Damiano, Modesto

Summary of Damiano, Modesto

This document is an unusual and moving example of the assistance provided to Allied escapers by Italian citizens. Modesto Damiani was clearly a courageous man who helped a number of servicemen from across the Commonwealth – England, Scotland, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. The document includes a list of names of servicemen confirming that Modesto Damiani provided assistance to them, asking that he be recognised for his efforts. The resulting Alexander Certificate given to those who provided help to the Allies is also included in the document.

The full story follows, in two versions. The version in the first window below is the original scanned version of the story. In the second window below is the transcribed version in plain text.

Damiani, Modesto by George Mitchell

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16th February 1949

I the undersigned Modesto di Angelico Damiani state the following:

During the final years of the recent war I was in Lucignana (district of Coreglia Antelminelli-Lucca), and after 8th September 1943 I got involved in helping Allied prisoners who had escaped from concentration camps. Many of them congregated in that region.

Up to 22nd February 1994, I was able in fact to shelter and aid all the prisoners who reached Lucignana (coming from the concentration camp at Parma). In addition, I did my best to place in safe custody those who wanted to stay, and to give clothes, provisions and useful route information to those who wanted to move on.

Seven prisoners remained with me up to the night of 22/23 February 1944.

That night, thanks to specific information provided by spies who have not been identified, a whole troop of Black Shirts surrounded my house and the immediate vicinity with the aim of capturing me and any Allied prisoners found in the house.

Luckily I managed to evade the ambush (without any clothes on). Escaping via the roof, I jumped down to the vegetable garden and, after climbing up a tree, I clambered over the garden wall and fled. I headed first for the house where the prisoners slept and raised the alarm, giving them the chance to save themselves.

It is unnecessary here to spell out how agitated I was, thinking on the one hand of what might befall the prisoners whom I wished to save by any means possible (and whom I did save) and, on the other hand, of what might happen to me, my relatives and my house if I were captured. Everybody knows that, just as the prisoners taken in those circumstances were hanged, so too was anybody giving them any type of assistance.

Both my aged father and my son, who was then just ten years old, frequently had guns pointed at them in attempts to intimidate them into revealing where I had fled. They had nothing to say, given that not even I know exactly the road I took, terrified as I was from one moment to the next of being riddled with bullets fired by my pursuers. One can imagine how frightened my father and son must have been.

My sister and her daughter live in a house nearby and they too were scared stiff, what with being watched and having guns pointed at them.

The two houses (mine and my sister’s) were turned upside down and ransacked. Before departing, the Black Shirts announced that everything had been sorted out because I had been captured and taken away. What on earth did my father, son and sister think when they were told this falsehood?

After what I have described above, it was no longer advisable to keep the prisoners nearby, so I set about finding them safer lodgings in the Lucignana mountains. I made firm arrangements with those who pledged to help me in the undertaking, committing myself to reimburse any expenses incurred.

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For several months following this incident, up to the liberation of the area, I continued to help prisoners, providing them with bread, wine, clothing, cigarettes and anything else I could lay my hands on.

Several prisoners left testimony of the help they had received, and I forwarded their statements to the Provincial Finance of Lucca office), which told me I would receive compensation of about L.150,000. Later, I was summoned by a Coreglia Antelminelli official and was offered the sum of L.8,000, which I declined. I have heard no more since then.

I do not wish here to spell out again what I did for Allied prisoners, or ask for adequate recompense for my efforts and the risks I took. I simply bring these facts to your attention so that you may be aware that, as far as possible, I too did what I could to help those who risked being captured and shot, or hanged.

As I have said, I am not asking for payment in compensation for what I have described above, because I have merely done my duty. However, I do earnestly request all this to be kept in consideration and for me to be granted the requisite permit to make and sell ice cream to the public.

With respectful thanks,

Modesto Damiani

Those signing below testify that Mr Modesto di Angelico Damiani has told the truth about the assistance he gave to Allied prisoners.

(The Mayor of the Comune Coreglia Antelminelli affixes his stamp, testifying that the signatures of the witnesses are genuine.)

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P.E. ROWLANDSON                                                      February 24th 1944

This is to certify that Modesto Damiani has been of invaluable assistance to the undersigned Prisoners of War. He has found for us our food and lodging, supplying some few thousand lire of his own for our maintenance and upkeep. Finally, the Fascisti, having learned his name through the work of a spy, came to his house in the early hours of the morning. Fortunately, however, he was able to escape and is now obliged to take refuge elsewhere. He has declared that the people will continue to assist us as long as it be possible.
/s/ Peter A. Marshall Lt. R.A. 187914

Arrived 14th November 1943
Peter A. Marshall 187914
224 Oxford Road, Basford Park – Newcastle under Lyme, Staffordshire, England.

Arrived 1st December 1943
James Devaney c/o Lamont 2987472
134 Broadholm St. Possilpark Glasgow N., Scotland

Arrived 2nd January 1944
Ralph P. Driver         N. 79012 U.D.F.
68 Harpur Avenue, Benoni Ivl., South Africa

Arrived 21st January 1944
Ray Harries WX 7111. AIF.
12 Lake Avenue, Shenton Park, South West Australia

Arrived 17th November 1943
M.A. Knight Cpl. VX34393
11 Ferret Street, West Brunswick, Melbourne, Australia

Arrived 2nd January 1944
P.C. Smith Pte. VX26317
38 Pinnock Street, Bairnsdale, Victoria, Australia

E.T.H. Keith Forgan
Wervin Hall Nr Chester, England
No. 140058 14th November 1943 – 24th February 1944

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/s/ Pte Henry Robert Smith
32433 South African Defence Forces

No 221704 Cpl Christison
2 S.A. Div.

Escaped from P.O.W. Camp 73

Captain A.W. Jamieson          /s/
87 Spottiswoode Street, Edinburgo, Scozzia (Edinburgh, Scotland)

/s/  Captain A.D. Moyle
Maresfield, Sussex, England

TO: Our Area Commander
This is to say that Damiani Modesto has been extremely kind and useful, finding us billets and helping us in every way possible
/s/ P.A. Marshall Lt. 187914
T.H. Reith Forgan Lt. 14008

/s/ Lieut. John M.P. Walker, E.C. 1283
c/o Lloyds Bank Ltd., Clive Street, Calcutta, India

/s/ Mr Idwin Eeren, 393 Cardiff Road,
Aberdare, Glamorgan, South Wales, UK

TO: Whom It May Concern
This man Damiani Modesto has given us every assistance possible in my escape from P.O.W. and I trust that he will be given every consideration from the English Forces when they arrive here
/s/   No. 2987472  James Daveney 22nd October 1943

/s/ George Ashley c/o
Master Bilt Radio Cabinet Works
Johannesburg, South Africa

/s/ Bert Hitchin
‘The Hollies’, Mannerly Lane, Ketley, Wellington
Shropshire, England

TO: The Officer Commanding Lucignana District
FROM: J.M.P. Walker (illegible] 1283 Lieut. I.A.

Sig. Damiani Modesto has given me assistance on my way and I trust he will receive every consideration from our Forces when they arrive here.

/s/ J.M.P. Walker Lt. 2 R.C.

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Royal Crest

This certificate is awarded to
Damiani Modesto
As a token of gratitude for and appreciation of the help given to the Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen of the British Commonwealth of Nations, which enabled them to escape from, or evade capture by the enemy.

[Signature] H.R. Alexander
Field Marshall, Supreme Allied Commander, Mediterranean Theatre

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[Italian version of digital page 5]

Questo certificato è rilasciato al ————————————————
Quale attestato di gratitudine e riconiscmento per ‘l’aiuto dato ai membri delle Forze Armate degli Alleati che li ha messi in grado di evadere od evitare di essere catturati dal nemico
Il Maresciallo Britannico
Commandante Supremo delle Forze Alleate del Mediterraneo

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[Photograph without caption of Modesto Damiani]

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