there one morning we got word that the Germans were planning a 'rastrellamento' (search and round-up), these subsequently occurred with increasing frequency when workers, from 14 to 50, were rounded up and sent to work in Germany. The order to 'recruit' workers for Germany had been made on 3 March 1944, but 'recruitment' was a euphemism for being press-ganged without the option of refusing. We poured out of the factory and scrambled up a hill from where we watched the Germans turn up later.

In 1944 things were really bad and I got used to people being shot or disappearing. The way the Germans now behaved seemed senseless to everybody. The bulk of the Italian army was deported to slave labour in Germany and as civilian young men were rounded up for work in Germany more and more saw joining the partisan bands as the only way of escape. But as more joined them the Nazi and Fascist repression became harsher. This was the year of the Italian civil war, the Partisans against the ultra-fascist Republicans with very few prisoners taken on either side. Bands of Fascists seemed almost autonomous and clearly out of control with captured partisans having their eyes gauged out or worse before being shot. The area where we lived now was part of the 'Republica Sociale Italiana' (the Italian Social Republic), known as the Republic of Salò, from the small town of Salò on the shores of Lake Garda, where Mussolini now had his headquarters. Ostensibly controlled by Mussolini, the Germans were the real masters.

It was early in this period that I witnessed a bizarre episode. The men of the village used to gather in the village 'osteria' to drink wine and play cards; not in the public area at the front but in the inn keeper's living room at the back. I was there one evening with my father when two German soldiers on patrol entered the public part of the inn, but seeing it deserted came into the back private quarters. They looked middle aged to me. One sat near me and one opposite speaking a few words in broken Italian. One began showing us photos of his children and wife. Then I became aware of an almost whispered argument, in Lombard dialect, with a young man urging that we should kill them and others saying that doing so would only bring disaster on the village. While this was going on I was holding one of the soldiers' steel helmets and I felt my hands begin to shake. As it happened, nothing came of it, and they left smiling to continue their patrol.

Someone must have tipped off the Fascists about this incident, because one night shortly afterwards the house of the young man who had urged killing the Germans was raided. As they came up the steps he managed to get out of a bedroom window and hang by his hands from the house rafters. He got away after they had left, but I never saw him again.

As partisan activity increased, so the repression tightened. I remember that on our 'portone' (a huge wooden double door with a small inset door leading to the inner courtyard) a large printed poster was pasted up in Italian and German listing about 20 points, each one ending '... will be punished by death'. The crimes meriting the death penalty, by public hanging, ranged from helping partisans to being caught out after curfew or tearing down posters.

The published order by the German Commandant, General Kesselring, was that for every German killed by partisans 10 Italians selected at random would be shot. Here is just a flavour of many similar public notices: German 5 Corps, 1 S, No. 391, of 9 August 1944: '(c) If crimes of outstanding violence are committed, especially against German soldiers, an appropriate number of hostages will be hanged. In such cases the whole population of the place will be assembled to witness the executions. After the bodies have been left hanging for 12 hours, the public will be ordered to bury them without ceremony and without the assistance of any priest.' (see pages 316-327 of 'War In Italy 1943-1945 — A Brutal Story' by Richard Lamb (published by John Murray, 1993) for the full text of this order and many other chilling documents).

Most certainly these were not empty threats, mere bluff and bluster. On 12 August 1944 at Sant'Anna di Stazzema, Lucca, 560 civilians were massacred and on 26 September 31 men were publicly hanged at Bassano del Grappa. These are but two out of many such brutal incidents.

Would I survive the war?

One day I really thought that my luck had run out (by now I didn't really believe I would survive the war). I was in the courtyard of our house when a member of the Brigate Nere came in, carrying a submachine gun. He was 16, he actually told me his age, and I knew now from experience that these young fanatical thugs were the worst and apt to panic and fire off at the least excuse. He asked me who lived there and I told him. Then I suddenly remembered that when Mussolini fell the year before I had painted 'W Badoglio!' (Long Live Badoglio!) on the white wall to the side of our door on the first floor and I thought he might find it, although it was covered with brushwood bundles. Many had been shot for far less than this. He had just started to talk to me, boasting about his age and showing me his dagger and gun, when someone from his group called his name and he and they abruptly left.

On another occasion I was fooling around during a short break in the factory with my work mates, boys my age. We were kicking a ball of paper around between our lathes when I gave it a kick but missed, my wooden 'zoccolo' (wooden soled sandal) flew off and I kicked the edge of the lathe stand splitting the gap between my little toe and the next toe. I was in excruciating pain and the men realised I was badly hurt. I was carried to the first aid room and my dad was informed, he held my foot while iodine was poured in the wound to cauterise it after clearing the dirt and grease out. I cannot remember now how I got home, it may have been by horse and cart, but at home a Milanese refugee friend happened to visit me. His name was Amleto and he was about 17 or 18, he had a great influence on me. In return for helping him learn English (I had nearly forgotten it by then) he taught me chess and gave me an abiding interest in astronomy. Because of the blackout then, the skies were wonderful to look at, thousand upon thousand of stars.

When Amleto saw what had happened he offered to take me to Doctor Balerò in Porto on his bike, to see if my injury needed stitching. My mother agreed I should go, and we set off with me sitting on his crossbar. We were nearly in Porto when we ran into a road block. This time there were no smiling middle aged soldiers, it was an SS group, with a GNR member acting as interpreter. We both had our hands up, I sitting on the ground with Amleto standing by my side. We were asked for our identity cards and where we were going. I told them what had happened and my foot was uncovered and inspected. I remember the Italian fascist saying 'This doesn't make sense, he would have been taken from the factory not from Musadino' or words to that effect. I said that it had got worse.

At this point Amleto, seeing things were not going smoothly, pulled out a Republican Fascist party membership card. With that we were immediately let through. But I had told Amleto a lot and I feared having put my father and others in danger. I was stunned and could hardly speak to him. He said to me, 'Don't worry, things are not what they seem', but I didn't see him again until I was with the South African army in May 1945, when they held a party in the Albergo del Sole in Porto Valtravaglia, to which some prominent Italian resistance fighters, selected by the mayor, were invited. I was stood watching some people dancing when suddenly Amleto appeared by my side in partisan uniform, complete with red communist neck scarf. He told me that he was a member of the Communist Party and that he had been ordered to join the Fascist Republican party for cover, but had rejoined his partisan group after the road block incident in case I had endangered him by telling people that he was a Republican Fascist. I told him I had told no one, but probably I would have done had he returned.

I should explain that before July 1943 nearly everyone had a Fascist party membership card. Mass membership had started in 1932 and continued to grow year by year. The voluntary character of membership all but disappeared when membership became compulsory for all civil servants, both local and central. In the end nearly every worker was a member. After September 1943, even the remnant of members were purged and only extreme fascists were in the 'Partito Fascista Republicano'. This is why I was startled when Amleto produced his card. In mid 1944 all from the age of 14 were issued with new identity cards which had to be carried at all times. A prominent feature of these new cards was race, all had 'stirpe ariana' (Race: Aryan); Jews did not qualify for a card.

Amleto was quite right in saying 'things are not what they seem'. The reverse of this also happened in Musadino. A house overlooked our courtyard at right angles to us. The top floor of this adjacent house was taken over by a refugee family from Milan, a woman and her two children. Most weekends they were visited by her husband from Milan, a man I only knew as 'Barbuto' from the trim beard he had. He always greeted me and others in a very friendly manner and he was reasonably popular in the village. Then in May 1945, with his beard shaved off, he came to live in Musadino permanently, saying that they no longer had a house in the city. Shortly after this he was arrested and taken under escort back to Milan, where after a short trial he was sentenced to 30 years; with the bloodbath at its height he was lucky. It turned out that he was a card carrying member of the Republican Fascist party and had been responsible for quite a few arrests and deaths in Milan. If a Fascist escaped death, sentences like his were fairly common in 1945, but nearly all but extreme cases were amnestied or commuted in 1948 and later.

War now seemed to me like normal life. Another incident which is clear in my mind happened when I was able to walk again, and before I returned to work. I had been sent on an errand by my father to a village on the other side of our mountain. I was on the return journey and I could see most of Lake Maggiore spread before me when I heard an aeroplane and saw it as a distant dot in the sky. It got louder and louder and I got the impression that it was coming straight for me. Being machine gunned from the air was not unusual so I didn't think it strange or question why I should be singled out, I just dived into the side of the road. The plane seemed to fly inches above my head, its engine screaming, but it was probably some fifty feet up. As I crouched in the culvert it went straight on and crashed into the mountain side within seconds, perhaps a hundred yards beyond me. I was so inured to war by then that I didn't even bother to go and look at it but just got up and carried on home. When I got home I was told that an airman had bailed out further down the lake, but I didn't see him.

Working for food

Now there came an added torment for us. We could not get salt. At first animal rock salt was consumed, then empty barrels of salted fish were either soaked or scraped, finally there was none at all. People suffered from recurring headaches; normally even if you do not sprinkle salt on your food there is plenty in it added as a preservative. The entire area was completely and totally without salt. To add to the misery, the winter of 1944 was the coldest ever. The temperature in the Po valley fell to an unprecedented minus 16 degrees centigrade. It had been bitterly cold in 1941, but this was far worse and all fuel had been used up.

After my foot healed I didn't return to the factory. My father arranged for me to work and live with Angiolin Isabella, work in return for food. Angiolin was the wealthiest man in the village. He owned a pair of oxen, used for hauling cartloads of wood and other goods, a mule, several cows, and sheep and goats. I had to tend to these animals, feeding, milking, cleaning out. Angiolin also owned a tavern in San Michele, the place where Benedetto Isabella was pointlessly shot. This was another small hamlet, like San Martino, it was left deserted through the winter and only inhabited from spring to early autumn, when cattle and other livestock were taken up to the mountain summer pastures.

Angiolin was caught in his tavern in San Michele by Germans and fascists and accused of having delivered a load of bayonets (from when the barracks were looted in 1943) to the partisans. They smashed all his bottles outside then made him take his boots off and run up and down the broken glass as a German flogged him to force him on. Having wrecked the place, they stole his pig. He never quite fully recovered from this and it was one of the reasons he needed help with his work.

On 25 April 1945 there was a general insurrection throughout the province. I remember walking up the steep road from Porto to Musadino when suddenly a group of armed young men came racing down on bicycles. They were clearly partisans, but I had never seen any in broad daylight before like this. I remember I shouted something like 'Porto's full of Germans' and they yelled back 'We know!' The Germans surrendered later that day and were permitted to leave, but there was a wave of executions, mainly by hanging, of prominent local Fascists. I do not remember any being hung in Porto but the local paper reported that about a dozen had been strung up in Luino, one dragged out of a car taking him to the gallows and beaten up by the enraged populace. No one was yet sure if this was the end or whether the Germans would return. The opposite side of lake Maggiore, the Piedmontese side, had been liberated by partisans for a month or so but had been constantly shelled by the Germans and Fascists from our side of the lake. So being freed by partisans was no indication that the war was over.

I returned to work with Angiolin. A few days later I was up in the mountains near San Michele when suddenly the bells in the valley started to ring out, village after village joining in, a great sound of bells. I knew at once that it was over and I could not believe that I had survived it, a lot of my friends hadn't, not shot but through disease and malnourishment. I raced down the mountain. As I came to the first villages people were out laughing and cheering, then I got to Musadino and home. My mother was overjoyed. She told me that my father wanted me to go to Porto to join him, she said he was with the South Africans. I left at once, racing down to the lake side.

Meeting the South Africans

I had not seen my father for about three months. In Porto I found the lakeside full of Allied soldiers. I approached one and I asked 'Do you know Peter?', both my dad and I are called Peter (in Italian he was Pietro and I am Piero). I still after all these years remember his answer. He said 'There's a Peter in every station son'.

Finally I found him, the first thing he did was to take me to the kitchen. That evening, by the lakeside, seated with South African soldiers, he told me that Mussolini had been shot and strung up in Piazzale Loreto in Milan.

Most British people are shocked at Mussolini's end, not knowing the full history of Piazzale Loreto (Loreto Square). In that square there was a burnt out garage and on that spot, on the morning of 10 August 1943, 15 men were shot by the Germans and Fascists and their bodies piled up in a heap one on top of the other. They are: Andrea Esposito, Domenico Fiorani, Gian Antonio Bravin, Giulio Casiraghi, Renzo del Riccio, Umberto Fogagnolo, Tullio Galimberti, Vittorio Gasparini, Emidio Mastrodomenico, Salvatore Principato, Angelo Poletti, Andrea Ragni, Eraldo Soncini, Libero Temolo, and Vitale Vertemati. The youngest was 21, the oldest 46. These are forgotten names that deserve to be remembered. Their bodies were piled up in a heap on display but relatives were forbidden to pay any last respects to them. The Fascists guarding the bodies and preventing access to relatives, are on record as spending the day laughing and joking at the 'pile of rubbish'. The man who ordered this massacre was the Nazi security chief, Teodor Emil Saevecke.

These 15 are now known as the martyrs of Piazzale Loreto. Some were badly tortured, and the partisans vowed then that that is where Mussolini and 14 of his cronies would be hung alive or dead. When Mussolini was informed of the massacre by the Germans he is reputed to have said, 'We shall pay dearly for this blood'. It was Teodor Emil Saevecke who also ordered the execution of 53 Jews at Meina, on Lake Maggiore, in September 1943. After the war he led a tranquil life in Germany despite all attempts to bring him to justice, and it wasn't until the 1990s that he was jailed for life.

In his otherwise excellent 'History of the Second World War' (Penguin, ISBN: 0140285024), Peter Calcovoressi states that no South African soldiers served outside of Africa. In this he is wrong. The troops who arrived in late April 1945 in Porto Valtravaglia were the Battalion of Imperial Light Horse and Kimberley Regiment, the ILH-KR, they formed part of the 6th South African Armoured Division. I was with them from April 1945 until their embarkation for home in August 1946.

In mid-1945 the partisans were called upon to disarm to try to stop the bloodbath, by then some 30,000 Fascists had been executed (the official figures are 19,801 fascists shot or hanged from 25 April 1945, against 45,191 partisans and anti-fascists hanged and shot by the Nazis and Fascists in 1943/44) and it was not know what their reaction would be. No chances were taken and the South Africans were put on full alert. I managed to get myself smuggled into a half track and we went to a big sports field outside of Milan. My father didn't know I was there. There I saw hundreds of partisans lined up armed, with South African troops, mostly out of sight, surrounding them. There were speeches on both sides, my father acting as interpreter. Everything went smoothly and the partisans peacefully laid down their arms and marched off with flags flying.

Later in 1945 the ILH-KR battalion was transferred to Spotorno, a really lovely spot on the Italian riviera, the rest of the 6th South African Division remaining in the Luino area. I and my father went with them. I travelled to Milan in a jeep. There I saw why we had had all those refugees. The city looked devastated. From there I travelled in the back of a 3-ton lorry. Nearly every bridge was destroyed and we often could only get up steep escarpments by going up in reverse at about 2 miles an hour. The journey seemed endless, but the devastation I saw made me realise how lucky we had been that the war had ended before the front line reached us. Just after Christmas 1945, the battalion left for home having fought its way up from southern Italy to Florence. I had formed deep friendships by then. My father and I were taken back to Musadino in a 15cwt truck laden with tinned food and gallons of South African brandy. After a month or so my father returned to work at the factory, but I became a civilian batman to two South African officers in Luino and Varese. After all that had happened it was like living in heaven.

There was one final thing. In August 1945 I was at a dance in Luino. The South Africans stopped the dance to announce that an atom bomb had been dropped on Japan. I was asked to go on stage, where the band were, and to make the announcement in Italian. I was deeply confused and embarrassed as I did not know what an atom bomb was in Italian, having never heard of one, I mumbled to cheers that a big bomb had been dropped. Some bomb!

Back to England

In late 1946 I returned to England with my father's aunt, Esther Maturi, who had come to visit relatives and to collect me. I remember crossing into Switzerland and stopping in Basle. There the city lights at night utterly amazed me as did the shops full of chocolate and luxury goods. I had completely forgotten what a normal city looked like. The journey from Basle to Calais took three days, most of the bridges were destroyed in France and we slowly crossed temporary Bailey bridges. We arrived in Dover, where my British emergency passport was taken from me. Many years later when I myself was an officer in the Immigration Service, I used to think back to that time and to the two British officers who I now know were Special Branch.

My mother returned with my sister Gloria in 1947, and later that year she was joined by my father. I could not settle, and in 1948 I joined the army serving in Germany and the Far East as a regular soldier in the Royal Artillery. I left the army in 1953, and in 1956 joined the Civil Service, finally entering the Immigration Service in 1965, serving eight years as an Immigration Officer in Folkestone, then eight years as a Chief Immigration Officer at Terminal Two, and finally as an Inspector of Immigration at Terminal 3, Heathrow. I retired in 1987.

In the Introduction to his book 'War In Italy 1943-1945 — A Brutal Story', Richard Lamb states that 'In the north… the Germans imposed a regime of terror; arbitrary arrests were common, with wide-spread executions of innocent people. However, living conditions were tolerable: there was enough food and inflation was kept down, while work was available in the industrial zones. In the southern part occupied by the Allies there was starvation, because the British and Americans could not spare enough shipping to feed the population adequately and production of home grown food was limited.' This most certainly was not the experience of the north, in the Valtravaglia area. Non-military transport was almost non-existent and the Germans who, I agree, 'imposed a regime of terror' cared little, so far as I could judge, about providing or ensuring that 'there was enough food' - on the contrary, German requisitions of livestock were quite common. My hunger, and that of many like me, was real enough.

As for the fate of another in this story. Giuseppe Bastianini, the Italian Ambassador who had taken an interest in my plastered broken arm in 1940, became governor of Italian occupied Dalmatia. He then succeeded Ciano as Foreign Secretary. In July 1943 he voted for the Grandi motion which led to Mussolini's fall. In early 1944 he took to the mountains, a wanted man by Germans and Republican fascists. At the Verona trial of Ciano and others in 1944, he was condemned to death in absentia but managed to cross the mountain border to safety in Switzerland. In 1947, having returned to Italy, he was arrested living incognito in Calabria and put on trial in Rome for his Fascist past, but absolved and acquitted. He died in Milan in 1961. In 2003 he was honoured, along with other Italian Fascist diplomats and military personnel, in the Israeli documentary 'Righteous Enemy', screened at the United Nations, for his part in saving over 40,000 Jews in Yugoslavia, whilst he was governor of Dalmatia, by issuing false documents and helping them get to Switzerland.

I went back to Musadino in 1967 for a short visit. Much had changed. The cobbled streets were tarmacked, and the roads were full of Lambrettas and Vespa scooters. Many villagers were now working in Milan or Varese, commuting daily. Nearly everyone now spoke formal Italian, and Lombard dialect was almost non-existent. The oxen too had disappeared, a forgotten memory. The house now had running water and a toilet. It was now used as a summer vacation home by my French relatives. The fountain tap in the square was still there, but many were amazed when I told them that it had been our sole source of water for five years. Many of the old people had died and the war seemed a world away. Even the Germans had returned, but now as welcome tourists.

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Message 1 - Peter WWII researcher

Posted on: 14 December 2003 by Beniton

I find your story you submitted excellent Peter, am i led to believe it is based on a true story? Excellent stuff here

Message 1 - Peter WWII researcher

Posted on: 14 December 2003 by Beniton

I find your story you submitted excellent Peter, am i led to believe it is based on a true story? Excellent stuff here best wishes Beniton


Message 2 - Peter WWII researcher

Posted on: 15 December 2003 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Beniton

Thank you for your remarks. Yes, it is a true account of my early life.



Message 3 - Peter WWII researcher

Posted on: 26 December 2003 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

a most moving account of your life in Italy,I saw something of this myself with the struggle for survival in mainly, the larger centres.An unforgettable visit to our Tank when we were having a bite to eat by a middle aged man who spoke in perfect Glaswegian, pleading for food for his wife and five children.He had apparently stayed over after WW1 to marry his girl friend and raise his five children. Pitiful ! My own schooling was with a "giggler" one Horace Ianetta in Dundee who was quite a singer and violinist, he would give a little snort which set me off - usually in Mr McKillops's class at History - we invariably ended out in the Hall. Read my story on "Rome1944" - will give you some background.



Message 4 - Peter WWII researcher

Posted on: 26 December 2003 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Peter, as an "add on " to your lifestory I can vouch for the presence of the South Africans in both the North African and Italian campaigns. They took over from the Canadians whom we were supporting with our Churchill Tanks, after the Liri Valley Battle - I've forgotten the venue but it was a few miles north of Valmontone and we went on to near the Alban Hills for a rest - from there all the Catholics of the Brigade went into Rome for the first Papal Audience with Pope Pius X11 - a most memorable day in my life !The South Africans have a large cemetery
near Chiusi at Lago Trasemino, with two SA nurses, friends of my friend Doug Campbell(RIP) of the RAMC. who were shot and killed.


Message 5 - Peter WWII researcher

Posted on: 26 December 2003 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

'perfect Glaswegian'? That's an oxymoron if ever there was one :-D

I think that the ILH-KR's first engagement was in May '44 at Vallerotondo, Frosinone, a few miles north-east of Cassino (as the crow flies). Does Vallerotondo ring a bell?



Message 6 - Peter WWII researcher

Posted on: 27 December 2003 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Hullo Peter,
You know - I always thought an oxymoron was a description of a Carribean Rush Hour - Vallorotondo doesn't ring a bell but Frosinone certainly does as well as Arce as this is where we came across the tank killing gounds for the first time.North Irish horse and 51st RTR lost about 25 Tanks inside ten was a sucker move with a cleared rectangle and a 50mm a/t gun firing at the line of Tanks passing and under w/t silence - the lead tank turned to deal with the gun and all others followed - when they were in a semi -circle - a dug in Panther turret with a special 75mm opened up. We didn't fall for that one again, but we did at the Gothic Line - especially at San Martina in the Coriano Ridge and San Fortunato. I bought it on the killing ground on the approach to San Martina from an 88mm on the south end of Rimini Airfield.I spent the next six months in hospitals !


Message 7 - The Road to Rome

Posted on: 28 December 2003 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Yes, that was supposed to be an easy drive up the Liri Valley then on what the Allies called Highway Six, up to Frosinone, Cassino, Arce, and on to Rome, wasn't it Tom?

But as Burns says:

"The best laid schemes o' mice and men
Gang aft a-gley"

or has the ancient Romans put it:

"If you want to make the gods laugh tell them of your plans"

That 'easy drive' that you experienced resulted in some of the most protracted, intense, and bitter fighting, under nearly impossible conditions, of the entire war. A series of battles, little known, some of which bear comparison with Iwo Jima and Stalingrad in their ferocity.


P.S There is a website of the 51st RTR here links

They refer to the 'Adolf Hitler Line' in Italy, but I think they must mean the 'Gustav Line'.


Message 8 - The Road to Rome

Posted on: 28 December 2003 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

My New Year's Resolution: Avoid typos.

"or has the ancient ..."?
read "or as the ancient ..."

Also an excuse to recommend a book to you Tom:

"Fatal Decision - Anzio and the Battle for Rome" by Carlo D'Este (Harper-Collins, 1991).

The book is primarily about Anzio, but the holdup at the river Rapido and the Liri Valley beyond, which prompted 'Shingles', the Anzio landing, is fully covered. In my view it is the definitive account.

Carlo D'Este retired from the U.S. Army in 1978 as a lieutenent-colonel. He has since become a major military historian. Scrupulously fair, he has a vast detailed knowledge of the British Army. Apart from being very readable histories, I find myself referring again and again to his three books "Bitter Victory - The Battle for Sicily 1943", "Fatal Decision - Anzio and the Battle for Rome", and " Decision in Normandy".



Message 9 - The Road to Rome

Posted on: 29 December 2003 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

As the song, The D Day Dodgers goes - "we only went along for the ride ".

One of the most bitter battles to be fought was at San Pietro near the Rapido when Mark Clark finally flipped his lid and damn near annihilated his 36th Texas Division, so much so the this Battle is no longer in the curriculam at West Point - although he is one of their most "revered"(sic)graduates !

I am in touch with two other chaps in the U.K. who are currently researching the Italian Campaign and I must put you in touch with them - Gerry Chester was with the North Irish Horse at the Hitler/Gustav line
there was a Dora line in there somewhere, and Colin Hotham who spent 25 years with the RAF ....but is still interested in all thing military and he has mentioned a few books - as I have to him - it's all good clean fun, and it speeds the day !



Message 10 - The Road to Rome

Posted on: 29 December 2003 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Yes, D'Este says that it was Mark Clark's paranoid distrust of the British in general and of Lieutenant General Richard McCreary in particular which clouded his judgement in the ill-fated planned crossing of the Rapido on 20 January '44. Appart from idiotically splitting his forces, Clark was determined to keep the British out. It is now generally agreed that the US 36th Division was asked to accomplish the impossible at San Pietro. The attempt was a major debacle which ruined Clark's reputation as a general, yet seems to have had little effect on his career. In July '45 he was a full general and was head of the US occupation forces in Austria.

After the war the 36th Division veterans' association demanded an investigation. It resulted in a Congressional enquiry. The details of this fiasco are in 'Bloody River: The Real Tragedy of the Rapido' by M. Blumenson.

Again he came out smelling of roses. Clark became commander of the United Nations forces in Korea. He retired in October 1953, loaded with honours. He then became president of The Citadel, a military college in Charleston. Sometimes you just can't keep a good man down, can you? :)

All the very best,



Message 11 - The Road to Rome

Posted on: 30 December 2003 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

I often thought that a good 6 pounder round of Armour piercing shot up Mark Clark's exhaust pipe would have saved uncounted manpower. In fairness though - he had a good reason to distrust Dick MacCreary - Dick Mac's decision led to the Salerno Mutiny which gave all concerned a black eye - this story has finally been told - "Mutiny at Salerno" by Saul David pub.Brassey's and foreword by Ludovic Kennedy. This was an apalling "cock up" and should never have gone to court martial, or Dick Mac should have been the defendant ! Nevertheless Clark took it to extreme's
I was "invited' to join the party for Korea, thankfully my wounds cut in and saved the day.. as they did for the Suez Party in '56.


Message 12 - The Road to Rome

Posted on: 30 December 2003 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Few histories mention the Salerno mutiny, and that includes the British official history.

The accounts I have read are more lenient with McCreery.

As you know, on 16 September 1943 some 700 British replacement troops sat down on the beach at Salerno and refused repeated orders to move. Finally McCreery personally intervened and managed to get all but 192 to shift.

The 192 were mostly veterans of the 50th Northumbrian and 51st Highland divisions. Most of these believed their leaders had broken a promise to rotate them home. What made matters worse was that the Scots wanted to be assigned to none but a Scottish regiment.

I would be most interested how you, Tom, and your fellow veterans rated Alexander at the time. I have read several accounts of veterans who rated him very highly, particularly his approachability, lack of fuss, and his presence up in front. Evidently he seems to have been well liked and trusted, was that your contemporary impression?

Personally I feel that, as their commanding officer, he should have got a grip on both Clark and McCreery. You probably know that Montgomery said of Alexander that he was a good man but 'he is not a strong commander ... the higher art of war is beyond him.'

McCreery held Clark in utter contempt and Clark's pet name for McCreery was 'the feather duster'. A sad state of affairs in which to face a brilliant tactician and strategist like the unflappable Kesselring.

I was about to post this when I remembered that Kesselring and Rommel repeatedly clashed and, by the time of the Italian campaign, their animosity was such that neither could stand the sight of the other.

On the Gustav Line, one of Kesselring's subordinates was Generaloberst Eberhard von Mackensen. Mackensen commanded the 14th Army (most of its eight divisions were armoured, the rest mechanised) and was very highly rated as a soldier. Yet he and Kesselring could not get on and repeatedly clashed, each blaming the other for mishandling the defence of Rome, with Mackensen finally resigning.

Maybe there is something in generals under stress that makes them behave like petulant prima donnas. Perhaps we should start a thread on this theme.

A PS on a different matter. You say 'there was a Dora line in there somewhere'. There were a whole series of well constructed German defensive lines in Italy. The Gustav Line, south of Rome, was based as you know, on the Garigliano and Rapido rivers and Monte Cassino. In front of this were the Barbara and Bernhard Lines. The Bernhard Line stretched from the Garigliano to the Adriatic sea, being part of what the Allies called the Winter Line. Now it gets slightly complicated, the Gustav Line and the defensive line behind it in front of Rome, the Führer-Senger Line, were collectively known as the Adolf Hitler Line, or Hitler Line. When Kesselring realised that the Hitler Line was about to fall, and realising the political implications if it did, he changed its name to the Dora Line.

Far behind Rome, across Perugia, were three consecutive lines known as the Albert Line. Behind the Albert Line trio, the Arno Line, then right across the entire leg of Italy, stretching from just south of La Spezia to Pesaro, the formidable Gothic Line.

Best wishes Tom,



Message 13 - The Road to Rome

Posted on: 31 December 2003 by Colin Hotham - WW2 Site Helper

Hello Peter,

I have been facinated by the dialogue between yourself and my friend Tom Canning. Your childhood story gave me another angle on my research of the Italian Campaign. Having just finished reading War in Italy by Richard Lamb, many things said by you both,fell in to place.I had wondered what life had been like for the Italian civillians. Tom's knowledge of the 'sharp end'in Italy has been priceless to me and to find my name alongside Gerrys and his, makes me feel very humble. We owe them both a debt of gratitude,as will future WW2 researchers.
I believe Carlo D'Este to be the best WW2 writer!(that will start somthing).

Colin Hotham.


Message 14 - Peter WWII researcher

Posted on: 31 December 2003 by paul gill - WW2 Site Helper

Peter, I've only just read your childhood in Italy (+ comments from Beniton and Tom). It seems to have been daily terror and daily starvation beyond what anyone born postwar or living in Britain can imagine. It shows the horrors of being a civilian in an occupied country.

Additionally I hadn't heard of the Salerno mutiny and I wasn't aware that Italian nationals could be deported rather than interned.

An excellent article, quite different from anything else I've read.



Message 15 - The Road to Rome

Posted on: 01 January 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Hello Colin,

My dialogue with Tom started by chance here A2064629, with my response to that post.

One really does need a knowledge of Italy and some appreciation of the rugged Appenines, ideal defensive country, to understand what war was like there and what Tom went through.

Churchill used the phrase 'the soft underbelly of Europe'. He was talking about grand strategy, of course, but many now totally misread his words and think that he was referring to an easy campaign. The troops themselves, and responsible historians, know full well that all participants endured some of the most ferocious fighting of WW2 with entire companies wiped out and infantry battalions reduced to 25%. Often tanks were quite useless off of hard roads, particularly in and around the reclaimed Pontine marshes, and as a consequence suffered very high attrition.

I too rank Carlo D'Este very highly, a fine military historian. I recently bought his latest book 'Eisenhower', but I haven't started it yet.

All the best for 2004!



Message 16 - Peter WWII researcher

Posted on: 01 January 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Hi Paul

Good to hear from you again! Your name rang a bell, then I realised that we had chatted about Bletchley Park.

You say that you weren't aware 'that Italian nationals could be deported rather than interned'. It was a unique event. The normal train route through France was out of the question in June 1940, so two ships were used (the SS. Monarch of Bermuda, and the Conte Rosso) to exchange the Ambassadors and their staffs in Lisbon. When it was realised that there would be plenty of space left over, each Ambassador was allowed to present a list of Italian (and ,vice versa, British) nationals to fill the ships. In the end, 629 out of the 730 nominated by the Italian ambassador opted to go. Apparently Bastianini, the Italian ambassador, presented his list to the Foreign Office early on, but the speed of the arrests had been so fast, with so many police forces involved, that many on the list could not be traced for several days.

My dad said that he was marched to the internment camp office with about four others and given about 5 minutes to decide. I think he already knew that his group were going to Canada, but I'm not sure about that. My mother, my sister, and I are British, but he was allowed to take us with him if my mother agreed, which she did when he got back to Leeds.

A book giving the background to this is:

"Collar The Lot! - How Britain Interned and Expelled It's Wartime Refugees' by Peter and Leni Gillman (Quarter Books, 1980).



Message 17 - Peter WWII researcher

Posted on: 01 January 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

I forgot to add, there is an excellent account of an escaped PoW who joined a partisan group here A2001141


Message 18 - The Road to Rome

Posted on: 04 January 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Hi Peter,

ALL Generals are Prima Donnas - some more than others ! Alex was always held in high regard with the side view that he was a "committee" man and would go along - usually- with the strongest voices, when he should have been laying down the Law - Monty knew him best as he was Alex's instructor after the first war at the Defence College. His handling of his Division in France then the Corps coming out at La Panne and Dunkirk and his escape - with the whole Army in Burma made his reputation as an unflappable General. Alex possibly like Alanbrooke, didn't really like fighting whereas Monty actually revelled in it for which we should all be thankful ! It was no different for the Germans - Kesselring Vs Rommel - Rommel was an upstart and an opportunist as Monty saw very quickly - Kesselring also knew this and tried to cover his back but finally grew tired and had him "relieved" after Kasserine and days before Medenine - which was controlled by an Italian Officer and NOT Rommell ! Even Monty didn't know this at the time and when the 30th Corps Commdr Gen Lesse reported the 'sitrep' in mid morning Monty said " the boy Marshall has made a balls of it - I will write letters ' !


Message 19 - Medenine

Posted on: 04 January 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Oh, no! Tom. Your first, most welcome, post of 2004 to me and I have to differ from you.

The battle of Medenine, which the Germans called 'Operation CAPRI' started at dawn on the morning of 6 March 1943. Operation Capri was a spoiling attack designed to wreck Eighth Army's assembly areas, it was Rommel's idea from start to finish.

Rommel was in his scout car at 2pm on 5 March on Hill 715, about 15 miles from the British front line. On the plain below him were 31,000 men with 215 guns and 135 tanks.

Unfortunately for Rommel, on 28 February Ultra decrypts had revealed his intentions. Allied intelligence soon filled in the gaps and soon knew the precise location and timing of CAPRI. It was this priceless intelligence that enabled Montgomery, between 28 February and 4 March, to rush in 300 British tanks and 817 artillery and anti-tank guns. Montgomery himself confirmed Rommel's presence at Medenine, in 1948, in "El Alamein to the River Sangro" at page 46: "On 5 March [the day before the battle] Rommel, by now a sick man, addressed his troops in the mountains overlooking our positions [ie, Hill 715] and told them that if they did not take Medenine and force the Eighth Army to withdraw, the days of the Axis forces in North Africa were numbered."

CAPRI went wrong from the very outset, when the 21st Panzer Grenadier Division fell for the ruse of bully beef tins laid out to look like anti-tank mines, simulating a mine field 5 miles west of Medenine. The German tanks swerved left, offering their vulnerable flanks to British anti-tank guns. Montgomery wrote in his diary "It's an absolute gift and the man must be mad." At the end of the day Rommel had lost 52 tanks. Rommel went forward during the day, but then returned to his bivouac on Hill 715. The historian Rick Atkinson says that "The slaughter had been so lopsided, the battle so plainly anticipated by the British, that the field marshall suspected treachery, perhaps from the Italians, a view which Kesselring came to share." At 7pm that evening, Rommel ordered 'an immediate cessation of battle.'

Rommel left Hill 715 on 7 March, the day after the battle. At 7.50am on 9 March he boarded a plane at Sfax for Rome. It was this departure that was not known to Montgomery for a month.

I do not normally favour pedantically giving times, other than dates, but here I have done so where possible for you to be able to check Rommel's movements during and after the battle.

Main source:

"An Army At Dawn - The War in North Africa, 1942 - 1943 (Little, Brown, 2003, pp.406-11)

Other sources;

"A World At Arms" by Gerhard L. Weinberg (Cambridge University Press, 1994, p. 444)

"Second World War" by Martin Gilbert (Fontana/Collins, Revised Edition, 1989, p. 409)

All the very best to you Tom for 2004.



Message 20 - Medenine

Posted on: 05 January 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Once again I bow to your superior knowledge of events - all I have to go on is Nigel Hamilton's "Monty - Master of the Battlefield" page 169 but the build up to the Battle a few pages before is a bit messy and does not give explicit details before wandering off to the Kasserine debacle once more but it does mention the tanks of 1st Armed div. being given over to 8th armed Bde. to make up a nearly full 7th Armed div. On page 170 it does mention that at 11.p.m. on March 6th Rommell issued instructions to withdraw, and that he left Sfax for Austria on the 9th March - never to return ! So it would appear that my memory is finally going downhill,like my Tank in " Green Envelopes " !


Message 21 - Medenine

Posted on: 05 January 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Tom, I can never remember anything, things ring a bell when I read them and then I look them up. I rely entirely on my sources, but I do have a good collection of books and I have a love of history in general.

Trouble is I get lost in detail. It took me about five years to read the 6 volumes of Gibbon's 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire', for the simple reason that each episode would send me off to more books in an ever widening net. Hopeless :)



Message 22 - Medenine

Posted on: 06 January 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

I know what you mean - I have an exceptional memory - my trouble is that i have read so many books that I sometimes get the "facts" twisted - I certainly recall that Rommell - according to one book - was fired and an Italian took over the Battle on an hour's notice - but then there are facts and real facts !
Just had an e-mail from regt. HQ to say another buddy has gone, L/Cpl Reg Robinson M.M. of B Squadron 16/5th Lancers died on Christmas Day - cancer - as always ! Like Paddy Quinn - he would never talk about his M.M. but he was glad he got it as he was then sent home to take a place in the guard of honour at the wedding of our Colonel in Chief, when she married Prince Phillip ! He reckoned it was quite the booze up ! He lived in North Yorks.
best regards


Message 23 - Medenine

Posted on: 06 January 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

That's very sad anytime Tom, but particularly so on Christmas Day.

Maybe you could write a story about L/Cpl Robinson's M.M. award, as a tribute, here.



Message 24 - Medenine

Posted on: 08 January 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Peter -
you might have trouble in believing what I am about to tell you - as fact !

In my article on the Vienna Tattoo I stated that -" it was a searchlight Tattoo and as such we had to wait until the sun set when the Coldstream Guards performed the Sunset ceremony as only the Guards can "!

I have just had an e-mail from the Head Tour Guide of the Schoenbrunn palace in Vienna where we held the Tattoo with a history of the Coldstrem Guards - guess what - in June of 1946 Lt.Col Pope bandmaster of the Coldstream Guards arranged a Tattoo in Vienna !

It would appear that we raised more than 10,000 GBP(400,000 schillings) for that week which allowed more than 2000 Viennese children to have a holiday in the country !

have a look at Htt// guards.hmtl
for their history


Message 25 - A Successful Tattoo

Posted on: 09 January 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper


I never have the least trouble in believing what you tell me as fact :-D
I finally worked out what the link was: links :) and not: Htt// guards.hmtl
Was that a test?

I see that other bands taking part were those of the Royal Dragoons and the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.

All very interesting.



Message 26 - A Successful Tattoo

Posted on: 10 January 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

No that was not a test but merely my arthritic fingers not hitting enough keys - The Tattoo was a lot of fun and to have 2000 Vienese children benefit with a country holiday was the icing on the cake !

Message 1 - Fascism in Great Britain: A Clarification of my story, hopefully

Posted on: 06 January 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Recently doubt has been cast on the veracity of my story for reasons that I completely fail to understand. When I wrote my story I did not realise that specialist knowledge might be required. My MA Dissertation at the University of Bradford was on 'The Rise of Italian Fascism: The Impact of Mussolini on its Development from Fascio to Fascist Party'. In preparation I had to study the general phenomenon of fascism in Europe. My detailed knowledge of fascism in Britain will, hopefully, be of some use here.

First, there appears to be some confusion between what my father was a member of and British fascism.

Perhaps it would be best if I set out the various fascist groups in Britain in the 1930s:

1. 'The Britons', founded by Henry Hamilton Beamish, 1919. Racist and particularly anti-Semitic.

2. 'The British Fascists' founded in 1923 by Miss Rotha Lintorn-Orman, this was an extreme right-wing party which attracted a few WW1 generals and admirals, it was mainly directed against bolshevism, which it identified with 'international Jewry'.

3. 'The Imperial Fascist League'(IFL) founded in 1929 by Arnorld Spencer Leese. Remnants of the IFL were still active in 1937, a virulent anti-Semitic group.

4. 'British Union of Fascists' (BUF), founded on 1 October 1932. It was dissolved on 23 May 1940. Ostensibly copying Italian Fascism in dress, it was more in tune with Nazism, being particularly anti-Jewish. Although it never won a seat, the BUF had a major impact on British politics in the 1930s. At its peak it had a membership of upto 40,000.

5. National Socialist League (NSL). This was a breakaway group from the BUF in 1937, founded by William Joyce and Johm Beckett. An overtly Nazi group. Joyce is the infamous Lord Haw-Haw, hanged in 1946.

6. 'Il Fascio', primarily nationalist, the Fasci were set up in various Italian consulates, the major one in England was 'The London Fascio'. Only Italian nationals could join. My father was a member of the Bradford Fascio at the Italian consulate in Bradford, there was no consulate in Leeds. This is what Lord William Cavendish-Bentinck, the head of the Joint Intelligence Service (MI6) minuted on MI5's recommendation to intern members of the Italian Fascio:

'It seems strange to me to intern Italians such as the restaurant keepers, 'Luigi' and 'Quaglino' [individuals mentioned by MI5] who have a stake in this country, even though they may be members of the local Fascio, which is, in fact, nothing more than the equivalent of the British Society in a South American capital, and to allow liberty to Germans in this country who have no stake in this country and on whom pressure can be brought by threats that their relations in Germany will suffer.' ('Collar The Lot' by Peter and Leni Gillman, Quartet Books, 1980, page 158).

I do not know when my father joined the Fascio, I think it was around 1930. By 1942 he was an active anti-fascist, at a time when it was extremely dangerous to be anti-fascist, and remained so all his life.

He was arrested on the night of either 10 or 11 June 1940, I cannot remember now which. We, his family, consisting of my mother, my 4 year old sister, and myself were not arrested. I repeat here what I thought I had made clear: he was NOT arrested because he was a Fascist (i.e., a member of his local Fascio), he was arrested because he was an Italian citizen. My maternal grandfather, who was also arrested, was a devout Catholic who would have nothing to do with politics. ALL Italians were interned, whether or not they were Fascists. A few, like my father, were given a choice to either remain interned or to return to Italy.

(I have already posted what follows, in reply to a friend, but I shall repeat it here)

When Italy declared war in 1940 the normal train route through France was out of the question, so two ships were used (the SS. Monarch of Bermuda, and the Conte Rosso) to exchange the Ambassadors and their staffs in Lisbon. When it was realised that there would be plenty of space left over, each Ambassador was allowed to present a list of Italian (and ,vice versa, British) nationals to fill the ships. In the end, 629 out of the 730 nominated by the Italian ambassador opted to go. Apparently Bastianini, the Italian ambassador, presented his list to the Foreign Office early on, but the speed of the arrests had been so fast, with so many police forces involved, that many on the list could not be traced for several days.

My father said that he was marched to the internment camp office with about four others and given about 5 minutes to decide. I think he already knew that his group were going to Canada, but I'm not sure about that. My mother, my sister, and I are British, but he was allowed to take us with him if my mother agreed, which she did when he got back to Leeds.

I contributed my story not out of any notion of self-promotion. I wrote it because I thought it might help people understand how devastating WW2 was, and the impact it had in creating millions of refugees world-wide.

For anyone interested further, Google will take you to websites on the following topics: Conte Rosso, Monarch of Bermuda, Piazzale Loreto - list of dead, battle of San Martino, Musadino, Porto Valtravaglia, ILH-KR, etc.


Message 2 - Fascism in Great Britain: A Clarification of my story, hopefully

Posted on: 06 January 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

In 4., above

'British Union of Fascists' (BUF), founded on 1 October 1932, by Sir Oswald Mosley.


Message 3 - Fascism in Great Britain: A Clarification of my story, hopefully

Posted on: 06 January 2004 by shirleyvincent

Firstly i have not had a reply by helen regarding my letter ref Kenneth Williams.

Concerning your reply i feel you have still not addressed the original question of was your father a fascist or not. Instead you have made numerous quotes from books which i still do not understand the relevence of,


Message 4 - Fascism in Great Britain: A Clarification of my story, hopefully

Posted on: 06 January 2004 by shirleyvincent

Firstly i have not had a reply by helen regarding my letter ref Kenneth Williams.
Hi Peter
Concerning your reply i feel you have still not addressed the original question of was your father a fascist or not. Instead you have made numerous quotes from books which i still do not understand the relevence of,


Message 5 - A Final Try

Posted on: 07 January 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

A Final try.

1. My story is 100% authentic in every detail, where possible I have checked dates. Where conversation is quoted by me, I have added 'or words to that effect'.

2. The original accusation by KW wasn't that it wasn't authentic, it was that the BBC WW2 Team was, copied and pasted, "fostering and pandering to one particular "Researcher" who was part of an Italian family that was arrested and eventually DEPORTED from England early in the war because of Fascist connections".

This was a complete distortion of what I had written. Could you please camly read the original relevant part? My family, other than my father, was NOT arrested (since my mother, sister, and I are all British under what law, pray, would they have been arrested?)

My father was NOT arrested and interned because he 'had fascist connections', that as a matter of historical fact had absolutely NOTHING to do with his arrest. He was arrested and interned because he was an Italian citizen. You may not be aware that scores of German Jews who had fled from Nazi Germany were also arrested and interned. So were many anti-Nazis, to give but two examples out of hundreds: Dr Franz Borkenau, Austrian, a distinguished historian and sociologist, whose book 'the Totalitarian Enemy' was fiercly anti-Nazi. Otto Lehmann Rüssbuldt, German: socialist, pacifist, general secretary of the International League for the Rights of Man; 67 years old when interned.

My father was a member of the Bradford Fascio and it was this that probably got him on the Ambassador's list of internees to be exchanged with British citizens resident in Italy. He was a member of the Italian Fascist Party Abroad (Fascio all'Estero) at a time when nearly every working man in Italy was a member. It had nothing whatsoever to do with Mosley's anti-Jewish British Union of Fascists. Italian Fascism never was racial, despite the anti-Semitic Laws passed by Mussolini in 1938, aping Hitler.

What is more to the point is that during the Nazi occupation my father was actively anti-fascist at a time when to be so was courting with death. I did not put it in my story becuse it was not relevant, but a cousin of mine was executed by firing squad.
(Details here: links) it is in Italian, but the last line regarding twelve Italian partisans executed in batches reads "Finally at Bettole di Varese: Elvio Copelli, Evaristo Trentini and Luigi Ghiringhelli." No, we Ghiringhellis have nothing to be ashamed of.

Nor did I mention other barbaric and pointless shootings in Porto Valtravaglia.

There is also a monument in the Grenoble region of France to an uncle of mine (he was married to my father's eldest sister, Maria) who was also executed by the Germans, shot by firing squad for being a member of the French Maquis. Maria attended his execution. Her brother, my father's youngest brother, Emmanuele, was also in the Maquis.

Does this now clarify matters?


Message 6 - A Final Try

Posted on: 07 January 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

In the above post "a cousin of mine", more properly a kinsman. The Luino Ghiringhelli are relatives of my grandfather's brother.

Message 1 - PETER'S STORY

Posted on: 22 April 2004 by bionicluisa







Message 2 - PETER'S STORY

Posted on: 22 April 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Ciao Luisa

Contact me here direct (just replace AT with @ in the email address).

I knew your family well both before the war and after and have photos taken before the war, Pietro, your grandfather; Santino, his brother; Alfonso, married to Palmira, another brother. Peter is a year older than me. I also knew Alfie and Rita. Dolfo (my godfather) and his wife Kitty, cutlers in Burmantoffs, now long demolished.

Perhaps your relatives still own the Altipiano Hotel between Porto and Musadino?

Small world, isn't it?

Tanti auguri,



Message 3 - PETER'S STORY

Posted on: 31 October 2004 by Italiani

Pity Peter you wouldn't sympathise with my story re Why don't we get amention? Arandora Star etc


Message 4 - PETER'S STORY

Posted on: 31 October 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Italiani

I do apologise if I have offended you in any way. You say that it is a pity that I do not sympathise with your story. That didn't come into it, what I said was you have to put things in context.

It seemed to me that you resented the internment of enemy aliens during the war, a normal procedure in all belligerent coutries. What was totally inexcusable was the sporadic mob violence, but this wasn't government sponsored nor encouraged, as it was for example in Germany against the Jews on Crystal Nacht.

You will find my observations on the Arandora Star following Ettore Emanuelli's story A2473599

I replied here (Messages 3 and 4) A2473599.

Kindest regards,



Message 5 - PETER'S STORY

Posted on: 13 November 2004 by Italiani

Sorry, Peter, there was much violence against Italians............. were it for a different set of circumstances who's to say the final solution wouldn't have been close to the German one.


Message 6 - PETER'S STORY

Posted on: 14 November 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

You are confusing mindless mob violence with government policy. Britain was fighting fascist totalitarianism in all its manifestations and was not racially motivated in any way whatsoever.

I am probably one of the very few people who have observed and chatted with British, American, South African, Italian (and later with both extreme fascist militia and anti-fascist partisans) and German soldiers, including being held at gun point at an SS road block. For the first nine months of the war I was in England, for the next three years in the fascist Kingdom of Italy, and for the next eighteen months in Mussolini's ultra-fascist Republic of Salo' during the entire Italian brutal civil war. For the last month of the war in Europe I was with the South African Imperial Light Horse and Kimberley Regiment.

I witnessed a great deal of violence and death, but the only racism I met with was from Nazi and die-hard fascist soldiery. I again encountered racism in early 1945 with South Africans when I first saw and learnt about what subsequently became legal racism with the enactment of apartheid laws in 1948.

Violence and racism, although often combined, are two quite different concepts.


Message 7 - PETER'S STORY

Posted on: 02 March 2005 by Ron Goldstein


I should not have been surprised that anyone with such a fascinating background as your own should have been responsible for producing such a powerful story about his early years.

The unvarnished and often painful truth is evident in every word and paints a powerful picture of what life must have been like for an immature youngster trying to survive in wartime Italy.

As a so called 'Site Helper' I often make a point of thanking writers to this site for putting their stories on to the Public Domain.

In your case I am doubly grateful to you because I know that your story will surely stand the test of time and will be of great interest and value to future researchers and archivists.

Well done that man !



Message 8 - PETER'S STORY

Posted on: 02 March 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Praise from a man like you, Ron, is praise indeed.

Kindest regards,



Message 9 - PETER'S STORY

Posted on: 03 March 2005 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

I cannot add to Ron's comments as they say it all, surely one of the most unique stories on the site from the civilian side of the war.
It tells of the mistakes made by the authorities at the beginning of the war. This was the cause of many good people being attacked locked up and in your case sent back to an alien country. I think you came through it all with flying colours.
Excused Guard for two weeks fall out.
Regards Frank.


Message 10 - PETER'S STORY

Posted on: 03 March 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Many thanks for your generous comments Frank, much appreciated. Can I be excused boots for two weeks? <cheers>


Message 11 - PETER'S STORY

Posted on: 03 March 2005 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Now now lad dont come the old soldier, you can be excused cleaning my boots for two weeks send Ron in to do it.
Regards Frank.


Message 12 - PETER'S STORY

Posted on: 07 September 2005 by farmershilling

To Lisa Maturi


Message 13 - PETER'S STORY

Posted on: 07 September 2005 by farmershilling

To Lisa Maturi. I was so interested in Peter's story. I am Margaret Granelli, the wife of the John Granelli mentioned in the story, and I knew your grandparents very well. Your mom and dad were married on the same day as John and I were, in Leeds. We emigrated to Canada 52 years ago.It was wonderful reading Peter's story, after returning to England he stayed at my mother-in- laws house, his grandmother, and I have visited him many times when on vaction in England. Hope you and Peter get in touch. Best wishes, Margaret


Message 14 - PETER'S STORY

Posted on: 07 September 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Margaret!!! What a pleasant surprise! If you haven't got my email address let me know here, but don't post yours publicly.

A big hug,


Message 1 - Story edited on 8 July 04

Posted on: 08 July 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear WW2 Team

I have amended a date in my story "A Childhood in Nazi Occupied Italy" here A1993403. The story has already been categorised, but now my single amendment has sent it back to the Editorial desk as a fresh submission. Is there any way of bypassing the Editorial Desk when editing?



Message 2 - Story edited on 8 July 04

Posted on: 09 July 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Peter -
Never mind - they will do their own thing despite all protest - it's still a great story and should be required reading - if they still do that kind of thing - in schools !


Message 3 - Story edited on 8 July 04

Posted on: 09 July 2004 by Ron Goldstein

Una storia brillante!
Now PLEASE let us have a photo to accompany this masterpiece. A childhood one would be fine or perhaps one of you in your military finery.
All best wishes


Message 4 - Story edited on 8 July 04

Posted on: 22 July 2004 by Member 782477 (no longer member of this site)


Re your very interesting story of your families removal to Italy for the duration of World War 2 and the incredible experiences you relate of those terrible times, there is an serious anomaly that concerns me.

You may be aware that there has been a recent upset concerning Frank Mee and his military service or otherwise during WW2. There is no question that Mr. Mee admits that he did not serve in WW2 1939-1945 but decided to publish photos of himself in post war army uniform on the site. Since he was challenged on this matter he has decided to retire from the site and may or may not return.

As my father served in WW2 and was seriously injured and later died of these injuries I take strong objection to people who did not serve in the forces during the war displaying photos of themselves in military uniform on this essentially WW2 experience story collection.

I have just noticed that your excellent story of life in wartime Italy is now accompanied by a photo of yourself in army uniform circa 1948 and would ask if you could explain the rationale behind your publishing this photo attached to a story of wartime Italy?

I think this is inappropriate and may offend others as it has me. Perhaps you could replace this photo with one that is more in keeping with your story of life in wartime Italy?


Blue Peter


Message 5 - Story edited on 8 July 04

Posted on: 22 July 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Sir

I am sorry that my photo offends you, you seem remarkably easy to offend. I am also sorry that you find my WW2 experiences "incredible", there is nothing I can do about that.

I am also saddened to learn that you were partly or wholly instrumental in causing Mr Frank Mee to retire from this site.

Peter Ghiringhelli


Message 6 - Story edited on 8 July 04

Posted on: 22 July 2004 by Ron Goldstein

Blue Peter
As one who asked Peter to place a photo of himself on the site I feel obliged to respond to your recent jibes.
Peter's story is a painfully honest account of his life as a child IN WARTIME (my capitals) and his subsequent service in the British Army.
The photo is therefore completely appropriate to accompany the story and very welcome to everyone connected with this site.
No one has done more to enrich the site with help and painstaking research and your remarks are completely uncalled for.
Ron Goldstein


Message 7 - Story edited on 8 July 04

Posted on: 22 July 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Blue Peter -
Gosh 'n Golly....what thin skin you have matey...but then again ... who needs fat skin.

Sorry about your happened a lot in war, and most people just got on with it - as you probably did as well - after all it was 60 years ago..I would assume that it was WW2 we are referring to here on this site ? You must be getting on a bit as well then ?

For myself - I have a Mea Maxima Culpa - as I too have had published some stories which related to events AFTER WW2..if we are to be picky.
If you were to read my sagas of "The Vienna Tattoo - "The Strassburg Trilogy" will find that they related to the time period of 1945 - 1947 ! Way after the actual fighting ceased..which I nearly missed as I was just out of a five month stay in various Hospitals being patched up after the event (!) related in " The Gothic Line - San Martino". As a consequence of this particular day - I lost all of the photgraphs taken during my service in North Africa and Italy as they were still in my Tank when it was knocked out, silly old me should have sent them home at the time.
So - if you ever see me in a photograph - in uniform you can be sure it was taken - after the war !
Then you can write another letter !

Now to your letter addressed to My friend Peter Gringhelli and your actions against Frank Mee.... I find to be totally dispicable as their respective contributions to this site and the subsequent forums to have been immense and to lose the wisdom of Frank Mee and his humour, is beyond belief... and your contributions - one carping letter perhaps ? High time you grew up matey ! I just thank God that we don't have any current wars as we might be dependent on people like you
to save us... I can see you "yomping" across the Falklands.. I doubt you would last a mile !
Get lost !


Message 8 - Story edited on 8 July 04

Posted on: 22 July 2004 by originalmarjorie

Hear, hear!

Frank and Peter have both been encouraging, helpful and kind to me whilst I have been researching my late father's war service. Both these gentlemen have made me feel that I have actually accomplished something. They are people, I think, that my Dad would have been glad to know. I hope you read this Frank.



Message 9 - Story edited on 8 July 04

Posted on: 22 July 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Marjorie -
if you know anyone in or near Stockton on Tees ( as it used to be known ) would you ask them to give Frank a call and tell him to get back on line no matter what wasisname says,
I would do it myself but I would probably wake him at 3 in the a.m. which would not be too humourous, as I live in Canada and way too old to figure out the time difference - I'll pay for the call !


Message 10 - Story edited on 8 July 04

Posted on: 22 July 2004 by originalmarjorie

Hi, Tom,

I actually live in Scotland, just over the border, near Galashiels. I'm afraid I don't know anybody in Frank's area. I'm really sorry that he has not been on site as he is so kind to everyone - almost a father figure! Let's hope he's just on holiday. One of the contributors was once very horrible to me, asking what right I had to be posting on this site as I had no direct experience of WW2. Frank was extremely supportive to me at that time, as was Peter. Let's hope he heeds all his supporters.



Message 11 - Story edited on 8 July 04

Posted on: 22 July 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Marjorie -
Galashiels eh ? - I was there around 1979 / 80 and I walked into the Woolen Mills there and asked to see the manager as I had a complaint.
A young man came out and asked what the problem was and I told him that my Mother had bought me a school tie from their roving salesman and it now had a hole in it !
He took one look at me and asked " and when would this have been sir ?" - I replied "1937" then he asked if I thought that I had had my money's worth ?
I walked out of there with two suit lengths - had them made up in around 1985 for a wedding...adjusted twice since then .... and still wear them on occasions to-day - I would say I've had my money's worth !Wonderful town you live in - I enjoyed my stay there ! I'm sure that someone will give Frank a call as he was on holiday in Edinburgh in May !
best regards

Message 1 - War seen from the other side

Posted on: 25 August 2004 by anak-bandung

Dear Peter, after all that lively debate with you, Rose and Jospehine (Odyssee) I felt I had to read your story too, apart from the personal page intro. I have only just finished reading your story. It is now way past my lunch time but could not tear myself away. I found it deeply moving and interesting, especially because we do not hear much about what happened at the other side of the coin! Clear lines are always drawn and only one's own side seems to suffer, forget about all the others!
Your story gave a very clear picture what life was like in Italy in that period. It must have been very difficult for your mother to be sent to, what in all respect to her was a foreign country, not being able to speak the language despite being from Italian extraction herself.
I am now dying for a coffee and a bite to eat. Long may you continue helping us out with our queries. Although I am not a great avid reader of war history, I do share your interest in evolution and biology. I am also an OU student absolutely fascinated by the workings of the brain.
Thank you for sharing your story with us. Regards, Anak @->--


Message 2 - War seen from the other side

Posted on: 25 August 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Hi Anak

Thank you for your kind comments.

I'm an ex OU student myself :) I got my BA in 1988, then I went on for Honours.

I later went to the University of Bradford for two years and did an MA.

Guess what, the OU BA was more demanding! So don't let anyone tell you that it is a soft option. When I did my BA you had to have two Foundation courses so I took Art and Science, now I think you only need one Foundation course, but I gained a lot doing two.

Good luck with your studies

Peter >-|

Message 1 - What a story!

Posted on: 02 May 2005 by Allan Scott

Hi, Peter,

I was deeply moved by your detailed, honest account of your wartime experiences -- I'm only sorry that I had to wait until your article appeared on the front page to find it!

I'm particularly interested because my father, Len Scott, served in Italy in the latter part of the war. I'm going to draw your story to his attention, as well - I think it may give him a different perspective on some of the things he saw and reported at the time.

I can only admire the courage and determination of you and your family in the face of such enormous challenges. Your perspective on these things is surely unique, and we should all be grateful that you have been able to record it here.

Thanks again for a truly memorable read.

Allan Scott


Message 2 - What a story!

Posted on: 02 May 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper


Many thanks for your generous comments. I don't think we were 'courageous', we just had to get on with it and make the best of it. WW2 was indeed total war and everyone was involved in it, many millions were uprooted and fared far worse than my family.

Your mother, for example, suffered too; I found her story very moving.

Kind regards,



Message 3 - What a story!

Posted on: 04 May 2005 by Allan Scott

Hi Peter,

To me, 'getting on with it and making the best of it' is the essence of courage in troubled times - it's the very thing that makes it possible to rebuild from the ruins. My father had to do this, in a much less dramatic way, when he got home -- which will form the topic of his last few stories. But I can't help thinking that my generation, which talks so much about 'adapting to change', would find it all but impossible to cope with changes on the scale that you and your family experienced -- not just the physical hardships but the broken dreams and the betrayals as well.

Thank you for your comments on my mother's story. As my father says in an upcoming post, she had a much, much harder war than he did - and suffered for it.

All the very best,

Allan Scott

Message 1 - Thank you for an interesting story

Posted on: 03 May 2005 by Andrew Hall

Thank you very much for this story. I am a product of a South African Sapper and an Italian mother. They met, and married during the war while my Dad was stationed in Rome. When I was young growing up in a privileged South Africa my mother used to tell me not to waste food and that I did not know how lucky I was to have food, and then she would go onto about during the war they did not have much food and never wasted it and so on. As a child I used to think Blah blah blah and never took much notice.

Your story has brought home what my mother was trying to tell me and my siblings. Now I wonder how much she and her siblings suffered during the war and feel sad for not being able to tell her that I now understand.

When I was in Rome visiting my relatives, during the 70's, I remember once remarking to my uncle that his front door was a very thick door, he told me that they had it put on so that the government informers (one never knew who was an informer)could not hear them listening to the BBC world service, which was not allowed.


Message 2 - Thank you for an interesting story

Posted on: 04 May 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper


Thank you for your comments on my story.

If you want to understand what life in Rome was like during the war I suggest you read 'La Storia' (published in English by Penguin as 'History') by Elsa Morante.

Although a work of fiction, it is a powerful novel based on her own experience of Rome during the war. It was first published in 1974, but it is still in print.

You will find some notes on Elsa Morante and 'La Storia' here links

Best wishes,


Message 1 - Thanks

Posted on: 04 May 2005 by Julia Matcham

Thanks for a fascinating story. I know Italy quite well and also many of the places you refer to. I also have an Italian friend, exactly your age I would think, whose family lived in Piazzale Loreto (where I have stayed in times past) and have often imagined the scene you describe.
I just couldn't resist saying thanks. I have always listened to stories of Italy's war with fascination.
Very interesting hearing some time ago about the invasion of Sicily and how the Americans sent the black guys first....and sitting in a cafe in Sicily where si mangia bene si paga poco (name of the restaurant!) and talking to the people in there who openly pointed out some lawyer sitting there as..yes, he was a facist! He just went on eating. Somehow typically Italian scene. Also I used to know a quite famous sculptor called Mario Salazzari (did the big horses on Verona bridge ...well a Verona bridge) was a Partigiano condemned to death ...but let off because of the horses...they simply couldn't bring themselves to kill him. Another typical bit of intriguing Italian logic. He always knew who had betrayed him and pointed him out to us in the streets of Verona. He would shrug and say he knows I know, and I know he knows.
Mario's hand used to shake like a Parkinsons victim as a result of the torture inflicted...except when he was working. He was a man of great integrity. Please excuse the inconsequential nature of this post. Best wishes. Julia


Message 2 - Thanks

Posted on: 05 May 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Many thanks Julia for your generous comments about my story.

I would only point out one thing. You say that you heard, at the invasion of Sicily, "how the Americans sent the black guys first".

Apart from being quite utterly impossible to organise, I would merely point out that during WW2, because of then existing discrimination, black American troops had a supporting role only (logistics, etc) and were not armed as front line troops. Even the most incompetent general in the world would not do such an idiotic thing as to send unarmed men to storm a beach he intended to capture.

If you want to know the true facts, I recommend you read "Bitter Victory - The Battle for Sicily 1943" by Carlo D'Este (Collins, 1988, but still in print in paperback).




Message 3 - Thanks Again

Posted on: 09 May 2005 by Julia Matcham

Thanks for your recommendation. I will read that. I am just begining to get the hang of this site. Up to now it has been once read, lost for ever.
Best wishes. Julia Matcham
NB My very easy was is under MY BENIGN WAR ...not much excitement there!


Message 4 - Thanks Again

Posted on: 09 May 2005 by Julia Matcham

Thanks for your recommendation. I will read that. I am just begining to get the hang of this site. Up to now it has been once read, lost for ever.
Best wishes. Julia Matcham
NB My very easy war is under MY BENIGN WAR ...not much excitement there!

Message 1 - Deportation

Posted on: 12 May 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

The 2nd section of my story bears the title "Deportation", given and inserted by the Editorial Team, and in the series "Coming Home" broadcast on Radio 4 there is reference to my family being 'deported' in 1940.

Even the eminent historian Juliet Gardiner in her otherwise excellent book "Wartime Britain 1939-1945" gets this wrong. She says "It was decided that 1,500 Italians who represented a real danger to the country, according to the government, should be repatriated to Italy (or deported) along with other males between sixteen and seventy who had less than twenty year's residency in Britain" (page 226). But there was no way that those who 'represented a real danger' were allowed to return; they most surely were kept interned. Deportation procedures had nothing whatsoever to do with this unique repatriation exchange scheme of British and Italian nationals.

The facts are as follows:

In May 1940, Count Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini's son-in-law, and the British Ambassador in Rome, Sir Percy Lorraine, agreed that, should war be declared, there would be an orderly exchange and repatriation of their respective nationals. First were to be the staffs of both countries' embassies and consulates with additional names, to fill the ships to be used but subject to security clearance for those without diplomatic immunity, to be recommended by each ambassador.

The list in the UK was drawn up by the Italian Ambassador in London, Giuseppe Bastianini, and he submitted 730 names to the Foreign Office. However, 101 of those listed opted not to go and remained interned, so the final number was 629. My father was on Bastianini's list and, following his internment, was given about 30 minutes to make up is mind; he opted to return to Italy, and my mother, who was born in England and had a British passport, decided to go with him, taking me and my sister. Whatever the outcome, my parents decided that we should all, if possible, remain together.

As I said in my story, the two ships used for the exchange were the British liner "Monarch of Bermuda", sailing from Scotland, and the Italian liner "Conte Rosso", sailing from Italy. The two ships met in Lisbon, on 26 June 1940, where the exchange took place.

See "Collar the Lot" by Peter and Leni Gillman (Quartet Books, 1980), pages 153-154.



Message 2 - Deportation

Posted on: 12 May 2005 by ODYSSEY

Peter, you never guessed what happened to me yesterday: I had downloaded "REAL PLAYER" and suddenly it was anounced that there was going to be a repeat of "COMING HOME"broadcast.
I listened and heard your participation in the interviews: Your name was mentioned several times.
Your running down a mountain road where people were jubilant saying:the" war is over'!
Also your amazement when in BRUSSEL -with your aunt-when you saw the filled shops, you marvelled at the chocolates and all the bright lights and no visible bomb damage!
And also about MONTE ROSA!
I nearly fell off my computer chair: I was so surprised to hear your voice. Any commnents?


Message 3 - Deportation

Posted on: 13 May 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper


Many thanks for your comments. However, I wasn't in Brussels. [Sorry about my accent :)] The place was Bâle, the capital of the canton of Lucerne, in Switzerland (not Basle, in the north). The route was via Lugano and Chiasso through the great St Gotthard railway tunnel. Bâle is now more commonly known as Lucerne, and it might have been clearer had I said Lucerne.

We were there for a few hours before changing trains for Paris. Once in France it was a different story, a slow moving crowded train across numerous temporary Bailey bridges in a still devastated country. Brussels was untouched by war damage and was used as a leave centre, first by Germans then by Allied troops; but I was never there.

Kind regards,


Message 1 - Some corrections to my story

Posted on: 17 November 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

My story is now in the Archive and I am no longer able to access it to edit it. Memory is a fallible thing. I have just finished reading the diary of Galeazzo Ciano (Mussolini's son-in-law, executed by the republican fascists on 24 December 1943) in the original Italian, having read it some years ago in an English translation. Based mainly on it, here are some additions and corrections to my story:

The Italian Ambassador in 1935 was Dino Grandi, ex Foreign Minister, and although I do not remember any details he was probably present at the Italian consulate in Bradford when Italian women donated their wedding rings. He was recalled in July 1939, when Giuseppe Bastianini was appointed ambassador in his place. Dino Grandi was a very influential figure in Fascist circles and it was he who led the conspiracy which toppled Mussolini on 25 July 1943.

Regarding the date of our arrival in Sicily, Ciano records in his diary that Bastianini was in Rome, 'back from London', on 4 July, 1940 - so this must be the date we arrived in Messina.

In my story, I say that "Shortly after [the fall of Mussolini in July 1943] the Germans moved in force into Porto Valtravaglia, using the Albergo del Sole, the main hotel, as their headquarters. " and earlier I mentioned seeing a train in late 1942 "flat car after flat car loaded with tanks, and on every flat car German steel-helmeted soldiers at the front and back with rifles. [Commenting that this] was the first time I saw German soldiers ...". I also mentioned getting left-over soup from the Germans in 1943.

In all three cases my memory failed me and I was wrong in my sequence of events. The Germans were in Porto Valtravaglia in either late 1941 or early 1942, and the hand-out of soup was in the summer of 1942. So I had seen German soldiers well before I saw the train loaded with tanks moving south. The gradual infiltration of German troops into Italy began in November 1941, with the arrival in Italy and appointment of General Albert Kesselring as commander of joint Italian and German forces operating in Italy and the Islands, although they were in southern Italy and Sicily since Rommel's intervention in North Africa.

The Germans behaved like an unruly occupying force from the very start. Already, by January 1942, Mussolini was complaining about the behaviour of German troops in Italy; labourers were already being sent to Germany to the point of creating a labour shortage in Italy. As early as 12 January 1942, Ciano records in his diary "The Duce protests against the conduct of the German soldiers in Italy, especially the non-commissioned officers, who are presumptuous, quarrelsome, and drunken. Last night in Foggia two of them forced their way into a house where a man was about to go to bed, and said to him: "We've occupied France, Belgium, Holland, and Poland, and tonight we are going to occupy your wife". To which the man replied "You can occupy the whole world, but not my wife. I haven't got a wife, I'm a bachelor." In their disappointment they smashed all his furniture before they withdrew". And on 25 January '42: "Again Mussolini complains of the behaviour of the Germans in Italy. ... He has before him a transcript of a telephone call by one of Kesselring's aides, who, when speaking to Berlin ... hoped that Italy, too, would soon become an occupied country".

Food shortages began much earlier than I had remembered. On 28 March 1942 Venice had the first demonstrations caused by bread shortages, and on 29 March there were bread-riots at Matera, where groups of women broke into Fascist Party headquarters and were dispersed by force and shots fired in the air. Ciano commented in his diary "These are serious symptoms, especially as the harvest is far away and the available food supply scarcer and scarcer". Ciano took a short fishing holiday in May 1942; he comments in his diary "[food] is very short. ... Renato, my fisherman, has lost thirty pounds in a few months, and he tells me that the members of his family are losing weight at the same rate".

Peter Ghiringhelli

Message 1 - A fab story!

Posted on: 26 November 2005 by sarahmullaney

Hi Peter,

I thought your story of your time in war time Italy was fantastic. I am a third year history student at the unieversity of Nottingham and I'm doing my dissertation on How the British living in Italy viewed Italian Fascism during this period. I think that your story would be a very helpful contribution and I would really like to contact you about this if possible.

Kind regards,
Sarah Mullaney

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