Summary of Anthony Laing
Following his escape from the Fontanellato POW camp after the Armistice of September 8th 1943, Laing travelled extensively, almost reaching the Allied lines south of Cassino. However, along with with others, he was recaptured by the Germans and put on a train to Germany. He, once again, managed to escape and then headed north. Again with the help of several Italian families, he eventually succeeded in reaching Switzerland.
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.
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LAING, A “Synopsis”
‘Return to Socraggio’ and K.K’s Rèsumè of it
Most travelled of all P.O.W.s!
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Notes on SYNOPSIS of Anthony Laing’s story in files of MSM Trust
From Fontanellato. Spent first two nights in cellar surrounded by Parmesan Cheeses.
Then sets off, like so many others, over the hills and mountains south towards Florence. Stayed in the small village of Acone with many other POWs around, went to resistance meetings with Nocentini of the Partito d’Azione. N. later proved as was suspected to be in employ of Germans. With clothes, food and maps provided by the Tarchianni family moves on south. Meets Donald Macauley, RAMC Captain. Passing west of L’Aquila and Sulmona they get within fifteen miles of the lines on the Sangro river, the make or break point for so many POWs. In the short days of mid winter with snow falling they get lost but an orange yellow light seems to come and go in the distance until it appears again as they climb another hill. It is the tent of some shepherds who were sharing their last sheep – the Germans having taken all their sheep and cattle. Towards dawn cries of ’Raus’ came from outside. Though searched like them all by the Germans they got away with it and were left with the shepherds. They struggle on during the day until a cry of ‘Alt’ stops them on the banks of the Sangro and the automatic which A.L. was carrying was found.
Fortunately with the help of Donald Macauley A.L. had no further action taken against him for the revolver and they found themselves, together with others from Fontanellato they were transported north by train, until thanks to an axe that one had hidden, they jumped near Orte, north of Rome. Deciding that it was better to leave the line alone in winter A.L. made his way north again but from Arezzo decided to take a train, in spite of the dangers and difficulties of so doing, to Florence. There the Buti family provided them with all the luxuries of living in a house over Christmas. When two German officers called they were passed off as Italian cousins and as one was a Major in the Medical Corps and brother of the Buti’s Austrian governess a good time was had by all. As more POWs gathered at the Buti home, including Stuart Hood, it was decided to try to get out via Yugoslavia or boat. With genuine identity cards (but presumably without very genuine Italian language!) 3 of them set off with a guide but by train for Venice. In their hotel beside the Rialto the others were mostly members of the General Staff of the Germans. Circumstances not being good for either means of exit they returned, after a night on Bologna platform, to Florence.
On 21st February they set off again by train for Milan and then 2 evenings later were on the outskirts of Cannobio on Lago Maggiore where they joined up with smugglers who took them over the border to Switzerland.
Did any other POW travel so much in such a short time in occupied Italy?
Certainly a few used the train into and out of Milan for short journeys trying to get to Switzerland but have read of no others who took long journeys and certainly not going north!
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After release from Fontanellato I became separated from my friends and spent one night in the Bund and two nights at a local farm, where I slept in a big semi-cellar surrounded by large Parmesan cheeses piled four feet high. The smell was overpowering! I then set off South and met two South African batmen but found that I could make quicker progress alone. Like so many of us, without maps, I took the same route up the Taro valley- Medesano-Fomova-Berceto etc. and then bore off east. The usual up and down and round the hills walk as far as Monte Morello, north of Florence, where I spent ten ineffective days with some Partisans, but it was early days!
On to the village of Santa Brigida, just north of Florence, where I was very warmly welcomed and generously treated by Leopoldo Tarchianni, a Florentine silk merchant, and his entire family at their summer home. So much so that at the first signs of autumn I began to hesitate about moving on south, I had become involved with the Priest of Acone, a very small neighbouring village, near which there had been a working camp containing about four hundred British OR’s [other ranks]. Thanks to Don Egidio’s industry, humanity and influence this tiny village and the surrounding area was still supplying and maintaining several hundred British OR’s. This was imposing a very serious strain on the limited resources of this small village and there was concern as to whether they would be able to do so throughout the winter, and also the security implications of such a large concentration of ex POWs. They later suffered two severe rastrellamenti and Don Egidio was arrested.
I attended two Committee meetings in Florence with Nocentini, the instigator, and members of the Partito d’Azione, where proposals were discussed to transport some of the ex POWs in the area down to Rome. Don Egidio and I had doubts not only about the scheme but also about Nocentini. Leopoldo Tarchianni was also dubious, I felt more comfortable to proceed alone.
A last visit to Florence to the Tarchianni home, where they generously replaced my wardrobe, gave me money and maps, and Leopoldo pressed his Berretta automatic upon me. Off south by Pratomagna, Città di Castello, Assisi, Spoleto and Val di Nera where, as I approached a village towards evening, I was detained by a particularly nasty Carabiniere. Fortunately he did not bother to search me and, being armed, I was later able to disarm him and to slope off into the night.
On again south where, near Leonessa, I met ex-Fontanellatian Donald Macauley, Capt RAMC. We joined up. He was a good walker and very good company and several of our Italian hosts appreciated his medical skills. We approached the Lines passing to the west of L’Aquila and Sulmona and by Bugnara and Frattura, where we were told that the Lines were only fifteen miles away and that we should do it comfortably in a day. The days were then quite short so we left Frattura at first light, well-fed and briefed, heading for Monte Greco.
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There had been several falls of snow in the past week and our progress was not as good as we had hoped, but all went well until mid afternoon, when we were overtaken by a blizzard and lost the track. As darkness fell we were lost, nor had we seen any of the huts that we had been told about. Our food was finished and it was bitterly cold. We had no alternative but to keep floundering on, hopefully in the right direction.
We eventually sighted the most extraordinary yellow-orange light whose size, indeterminate shape and brightness all appeared to vary continually. It also disappeared from time to time. In our exhausted condition we began to dismiss it as a mirage until we agreed that it seemed to be both closer and brighter, and that its appearance and disappearance might be related to the contours we were crossing. Again, with no alternative we made towards it.
It was a large tent! Inside were two shepherds, sitting round a small campfire, which filled the tent with smoke. They kindly welcomed us and gave us some mutton stew. The entire population had been driven out of Scontrone and the Germans had taken all their sheep and cattle. We were now sharing their last sheep!
There was no room to lie down. Although the tent was large it was too cold to sit far from the fire. Sitting up, sometimes back to back for support, as near to the fire as we could, we slept only fitfully, coughing and with eyes running due to the smoke. Towards dawn we were awakened by shouts of “Raus! Raus! and we stumbled out while a German patrol noisily searched the tent. We kept silent and they left as suddenly as they had arrived, without asking a question or searching us!
The next morning we found that we were above cloud level! In poor visibility and with unhelpful contours, we reconnoitered as best we could while our artillery shelled Scontrone beside us. In the evening, as we descended a path, we could occasionally hear clearly the sound of German voices on either side. It was a pitch-black night and all went well until a cry of “Alt” just prevented me from stepping on a German, with a machine pistol, in a foxhole on the banks of the River Sangro. We were searched and my automatic was found, which caused great excitement.
The following morning we were taken to a local Headquarters at Villetta Barrea, where followed prolonged interrogation. It was entirely due to Donald and his stalwart support and evidence and, I believe, sympathetic treatment from a rather nice German Officer, who spoke excellent English, that I was not dealt with summarily. After two days in a rear headquarters pig-pen at Sora, with further interrogation, we were then taken to a Transit Camp at Frosinone, where we found Hugh Fane-Hervey, Jack Clarke and other ex Fontanellatians who had also been recaptured trying to cross the Lines.
Four days later we were put on a train for Germany but escaped on the second night near Orte, thanks to Hugh, who had concealed an axe with which we cut our way out and jumped while the train was under way. In the dark I found Jack and for several nights we were wonderfully looked after by Franciscan monks in a nearby Monastery, getting over injuries. We decided not to try again to cross the Lines in winter and, having good friendly contacts in Florence, to go north.
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Fed and restored, reclothed, and given money by the very kind monks we set off north on foot. As far as Arezzo, where we each confided that we had rather lost the taste for walking and, with Christmas so near, we got a train to the outskirts of Florence, from where we walked up to Santa Brigida and renewed contact with the Tarchianni family. We also walked over to Acone to see Don Egidio who told us that the escape organisation had been hastily terminated after it had been discovered that Nocentini was in the employ of the Germans, to whom he had delivered some of our troops instead of taking them south.
On 21 December we were taken down to an apartment in the centre of Florence, the home of the Buti family. The mother was English, and there was a son of eighteen, a little girl of about nine and Tonia, an Austrian governess. Also Erland Hindson, a South African Gunner Captain, who had been there three months. While Pam treated us as if we were her sons, her husband was interned as an enemy alien in England, where he had run a perfectly respectable business for many years!
Christmas in Florence! Beds and sheets and toilet paper! Service in the Duomo! And such wonderful kindness and generosity from the family and their friends. Rationing was very strict but, with the help of friends and Mario Nappini in particular, we were spoilt! One night the doorbell rang and two German officers were admitted. There was no escape. Luckily it was Tonia’s brother, a Major in the Medical Corps, and a friend, on their way down to the front at Cassino who, without notice, had decided to call in and see her. Jack and I were introduced as Italian cousins and we had a jolly evening until they left towards midnight to catch their train.
On 4th January Teddy Mumford, 3 Gurkas and ex-Fontanellato who, with Stuart Flood, had had a rough time in the hills with the partisans, was brought down to join us. Our increased presence made us even more aware of the danger in which we were putting this splendid family and we thought that we should reduce our numbers. Erland did not wish to leave. Through a Signora Amendola, who worked at the Town Hall, we were given genuine identity cards. Mario Nappini, who had brought us food, money and information, had learnt from contacts in Venice that there was a good chance of either passing through to Yugoslavia or of getting a boat in the vicinity to the south.
With our guide Angelo Salvatore, Jack, Teddy and I set out on 22 January for Venice by train arriving the following day. After a fruitless day we booked in for two nights at the Albergo Rialto, by the bridge on the Grand Canal. The following morning we entered the Dining Room for breakfast and were ushered to the last empty table in the very far comer, thus having to pass all the other tables, which were occupied by German General Staff Officers in their immaculate red striped breeches!
Two days in Venice, but not as we think of it! The secondary canals were frozen over and there was even ice on the fringes of the Grand Canal! We were told that the extremely severe weather made it inadvisable to try the overland route to Yugoslavia, where there was also a major battle in progress at Gorizia. There were many rumours about boats taking off Allied personnel and Italian helpers at night but we were unable to obtain any positive information.
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To lower our profile, yet remain in touch with our contacts we took the train to nearby Padua where we spent two nights in a pensione. The proprietor insisted that we should register but assured us that our names would be expunged after our departure! Our contacts could offer no further help or advice so we decided to return to Florence, but our train arrived late at Bologna Station after the curfew. With the lines disorganised by Allied bombing we were forced, with trainloads of others, to spend the night on the darkened and crowded platforms, during which our Identity Cards were checked twice.
Unhappy at our failure, and with the danger in which we continued to place the Buti family, we continued to make plans but were frustrated by our inability to obtain useful and reliable information. Aided by Mario Nappini who had already made the journey, we set off on 21st February, again with Angelo Salvatore, by train to Milan arriving the following day. We spent the night of 22nd in Milan and the following morning got the boat to Laveno, on Lake Maggiore, where we were sorry to let Angelo go. After lunch we took the boat to Cannero, the bus to Cannobio and then, as evening fell, walked a few miles up the valley to Socraggio, where we met our guides, who were contrabbandieri (smugglers).
The following morning we left before dawn and, in our best city suits and shoes and carrying briefcases, we slipped and slivered our way up to a col, which we were assured was the Swiss frontier, and where we said goodbye to our guides. We descended similarly on the other side and, having just reached the tree line, were happily and carelessly talking when a voice behind us called “Alt”. Turning, I saw a German soldier in the usual field grey uniform. My heart sank. Had we failed again? But no, he was a Swiss soldier!
Nocentini was tried, and convicted, as a War Criminal at the Tribunale di Lucca after the War.
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Return to Socraggio
In February 1944, Teddy Mumford, Jack Clarke and I felt that we should no longer endanger the kind and brave Buti Family, who had so generously sheltered us in their home in the centre of Florence, so we decided to go to Switzerland.
With the ever cheerful Angelo Salvatore, who had already accompanied us to Venice and Padua on our failed attempt to reach Yugoslavia, we took the train to Milan and, as before, each travelled in a different compartment with the understanding that, in the event of trouble we would not involve the others. Angelo spent a fair amount of time in the corridor, especially in Stations, keeping an eye open for ‘trouble’. Like most people in those days of hard rationing we took sandwiches.
We spent the night in Milan at a small hotel near the Station and in the morning followed Angelo, at a discrete distance, to the Stazione del Nord. There he bought us tickets for the train journey to Laveno, on Lake Maggiore and gave us instructions for the remainder of our journey.
We were very sorry to part from Angelo for he had been not only been a stalwart and resourceful guide but also a most interesting and amusing companion. A man who had become not just a friend but ‘“one of us”. He had also shown me a lot of Florence, a city which I had grown to love. Like some of the best-intentioned people I met at that time in Italy he was also a declared Communist! But Italian Communism appeared to be somewhat different from the Russian variety!
In Laveno we bought our tickets for the boat trip to Cannero where, as instructed, we boarded a bus for the drive along the lake to Cannobio. There we went to the back door of a Cafe where we gave a password, before being very kindly taken in and fed. After dark we were guided out of the village to a mule track, which led us up to the Village of Socraggio where, on presentation of another password given to us in the Cafe, we found someone who was prepared to guide us over the mountains the following day.
We set out the next morning, before dawn with two guides, each of whom was carrying a very large backpack. They were Contrabbandieri who made their living by smuggling, between Switzerland and Italy, often with enormous and very heavy loads. Sometimes of rice which grows abundantly in the Po Valley and which the Swiss sadly missed in wartime. Wartime Italy had very little else to offer! The return load was normally very much lighter. Often Cigarettes, which fetched a very high price, Italian wartime cigarettes being almost unsmokable!
In the dark the five of us filed down into the valley and up the other side. Jack and I were carrying all our possessions in our Briefcases and wearing our Florentine best Gent’s natty suits and shoes, all of which were utterly inappropriate for a February crossing at about five thousand feet of a heavily and freshly snow clad mountain.
Near the summit, the descent on the other side was pointed out to us and our guides went their way. The three of us slipped and slivered our way down to the tree line where the going became easier, but there was no sign of the Swiss border. We continued carefully until suddenly halted by a loud cry in German from behind of “Halt. Hands Up”! Turning we were faced by a soldier in what at first sight appeared to be German uniform who continued to address us in German, then he broke into perfect English and we slowly realised that we had crossed the Swiss Border after all!
In September 1998 I returned to Socraggio with members of my family. Cannobio had been so redeveloped that I was unable to find the little Cafe’. The bus stop had been moved to a new by-pass round the mountainside of the Town and the waterfront was lined with smart restaurants.
The mule track up to Socraggio had been roughly made into a single-track road with few passing places and trees had grown up along both sides. At the top there is a small turning space cum car park. There by chance we met Domenico Grassi, who was born in Socraggio and had lived there all his life. He had been a Contrabbandiere and said that he had also been in many parties guiding escaping POWs over the frontier. We went through the route together. He, being only two years younger than me, may or may not have guided us but I felt a very warm feeling towards him. We walked together round the village, which appeared to be almost deserted. Most of the houses were in very poor condition, those that were not derelict being in only very occasional use as holiday homes. He was the last original villager still in residence! In fact, the only permanent resident.
He told us that early one morning, before the end of the war, German troops were seen making their way up the mule track towards the village and all the able bodied men fled up into the mountains to hide. As the day went by they heard shooting and then saw smoke. When they descended at dusk they found their women and children had been shot and their homes burnt. The village has not been properly occupied since.
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[Photograph with caption] Domenico Grassi and Me, September 1998.
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[Fotografia con didascalia] La Rondinaia e il podere Raggio, zona franca e primo approdo dei perseguitati politici nell’Alta Valle del fiume Bidente (giugno 1943)
Incontro con i prigionieri
di Virginia Nathan
Si parlava soprattutto dei prigionieri inglesi che stavano nascosti su, nelle grotte del Monte Velino. L’autunno avanzava e si avvicinava la stagione fredda. Molte vette dei monti erano già coperte di neve.
I Finconi ci dicevano che i prigionieri nascosti erano parecchi e che molti di loro erano dei “Gurkhas”, degli indiani conosciuti per la loro ferocia e reputati tagliatori di teste. Malgrado ciò, le donne del paese salivano su per la montagna con enormi ceste colme di cibo sulla testa per sfamarli. Un giorno ci chiesero se volevamo andare con loro a conoscere i prigionieri. “Voi li capirete e potreste comunicare,” disse il sindaco, “e potreste chiedere loro di che cosa hanno più bisogno”. Decidemmo dunque di andare.
Io non vedevo I’ora di andare lassù. Aspettammo dopo il pranzo. Le donne riempirono ceste con le provviste: pane fatto in casa, salame e prosciutto e, naturalmente, fiaschi di vino. Poi seguimmo quelle donne che bilanciavano i cesti sulla testa su per un ripido sentiero tortuoso pieno di sassi e di rocce sporgenti. In certi punti il sentiero era così ripido da togliere il fiato. Salimmo a lungo. Dal dirupo si vedevano le poche case del paese sottostante.
Il cielo era azzurro e la vista chiara: solo poche nuvole bianche circondavano la vetta del Monte Velino. Alberi di olivo dai tronchi contorti scintillavano al sole. Masse di roccia circondavano le poche chiazze d’erba. Tutto appariva lontano, calmo e immobile nel tempo. Si udiva solo il belato delle pecore e I’abbaiare a distanza dei cani provenire dalla valle. L’aria pura, cristallina di montagna dava un leggero senso di ebbrezza.
Noi ci sedemmo sfiniti e ansimanti, sbuffando dopo la lunga salita, mentre le donne ci salutavano e si avviavano ancora più in alto verso le grotte, ora appena visibili sotto la vetta del monte.
Mentre noi riprendevamo fiato e ci rialzavamo, vedemmo alcune teste piccole e tonde affacciarsi dalle rocce sopra di noi. “Guardate” dissi, “guardate: c’è qualcuno dietro quelle rocce”. Le piccole teste si affacciarono di nuovo, prima da una parte poi dall’altra. Papà si avviò verso di loro, mentre tre piccoli indiani Gurkhas, impauriti, uscirono fuori guardandoci con molto sospetto. Papà cercò di rassicurarli a gesti. Poi, piano piano, ci vennero più vicino e ci ispezionarono come se fossimo caduti dallo spazio.
Ascoltarono papà che cercava di far loro capire parlando adagio: “Non abbiate paura, siamo amici”. Fece altri gesti dicendo: “Anche noi siamo scappati dai tedeschi”.
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I tre piccoli visi tondi risero inchinandosi davanti a papà dicendo “Ram, ram”. Noi replicammo “Ram, ram”. Poi segui una sequenza di inchini e saluti finché non sparirono rapidamente allo stesso modo in cui erano apparsi. Quelli erano i Gurkhas di cui si raccontava che tagliavano le teste con la stessa facilità con la quale affettavano il pane. Nascondevano ferocia e forza nei piccoli visi ridenti, erano considerati i migliori guerrieri, degni di grande rispetto, dagli alleati.
Dopo poco, vedemmo altri tre prigionieri che camminavano verso di noi. Erano inglesi e avevano I’aspetto composto e serio. Rimasero davanti a noi e ci interrogarono con molta diffidenza. Noi dicemmo che eravamo scappati dai tedeschi: ma leggevamo incredulità sui loro volti. Ci volle molto tempo e tante spiegazioni per persuaderli che non eravamo spie tedesche. Poi percepimmo un senso di distensione e di sollievo e la gioia di parlare inglese con noi. Ci raccontarono le loro storie.
Due erano alti e magri, il terzo piccolo e scherzoso. “lo sono Alf’, disse, poi ci presentò agli amici, Paul e Frank. Ci presentammo a nostra volta e finalmente il ghiaccio fu rotto. Ci demmo appuntamento per I’indomani nello stesso posto alla stessa ora, per prendere un vero tè all’inglese. Noi ragazze eravamo rallegrate di quell’incontro e non parlavamo d’altro. Volevamo aiutarli, ma non sapevamo come. Aspettammo con ansia il giorno dopo. Mamma aveva organizzato un vero “tea party”; riusciva sempre a dare il meglio di sé nelle emergenze. Ci arrampicammo sul monte, raccogliendo legna per fare un fuoco. Dopo vari tentativi io riuscii ad accenderlo. Ci sedemmo attorno alla fiamma mettendoci sopra un pentolino per I’acqua del tè. I nostri nuovi amici arrivarono di buon passo, sorridendo. La vista del tè e del bel fuocherello li rallegrò molto.
“A real cup”, dissero.
Il piccolo Alf rideva sempre e mi ricordava l’attore comico inglese George Fromby. Ci spiegò che le uniche scarpe che aveva trovato erano entrambe dello stesso piede; “Posso camminare solamente in circolo”, ci spiegò. Prese a girare provocando ilarità tra noi. Nonostante le condizioni in cui si trovavano era bello vedere che non avevano perso il senso dell’umorismo. Vivendo nelle caverne erano tutti e tre pallidi e magri. L’inverno era alle porte, così avevano deciso di partire I’indomani per cercare di raggiungere il fronte alleato a Cassino. Avrebbero dovuto camminare lungo la catena di monti dove la neve incominciava a cadere. Per questo era necessario affrettare la partenza. “Peccato”, dissero, “proprio ora che vi abbiamo conosciuto e che abbiamo cominciato a bere del buon tè”. Ci lasciammo con tristezza: perchè loro dovevano affrontare grandi rischi, e noi temevamo per la loro sorte.
Quella sera a cena il sindaco suggerì a mamma e a papà di andare con lui al paese vicino chiamato Castelnuovo per incontrare il capo della resistenza: assieme ai partigiani stava aiutando i prigionieri inglesi a raggiungere il fronte. La conversazione che seguì fu tenuta molto segreta, al punto che fecero uscire noi ragazze dalla stanza. Sia io che le mie sorelle eravamo rimaste male e anche seccate di essere state escluse in quel modo. Il giorno dopo mamma e papa partirono per Castelnuovo con il sindaco Finconi.
I partigiani avevano detto che se ci fosse stato pericolo ci avrebbero informati per tempo. Avevano comunicato che i tre prigionieri inglesi erano stati uccisi in un agguato dai tedeschi. Questa notizia ci addolorò molto. Io ne fui particolarmente sconvolta. Rivedevo i loro visi sorridenti rievocando i moment! trascorsi insieme.
Ora cominciavo a sentire la mancanza di Leo. Quella notte io e Giorgina restammo sveglie a interrogarci sul futuro. “Quando arriva Sergio”, disse Giorgina, “voglio raggiungere il fronte anch’io”. “Se vai tu, vado anch’io” dissi. “Tu non puoi” mi disse, “tu devi restare con mamma”. Mi infuriai: perchè essendo la più piccola dovevo sempre restare con mamma? “Lo sai bene che non puoi venire” esclamò Giorgina. Purtroppo sapevo che era vero, mamma aveva un attaccamento particolare per me, mentre con Giorgina era sempre in conflitto. Tutte e due avevano lo stesso carattere forte. Cosi finimmo i nostri discorsi in un bel sonno.
Passarono giorni in cui non accadde nulla di particolare. Non eravamo più saliti sulle montagne a prendere il tè poiché le prime piogge e il freddo annunciavano I’approssimarsi dell’inverno. Passavamo le giornate sistemando le nostre camere da letto e, dopo, attorno al grande tavolo del soggiorno; May e Delfo non erano ancora tornati da Roma né avevamo notizie di Leo, né di Sergio. Mamma era di pessimo umore perché le erano rimaste le ultime sigarette. Giorgina ed io avevamo risolto il problema del fumo comprando, nello spaccio del villaggio, delle pipe, proprio come quelle che fumavano gli uomini. Erano pipe rudimentali di terracotta con un manico lungo di legno che venivano riempite con tabacco molto forte. I pastori usavano sedersi intorno al camino fumando. Una nuvola invadeva I’intera stanza. Giorgina ed io cercammo di accendere anche noi le nostre pipe: ma il risultato fu disastroso. Tirammo, succhiammo, e quasi ci strozzammo, sputando gran pezzi di tabacco mentre gli uomini ridevano divertiti.
Mamma disgustata, commentò: “Dovete essere pazze”. Ma dopo alcuni giorni, Giorgina e io avevamo imparato la tecnica e fumavamo benissimo la pipa. Le donne scuotevano la testa con rassegnazione: “Sono giovani”, dicevano.
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[Fotografia con didascalia]
Seghettina, settembre 1932
Da sinistra, Giovanni Rossi, Conte di Ranfurly, Brigadier J. Combe, Tonino Spazzoli,
Lieutenant General Sir Philip Neame, Bruno Vailati, Torquato Nanni, Brigadier E.J. Todhunter, General Sir Richard O’Connor, Air Marshal Owen Tudor Boyd.
Il giorno dopo. May e Delfo tomarono. Trasecolammo al vedere May: era irriconoscibile. Si era tinta i capelli ed era diventata bionda. Mamma la guardò esclamando: “Togliti subito quella ridicola parrucca”. “Non è una parrucca, sono tinti”, rispose May con tutta calma. Papà la guardo dapprima con orrore, poi sorrise. Delfo annunciò con orgoglio: “Ho pensato che fosse più sicuro per lei dato che deve girare per Roma”. May riprese: “Ho anche una nuova identità. Non mi chiamo più May ma Wanda”.
Wanda era una cugina di Delfo che aveva i capelli biondi. Mamma si limitava a ripetere: “Sei disgustosa e volgare”. ‘Posso tingere anche i miei?” chiesi. “Assolutamente no”, fu la risposta irrevocabile.
Dopo l’emozione provocata dai capelli di May, ci diedero tutte le notizie su Roma. Ci raccontarono della raccolta dell’oro: e di quei poveretti che avevano donato tutto inutilmente e nonostante ciò erano stati portati via dai tedeschi dopo la falsa promessa di salvezza. Fecero alcuni nomi di persone che erano state prelevate dai tedeschi e avviate ai campi di concentramento. Tra loro erano tanti amici di papà. Papà fu sconvolto dalla notizia e credo che, per la prima volta, si rese veramente conto che la situazione era seria oltre ad essere molto pericolosa per noi.
Delfo, poi, ci consegnò delle carte d’identità con nomi diversi: io ero diventata la signorina Velia Pacifici. Ripetevo quel nome e non mi piaceva. Ne avrei preferito uno più romantico, Sonia o Alba. Delfo faceva ridere tutti: raccontava storie incredibili, di cui era sempre I’eroe principale, nonché protagonista di avvenimenti romanzeschi. Era davvero un bel ragazzo: con i suoi grandi occhi azzurri e le lunghe ciglia. Aveva capelli biondi ramati (mamma giurava che se li tingeva), oltre a un bel personale: era sempre abbronzato e vestito impeccabilmente.
Proprio il giorno dopo vedemmo, dalle nostre finestre, due sagome che camminavano in distanza su per la mulattiera. Erano Leo e Sergio. Si distinguevano per la loro statura, erano molto alti; Sergio sembrava più spagnolo che veneziano, portava i baffetti, era magro e aveva capelli scuri. Ci abbracciarono con fervore e ci incamminammo tutti su dai Finconi per trovare loro un alloggio. Ero così felice di avere Leo finalmente lì con me!! Avevo tante cose da raccontargli. Quella sera la nostra tavolata fu allegra, piena di risate e di chiacchiere.
Il nostro umore, però, cambiò appena cominciarono a raccontarci ciò che stava accadendo a Roma. I tedeschi facevano cose orribili. Ci fu un lungo silenzio mentre Sergio ci raccontò quel che accadeva alla nostra tenuta. Lui lavorava lì vicino alla Fabbrica Rielli, ed era quindi ben informato. Sembrava che avessero portato via tutti i nostri cavalli e ucciso a colpi di fucile tutti i nostri cani; anche il mio, un piccolo dalmata, Vova. Mi precipitai fuori dalla stanza piangendo.
Anche mamma era sconvolta. Leo cercò di consolarmi. Lui mi tenne stretta mentre io piangevo lacrime.
[Digital page 12]
As written by A.L. [Anthony Laing]
The 8th September 1943 was a date that all who were in Italy then never forgot. The Armistice and war was over – so we thought whether we were Italian or Allied POWs in prison camps throughout the country. Unfortunately as the Germans remained to occupy Italy it was almost a civil war for the Italians and we, some 80,000 prisoners of war were at the mercy of circumstance. The Germans quickly surrounded many POW Camps and took the occupants off to Germany – though many escaped from trains on the way. I was one of some 700 hundred officers who had the good fortune to be in the camp at Fontanellato, Parma, where the Italian Commander and the British immediately arranged for our evacuation into the countryside.
The Italian Officer paid dearly for his humanitarian act by being sent to Germany. We ………
In another camp at Servigliano in the Tenna Valley in the Marche some 3000 dispersed one night into the countryside and it seems every man had been adopted by the Italian people of the countryside. Many walked on south to get through the lines – or to recapture. Many however stayed on in the Tenna Valley, in which there had been three POW Camps, for some nine months being hidden and fed by but often working with the Italian farming families.
In Rome and its surroundings many POWs were hidden and fed by a network of POWs and Italian civilians with direction and money coming out of the Vatican – unofficially. Many Italians had their property confiscated or burnt for help given to POWs and too many were shot by the Germans and ‘born again’ fascists. The Trust has given Bursaries to four grandchildren of those who lost their lives in that way.
We never knew and certainly did not write down the names and addresses for it would have been fatal to those people who had helped us had we been caught, though very many did – and still do – return to find and in a small way thank those who had helped us.
[Signature] A. Laing