A large part of Bullard’s story details the six months that he and eight others all spent with the Cardarellli and Di Luca families in Picacchi after their escape from Sforzcosta. There are detailed observations of rural Italian farming life, cultural differences and the growing bond between farmers and their English farm hands.
In April 1944 after six months spent with these families they are all forced to move on (due to increased German activity in the area) and they then spend some time with the Lucarelli family in Cerreto. The story concludes with details about the general Allied advance and the eventual liberation of Cerreto from Nazi forces.
The epilogue updates us on the Cardarelli, Di Luca and Lucarello families in post-war Italy, along with updates on the eight other English soldiers that escaped with him from the Sforzacosta prison camp.
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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PAUL BULLARD. ‘Time off in the Marche!’
Excellently illustrated and full list of Italians and other POW’s [prisoners of war] (including Lawrence Bains and Alec (Len Burch who made the famous KLIM Tin Clock in the Camp at Sforza Costa. Some 20 of the them leave – against instructions from the camp the night before the Germans arrive on 16th September.
Depart in the shadow of Macerata. Immediate help from ‘contadini’. Sleep in farm yard near Mogliano. Meet Yugoslavs liberated from camp nearby. The 20 split up into 3 groups with an Italian speaker in each. Alec had packed his famous clock but left it in the camp. Decide 7 is too many but meet up again with two and find a deserted house at PICACCHI, between Penna & Gualdo off the road just above the TENNA and are helped by the CALDARELLI & DI LUCA families who they help with ‘vendemmia’ and then other work. Feel earthquake. Then they are divided up by the two families who house them in barns etc. Help to harvest acorns for pig food. The six sheep are for milling and looked after by the women who spin the wool at the same time. The women go to church on the Sundays, carrying their shoes until the last bit, and the men blaspheme all the week. Hoop (Hooper) gets up early to muck out, groom and feed the two pair of oxen. Bread making, pasta and cheese all recounted. The ‘Padrone’ – who takes half of all that is produced often comes up to watch and be given a meal. An inoffensive individual who contributes little to life. Much of their life is ‘visible’ mediaeval manuscripts. The killing of the annual pig is a treat day and blood and all its parts carefully used. They had to produce their own salt and soap. (They were still doing the latter in 1987). PB and others go to Mass in December in Gualdo. New Year’s eve very heavy snow and paths have to be dug in farm yard to feed cattle etc.
Page 38) Gualdo is controlled by the partisans who open up the grain store but allocate a ‘quintal’ to everyone. 39) Hear shell fire and then that Partisans had been shot in Sarnano. (See plaque). Some POW’s [Prisoners of War] had picked up idiomatic Italian. The two families had limited electricity (which most did not) and it survived the snow. P.B. remembers the messages shouted from hillside to hillside. Alec goes off to live with watch repairer and family near Gualdo on the road to San Ginesio. One English POW [Prisoners of War] – new to the area, steals a chicken – forced to move on. Living near were the Tullis – a Yugoslav and his Czech/English wife. 5th May sound of a not very effective ‘rastellemento’.
They help to weed – by hoeing- the wheat. Spring and no Allied advance it is hinted they should move on. Paul Bullard [surname on original spelt Ballard] goes to talk things over with Lawrence Bains. The Lucareelis take in BULLARD and another family take in ‘Hoop’ * (from above) With Lawrence Bains, who had given him a pistol goes up to monastery get no information. Next day hear Cassino has fallen. Little Asunta has as though 4ft six, no difficulty with the large pitchers full of water on her head. June and Germans definitely moving North. With L.B. [Local Battery ??] watch, while hidden Germans along the road with goods hidden in carts. 19th June spent in Sarnano liberated – but has hazy memory. Next day to San Ginesio at invitation to lunch in restaurant by Yugoslavs – Tulli but have a tricky brush with so called Partisans – see also Bains.
Paul Ballard gives family trees up to 1987 and what he and others did after the war Lawrence Bains was Chairman of the Greater London Council.
[handwritten notes: LOOSE LEAF COPY Very well illustrated]
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‘Time OFF in the Marche’ 1943-44 PAUL BULLARD.
Copy obtained via Ken Pickering.
with drawings, family trees of Italians and Map of area Penna San Giovanni, Passo S. Angelo, Samano.
Some 20 walk out of Sforzacosta PG Camp the day before the Germans take over. (15th Sep) Alec ? who had constructed the famous KLIM Tin Clock was among the party. (See also ‘Laughing We Ran.’)Meet many Yugoslavs who had been interned at Mogliano. Author and 2 others stop at Picacchi (Between Penna and Gualdo). Sleep in dilapidated house but help with grape harvest and while stamping the grapes there is an earthquake. (KK [Keith Killby] remembers being in a ‘contadino’ house when it happened). Though the houses around had an erratic supply of electricity but no privies. All family gathered acorns for the pigs.
Whole manuscripts VERY RICH IN DETAIL OF ‘CONTADINO’ LIFE And SURROUNDINGS.
They go to help get supplies when the granaries are opened by semi partisans.
In Sarnano some partisans are executed in the square. (Plaque is above a cafe there.)
Alec goes to stay with a watch maker. (Also see Laughing We Ran.)
A nearby English POW [Prisoner of War] steals a chicken. They get it back and tell him to move on.
Though disapproving in principle they watch the catching of sparrows and eat them.
They are asked to move on as the Fascists in Macerata are getting active.
They are asked to move on and do so on Good Friday just after the very delicate daughter of the family dies.
The move to Cerreto (Page 48) just off the main route 78 between Passo S. Angelo and Sarnano. Monastero further into the Sibillini is a strong point for the partisans (see L.W.R.) 19th May hear that Cassino has fallen and advance begun. Pescara liberated 11th June, Teramo 16th June. On 16th June 5 POW’s [Prisoners of War] go as guests of Yugoslavs to a restaurant in Sarnano and afterwards look out of window into square to see – for the first time – a jeep. Two days later five of them report there to the British Army and an officer asks who is senior in rank – they know they are back in the B. Army.
Full list of members of family and family trees up to date in 1989.
Though there is little movement and very few heroics the important thing is they all made it to return to the B. Army some 9 months later while those who crashed on were so often captured for the rest of the war. QUITE THE BEST ACCOUNT FOR DETAIL OF LIFE WITH THE ‘CONTADINI’.
[handwritten notes : (see also Lawrence Bains) Excellent illustrations]
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PAUL BULLARD ‘Time off in the Marche!
Excellently illustrated and full list of Italians and other POW’s [Prisoners of War] (including Lawrence Bains and Alec (Len Burch who made the famous KLIM Tin Clock in the Camp at Sforza Costa. Some 20 of the them leave – against instructions from the camp the night before the Germans arrive on 16th September.
Depart in the shadow of Macerata. Immediate help from ‘contadini’. Sleep in farm yard near Mogliano. Meet Yugoslavs liberated from camp nearby. The 20 split up into 3 groups with an Italian speaker in each. Alec had packed his famous clock but left it in the camp. Decide 7 is too many but meet up again with two and find a deserted house at PlCACCHI, between Penna & Gualdo off the road just above the TENNA and are helped by the CALDARELLI & DI LUCA families who they help with ‘vendemmia’ and then other work. Feel earthquake. Then they are divided up by the two families who house them in barns etc. Help to harvest acorns for pig food. The six sheep are for milling and looked after by the women who spin the wool at the same time. The women go to church on the Sundays, carrying their shoes until the last bit, and the men blaspheme all the week. Hoop (Hooper) gets up early to muck out, groom and feed the two pair of oxen. Bread making, pasta and cheese all recounted. The ‘Padrone’ – who takes half of all that is produced often comes up to watch and be given a meal. An inoffensive individual who contributes little to life. Much of their life is ‘visible’ mediaeval manuscripts. The killing of the annual pig is a treat day and blood and all its parts carefully used. They had to produce their own salt and soap. (They were still doing the latter in 1987. PB and others go to Mass in December in Gualdo. New Year’s eve very heavy snow and paths have to be dug in farm yard to feed cattle etc.
Page 38) Gualdo is controlled by the partisans who open up the grain store but allocate a ‘quintal’ to everyone. 39) Hear shell fire and then that Partisans had been shot in Sarnano. (See plaque). Some POW’s [Prisoners of War] had picked up idiomatic Italian. The two families had limited electricity (which most did not) and it survived the snow. P.B. remembers the messages shouted from hillside to hillside. Alec goes off to live with watch repairer and family near Gualdo on the road to San Ginesio.
One English POW [Prisoner of War] – new to the area, steals a chicken – forced to move on. Living near were the Tullis – a Yugoslav and his Czech/English wife. 5th May sound of a not very effective ‘rastellemento’.
They help to weed – by hoeing- the wheat. Spring and no Allied advance it is hinted they should move on. Paul Bullard [surname on original spelt Ballard] goes to talk things over with Lawrence Bains. The Lucareelis take in BULLARD and another family take in ‘Hoop’ * (from above) With Lawrence Bains, who had given him a pistol goes up to monastery get no information. Next day hear Cassino has fallen. Little Asunta has as though 4ft six, no difficulty with the large pitchers full of water on her head. June and Germans definitely moving North. With L.B. [local battery ???] watch, while hidden Germans along the road with goods hidden in carts. 19th Juno spent in Sarnano liberated – but has hazy memory. Next day to San Ginesio at invitation to lunch in restaurant by Yugoslavs – Tulli but have a tricky brush with so called Partisans – see also Bains.
Paul Ballard gives family trees up to 1987 and what he and others did after the war Lawrence Bains was Chairman of the Greater London Council.
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TIME OFF IN THE MARCHE: 1943-1944
For Jeanne, who waited
It was a mistake not to have written this story down over forty years ago, when it was fresh in my memory. That I have done it at last demands my thanks to Margaret Towle who has, over the years, gently nagged me to do so. After so long, no doubt many of the events recorded have become muddled, but I have tried to put them down as they seem to me now, filtered through an imperfect remembrance, and with apologies to my friends, English and Italian, for all sins of omission and commission.
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The Principal Characters
Len Burch (Alec), from Sidmouth
Fred Denton, from Staffordshire
Arthur Hooper (Hoop), from Bristol
Norman Towle, from Nottingham
myself, from London
Jack Hulford, from London
Frank Fish, Capt. RAMC [Royal Army Medical Corps], from London
Bert Ramelson, from Alberta, Canada and Leeds
Laurence Bains, from London
The CARDARELLI family; those living at home in October 1943:
Vivenzio, aged. 59
Nazarena, his wife
Riccardo, 33, second son of Vivenzio
Maria, 27, his wife
Flavio, 2, their son
Guerino, 18, third son of Vivenzio
Federico, 16, youngest son of Vivenzio
Elvira, daughter-in-law, married to Gino the eldest son who was still away in the army
Stelvio, 7, their son
Giovanna (Nannina), third daughter of Vivenzio, unmarried
Lina, 14, youngest daughter of Vivenzio, chronically ill, died April 1944
The Di LUCA family; those living at home in October 1943:
Palmira, 61, his wife
Carolina, 89 (the Eighty-niner), mother of Palmira
Amilcare, 24, younger son of Guiseppe
Secondina, 30, only daughter of Guiseppe, unmarried
Maria, 35, daughter-in-law, married to Gino, elder son who was still away in the army
Elvia, 10, and Graziano, 4, children of Maria and Gino
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Bastiano, about 60, brother of Guiseppe
Maria-Silla, his wife,
Lina, 18, niece of Palmira, a refugee from Rome
Elia, 16, niece of Guiseppe, likewise
The LUCARELLI family:
Assunta, 30, his wife
Rosa, 65, mother of Ernesto
Domenico, 5, and Walter, 3, sons of Ernesto and Assunta
Adolfo, 47, brother of Ernesto,
Filippo PINDI, the Cardarelli landlord
Pia, his wife
Tulli and Lisa, a Yugoslav couple, previously internees
[Black & White drawing of the country of Italy and Sicily. The province of Macerata has been filled in with black ink with the caption “The Province of MACERATA – where it all happened”]
[Footnote to drawing: “from Michelin Green Guide to Italy, 6th Edition – “The inhabitants of the Marche have a reputation for friendliness, piety and diligence…”
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[Black & white sketch depicting the Italian hills and countryside. A company of men loaded down with their equipment is seen walking along a mountain pathway towards a village in the distance.
Sketch is titled “The First Day Out” with the initials P.B 1989]
The week following the armistice of 8 September 1943 was one of confusion, rumour and farce. However a number of us, all with some connections to the camp communist group, had decided to get out of the camp at the first opportunity without regard to any official instruction by the Camp Commandant or by the Senior British Officer. By 15 September many of the Italian guards were beginning to desert and at about four o’clock in the afternoon we left by a back gate, ignoring a guard on a watch-tower who waved at us to return, but lacked the confidence to point his gun.
The prison camp at Sforzacosta was at a junction where the main road from the South joined that which came from Foligno with the railway, through the mountains following the valley of the Chienti. The provincial capital Macerata could be seen from the camp, on a hilltop about four miles to the
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North. There had been no official news of the war since the Italian announcement of the armistice and, partly because of this, we had not really planned a route before leaving camp. In deciding our general direction however we were influenced by the belief that by tomorrow all the remaining prisoners in the camp were likely to leave, and that most of them would choose either to go South or to make for the mountains in the West. If things were not to be too crowded we thought to start off by going Eastwards. We did not learn until later that no more prisoners did escape; during the night the Germans arrived, surrounded the camp and manned the watch-towers again. The great majority of prisoners had stayed in the camp and these were later taken to Germany, where they were to be held, for another twenty months until after VE [Victory in Europe] day.
The back gate led down to a path along the river which we followed, crossing the main road and taking a minor dirt road going up the hill on the opposite side of the valley. We numbered about twenty and most of us had been prisoners for fifteen months. We must have made a motley-looking group, strangely clad in varied military garments: apart from remnants of British uniform, we had also been issued with clothing of somewhat arbitrary fit, much of it Yugoslav or Greek, and some with patches on the back. Some of our heads were closely cropped and we carried haversacks and improvised bundles and packs. It was a lovely evening and we were in good spirits, although I suppose a little apprehensive as to our reception by the people of the district.
Within the first half-hour we found that we need not have worried. Coming to a house, we were invited into the farm-yard, where there was already a slightly festive air with a big fire burning and a number of people, presumably family and friends. Over the fire a large iron pot was suspended, full of tomatoes being boiled down to make puree. We were made welcome with wine and food, our first experience of the hospitality which we were to find typical. Bert Ramelson, who spoke Italian fluently, was able to question them about the military situation and the whereabouts of any Germans. They did not know any more than we did about the former, but at least they seemed sure that no Germans had been seen along
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this little road. Pleasant as the reception had been, we did not stay long as we were anxious to get as far as we could before dark. Soon we turned off the road on to a smaller track, down into the next valley and up the other side, zig-zagging towards a hill-top village, reaching it just before dusk as a few lights began to come on. We passed through the lower part of the village – it was Petriolo – without going into the centre. On our way down the far side we came to another farm where again we were offered food and drink. By now it was getting quite dark and it was decided to spend the night; we dossed down where we could around the farm-yard.
As soon as it was light we were off again and by mid-morning reached the next hill-top village, Mogliano. Here there was already considerable excitement, caused by scores of civilian internees who had been let out of a nearby camp the previous day. Most of them seemed to be Yugoslav students who had been caught up in Italy by the outbreak of war and some of them spoke English. All were helpful in organising some civilian clothing which the villagers found for us in exchange for our odd uniforms. I gave up my British Army greatcoat which I later regretted, but on the whole we probably got the better bargain as it certainly made us look a little less conspicuous. Even so, a group of twenty people roaming the countryside, even in civilian dress, was still going to look rather odd and it seemed obvious that we should split up. In addition to Bert Ramelson and Frank Fish, there was another Italian speaker and it was logical for us to divide into three parties. In our group there were to be seven: in addition to Frank as the Italian speaker, there were Alec, Hoop, Freddy, Norman, Jack Hulford and myself.
During the next week we moved slowly South, keeping mostly to small tracks and avoiding towns and main roads. The weather was fine, sleeping out was no problem and food and wine were freely offered at almost every farm. Wild rumours were also freely offered and these had some effect on our sense of urgency. Many of these seemed quite credible to us: the Allies, it seemed, were landing at various points up and down the coast, even as far North as Genoa; a German armoured division
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had been seen withdrawing up the main coastal road. Why not? Surely the Germans would not try to defend the whole Italian peninsular but would retreat at least to the river Po or even to the Alps. The important thing was for us to keep out of the way; the need for a hard march south seemed less important.
We were walking through a landscape of cultivated hillsides and steep river valleys, perhaps a little wilder than the idealised Tuscan landscapes of Florentine painting, but very like them in that there was always at least one hill-top town somewhere in view. These towns constantly re-arranged their positions and shapes as we wound our way below them, taking it in turn to appear and disappear. Sometimes one would fade away when the shadow of a cloud fell over it, to be revealed again a few moments later as if by a searchlight as the shadow moved around the hill and behind it. We progressed slowly; the going was not too easy and we were none of us very fit. Fortunately we did not have much luggage; rather stupidly I had even dumped my sketch-books at the camp after having brought them all the way from Egypt. Although Alec had partly dismantled the famous tin Klim-clock and packed it in a box, in the end he had left it behind. Hoop had been less rigorous: he carried what had originally been my copy of Hogben’s ‘Maths for the Million’. Frank, who was terrified of Pneumonia – understandably so in view of the numbers who had died of it in the camp during the previous winter – had a large jar of tablets of M & B, one of the then newly discovered Sulphur drugs. Frank had been able to give consultations to various Italians on the way, one of which involved mashing up M & B tablets and using them as a dressing on a minor wound which had festered. At one house the family asked him to look at a young girl who had a chronic heart condition, about which of course he could do nothing. The girl was in fact Lina, the youngest daughter of the Cardarelli family, and that night we slept in a ruined house only a few hundred yards away.
In the evening we discussed the general situation; the more optimistic rumours now seemed unfounded and the possibility of Italy being liberated in a week or two most unlikely. We decided that a party of seven was too large and that our chances
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would be improved if we split up. Freddy proposed that he, Alec and I should form one group; we had after all known each other longest, and this was agreed. Conscious of the advantage of being with an Italian speaker, Norman, Hoop and Jack waited for Frank to suggest a partner for himself. To my surprise he chose Jack, whom he had not known very well in camp and who would not have been my first choice; he was an amusing, cynical and somewhat spivvy character who had a constant supply of anecdotes, mostly based on his success in various shady fiddles and womanising exploits. Later Hoop said that he too had been flabbergasted, particularly as this now paired him with Norman, between whom there was some sort of antipathy. Why this should have been I never quite understood; the rest of us found that we could get on quite well with either of them.
Next morning we made our farewells and set off in different directions. Alec, Freddy and I were in a rather sombre mood, aware that language was going to make it more difficult to get information about routes or possible dangers. We were by now just about capable of asking for food and drink and of saying thanks for it. Our intention was to go towards the mountains and we knew that this would involve crossing the main road. I suppose we were not very enterprising, but having looked at the road from a distance we could not make up our minds to cross it and, about mid-afternoon, we rather weakly decided to return and to stay for another night at the ruined house. We trailed our way back, our morale lower than it had been since we left camp. As we came within sight of the house, daylight was fading, but we saw two silhouetted figures away on our left, also making for the house. Of course they were Norman and Hoop, who had come to the same decision – or lack of – as we had. We were all pleased to be together and during the evening it was resolved that whatever happened we would try not to separate again.
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[Detailed hand-drawn map showing the Italian province of Macerata. The map shows local towns, roads, mountains and rivers within the province of Macerata.
The map also has handwritten notes along the maps margins saying SFORZACOSTA 11M MACERATA 15M AMANDOLA 5M and ASCOLI PICENO 25M.]
The tiny ‘contrada’ of Picacchi could hardly be called even a hamlet, for even that would imply some sort of centre, of which there was none. The dozen or so houses were spaced out over a couple of square miles on the steep side of a valley which dropped down to the river Tenna. Above it, along the ridge, was the provincial road – connecting the little towns of Gualdo and Penna San Giovanni – from which a steep track wound and branched downwards to the scattered houses. It was impracticable for motor vehicles; I doubt if even a modern 4-wheel drive would have been able to negotiate the combination of sharp bends and uneven surface. Near the lower end, where the track forked, stood our ruined house; to the left the track continued down to the Cardarelli, where we had called a few days before; the right fork went to another house about the same distance away, which we were to learn was that of the Di Luca. There were no more houses lower down that side
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of the valley; tracks and footpaths continued through small steep fields and woods for another half mile or so, eventually petering out at the river. We were not of course yet aware of these geographical details, but it did seem to be a quiet and relatively safe area.
One of the problems in writing this after so many years is the inconsistency of memory; some incidents, often trivial, can be pictured clearly; others, which must have been at least as important, have faded. I cannot now recall our first meeting with the Di Luca family, although what does stick in my mind is a picture of one of the women – it must have been either Secondina or Maria – coming along the track towards the ruined house with a basket on her head, bringing us a meal. Then there is a blank, and next we seem to have been invited to help with the grape harvest, which was just beginning. Guiseppe spoke some English, but as he had not used it since before the first world war, when he was in America for a few years, it was not always understandable; however, it was not too difficult to sense what was required of us.
Harvesting the grapes was an important occasion, and the tradition was that neighbouring families sent representatives to help; these neighbours would, of course, be helped in their turn. As many men were still away on military service, there was a larger proportion of women available; so we helped the balance; the men with ladders, the women with baskets to carry on their heads. The vines were grown in the old way, supported by trees – maples I think – which had themselves been trained and shaped, by pruning when young so that their branches spread outwards. They were spaced out in parallel lines through the fields, the rows wide enough apart for a pair of oxen to go between, allowing the cultivation of other crops. Pairs of oxen pulled the loads back to the house, where Palmira was waiting to notch a tally stick. The crop was to be divided with the landlord, and at the end of the tally the stick itself was split lengthwise to make a permanent record for both parties. The Di Luca share was taken to an outhouse attached to the main building and was tipped into a stone trough about eight feet square and three feet deep. There, at the end of
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each day, it was trampled underfoot and the juice was drained off. The heat made our work in the fields quite hard but there was an agreeable novelty about everything, and this kept us amused, while we amused the Italians by our amazing ignorance of the simple procedures which they had known since infancy. A midday meal was brought down into the fields and there was a big supper back at the house. We got a slightly false impression of their normal standard of life; these were rather special meals as the Di Luca were on their mettle to entertain their neighbours and, no doubt, us.
The grape harvest continued for at least two weeks; we worked during the day and returned to the ruined house to sleep. One afternoon it rained, for the first time, and work had to be abandoned. As the stone trough had less than the usual quantity of grapes in it, these were left until the next day, which was a Sunday. The morning was also wet and Guiseppe decided that the grapes already picked ought now to be trampled as they might otherwise get mildew. Four men were needed to do this; Norman and I were provided with some tattered shorts, and together with Amilcare and Bastiano we climbed into the trough. The system was to link arms across the shoulders, forming a line across the width of the trough, and to trample our way backwards to the other side, then wheeling to cross again at right angles, and so on. To begin with, the grapes were above our knees and it was extremely hard work, with a great deal of suction and squelching at each movement. We had been doing this for some time when a faint rumble was heard, followed by an outburst of incomprehensible shouting and activity from all the Italians who rushed out of the out-building and the house into the yard. Amilcare and Bastiano had jumped, out of the trough, leaving Norman and I looking at each other in astonishment; two bewildered Englishmen standing up to our knees in grapes without comprehending that we were also in the middle of an earthquake. Admittedly, the tremor turned out to have been quite a small one, but there was some damage in the district and at the Cardarelli a big crack had appeared in the stone wall of their cart-shed. Such tremors were not exactly common, but the locals were sufficiently aware of the danger for them to be
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prepared to rush out into the open air at the first sign or sound of movement. The more stable geology of the British Isles had not attuned us to this possibility; although we had a slight tremor when we were in prison camp, there too, it had all been over before we realised what had happened.
After the grape harvest was over, we continued to work in the fields, mostly hoeing, and still slept in the ruined house. The provision of food and drink for five extra men was however going to put a strain on the Di Luca resources and they had been working out a little plan to spread the load. Would two of us go and work with the Cardarelli?, asked Guiseppe, and of course we agreed. Hoop and I volunteered to go, taking it to mean a flexible arrangement, with different people going on different days. Their plan however turned out to be something more permanent, as it involved our leaving the ruined house and living in with the families. When Hoop and I arrived at the Cardarelli next morning, they showed us the sleeping arrangements which had been made for us in the stable with the oxen. A section had been piled up with straw and provided with blankets, making it quite luxurious. Over at the Di Luca house, accommodation had also been made for Freddy, Norman and Alec. From then on – it was 20th October – we were integrated into our respective families.
Although their ways of life were so similar, there were marked differences in the character of the two neighbouring families and, although it seems fanciful, the English members – selected quite by chance – seemed in some ways to share their characteristics. Perhaps we just grew to resemble each other in the same way that pets and their owners are supposed to become alike.
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[Black and white sketch showing Norman & the author in the trough for crushing grapes as the earthquake strikes and the local Italians are running away.]
[Caption to sketch:] Norman and I in the Earthquake
The Cardarelli farmed a parcel of land which was mostly on the lower side of the house and ran down to the river. The total area was about fifty-five acres, but this included patches of rough woodland and this predominated as one got closer to the river; nevertheless these woods were valuable as the only source of fuel. The fields were small and some of them so steep that parts of them could not be ploughed, but were cultivated by hand with the hoe; and hoeing was to be one of our first jobs that autumn. The farm was self-sufficient in most basic foods and, even after the landlord had taken his half share, there was a little surplus of some things that could be sold. The shortages – to our English tastes – were in meat, milk and butter.
The house itself was typical of the area, built of
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stone with a roof of curved red tiles. An outside staircase led to the living quarters; the ground floor was for the oxen and for storage, including the wine cellar. The yard was cobbled, and around it were out-buildings for the pigs, poultry and sheep, a cart-shed, and on the lower side, two large muck-heaps. There were stacks of hay and straw, these were circular with conical tops and were built around a central pole. A footpath led to a well which was shared with the Di Luca and was about mid-way between the two houses.
The outside staircase went up to a covered porch with a small sink, next to which were the large narrow-necked water jugs. A door then led directly into the kitchen, which also served as dining and living room. The floor was roughly tiled, the walls plastered but grimed with smoke, and in one wall was a large open hearth for the wood fire. Furniture was of the simplest: a table, elementary rush-seated chairs and a cupboard. There were no floor coverings and nothing decorative of any kind save an ‘oleograph’ of the Madonna pinned on the wall. Several doors opened from the kitchen and one of these led to a store where there was a side of bacon hanging from the beams with some sausages, cheeses on a shelf and a pile of grain on the floor. The other doors led to bedrooms, where the beds were mostly with planks and a deep ‘palliasse’ of maize straw. There was a linen chest and a chair but no other furniture. Riccardo and Maria however, who had been married just before the war, had the luxury of an actual bedstead of what looked like figured walnut but in reality was painted tin.
In general, life was a good deal more primitive than even the most backward areas of pre-war England, although I expect it was not unlike the remoter parts of Scotland or Ireland. There was no sanitation of any sort, not even an earth privy, and everyone used the fields or in bad weather – the stable. They were extremely discrete and private about this – one never saw a man urinate in public for instance, as one might in France, and squatting figures of either sex were never seen, even in the distance. In one respect, however, they had moved more quickly into the twentieth century: like all other houses in Picacchi, they had mains electricity, something that was certainly not so in country districts of England.
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The house and land all belonged to the landlord and was held on an annual basis with the rent being paid in kind, half the produce of the main crops, plus fixed quantities of such things as poultry and eggs. There was also an obligation to provide a number of man-days of labour for such jobs as repairing the communal road. Not quite a feudal system, as the tenant was not legally bound and was free to leave – but on the other hand he had no security of tenure either.
This then was the farm over which Vivenzio presided as head of the household, and he played his part with easy confidence. He was a kind and gentle man, with a large moustache which gave him a slightly melancholy expression, rarely seen to be angry or to raise his voice, but his authority was never questioned either by himself or by the members of his family. He had invited us into his house and his courtesy and thoughtful treatment of us set the tone for the others. I cannot now remember exactly how long we slept in the stable, but it was probably no more than a fortnight before a trestle bed was set up for us in what had been another storeroom. We had joined the family. For our part we tried to make it clear that, in spite of our hopeless lack of competence, we would do what we could to earn our keep.
[Black and white sketch showing the CARDARELLI family home. The head of the household Vivenzio is in portrait on the left hand side along the right side of the sketch are some oxen pulling a cart.]
[Caption to sketch]: Vivenzio and his Farm
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[Black and white sketch showing Riccardo (2nd son of Vivenzio) in the process of weaving a new acorn basket.]
The three older sons – Federico was too young – had been serving in the army at the time of the armistice. Riccardo and Guerino were fortunate in being able to desert and had returned home to Picacchi only a day or two before we arrived. Their elder brother Gino, however, had been in Sardinia and was now completely cut off from contact with his family. His wife, Elvira, with their son, continued to make her home with her in-laws, even though her own parents lived at the nearest house a few hundred yards up the track. These neighbours – nicknamed Felicetto – were additionally linked to our family in that their son Oreste was married to one of our daughters, Dulce. After the war, Federico was to make the link closer still by marrying their youngest daughter. This sort of in-breeding must have been very common in rural communities everywhere before increased mobility allowed the young a wider circle of acquaintance.
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Most of the other families in the district also had sons who had deserted, and this made for an identity of interest with us. Harbouring deserters put them in the wrong already, so they were clearly on our side in relation to the authorities. A long tradition of misgovernment had in any case made it inevitable that they should be against the established order. Germans and fascists were hated not so much on ideological grounds, but for having continued this disastrous war even after it been declared officially to be over.
Hoop and I slipped gently into the everyday routine. It was not the most demanding time of year; the grapes had been the last of the season’s produce to be harvested; the ploughing had been mostly finished and we helped hoe those awkward bits of land where the oxen could not easily operate. Nevertheless everyone always seemed busy, often on tasks which would have astonished an English farmer; Riccardo was busy making an enormous basket about three feet in diameter and nearly ten feet high. When completed it was to be fixed in a tree on the edge of the farmyard with its lower end about two feet above the ground. In the wooden base a two inch hole had been drilled which could be closed by a slide fitted underneath. In this, acorns were to be stored for the pigs, and during the next few weeks the collection of these was to be the main task of everyone in the family. This turned out to be quite a sociable occasion with us all working in the same area, kneeling or sitting and each with a basket, even under the same tree. On some days it was declared to be cold and a bonfire was lit, around which we could warm our hands from time to time. Over at the Di Luca farm, Freddy, Norman and Alec, with their family, were doing the same; even grandma – the eighty-niner – was squatting on the ground with the others.
At our house one of the younger women – daughter or daughter-in-law – was always left behind to do the domestic work, to cook and to be with poor Lina who sat by the hearth much of the day and never left the house. They also looked after the animals around the yard, feeding the pigs, fowls and so on, and perhaps shepherding the sheep nearby. There were only about a dozen of these and they were allowed out during the day to graze, but as there were no fences, they needed
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either to be tethered or to be guarded. At night they were kept in a stall so that they could conveniently be milked in the morning. Nannina, Elvira and Maria took it in turn to do a week each of these domestic chores; this duty was unpopular, I think because it was lonely and the endless chatter which would be going on elsewhere was missed.
In charge, organising and supervising and joining in the work of the house, was Nazarena, called Mamma or Ma by everyone including her husband, and indeed it was some time before I knew her name. She was a tiny woman, not very robust after a life of constant child bearing and rearing. Although her resignation at the clearly hopeless state of Lina was sometimes apparent, her spirits were by no means run down; there was little time to brood in this busy household and she was quite capable of holding her own in discussion and decision making. She also found it necessary frequently to rebuke the members of the family for swearing, making rather ritualised gestures of striking out at the younger ones. Swearing consisted not merely in using words describing bodily parts and functions, as is common in England, but real blasphemy:’Pig of a God’, they would shout, ‘Ugly Christ’, or even, rarely, but in an extreme case, ‘C–t of the Madonna’. This was in a family which was not just nominally Catholic: all the women and Vivenzio himself went to mass weekly; the younger men were less regular, but certainly did not consider themselves to be pagans. No doubt, to a believer, blasphemy is an even greater relief to the feelings, but it did seem to have become so automatic and commonplace as to be pointless.
It was Federico who swore most, and indeed his sometimes boorish manners, and impatience with our tiresome lack of understanding, was in contrast to the thoughtfulness of the others. He was a short and awkwardly shaped youth, slightly humped-backed with a large head set low into broad shoulders. Although he was not unfriendly towards us, he certainly lacked the social graces. A sort of rough diamond where the roughness was more apparent than any caret of jewel within.
Riccardo, in the absence of his brother Gino, had assumed the role of senior son, and his opinions were clearly
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respected by his father. His goodwill towards us important; moreover he seemed to be able to communicate with us more easily, realising our troubles with the language. Some of the others were difficult to follow, and failed to appreciate that to say something in a different way, and more slowly, might be better than merely repeating it. Elvira was the worst in this, and although her good nature was apparent, it was difficult to have a conversation with her. Nannina talked continually and excitedly, in a harsh croaky voice, hardly stopping to consider whether we understood or not. The calmness of Maria was a relief; there was a quiet confidence about her, perhaps due to the more settled state of being with her husband and baby son. She was a charming woman, the most handsome of them too; Hoop and. I were very fond of her.
The language which we were gradually picking up was a ‘Marchigiano’ version of Italian. Fortunately this was not a strong dialect compared with some which I have heard since, being mostly rather slovenly with the dropping of many final syllables. Although a number of local words were used, at least they were known to be dialect and were sometimes pointed out to us. Compared to some of the dialects of the south, this was quite mild – when, later I met some refugees from Naples, I assumed from their speech that they were probably Yugoslavs.
The language was not acquired without misunderstandings, some of them farcical. Freddy for instance, in early days had reported to us that he had been propositioned by our Nannina. This was so utterly unlikely that I could not imagine how he had come to think it; eventually realising that he had misinterpreted her asking whether he was married. Finding that he did not understand her spoken question, she had tried to indicate the married state by pretending to slide an imaginary wedding ring on to her finger. Freddy, who took this to be demonstrating an offer of a less subtle kind, said that he had grinned sheepishly and gone away.
At much the same time – it must have been within a few days of our arrival – I got myself into a muddle which I was not able to sort out until many years later. I had one or two photographs, and I was showing them to some of the family. One
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of the snaps, which had been sent to me when I was in the prison camp, showed Jeanne holding a young baby in her arms and this was at once assumed to be my wife and child. I should of course have explained to them at once that although this was my girlfriend, we were not married, and that the baby was not hers but belonged to a friend whom I did not even know. Instead, found it simpler to admit to wife and child, not realising that as time went on it would become increasingly difficult to explain this silly falsehood, and that I would have to embroider it rather than admit to it. It was at least twenty years before I had the courage to explain to them how it had come about and I am not sure that they all believe me now, but suspect a skeleton concealed in a cupboard somewhere.
[Black and white drawing showing Giovanna (Nannina) rebuking Federico for blasphemy. It is titled “Federico is Rebuked for Blasphemy” with the initials P.B. 1989]
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[Black and white photo of Jeanne and the baby with the caption “The Photo which caused the Muddle – Jeanne and the Baby”]
At the neighbouring Di Luca farm, our friends too had by now become part of that family. We saw them quite often in the evenings and on Sundays – the Sabbath was normally kept as a day on which no work was done in the fields. As I suggested earlier, the relationship with their hosts was less formal than ours, less inhibited perhaps. Some of this difference was no doubt due to both Hoop and myself being somewhat reserved; more so than the other three, in particular Norman, who was very open and expansive. In this he was not unlike Amilcare, a more flamboyant character than anyone in our household. The Di Luca were volatile; Guiseppe himself, head of the family, although a warm-hearted man, was often moody and could show a violent temper. Palmira was a strong character who could stand up for herself, but when she appeared one day with a black eye, her explanation of a fall was clearly not believed by the Cardarelli.
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Palmira had a fine set of her own teeth, and these were always proudly on display, reminding me of photographs of Eleonor Roosevelt – especially one that I remembered in ‘Lilliput’ in which she was compared with a horse. These teeth had been inherited by Amilcare and Secondina; one of the formers parlour tricks was to pick up a chair by its back with his teeth and to swing it around the room. Secondina was content to use hers for a characteristic warm smile.
The presence of two young girls from Rome helped to lighten the atmosphere; I expect that they had been pretty bored by country life, and the arrival of some exotic young foreigners, and also of cousin Amilcare – he had deserted from the Air Force – must have been very welcome. Elia was a rather dull pudding of a girl and amongst ourselves had been dubbed Bessie, after the sister of Billy Bunter, whom she resembled in build and in glamour. Lina, on the other hand, justly known as Skinny, was attractive in a stick insect way. She enjoyed chatting to – and being chatted-up by – the English, and in making an attempt to explain something of the Italian language and customs. Uncle Guiseppe kept a suspicious eye on things to make sure that flirtatiousness went no further, once or twice making known his displeasure at what might have developed into a threat to the virtue of his nieces. In fact it might have been quite difficult to find sufficient privacy for anything very indiscreet.
Maria, like a daughter-in-law at our house, had not heard from her husband Gino since before the armistice. She was a plump good-humoured woman who seemed to fit in well in her adopted home. Elvia, her eldest child, went to school in Gualdo and often stayed there with her mother’s family during the week to save a long walk each day. The closeness of the family and the importance of relatives was a principal feature of social organisation in this rural community and, for it to hold together, much tact and give-and-take were necessary. How else could in-laws live together peaceably as they clearly did in most households. Mothers-in-law treated their adopted daughters with a fairness and kindness equal to that given their own. Implicit in the relationship must have been the possibility that when the mother became old and widowed it might well be the
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daughter-in-law who would be looking after her rather than her own daughter, by then married and living elsewhere. Looking back now, with hindsight, this is exactly what happened eventually to Palmira.
Bastiano and his wife Maria – usually called by the name of Maria-Silla to distinguish her from the other Maria – lived in the house rather as poor relations. The couple were both somewhat simple, almost to the point of being half-witted, and because of this had become dependent on Bastiano’s shrewder brother, Guiseppe. They had no children, and this in itself was a thing to provoke scorn; together with their simplicity, and their lack of independence, it made them something of a laughing stock to their relatives and neighbours. Although they certainly worked as hard as anyone else in the household, nephews and nieces treated them with little respect. Amilcare liked to play practical jokes on Bastiano and would trip him up in passing – more so I think when we were there, as he thought it would amuse us. One result of this was that we made a point of treating them both with great politeness. In return, they adored us all and Maria needed little provocation to weep over us and declare that we were the sons she never had. With Maria often tearful, and Bastiano with no roof to his mouth, much of the conversation was a little one-sided. However we got on splendidly with them, and when eventually we left they must have been the most sad to see us go – the only people they had ever known who were polite to them.
The Di Luca always gave me the impression that they considered themselves somewhat higher in the social scale than the Cardarelli. Their standard of living and of education was no better; their house was as old and no more convenient than ours; they were tenants under a landlord in the same way and with much the same amount of land. Yet, justified or not, they seemed to maintain an air of superiority and self-esteem which I certainly felt, even though I cannot explain it.
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[Black and white drawing of Hoop in a stable, he is grooming some oxen. The drawing is titled “Hoop in the Stable” with the initials P.B. 1989]
Quite early on, Hoop had taken upon himself some of the responsibility of looking after the oxen, getting up earlier than me to muck them out, groom and feed them. He really enjoyed this job, whistling softly under his breath as he cleaned and brushed their coats. They were fed part straw and part hay, and this had to be chopped and mixed together to prevent only the hay being eaten. That oxen were able to thrive on this diet was their great advantage over horses, and they were the only working animals to be seen in the district, or indeed in most of Italy. In medieval England too, oxen must have been the predominant working animal until a more prosperous economy enabled horses to replace them.
In the Cardarelli stable there were four pairs of oxen, plus a calf who was later to be matched up with one that was purchased. Three of the pairs were of a white short-horned breed that was very common in the district, and these were very docile beasts. There was also a pair of what was said to be of a
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‘mountain’ strain, which we never saw elsewhere, and these were powerful looking, darkly coloured, with very long horns and short tempers. They had something of a grudge against people in general,but in particular against Federico, who in turn responded to any insubordination by kicking them vigorously in the belly. Their nastiest trick was to try to squash anyone who unwisely got between them and the stable wall, but even when they were not being deliberately unpleasant their long horns needed watching, as the tiniest movement of the head could become an unexpectedly large movement at the end of a horn.
The oxen never grazed in the fields, but lived in their stalls and were taken out only to work or to be watered. In the stall they were held by a chain around the neck. To be taken out, a device rather like a pair of calipers was put in the nostrils with a lead attached, which was then looped through a cord which was permanently fixed to the horns. They came out always as a pair, with the predominant one, the leader, in front; any attempt to get the other one out first led to hopeless muddle and confusion. When yoked together, which had to be done in the yard as the stable door was too narrow for them to be abreast, the leader was always on the right. There were two carts, the newer one being smartly painted in blue and orange, with panels of decoration in a style not unlike that of English canal barges, but including a portrait of St Antonio – I think it was – on the front. There were also two sledges for use over rough ground, and a forty gallon drum mounted on wheels as a water carrier. Although the oxen were powerful beasts, two pairs in tandem were needed to bring a heavy load of firewood up the steep track from near the river.
Looking after the sheep was women’s business; they had to be milked before being taken out to pasture, and as the winter came on they went out less and less, relying more completely on hay for their food. Nazarena herself made the sheep-milk cheeses, one small flat cylinder nearly every day. Some of this pecorino cheese was eaten fresh, but most of it was kept to harden, some of it for months, and when grated was an important addition to any dish of pasta or polenta, and it was also sprinkled on the soups. Hanging up in the store were some dried lambs’ stomachs, scrapings from the linings of which were needed, to
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curdle the milk and start the cheese.
There was a water-mill a few miles up-stream on the Tenna, to which a sack of wheat was carted when necessary, to return as flour later in the day. Nazarena made the bread, usually about every two weeks. This involved her getting up even earlier than usual, to give the bread time to prove. The brick-built oven was in a separate out-building and, while the loaves were rising, Vivenzio was burning bundles of faggots inside it. A nice judgement was needed to ensure that the oven was the right temperature; the burned ashes were then raked out and the floor of the oven wiped with a rag on the end of a pole. The loaves were then carried down from the kitchen on a large board, still covered by the cloth under which they had been proving, and were loaded into the oven by means of a long- handled wooden shovel. The door was put in place and was sealed around the edges with a trowel-load of mud. Again, some experience was needed to know exactly when to unseal the door and remove the loaves. It would be nice to report how delicious this country bread was but, alas, it was really rather mediocre, largely because it had to last a long time and was doughy when new and, after a couple of weeks, was very dry. Sometimes Nazarena as a treat, made one or two special raisin loaves, which she called pizza – quite unlike the savoury pizza of Neapolitan origin, now international – and this was indeed quite nice when eaten fresh and warm.
Pasta was freshly made as required and was delicious, particularly in its Sunday or feast-day form as past’- asciutta – ‘dry pasta’, i.e. not in a soup – served as ‘tagliatelli’ in a big steaming dish with a sauce of tomato puree and with grated cheese. The making of the pasta was usually delegated to one of the younger women: the flour paste – it included eggs – was skilfully rolled and re-rolled until it was paper- thin and covered almost the whole table. It could then be cut into narrow strips ready for cooking, perhaps on the same day but certainly not later than the following one. A large cauldron, with a surprising quantity of water, was suspended on a chain over the fire – the amount of water was important to prevent the pasta sticking to itself. While this was coming to the boil, the sauce was cooking in a pan over a trivet on the
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front part of the hearth. Constant manipulation of the fire was needed; glowing ashes were raked under the trivet, logs under the main fire re-arranged and renewed. Sometimes strategic puffs through an iron blowpipe were required. When the water had come to a full boil, some salt was added and the pasta put in. By now the family had begun to assemble; Riccardo had been down to the cellar to draw wine, and Vivenzio was on hand to be offered, a strand of ‘tagliatelle’, to taste and approve, before all was scooped from the cauldron with a wicker-work strainer into a big dish, with added layers of sauce and grated cheese. What one thinks of as that typical Italian ingredient, olive oil, had not been used – the fat content of the sauce was from lard. Olive oil was a luxury which had to be purchased; the district was too high for it to be grown locally.
Polenta was made from maize flour, and was regarded as somewhat low-grade, wheat being the only proper cereal for humans, maize was for the animals. Basic polenta was served in a rather primitive way: the table was covered with a large board, like that used for rolling out pasta. The pot of polenta – it was like a thick yellow porridge – was poured out on to it, where it spread out into a large shapeless blot, nearly covering the board. A sauce of tomato puree, and some grated cheese, was spread out on top, and the family sat down around the table, each one using his fork on the nearest part of the periphery and working inwards for all to meet in the middle.
There was a more up-market version of polenta in which the porridge -slightly thicker – was poured out on to the centre of the board to form a shape rather like an inverted wash-basin. By sliding a length of thread under it and cutting upwards, this was divided into segments. Each segment was then in turn held flatly on the palm of the hand and, with the thread now held tautly between the other hand and clenched teeth, could be cut horizontally into thin slices. Successive layers of these slices, alternating with sauce, were then put into the serving dish, topped with more sauce and grated cheese. The result looked, and to some extent tasted, like pasta, but the texture was softer and lacked the prized ‘al dente’ quality.
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Then there were ‘gnocchi’, another substitute for pasta and made from mashed potato rolled into small ovoid dumplings. These again, were served with sauce and cheese. The potato, so much a staple in England, was not highly regarded, like maize it was associated with animal food. After all, both of these can have arrived in Europe only during the sixteenth century, so would have been unknown even to renaissance Italy. However, that must also have applied to the tomato – how did they manage without what now seems to be a mainstay of Italian cuisine?
I suppose we must have been pre-occupied with food as a result of our time in prison camp; certainly we took great interest in all the preparation, and often speculated as to what might be on the menu the for the next day. Mostly the fare was frugal, although there was always plenty of bread, with soups of ‘quadrucci’ tiny squares of pasta – and with much of the protein coming from the many varieties of peas and beans, and meat rarely more often than once a week. When Sunday or a feast day came, they made the most of it and so did we. Most common was fowl or rabbit, there was virtually no butcher’s meat – except for a memorable occasion when the family had a part share in the illicit slaughter of a calf.
There was always wine on the table with the main meal, but no-one drank very much, and the women often nothing at all. Everyone drank from the same single glass and, having emptied it, the correct thing was to pass it on to your neighbour and then pour out for him; he in turn, passed it on. Apart from mealtimes, if there were unexpected visitors, either neighbours, wandering allied POWs, [Prisoners of War] or even displaced Yugoslavs, as long as they did not look too disreputable or suspicious, wine would be offered, and often bread and even ham or cheese too.
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[A black & white illustration of a two members of the Cardarelli family that the author stayed with, a man and a woman in the process of making bread to go into the bread oven. There are also the initials P.B. 1989]
[Caption] The Bread Oven
Vivenzio’s landlord – the ‘padrone’ – was Filippo Findi who lived about half-way up the track towards the provincial road. He was not a great landowner, having only one other farm – that of the ‘Felicetto’ family, our immediate neighbours. The Di Luca were under another of the Pindi family, a cousin who lived at the house next door to Filippo.
Filippo was a baby-faced man of about forty, with soft plump hands and the beginnings of a soft plump belly. Our peasants treated him – to his face – with respect, but there was no cap-touching and both he and his wife were spoken to in the familiar form and were called by their first names. He was a frequent visitor to the farm where he inspected all the main operations, particularly the harvesting of crops when he was due for a half share of the produce. Sometimes he stayed to lunch with his tenants, sitting at their table but at a place specially laid with a clean cloth. He did not eat their food however, that was brought down, carried in a basket on her head, by his maidservant. Filippo did not pretend to more gentility in his table
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manners than the peasants themselves. With his hat firmly on his head, he kept his mouth well filled, parting his lips as he chewed so that chunks of bread and ham might be seen revolving within.
Unusually, Filippo himself ate no cheese and drank no wine, but in spite of this eccentricity he kept very good table at home and it was a great thing for us if we could find an excuse to visit him. Sometimes we went with Riccardo to pay a social call on a Sunday morning when the women were at Mass. The main object in this was to get as much food and drink as possible, especially drink. His wine was delicious, of various vintages and both red and white. Moreover it was ‘crudo’, unlike the peasant’s ‘cotto’ which was boiled in the making to mature it more quickly and was really rather rough. Riccardo was at great pains to make sure we played our part in eating and drinking as much as we could get. He would roll his eyes and make elaborate gestures should we show signs of politely refusing anything that was offered. As soon as Filippo’s back was turned he would fill up our glasses and urge us to greater efforts, with much nudging and the expressive gesture of twisting his knuckles in his cheek to indicate the quality of the food. One Sunday morning, Freddy, having had several drinks too many, rushed across the dining room and spewed violently out of the window into the yard below. He was just in time to greet Filippo’s wife as – she returned, from church. Our stock went down, even though Freddy was at pains to explain that his indisposition was due to having previously eaten mushrooms.
Fia, the ‘padrone’s’ wife, was a gentle creature, languid, melancholy and very conscious of being genteel. She was however, kind and helpful to us and had clothing and blankets sent down to assist our accommodation. Alas, she was sorry about the quality, but nowadays one could get nothing, nothing. This last phrase was Pia’s melancholy theme: “Non se trove niente, Paolo,” she said again and again, “niente, niente, niente.” Clothing? Boots? Non se trove; tobacco, coffee? Non se trove, niente, niente, niente. At each ‘nothing’ she opened her eyes wide and shook her head sadly. Nevertheless they did not do too badly themselves. Eggs, meat, ham, cheese and wine they had in
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plenty; even a few precious coffee beans, although for ordinary occasions they used roasted barley like everyone else.
Apart from such supervision as was necessary to ensure the collection of his half share of the tenants’ produce, Filippo did no work at all. Pia, who had a baby son, was helped in the house by a maidservant. Altogether they had an easy, comfortable but unexciting life and, although they were living directly on the labour of about a score of peasants who worked very hard, indeed, it was difficult to feel very much moral indignation about it. Nevertheless the spirit of the times was beginning to cause many peasants to question the justice of the ‘Mezzadria’ system – probably they always had. Even Vivenzio, who was fairly conservative, asked us if we thought that the Allies, when they came, would do away with it. We did not hold, out much hope of this, however.
[Black & white illustration showing ‘The Padrone’ sitting down around the table and having lunch with the Cardarelli family. There are also the initials P.B 1989]
[Caption] The ‘Padrone’ Lunches at the Cardarelli
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[Black & white illustration of Maria in the hillside outside with some sheep. She is spinning some cloth. There are also the initials P.B. 1989]
[Caption] Maria Spinning as She Guards the Sheep with Flavio
Soon after All Saints – quite an important feast day – the weather had begun to get cooler although there were still many sunny days and it did not yet seem like Winter. By December we had come to realise that there was to be no spectacular Allied advance or more northerly landing and that the war in Italy was coming to a stalemate. In the Picacchi area there were one or two houses with a radio and at sometime during most weeks, one or other of us managed to hear a BBC news bulletin; this was on short wave and could only be heard after dark. It was more likely to be Norman, Freddy or Alec who listened to the news – they went visiting more often than we did. However I went often enough for the ‘Lillibulero’ signature tune of the overseas service to be capable of giving me a little thrill even today.
Alec, who seemed to me a genius at anything electrical or mechanical, was by now establishing a reputation as a man who could mend things. In the district he repaired one or two
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radios and a larger number of clocks and watches. Sometimes he went to the owners, usually taking one of us with him to ‘help’, but any practical help was with the consumption of whatever delicacies might be offered in addition to the wine. Alec was able to build up a stock of spare parts by cannibalising irreparable watches. This enabled him to make up a wrist-watch for me, to replace one which I had flogged for food in early days as a prisoner.
Alec was so-called by being an electrician by trade; his real name was ‘italianised’ into Leonardo, with the rest of us becoming respectively Federico, Arturo (Hoop) and Paolo. Only Norman was known by his own name, I suppose because no-one could think of an equivalent.
With the darker evenings and some rainy days, more time was spent indoors. Hoop was slowly working his way through Hogben’s ‘Maths for the Million’; I spent quite a lot of time puzzling over Stelvio’s school text-books. There was an Italian grammar and a history reader, both books well produced and with good illustrations but loaded with propaganda; even the grammatical examples were built around fascist slogans. The grammar was set out very fully and formally with lists of conjugations which clearly had to be learned by rote; the Italian language was something to be acquired at school, not what was spoken at home. This was however a considerable help to me, as our family never explained points of grammar – I expect they were scarcely aware of them. The history reader helped widen my vocabulary, and it was interesting to learn what were regarded as the key events in modern history: In addition to Mussolini’s march on Rome, there was the inspiring story of someone called Giovanni Berta, a young fascist martyr of the twenties, who seems to have been killed in a street brawl. Somewhat more important was the Lateran pact, even now still operative as regulating the relationship of the Italian state with the Vatican. Also important was the establishment of the empire in East Africa, by then of course already lost. As far as I can remember, these two books were the only ones in the house.
The family could always find things to do in poor weather. Vivenzio made several pairs of clogs; he could shape
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the sole using only a hooked chopper, with just one saw-cut to make the instep. The uppers were from old leather boots, salvaged after the soles had worn out.
The women were always busy at mending and in knitting the wool from their own sheep. The spinning of the wool had been a constant occupation of the younger women, not so much in the house, but more often when out in the fields watching the sheep. The distaff was a bamboo cane, split at the top to hold the little roll of carded wool, and tucked into a belt – usually string – around the waist and then through a loop pinned just below the shoulder. It held the wool just above head-height from where it could be teased out by one hand while the other one controlled the twirling of the hanging spindle as it twisted the strands into thread. The spindle slowly descended, but was caught before it went too low and the thread wound, up on to its shaft. They also spun hemp, using a different distaff with an opened-out top around which the longer fibres could be coiled. The stems of the hemp had been retted in smelly pits down by the river, then, after drying, bundles of them were beaten on a kind of wooden horse, the top of which was a bed of nails. The decayed fleshy parts of the stalk powdered away, leaving only the long fibres, similar to flax but stronger and coarser. These processes may have been unfamiliar to us but they were identical to those to be seen in medieval manuscripts. Most of the country tasks of ploughing with oxen, sowing, harvesting, wine-making, trapping birds, killing the pig, were as shown in the illustrations to the seasons in sixteenth century calendars or Books of Hours. Indeed they would have also seemed quite familiar to Virgil, sixteen hundred years before that.
The younger men found, time for some amusements, visiting each other’s houses in the evenings and on Sundays. They often played ‘Briscola’ – a card game using the traditional Italian pack of 40 – which was a game of chance about as intellectually demanding as our ‘Beat your Neighbours out of Doors’. However a maximum amount of drama was extracted from this simple game; every card played was brought down with great emphasis, often from high above the head, and with accompanying shouts of triumph or dismay. Federico, in particular, revealed a
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considerable histrionic gift.
One evening, Federico took us with him on a visit to a house a mile or two away towards Gualdo where, he said, there was to be a ‘tombola’ at which the unlikely prize was to be a calf’s head. This indeed turned out to be so, and some twenty young men were there to compete at this bizarre bingo. However, the real business of the evening was to follow; the head had been merely a loss leader to attract buyers for the remaining joints of the illegally-slaughtered calf. The young men settled down to a session of cards, spending any winnings on cuts of veal. As we had not much interest, and no money, for gambling, we went home quite soon, leaving Federico to return in the small hours. Next day, with our mouths watering, we watched him grill and eat a thick veal steak. No-one was offered even a taste.
Guerino had a ‘concertina’ upon which both he and his friends would play, somewhat tediously as they knew only one tune between them. This they had learned by memorising the fingering; they were amazed to find that Alec could actually play any tune he wished.
[Black & white illustration showing each different suit of cards with the caption “A Hand of Cards”. Each suit is listed as follows: ‘Coppe’ (Goblets), ‘Bastoni’ (Clubs), ‘Danari’ (Pennies) and ‘Spade’ (Swords)]
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[Black & white illustration of some sheet music labelled “Guerino’s Tune for Concertina”]
By mid-December it was pig killing time; the final fattening had exhausted the supply of acorns. One or two neighbours came to help, and it was a jolly day for everyone except the pig. With a great deal of squeal and struggle this unfortunate animal was dragged to a trestle and held head downwards on a sloping board. Its throat was cut and as it bled to death the blood was caught in a large dish. The carcass was then washed and shaved, strung up by its hind legs, and Riccardo disembowelled it and skilfully split it down the middle. By this time the ‘padrone’ had arrived to see that the division was a fair one, for one half was to be his. Riccardo was proud to have divided it accurately: when weighed the halves were within a kilogram or so of each other.
In the meanwhile, the women were dealing with the innards, emptying and cleaning the intestines to make casings for salami and sausages. The blood, with salt added, had now congealed, and this was cooked and sliced to be served forthwith on chunks of bread to all the company. Three pigs were to be killed but there was a week or so interval between each to allow for all the work of processing. Lard had to be rendered, and salami, sausages and ham needed careful preparation for them to last for the next twelve months. The ham was cured as ‘prosciutto’ in the same manner as Parma ham, not smoked or cooked in any way, but with salt constantly rubbed into the surface until it was absorbed.
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There was a shortage of salt: this was a government monopoly and expensive even when available. One day we went off with Vivenzio, taking a pair of oxen and the water-cart, to a place some miles away, where, in the bed of a stream – it must have been the Salino, a tributary of the Tenna – a shallow well had been sunk. There were other families there and we took our turn to fill the water cart with what turned out to be brine, and brought it back home. The largest of the iron cauldrons was set up in the yard and the brine was boiled dry. At each boiling a satisfactory quantity of illegal salt was produced.
Another example of a long tradition of self-sufficiency and improvisation was the making of soap. The fat used in this must have come from the inedible parts of the pig, but I cannot now remember where the soda came from. At the time, I took this to be something forced on them by war-time shortages, but I found as recently as 1987 that Elvira, now the matriarch of a prosperous family in a new house with every modern convenience, had just made a batch of soap. ‘It is better,’ she said. I am not sure whether they still use wood-ash as a bleaching agent when washing linen.
It was I think, towards the end of December when it was considered safe for Hoop and I to be taken to Sunday mass at Gualdo. We had to be suitably attired for this, and I wore a new pair of trousers which were a present from the ‘padrone’s’ wife. The track up to the provincial road was very muddy, and the ladies in our party walked up in clogs, carrying their shoes to keep them clean. Nannina carried hers on her head. On reaching the road, they concealed the clogs behind a bush for the return journey, and put on the shoes. We kept a low profile in the town, but it must have been very obvious that we were not locals, and my glasses were conspicuous as very few rural Italians wore them. We made a token attendance at church standing at the back with Vivenzio for part of the service. It was an interesting morning for us, but on returning home, there was an unspoken feeling that it really had been rather foolhardy. We did not suggest going again, nor was it suggested to us.
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In conversation, the topic of our religion – or what was regarded as our lack of it – was quite often raised. The question always asked on meeting someone for the first had been: were we protestant or Christian ? the assumption being that Protestantism hardly counted as Christianity. There were two differences of which everyone seemed aware; the first that we ‘did not believe in the Madonna’, and a second that priests were allowed to marry. They were fascinated by the latter, but opinions about it varied; most, especially the women, considered it rather shocking. A more cynical view was expressed by Amilcare: that it was a good idea as it would prevent the priests from seducing the ladies of the parish. He claimed that they were unfair competitors to a young man like himself. He did not say this when his mother or sister were present.
When Christmas came, it turned out to be a less interesting feast than we had expected, but then many of our ‘traditional’ English celebrations, and Santa Claus himself, are nineteenth century imports from Germany. Certainly there was a good meal, and Nazarena had made some of her ‘pizza’, but it seemed no more important than many other feast days. There were no decorations or exchanges of gifts, although there was something for little Flavio at Epiphany, which after all is the proper time for it. The present was given to him by Nannina, disguised as an old woman and using a voice even more croaky than usual. This traditional old dame -‘la befana’ – was something new to us.
Since the beginning of winter, we had been warned to expect heavy snow, but December went by without any sign of this. Then, late on New Year’s eve, it began. There was little wind, and no drifting, but by the morning it was about three feet deep everywhere. During the morning it stopped, and it became a bright sunny day, blindingly beautiful, but we were of course quite cut off, even from the neighbouring houses. Later in the day Amilcare could be seen forcing his way along the footpath from the Di Luca. He arrived soaking wet, but in high spirits, without any reason for the visit except as an expression of exuberance. However, even though there was to be no more than a sprinkling of extra snow, it was a week before it was possible to get up the track to the provincial road.
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All the roads in the district were blocked, even the National road both to the North and the South of Sarnano, where, being closer to the mountains, the snowfall had been even heavier.
There was a great deal to be done to clear around the house and yard. First, Guerino and Federico went up on the roof and pushed off all the snow; then a way was cut to the stacks of hay and straw, to the muck-heap, to the well and the wood pile, and a path cleared for the oxen up the track to the water trough. All this shovelling resulted in mounds up to six feet high being built up in the less used parts of the farmyard, the dwindling remains of which were to last until April. During the next week or so I was able to amuse myself – and the family – by making life-sized snow sculptures, including one purporting to be Vivenzio. His enormous moustache was a technical difficulty but was managed somehow, and when finally his hat was borrowed and put on top, the likeness was generally approved.
One activity which traditionally depended on the snow was the distilling of ‘mistra’, a potent aniseed-flavoured spirit rather like Pernod. This year it was decided to make more than usual, as the neighbouring Felicetto family had a barrel of wine which was beginning to go musty and would become undrinkable. The two families decided to collaborate and to distill it all. This was an illegal enterprise, and when the roads were snowbound was the normal, more secure, time for it. The components of the still were brought out of hiding and assembled, the snow again becoming an accessory to the process, as it was packed around the copper coil of the condenser to cool it. A nip of ‘mistra’ was very warming on a cold winter’s morning. Even today, Riccardo, now an old man with much of his digestive system either removed or by-passed, has a generous helping in his coffee at breakfast every morning, winter or summer.
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[Black & white illustration showing buildings and the mountainous landscape around Picacchi during the winter. The illustration has the title “Picacchi in the Snow and has the initials P.B. 1989]
Quiet as it had been during our time at Picacchi, we were not entirely without some of the sounds of war, and aircraft were often heard at night. Even during daylight, sometimes large formations of Mitchell bombers passed over, very high in the clear sky. They seemed to have come up the Adriatic and then crossed above us going westwards, with the sound of bombs being heard a few minutes later. We assumed that the road and railway were being bombed somewhere over the mountains towards Foligno. The activities at night were more varied; from the sound, only a few planes were involved, but it seemed that they were aimed more directly at our district. Leaflets were dropped, some of them around us, and these were quite good from our point of view, particularly one which promised rewards to Italians who helped Allied prisoners. We also learned that several drops of arms and ammunition had been made in the hope that they would find their way to anti-fascist partisans, which some did. This good propaganda was somewhat nullified by some random dropping of bombs. Some fell in a village only a few
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miles away, one of which fell in a cemetery, uncovering some corpses. Nazerena was particularly shocked at this barbarity in spite of an attempt by Hoop – who enjoyed a little theological exposition – to comfort her by explaining the unimportance of the body as contrasted with the soul. The seeming inconsistency of the aerial campaign, with its mixture of bombs, leaflets and weapons, was more puzzling to us then than it seems today. From Joseph Heller we now know that it was being run by the likes of such Catch 22 characters as General Dreedle and Milo Minderbinder.
Although they had said nothing to us about it, it seems that both the Di Luca and the Cardarelli families were a little concerned about whether their stores of grain were going to be sufficient to last through to the next harvest. Much of last year’s crop had been purchased compulsorily by the government in order to maintain the meagre bread ration in the towns. The growers had been allowed to retain a quantity based on the number in the family – I think it was two ‘quintals’ per head – but with the return of the sons from the forces, and the addition of we prisoners, this was being consumed too quickly. This must have been the case with most families in the district.
Riccardo announced one day that Gualdo – still cut off by snow from the main National road – was now controlled by partisans. Moreover they were organising a distribution of grain, and we must all attend in person next day to claim our share. Hoop and I consulted our friends at the Di Luca and they too had been told the same story, although we all thought it rather unlikely. However, with Vivenzio, Riccardo and Guerino, Hoop and I set off next morning. It was 20 January; The provincial road was now quite passable on foot, and we arrived to find that the town granary had indeed been opened up and that a distribution was being made under the supervision of a group of young men, some of whom had sten guns. It was all quite orderly and we were allowed a ‘quintal’ of grain each. I suppose that we had brought our own sacks, but the grain had to be carried a little way out of town to the house of a friend of the family, where it was left to be collected later by ox-cart.
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Since the armistice there had been virtually no effective local administration in the district. The Germans had not been bothered with these small towns and villages away from the main roads, while the fascist government, now re-established in the north, had not yet extended its influence to these parts. The idea of opening local granaries seems to have been part of a chain reaction and was going on in other places. The following week, Guerino asked me to go with him to a little town called Magli, where it was said there was to be a distribution. It was several miles away, by footpaths, and when we arrived we found considerable confusion. The store had been broken open and there were lots of people milling about, but there was also a solitary ‘carabiniere’ who was trying to prevent any more grain being taken. While he was arguing with one group, Guerino and I slipped round behind him and got our sack reasonably full. As we came out, the poor ineffectual ‘carabiniere’ had become very excited and repeatedly threatened to ‘fire in the air’. ‘He is a Sicilian,’ said Guerino as we made our way off out of the town.
During this same week, we heard news of the Allied landing at Anzio. This, coming after months of virtually static warfare in the south, raised our spirits. Perhaps it was the beginning of the breakthrough for which we were waiting. Nearer home however, things soon took a turn for the worse: we woke one morning to hear what sounded like shell-fire, and by midday the bush telegraph brought news that German mortars had been used on Sarnano, following which the town had been occupied and a number of alleged partisans executed in the town centre. The National road, the only main route on this side of the mountains other than that along the coast, was important enough to need reopening now that the snow was clearing. Understandably, the partisans who had been active in the smaller towns and villages now disappeared. Some may have gone into the mountains, but I think most faded back into their families. We feared that the Germans might extend their operations into the countryside, and there was a general anxiety that showed itself in a greater suspicion of strangers. There had always been wanderers, of a variety of nationalities – even one who claimed to be a Russian – and these were still offered
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food and drink if they called at the house. However the word had gone round the district that there were spies about. To us this seemed hardly likely, but the Cardarelli took it seriously; in particular a group of three Yugoslav students were considered very suspicious because they spoke the language ‘better than we Italians,’ said Guerino.
There were a few British who, although they remained in the district, were by choice leading a wandering life, moving around from place to place on a cyclical basis, and had thus become quite well known. A pair called Vic and Lew, an unlikely combination of a Glaswegian and a cockney, visited quite often. They were a cheerful couple and were popular with the natives, moreover, both of them – but more especially Vic, the Scottish one – had picked up the most fluent idiomatic Italian and used it with unselfconscious confidence.
By this time we were finding the Italian language less of a problem, although our abilities varied. This particular knack of learning did not seem to be related much to previous education. Hoop – who had even learned Latin at his choir school – was certainly the slowest, and Norman, who had less formal education, was the quickest, with the rest of us somewhere in between. Hoop did not let his lack of fluency prevent him from exchanging ideas with the Cardarelli, and they were clearly very fond of him. What he could not express in words he made up for in gesture and play acting. He also sang them various little English songs, which some of them also learned. Even now, Riccardo can sing something just recognisable as ‘One man and his dog’.
[Black & white photographs showing leaflets of propaganda in Italian. The caption is Airborne Leaflets – ‘Italians under the German Yoke’ etc.]
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[Black & white illustration with caption of Hoop instructing Riccardo to sing some English songs. Other members of the Cardarelli family are in the background. There are the initials P.B. 1989
“… went to mow a meadow…” – Hoop instructs Riccardo]
Surprisingly, the electricity supply system had survived the heavy snow; certainly it had gone off once or twice, but only briefly and hardly more frequently than in normal weather. The current came from a small hydro-electric station known locally as ‘Molinaccio’ – the ‘ugly mill’ – on the River Fiastrone, only about six miles away, where it came down from the mountains. On the farm they had no electrical appliances; the supply was used only for lighting, and although it was supposed to be 100 volts, the bulbs often glimmered so dimly that it must sometimes have been a good deal less. The Cardarelli had come to terms with the technology – Nazarena had a couple of bent wires which she often hooked on to the cables at the point where they reached the house, and from these there was a flex which by-passed the meter. No doubt everyone in the district had a similar system.
The Italian language is ideal for calling out over
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long distances, with the vowels, especially the final ones, being drawn out into a sort of yodel. A consultation might be made with the neighbours, for instance, to find out if their electricity had also gone off, or members of the family could be summoned in from the fields at mealtimes:
Maria: Oooooh, Riccarrrrdooooooh.
A few seconds of silence for the sound to travel.
Riccardo, distantly: Oooooooooh
Maria: Vieni Suuuuuuuuh, a mangiaaaaaaaaah.
Quite often, conversations between people miles away could be heard echoing around the hills.
While the snow was still on the ground, Lina had a bad attack and the doctor had to be sent for. He arrived on skis – the only time that we saw them used – but he was not able to do much although the poor girl had improved slightly by the time he arrived. The doctor was a jolly man who had served in the first war, and for our benefit sang, in English, the chorus of ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’ to prove it. A few weeks later, he was summoned again, this time to look at Flavio. During the night Riccardo and. Maria had wakened to find that the little boy – he shared their bed – seemed to have stopped breathing. Understandably they were very frightened and woke the household with a great hullabaloo. By the time I was awake Flavio was recovered, and when the doctor arrived next morning was found thankfully to be unharmed.
It must have been in February when Alec left the Di Luca house and went to live and work with Nello, a watch- repairer who lived near Gualdo on the provincial road that led to Sarnano. Nello, who had been impressed with Alec’s skill, had invited him with the approval, and I expect encouragement, of the Di Luca, who must have been feeling the burden of feeding three extra people. Nello, who was in his mid-twenties, lived and had a workshop in his parent’s house, and the atmosphere there was much to Alec’s liking. The shortage of spare parts and materials only provided a spur to his ingenuity and his ability at improvisation. He also enjoyed the company, which included Nello’s two lively teenage sisters. The family seemed to be quite well off, but the thing which impressed me
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most on visits there, was that in the garden there was an actual earth closet. It was a simple hole-in-the-ground affair, but was the first I had seen since leaving prison-camp.
One important outdoor job of the winter was the cutting and stacking of firewood, and this task was now renewed after the snow had cleared, with the advantage that many branches and some whole trees had been brought down. Logs were cut into convenient lengths and piled at the side of the track to be collected by ox-cart later in the year as required. Twigs and brushwood were made into bundles and tied with twisted willow or other pliant branches, a skill which I eventually learned although not with the same neatness and speed of the natives. Riccardo had begun to prune the vines, a job which needed a great deal of experience and which he was quite proud that his father now allowed him to do. It was important that it be finished before the sap began to rise in the Spring. On one hillside a few new rows of vines were planted. The young maples, which were to be the supports, were put in at the same time: these were completely bare stems about six feet high and they were lined up and spaced with great care. The ‘Padrone’, who had paid for them, did some of the supervision. Next season, these saplings would have all the new shoots removed except for the four highest ones which would be trained out on to a horizontal cross of bamboo nailed, to the top of the tree. Eventually this would form the open framework on which the vine could grow and have space for the bunches to hang down.
One morning Guerino came into the house rather excitedly to say that he had seen someone stealing chickens. This was not from the farmyard, but from an outhouse several hundred yards down the hillside where another small flock of hens was kept. Guerino had recognised the culprit as an Englishman who was living with a family at Castello, [cannot find this location on Google Maps] a hamlet only a couple of miles away. We took a very poor view of this as likely to effect the local popularity of the English in general. With Guerino, we went over to Castello and, while he chatted to the family – he did not want a confrontation with them – we talked in the stable to the Englishman, who had not previously been known to us. He produced the dead fowl and said it was the only one, although Guerino had thought that two had been taken. We advised that he
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should leave the district, and said that if he did not do so we would return next week and force his eviction. We left with the chicken hidden under my jacket, and without the purpose of the visit being disclosed to the family. On the way home Guerino said that they were a bad lot and that they had probably instigated the theft. Our threat to return later with reinforcements could have proved rather humiliating as neither Freddy nor Norman would come, because, they said, the Di Luca were against it. The Cardarelli were not much in favour of our going either; a policy of not making enemies of your neighbours was clearly important to the peace of the community. Fortunately the chicken thief had himself decided to move on, and nothing more was heard of him.
[Black & white illustration of the ‘Padrone’ watching vines being planted by Vivenzio and Riccardo. It has the initials P.B. 1989]
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There were now beginning to be signs of Spring, one of which, unusual to us, was the sight of Federico crawling about on the roof of the house, inspecting tiles and marking some of them with chalk. I thought that he was perhaps about to do some repairs, but in fact he was making a check on where sparrows were nesting. The big curved tiles fitted together fairly loosely and there were plenty of places where birds could get under, making ideal sites for nests. Ideal, that is, if it had not been for the plans of Federico. During the next week or two he kept a close watch on the marked tiles and the progress of the nestlings beneath them. As each brood reached optimum plumpness, just before becoming fully fledged, they went into Federico’s bag and were eaten for supper. I must say, callous as it sounds, that they were delicious, and excuse myself and Federico by pleading the shortage of meat in the diet. The Italians had a strictly utilitarian attitude to wildlife: earlier, when the snow was on the ground, many small birds who normally, but wisely, kept well away, were tempted to the farmyard in search of food. The sheltered side of a haystack offered the prospect of chaff and seeds, but was also a mass of improvised nooses and traps of various sorts, including bricks held up by balanced twigs. Even robins did not escape – I was still sentimental enough to think that a robin in the snow should have been something rather special. All this in the land of St Francis, and Assisi was no further away than forty miles as the crow flies – but then there were not many crows about, and the Sibillini mountains, five thousand feet high, were in between.
A task for the whole family, including us, was weeding the wheat, which was now several inches high. We all walked through the fields, in line abreast, removing the weeds by hand as we went. Although this sounds simple enough, and there were obvious interlopers which even I could recognise, the difficult one was the wild oat, which to me seemed to be just a grass like the wheat itself. The Cardarelli had no difficulty in detecting the difference but, in spite of their patience in showing me, I was never able to do it with real confidence, and sometimes had guiltily to conceal the shoot of
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wheat which I found I had uprooted.
On Shrove Tuesday, Elvira made what she called ‘frittelle’ and which really were not unlike pancakes, being a batter fried in lard. ‘Martedi Grasso’ – fat Tuesday – was aptly named in that it was the last opportunity to use animal fat or meat, normally forbidden during Lent. This was not a normal year, however, as the priest had announced in church a dispensation by which, because of the shortage both of olive oil and of fish, they were allowed.
As Spring advanced, we became aware of a general lowering of morale among the Italians, and we too had some anxiety about the progress of the war. Where was the offensive which we had hoped for? The Anzio landing had become bogged down almost at once with very little progress, and further South the position remained as it had been throughout the Winter. It was said that the fascist administration was establishing itself with greater confidence in Macerata and was spreading out into the province. There was increasing talk of spies, and tales of peasants having their houses burned down as punishment for helping prisoners. Such stories could have been true, although exactly where they had happened was never quite clear. They were never anywhere which was actually known to our family, but obviously such things were possible and speculation about them made everyone a little uneasy.
One afternoon, Riccardo, wearing his serious expression, took us into the stable and told us of a conversation he had had with the ‘padrone’, the upshot of which had been that it would be better if Hoop and I moved on. “Better for us, better for you,” said Riccardo, a proposition which we accepted as gracefully as we could. I have no doubt that it was the ‘padrone’ who was responsible for this, but I think too that neither Riccardo or his father put up very much opposition to it, and were perhaps rather relieved that it could be decided without it being their own responsibility. We began to prepare ourselves to go later on in the week.
At the Di Luca, it seemed that their ‘padrone’ – he was a cousin of Filippo – had also put pressure on for Freddy and Norman to leave. This was resisted however, not only by
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Guiseppe, but very strongly by Palmira who was a very determined woman. Eventually a sort of compromise was reached: Freddy and Norman were not actually to sleep in the house but were to spend the nights in an old shed which was on their land, some distance down the hill towards the river.
We left Picacchi on the morning of 6 April, the Thursday of Holy Week. As we were about to leave, Lina, who had been chronically ill for so long, at last died. The household erupted into a storm of grief to which the little drama of our leaving was but a minor addition. What to our eyes seemed like violent overacting, her brothers howling and throwing themselves to the ground, was nevertheless a genuine expression of feeling. The conventions of behaviour would have made anything less appear callous. Poor Lina, she had not had much of a life. There had been nothing worthwhile to occupy her attention, she was not capable of the ordinary tasks of the household and without these there had only been boredom in a community with no tradition of reading or of any sort of leisure activity. Her suffering had merely made her shrewish and ill-tempered.
We could not match the family display of emotion but nevertheless made our farewells with real sorrow, and certainly without hard feelings for our having been asked to go. The Cardarelli had looked after us for six months with what one must describe as Christian charity, and under the circumstances more could hardly be expected of them. We took our packs and set off up the track towards the provincial road.
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My memory now lets me down on the details of the next few days. I know that food was no problem and that we were at a different house each night, sleeping in out-buildings with the permission of the householder, on the understanding that we would move on in the morning. I cannot however remember the people or the places, although we must have called on Alec in passing and kept him informed of our movements. It was nearly a week later when we approached a tiny group of houses at Cerreto with the intention of finding Laurence Bains, having been told – by whom I wonder? – that he was living there. I had known Laurence quite well in prison camp where he had been in my barrack room. At the first house, a woman looked out of a first-floor window and I called up to her to ask if there was an Englishman called Lorenzo in the district. She replied in perfect, rather upper-class, English that indeed he lived at the next house. Laurence seemed to be on very good terms with the local people and suggested that a family about half a mile away, but still in the same parish of Cerreto, might offer some hospitality and promptly took us there to introduce us. On the way he told us that there had been an Englishman living there until recently but that he had gone off on a visit one day and had never returned.
Ernesto Lucarelli, for it was he, was very friendly and quite willing to help but said that there was room for only one of us. Hoop, whose Italian was still rather poor, was allowing me to do all the talking and the result was that it was I who it was agreed should stay. This was really rather selfish of me and I have had a bad conscience about it ever since. Did Hoop think badly about this ? I wonder; he certainly never reproached me, but then he had been a patient and an uncomplaining companion. In the meanwhile Alec had been putting pressure on his family to find someone who would provide a place and, fortunately this too was successful. Within a day or two, Hoop settled in with a family not much more than a mile distant and about mid-way between Alec and myself.
The Lucarelli farmhouse, and the farm itself, were
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both considerably smaller than that of the Cardarelli but they belonged to the family and not to a landlord. The house stood by the side of a good dirt road which went down to join the National road about a half-mile away (see map on page 6). Of course this was a much more dangerous position than Picacchi. German trucks passed frequently on the main road and any one of them could have turned up our road and been at the house in a couple of minutes, although of course there was no obvious reason for them to do so. It was either very brave, or very foolhardy, of the Lucarelli to have me in the house, particularly as they themselves were completely in the clear with the authorities, neither of the two men being liable for military service. As I got to know them better, I realised that they understood the risks quite well.
All the farming techniques and equipment were the same as those with which I had by now become familiar. The land was if anything more awkward than at Picacchi, parts of it very steep indeed, running down into a wooded gully which must have been a torrent in the winter. The house and farm-yard were set below a steep bank which went up to the verge of the road with a further bank continuing up on the other side of it, where they also owned some land. Further up still was a shared spring from which all the water had to be carried. All this seemed familiar enough, but there were some differences in behaviour, with the family being clearly conscious of their social position as the owners of their own land. It was not the thing for Assunta to work in the fields, for instance, although no doubt she did so at critical harvest times. There was still plenty for her to do around the house with two young children, the farmyard and animals to be looked after and water to be carried from the spring. Rosa, her mother-in-law, seemed older than her years and was not very active. Assunta was a small dark woman, rather thick-set and with a brisk no-nonsense manner who, I think, regarded herself as having married a little beneath her. Certainly she kept everyone up to the mark; prayers in the evening and no swearing.
Ernesto was a contrast to his wife; slender and fairly tall, blue eyes, fluffy brownish hair and with a diffident,
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softly-spoken manner. He was always polite and put forward his views or his requests with a nervous laugh which was almost an apology. The two little boys in turn took after their parents, Domenico very dark and Walter a blue-eyed blond, “like a German,” said Ernesto, and indeed he had been given this unusual German name which was always pronounced Valdery.
The unmarried Adolfo, although slightly simple, was always treated with respect by both sister-in-law and brother. He was an endearing character, like an intelligent child, very interested in what was going on in the world and always asking questions, often quite sensible ones, although he had a rather spluttering speech defect which made him difficult to follow. It was he who was most inconvenienced by my living there, as, from the first, he shared his bed with me. Rosa was a garrulous old lady who latched on to me as someone to talk to. I am not sure that she realised that I had any difficulty with the language or, if she did, it was certainly ignored as she chattered on in her strong dialect. An occasional nod was all that was required from me. Her favourite topics were tales from the lives of the Saints, of which she knew many, especially of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino a great favourite and a local hero, he having been born in the district.
The farm overlooked the valley of the Fiastra and across it to San Ginesio on the other side. Parallel to the river, was a long straight section of the National road which, with its traffic, was clearly visible from near the house. By going up our road for a few hundred yards to the top of the hill, there was a view in the other direction to Gualdo. In the valley between, Hoop was now established in a household consisting of a widow and her son and daughter. They were a poor family and seem to have regarded Hoop mainly as a source of labour. In particular, the son, who was about nineteen and somewhat idle, was only too pleased to have a docile worker about the place. Hoop slept in an out-building of this small house which was part of a tiny hamlet, the name of which I cannot remember but it was well known in the district as the place of an accident some years earlier when a man was ‘killed by the electric light’.
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[A black & white sketch with caption: A Visitor leaving the Lucarelli Farm – San Ginesio in Background]
Laurence Bains was something of a loner; in camp he had no close friends and certainly was not connected with what he would have regarded as the left wing riff-raff with which I had been associated. He had always been properly shaved and he dressed in as soldierly a manner as circumstances permitted. There was a romantic element here, a vision of what was proper behaviour for an English gentleman, concerned not to let standards slip. Fortunately, although he was fundamentally serious about this, he had a sense of humour too and must have been aware of something comic in the contrast between his ideals and his actual status as a slightly weedy lance-corporal in the Signal Corps. This last was something of a let down in that he had joined originally, as a volunteer, the rather grand-sounding City of London Yeomanry.
Laurence had left camp on his own and was now established with a family in Cerreto as a paying guest, although the
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paying part was only a promise for the future. It says a lot for Laurence’s confidence in himself that he had been able to project his gentlemanly image well enough to convince the family that he would, when the war was over, compensate them for his keep. Consequently he led a life of leisure, unlike the rest of us who thought that the least we could do was to help with the work.
At the next house to Laurence, lived the lady who had spoken to me in English on the day I first arrived. She and her husband were also paying guests but in their case they had some access to actual money. Ilsa had been born a Czech, but with an English mother and was married to Tulli, a Yugoslav. They were both about forty and had been trapped and interned in Italy by the outbreak of war but now seemed to be living in Cerreto officially but under restriction as to place of residence. I suspect that their background was more complicated than this as there seemed to be some caution and inconsistency in the telling of their history. They were a pleasant enough couple who had obviously been fairly wealthy; they knew London quite well and their cosmopolitan background provided us with a more sophisticated level of conversation.
About half a mile away there was a house with a radio where we were always made welcome by the Giansanti family, the head of which spoke American quite well, having been there for some years and had even served in the US army during the first war. By early May, there was still no news from the radio to suggest that an offensive might begin soon in the south. The local fascist administration, increasingly confident, had issued a proclamation calling up those young men who were now due for military service. Some of the youth from neighbouring parts went off to Macerata to report but many of these soon deserted and returned home again a few days later.
Early in the morning of 5 May, I was woken up by Ernesto to be told that there was a lot of firing going on in the direction of Gualdo. I went up the hill and looked across the valley towards the town from where was still the sound of sporadic shooting. A dozen or so of the youth of Gualdo could be seen streaming across the fields away from the town. What
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was going on, I learned later, was a not very well co-ordinated search to round up the youngsters who were avoiding conscription This was the day of the ‘rastrellamento’ – literally a ‘raking- through’ – in this district and it was being done by Italian SS. [Schutzstaffel] Alec said later that at dawn a truckload of SS [Schutzstaffel] had gone by his house – which was on the Sarnano to Gualdo road – firing in the air as they went, presumably to keep their spirits up, or perhaps they just wanted to warn their quarry to escape. I did not return to the Lucarelli house until next day, it had seemed prudent to keep off the roads. This was the first of several such alarms during the next week or two, but on each occasion there was always plenty of warning and I was quickly out of the house, usually to return after having spent the night in some more remote outhouse. The Lucarelli did have a visit from the SS [Schutzstaffel] and later, which must have been even more frightening, from a German soldier. The latter had come up on foot from the main road, apparently his truck was parked down there, and had called at all the houses on the way. However the bush telegraph had sent warning that he was coming and by the time he reached the Lucarelli I had gone, but by then he was extremely drunk and Ernesto said it would not have mattered if I had been there. The family were splendid during this period; there was never the slightest hint or suggestion that I should leave permanently.
From Laurence I had acquired a pistol; I do not remember how he came by them but he had another one for himself. Mine was a tiny revolver, more suitable for a ladies handbag, and there was a doubt as to whether it would function, the hammer being slightly damaged. I had a few rounds of ammunition but did not test it. Not wishing to alarm the family, I had kept this a secret and was embarrassed, when they produced it one day after it had been found under my bed by little Domenico. It was not loaded. Ernesto looked at me rather reproachfully but did not complain; I must have looked somewhat sheepish.
It was Laurence’s idea that we should make a visit to Monastero, a village up in the mountains which had a reputation as a base for the partisans. Having crossed the National road and passed near the ‘Molinaccio’ power station, we followed a
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mule-track which wiggled its way upwards on the side of the Fiastra valley for about five miles (map on page 6). We met a mule train coming down but the drivers were very suspicious of us and did not want to talk. The mules were heavily laden with lime; there was no agriculture in these rugged parts and the burning of limestone, using the available timber, was the local industry. At night the fires of lime kilns on the mountain sides could often be seen from down below. The village, when we reached it, turned out to be extremely poor and dilapidated with the very few people who were about very surly. We had not known that about a month earlier there had been a German expedition up this valley, the partisans were cleared out and there were some summary executions in the village. It was not surprising that the inhabitants were unforthcoming towards suspicious- looking strangers like ourselves. We returned home the way we had come; nothing had been achieved but it had been an interesting trip. That same day, 19 May, was an important one in the history of the Italian campaign: from the radio we learned that at last Cassino had been captured and the Spring offensive was now under way.
During the month of May, which is especially dedicated to the Madonna, the evening prayers at the Lucarelli were supplemented by additional readings, conducted by Ernesto, who droned his way laboriously through the text of the day. Sometimes this was quite long and a pause would be necessary to wake up his mother, who was understandably liable to nod off. I think that I must often have nodded off too but, charitably, was allowed to do so.
It was not a particularly busy time for work in the fields; this was a time for things to grow rather than for sowing or harvesting. There were two pairs of oxen but I do not remember them as being used much. More fully employed was a stud boar who received visitors at least once a week. Many of the sows had been walked quite a long way with a cord tied to one leg and, on arrival, often both the animal and the owner were showing signs of exasperation. The actual mating took place in the privacy of
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the boar’s sty under the supervision of Assunta, who showed some signs of regarding this job as rather an ‘ungenteel’ one for a well-bred lady.
Although such a tiny person – she cannot have been much more than four feet six – Assunta was quite strong and had no trouble with that traditional role of woman as a water carrier. The graceful art of carrying on the head was something learned in childhood and every woman had a kerchief which could be rolled and then coiled and twisted to make a pad for the top of the head. Although the knack of it involved balance and movement, the water jugs, when full, were also very heavy and help was needed to lift them on to the head. The traditional shape was important; without the narrow neck they could not have been carried, as a large surface of water slopping about would have unbalanced them. For this reason it was impossible to carry them when half full.
I mentioned earlier that there had previously been another Englishman staying with the Lucarelli. He was called Jimmy and was unknown to me but the family often spoke of him. He had gone off one day on a visit and Ernesto had loaned him his best suit for the occasion. Jimmy never returned and they were sure that he must have been taken by the Germans. In fact, Laurence had learned that this was not the case and that he was living somewhere else. We kept this information to ourselves, not wishing to compromise an Englishman’s reputation for honesty.
During this period I kept in touch with Hoop and we sometimes exchanged visits with Alec on Sundays. Freddy and Norman came over once or twice but I do not remember visiting them at Picacchi. All the news on the radio was now becoming much more encouraging and by the end of May the front had moved northwards to join with the beach-head at Anzio. The Germans evacuated Rome on 5 June and on the following day we learned of the landings in Normandy. After this our spirits were raised almost daily. Everything seemed to suggest that, on our Adriatic side of Italy, the Germans were retreating without putting up much resistance and the activity which could be seen on the National road confirmed this. There was now more traffic, all moving northwards and mostly at night. Those few trucks which
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did travel by day were always in danger from air attack. RAF [Royal Air Force] Hurricanes patrolled over the road almost daily, the long straight stretch afforded no cover for vehicles and from a vantage point just above our house we were able to see several of them shot up and reduced to burning wrecks.
Locally, everyone now became aware that the retreating enemy might loot and destroy as they went. I think that our immediate area was fortunate in that the main road had little woodland cover beside it and there were no suitable places for convoys to pull off and lay up during the day. It was a section that they must have thought it prudent to get through as quickly as possible. Some precautions, however were taken by the local people; cattle were hidden, including ours which were moved down and tethered in a patch of woodland away from the house. Families living nearer the main road, drove them further away from it, in some cases miles, to the farms of relatives or friends. The unmarried daughter of Laurence’s family buried her chest of linen, that important collection made by all girls in preparation for marriage; when eventually dug up again it was badly damaged.
The speed of the withdrawal now seemed to be increasing. Pescara was reported as having been evacuated on 11 June and by the 16th, Teramo, only about fifty miles south of us. Over the mountains, Terni and Foligno had fallen on successive days. Laurence and I had become increasingly excited and one evening at dusk, we crept down close to the National road, hiding in a ditch to watch the German army in retreat. They were going by in ox-carts and there was an uncanny silence, just the creaking of the carts; had they been driven by Italians there would have been continual exhortation and abuse. It was with some satisfaction that we saw the ‘Wehrmacht’ reduced to this humiliation.
By 19th June the last Germans had passed by, blowing up bridges on all the roads as they went. I must now plead a complete memory breakdown about the next day: I am told, and a three-word entry in my rudimentary diary confirms, that Hoop, Alec and I met up with Norman and Freddy and that we all went into Sarnano for lunch but I have absolutely no recollection of
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this at all. On the other hand, I have a very clear picture of the day following that, when Laurence and I went into San Ginesio with the Yugoslav couple who wished to fulfil a promise made earlier that they would take us for a meal when the Germans left. San Ginesio was full of young men who were playing the game of partisans – or patriots as they were now required to be called – and they carried guns and were festooned with belts of cartridges. Tulli ordered the meal and while it was being prepared we went into a nearby bar in the town square. We had been sitting at a table drinking but when I went up again to the bar, one of the partisans said that he would like to buy us all drinks. I relayed this offer to those at the table, to get a reply from Ilsa, somewhat haughtily, that she would on no account drink with him as, she said, he was known to her as a former member of the fascist SS. [Schutzstaffel] I reported this back to the young man, who then came across to us very aggressively and pointed a sten gun in my stomach. I stood my ground bravely at this – we had all been drinking – and said something like ‘bravo, well done’. I doubt if I would have been as calm if I had known something about sten guns and how prone they were to accidental discharge. Laurence then drew himself up and made a fine grandiloquent speech on the lines that whosoever that day, of all days, should, touch the hair of an Englishman was as good as dead, etc. Ilsa and Tulli remained seated, saying nothing. The partisan was showing signs of backing down when there was a commotion in the square outside and a burst of gunfire. Someone ran in to say that a German armoured car was approaching the town but had halted at a destroyed bridge. The burst of fire had been caused by someone excitedly cocking a sten gun. A small boy had been hit in the leg. The vehicle was next reported as having turned and gone away, at which some calm was restored. By tacit agreement our confrontation with the partisan was not renewed and as our meal was now ready we went across the square and upstairs to the dining room.
I expect we had a good lunch but I remember little of it except that, near the end, it was interrupted by more commotion and then the ringing of church bells. We went to the window and leaned out to see, standing outside the town hall, a vehicle which I had not previously known: it was a jeep. We went
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down and after pushing our way through an enthusiastic crowd, talked to the driver. The officer was in the town hall, telling the mayor that he was now subject to the rule of the Allied Military Government. The jeep apparently was the ‘German armoured car’ which had found its way into the town by a different route. So we were liberated, and like the people of the district were fortunate in that the final stages were so smoothly and peaceably accomplished.
The following day, with Hoop, I went back to Picacchi to say goodbye to the Cardarelli and the Di Luca. It was then arranged with Norman and Freddy that we should all meet in the morning at Alec’s and from there go into Sarnano together to rejoin the army officially. By now our thoughts were all of home and I expect that, to the Italians, our farewells seemed perfunctory but I am sure that there was some genuine sorrow on both sides.
“Which of you,” asked the British captain, looking at the five of us in Sarnano, “is the senior ?” We looked at each other in surprise, it not being something we had ever thought of; but of course in the army, if there is more than one of you, someone must be in charge. Norman and Hoop, each of whom had had a stripe, turned to each other interrogatively. “Well,” said the latter after a long pause, “I suppose I am.” Nothing could have made it more clear to us that our little adventure was at an end.
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I must now attempt a more up to date history of some of the characters in this story. All of the score of people who came out of the camp at Sforzacosta together, reached safety, some of them rather more quickly than we did. Certainly Frank Fish and Jack Hulford were back in England some months before us. Jack let our families know that we were loose but I have quite lost touch with him since then. It is said – but I do not know on what authority – that [name redacted] committed suicide soon after he returned.
As for the five principal characters, who all went back to those parts of the country from which they came, I suppose in general our careers have been what might have been expected; Alec involved in the technical mysteries of television, Freddy and I in art and design. Perhaps Hoop becoming a teacher was a change of direction, but certainly not surprising. Norman’s progress was based on his practical knowledge of building construction but sadly the one who was the youngest and physically the strongest of us, died prematurely.
There has been only a brief reference to Bert Ramelson in my story although in the camp itself and in our decision to escape, he was more important. That he would become a member of the central committee of the Communist party might have been predicted. Laurence Bains has had a successful business career but he also became involved in local government. After having been a councillor and an alderman – in the Tory interest – he was eventually chairman of the Greater London Council; before, that is, the Council was abolished by his own party.
With the exception of old Vivenzio and his wife, all those members of the Cardarelli family who were listed as being in Picacchi in 1943 are still alive and moreover are living in the province of Macerata. This may suggest that things have changed very little but this is certainly not the case. Their history and that of their twenty-seven descendants – at the last count – might be a microcosm of the last forty years of Italian history, reflecting the ‘economic miracle’ of the sixties and
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the ‘sorpasso’ of the eighties, with all their advantages and some of their drawbacks. In material terms, life has been revolutionised. After many years of living under a landlord, the prospect of being free of the ‘padrone’ must have been a driving force. Those who are farming, now in the minority and mostly the older generation, are doing so on land which they own themselves and with up-to-date equipment, living in either new or substantially modernised houses with all the appropriate domestic appliances.
For the next generation – Vivenzio’s grandchildren – the aim has been for a business of one’s own. This is the Italian dream and it has been worth working very hard to achieve it. Not everyone has done so but the successes are considerable. Stelvio has a business as a carpenter and joiner in Gualdo; a son of Riccardo, after a college education as a surveyor, has a building firm in Rome; Federico’s son is a wholesaler dealing in handbags and leather goods; and Nannina’s son owns a cafe-bar in Aosta. A daughter of Guerino helps her husband run a radio and television shop in Sarnano, while Stelvio’s daughter is married to another entrepreneur in leather goods, which is a local industry. Of course it is splendid to see this deserved prosperity in families which only forty years ago were landless peasants, struggling to keep above the poverty line. It would be sentimental to have many regrets about the old way of life, picturesque as it was, but I do have some small reservations when looking at those children being brought up in town apartments and in contrasting them with their cousins still living on a farm. However, this transition from a rural to an urban community is part of the price that Italy as a whole has had to pay for its post-war prosperity.
In Picacchi itself, most of the land which I knew is now barely cultivated; tracks and footpaths have disappeared; the Cardarelli’s old house is an overgrown pile of rubble. On the nearby site of the ruined house, where we first took shelter, another house was built in the fifties but this too is now deserted and collapsing again. Only Guerino is still living not far away, on his own land and higher up, where it is slightly more convenient and closer to the provincial road.
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The track down is still very rough and twisting; the house has been modernised but has not quite the standard of luxury of some of those of the next generation. The Di Luca farm is occupied by a Sicilian family, one of several from the impoverished South who have migrated to take over the work in these unrewarding fields.
Riccardo and Maria, with their four sons, moved in the early sixties to take a farm – as tenants – near Passo Sant’ Angelo. Here, on much better terrain, they have brought up their family and by hard work have eventually purchased the land. The two younger sons – one with wife and children – still live with them and Flavio with his family are in a house nearby. The second son did well at school and went as a boarder to a seminary, then to a college in Rome where, with his Roman wife and two children, he now lives. This seems not to have cut him off from the rest of the family, he visits constantly for weekends and holidays. Riccardo has not been well enough to work on the farm himself for some years but Maria, I think, will never retire, still often getting up at five in the morning, she has no interests other than family and work. Ignoring the dozen or so channels available on the several television sets, she occupies herself with her vegetable garden and, particularly, with the welfare of her sheep.
Federico, with his wife and son, moved somewhat further away, nearer the coast, to purchase a small farm. Gradually, they have disposed of much of the land and have built themselves a new house, next to the older one which has been sold. The house is shared with Alberto his son, who is married with two children. It is he who has built up a one-man business in the handbag trade, in the course of which he travels over much of Italy. He is also the only Cardarelli who has been to visit us, driving over to England with his wife and children in 1987. He had to give himself a ten-day holiday to do this, almost unheard of – no one else seems ever to take a holiday at all. A discovery yet to be made by these industrious families, is that one purpose of work is to give time for leisure.
Nannina married, a brother of Maria and they have a
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small farm quite near Gualdo where they now live on their own. Their son owns a bar at Aosta and a married daughter with two children lives near the coast. Elvira’s husband, Gino, father of Stelvio, did eventually return from his military service in Sardinia. They moved to a farm also near Gualdo and on the Provincial road. Stelvio has a thriving joinery business, the whole ground floor of a new purpose built house providing the workshop. Here he and his wife live with Elvira – Gino died in 1985 – and with his son who helps him in the business. A daughter, who is married to a handbag entrepreneur, lives in the next house. She has two sons who are of course great-great grandchildren to old Vivenzio, who would have been surprised to learn that they were christened Jimmy and Charlie.
Turning to the Di Luca, my information is much less. They were generally somewhat older and most of the family who were there in 1943 are dead. Amilcare survives; he lives in Rome but does sometimes visit his widowed sister Secondina, who lives with a relative on the outskirts of Gualdo. She is now rather confused, but when I visited her a couple of years ago she remembered who I was and produced that broad, toothy smile which she had inherited from her mother. Maria, also widowed, is living nearby with her son Graziano; the daughter Elvia lives in Rome. I should have mentioned earlier that Lina, the refugee niece from Rome, had a brother who was a prisoner of war in England. Norman had promised that when he returned home he would do his best to see him. This he did, going to a great deal of trouble to find out from the War Office as to where he was and in getting permission to take him out for the day.
At Cerreto, the surviving Lucarelli, Domenico and Walter, are still living in the same house and there things have changed least. Domenico, with a wife but no children, runs the farm; Walter, who is unmarried and self-employed as an installer of central heating, has a carefree bachelor air and goes abroad on package holidays. The story of their sister, MariaRosa, who was born at the end of the war, is an instructive one in showing what a determined woman can achieve. When she was thirteen, her mother Assunta died and MariaRosa left
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school and became housewife to her father, uncle and two elder brothers. Jeanne and I went to her wedding in 1967, after which she went off to Rome where her husband was a waiter. She soon had two children but had also taken a job as a sort of concierge at the apartment block where they lived. Within a few years, they had saved enough to return and to take a general shop in San Ginesio. For much of the year MariaRosa runs this little supermarket – it sells every sort of food and drink – single-handed, as her husband has an ice cream van down on the coast at the holiday resorts. This means being open from eight in the morning until eight at night – admittedly, with a two-hour break in the middle of the day – after which she must do all the ordering and book-keeping, [3 words redacted] and provide a meal for husband and two children; boy at college, daughter at school. All this she carries out with the utmost efficiency and good humour.
I must end what could be seen as a catalogue of materialistic progress with a tribute to those important things which remain unchanged in all my adoptive families, their continued hospitality and affection towards one who was a stranger, based on the shared memories of difficult times.
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[Document, redacted from the pdf document showing the family tree of Vivenzio Cardarelli and his wife Nazarena. The residents that were present at Picacchi in 1943 are underlined.]
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[Handwritten notes showing the family tree of Lucarelli Guido and Annavini Argentina. Redacted from the pdf]
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[Document showing the family tree of Domenico Lucarelli (Rosa). Those who were living at Cerreto in 1943 are underlined. Redacted from the pdf.]