A Childhood in Nazi
This is an account of my years in Italy under Nazi occupation and of the series of events that took me there. It is, of course, an account of my own personal experience but I hope it will give some idea of what the Italian people suffered in 1944 in the Fascist Republic of Sal, during the later stages of the Second World War.
canada goose outlet authentic I was born in Leeds on the 9th of June 1930. My father, Pietro Ghiringhelli (known as Rino), was Italian. He came to Leeds in 1919 at the age of 17 to work for his uncle, Maturi, a cutler. Shortly afterwards he met my mother, Elena Granelli. She was born in Leeds in 1905 of Italian parents. They were married in 1928. canada goose outlet authentic
My father joined the Italian ‘Fascisti all’Estero’ association (Fascists Abroad) and I can recollect going to social gatherings, around 1936, at the Italian Consul’s office in Bradford. During the Italian invasion of Abyssinia (now better know as Ethiopia) I can remember my mother giving up her gold wedding ring there. To applause, all the married women walked up to a basket and placed their gold wedding rings in it as ‘a gift’ to the Duce, in return they received steel rings (fede d’acciao) with the canada goose outlet canada date canada goose outlet online and details of the donation inscribed inside it. From 1936 it was not very easy being Italian or having an Italian name; my earliest recollections of nationalism is being held down in the school playground by several boys and made to inhale again and again from a bottle of smelling salts as my mouth was covered. I was about seven when this happened. I remember the injustice of it and the dismissive attitude of the teacher when I told her.
I spent the first nine months of the war in Leeds. I can still distinctly remember Chamberlain’s solemn declaration on the wireless that Britain was at war with Germany. I remember being cagooseclearance issued with a gas mask, and gas mask drill at school, and the Anderson air raid shelter in our garden. This was the period which later became known as the ‘phoney war’, but it didn’t seem phoney canada goose outlet black friday then with the blackout canada goose black friday sale strictly imposed, groping about with torches in the dark and cars driving along with the dimmest slit of light from their masked headlamps. Then, early in 1940, I watched newsreels of the French roads blocked with fleeing refugees and, later, the Dunkirk evacuation.
canada goose outlet miami On the 10th of June 1940, a day after my 10th birthday, Mussolini made his ill fated decision to enter the war. The police went into action that very night all over Britain. canada goose factory outlet There was a knock on our door in the late evening and two Special Branch officers came and arrested my father. He was ordered to pack a small suitcase. I remember that we had two photographs on display in the living room, one of Vittorio Emmanuele III, the King of Italy, and the other of the Duce, Benito Mussolini, both in steel helmets. In confiscating them one was smashed. I remember my mother in tears, clearing up the glass from the carpet, after my father had been taken away. We had no telephone and it was only the next morning that we learnt that my maternal grandfather, Ferdinando Granelli, had also been arrested as had other Italians in Leeds and elsewhere. A few days later next of kin were informed that all the arrested men were interned on the Isle of Man. My grandfather was released in 1943, he died in 1945. canada goose outlet miami
canada goose outlet uk fake About three weeks after his arrest, without warning, my father was unexpectedly released under police escort. We canada goose outlet nyc were given a few hours to pack one suitcase each and to catch a train to Glasgow; my mother and father, myself and my young sister, Gloria, aged four. The train up north was crowded with soldiers and I remember sitting in the corridor, with a kilted soldier, on his kit bag. The train went right into the Glasgow docks where we got off to board a ship, the Monarch of Bermuda. After a rigorous search, my collection of stamps and an atlas I had just got for my birthday were confiscated and thrown aside. There were 629 of us, led by Giuseppe Bastianini, the Italian Ambassador, a high ranking Fascist who was subsequently made governor of Italian occupied Dalmatia. A senior member of the Fascist Grand Council, Bastianini later played a prominent role in the downfall of Mussolini in July 1943. canada goose outlet uk fake
From Glasgow we sailed for Lisbon, constantly zigzagging to avoid mined areas and U boats. I remember there was lots of boat drill, when we were all kept on deck standing in lifebelts for what seemed like hours. No doubt it was necessary given the constant danger, but a little anti Italian feeling may also have crept in, in dealing with what were enemy nationals; we were treated fairly, but coldly. The crew were no doubt brave merchant seamen charged with an unusual task (one of my own maternal uncles, John Granelli, served with distinction as Second Engineer on the British ship, the SS Sacramento, constantly sailing between Hull and New York throughout the war). On 26 June we arrived in Lisbon. We were not allowed ashore, but were transferred directly to the Conte Rosso, an Italian Lloyd Triestino liner, which had arrived from Italy with the British Embassy staff and a reciprocal number of expatriate British citizens.
canada goose outlet canada In contrast to the Monarch of Bermuda, on the Conte Rosso we were canada goose outlet store uk given first class treatment and the finest food and wines. We were in the dining room when Bastianini and his entourage appeared resplendent in full Fascist uniform. Prior to this I had only glimpsed him in on the Monarch of Bermuda in a drab suit. Bastianini went from table to table, briefly chatting with all of us. Several weeks before the fatal 10th of June I had double fractured my right arm and it was still in plaster, and it was way past the date for its removal. I can remember Bastianini asking me about it, talking to my parents, and ordering that the plaster be removed the next day; which it was. We arrived at Messina in Sicily where we disembarked. Other than being issued with rail passes, we were now completely on our own. canada goose outlet canada
canada goose outlet 80 off One thing has remained vividly in my mind. As we left the ship to go to the sea ferry from Messina to Reggio Calabria, on the Italian mainland, a teenage sun tanned Sicilian boy asked if he could carry our luggage. He was in bare feet with trousers that came down mid calf. We had four heavy leather suitcases packed solid and my father said yes, expecting that he would take two. Instead the boy put a broad leather belt through the handles of two and canada goose outlet store slung them on his shoulder, then picked up the other two and set off at a trot to the ferry. There he quickly dropped them, was paid, and dashed back for more. canada goose outlet 80 off
canada goose outlet new york Italy, after only a few days of war, seemed at peace. We stopped off in Rome for a day sightseeing and visited the Vatican. Then we stayed above Santa Maria del Taro, in a hamlet called Pianlavagnolo, behind Chiavari in the Apennine mountains for several weeks, with my mother’s sister’s family. Then by train again to Porto Valtravaglia on Lake Maggiore, to the tiny village of Musadino, where my father was born. News filtered through of the sinking by U boat (U 47 commanded by the famous Gunther Prien, in the night 1 2 July 1940) of the Andorra Star’ off Mallin Head, the northernmost point of Ireland. The Andorra Star’ was bound for Canada, with about 700 official canada goose outlet interned Italians, most of whom drowned. My father would have almost certainly been on that doomed ship had he not opted for deportation; many of the men he knew were lost. It also brought home to us how lucky we had been to have sailed through the Irish sea, the Bay of Biscay, and the Mediterranean on two ships in wartime without mishap. The Conte Rosso also fared badly, used as a troop ship after we disembarked, it was torpedoed and sunk in 1941 with the loss of 1,212 lives. canada goose outlet new york
canada goose outlet winnipeg address My father’s family had settled in France during the 1920s, so the family house in Musadino was empty. There was electricity in the house but no running water; that had to be fetched in buckets from an outside public fountain. The house was sturdy, built in the mid 18th century, on three floors, but there were no inner stairs nor drainage; to get to the first floor (where we lived) you had to ascend a gloomy outside stone staircase; this led to a balcony from which a steep wooden flight of stairs led to the top balcony and a large bedroom. A window facing the outside street was iron barred with inner wooden shutters, the two balconies faced an inner rectangular courtyard, onto which other houses faced. The closet was just a walled in door less hole, in a corner of the courtyard, over a huge septic tank; when it was full it had to be emptied by hand and the contents were used as fertilizer. canada goose outlet winnipeg address
All this hit my mother very hard. We had had a comfortable life in Leeds and, most unusually for those days, we had a fully equipped modern bathroom, a washing machine, and a Hoover vacuum cleaner. Quite apart from having no water my mother couldn’t speak a word of Italian. Disaster struck almost at once. Within a few weeks my father was called up and sent to Yugoslavia, serving mostly in Split (then called Spalato) in Dalmatia.
canada goose outlet store uk I started school in Italy in the 1st elementary class, which I found totally humiliating. My class mates were all six years old, apart from one seven year old boy who had learning difficulties and had to repeat the year. I, as a ten year old, towered over them. Moreover, for the first few weeks I had to wear an infantile smock like the rest of them. In class it wasn’t too bad, but at playtime I rapidly became a figure of fun. canada goose outlet store uk
canada goose outlet in usa It was during this period that something happened which made me a life long anti nationalist. I was set upon by a group of lads after school and stoned, the group rapidly growing as more joined in to shouts and canada goose outlet yells of ‘Inglese!’ Having been nearly suffocated in England with smelling salts and called ‘eye tie’, I was now being stoned and called ‘English’. None of the stones hit me, but I ran home feeling rejected and an outcast in both countries. canada goose outlet in usa
canada goose coats uk Following an accident in 1940, I developed an acute double hernia and had to have an operation in Luino, about eight kilometres from Musadino. It must have been a desperate time for my mother, but somehow she coped. Just before my operation my parents came to visit me, my father in full uniform as canada goose outlet online uk an infantry soldier. He had finished his training and was bound for Yugoslavia, (although at the time he didn’t know where he was being sent). I didn’t see him again until 8 December 1942, when he was unexpectedly discharged from the army. canada goose coats uk
This is one date I can accurately pin point because it was a public holiday, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, when he walked into the house. He should have been home a week or two before, he told us, but the first train he was on was ambushed by Tito’s partisans. The line was blown up and the train was machine gunned. My dad had jumped down from the carriage and lain down on the track behind a train wheel until it was all over.
Following my operation, in early 1941, I was sent to recuperate in Loano, a sea resort in Liguria, at state expense under the auspices of the ‘Giovent italiana del littorio’ (the Fascist youth organisation). My mother accompanied me to Varese; I was wearing a black shirt and army green shorts, not quite the full Balilla outfit. At the station in Varese I joined several other boys and girls on a train to Genoa, where we changed for Loano.
canada goose outlet orlando From Genoa the train went slowly past several areas which had been heavily shelled by the British navy (by the battleships Renown and Malaya, and the cruiser Sheffield, on 9 February 1941, I discovered after the war). This was my first sight of heavy war damage, but I was to see plenty of it in the years ahead, culminating in my standing in Hanover’s railway station, as a British soldier in 1948, and seeing the utter devastation of the city for miles around. canada goose outlet orlando
canada goose kensington parka uk At the Loano recuperation centre I first became aware of what a totalitarian state really was. There were several news bulletins a day, and we had to listen to two of them, one at breakfast and one at lunch time. As soon as the martial music began, which preceded the newscast, we all had to rise and stand to attention in silence until the news finished. Then to a teacher’s cry of ‘A chi la vittoria?’ (To whom victory?), to which we all responded with the Fascist salute (known as ‘il saluto romano’) and canada goose outlet in usa the shout ‘A noi!’ (To us!), we at last sat down to our meal. All we heard were reports of victories, unprecedented heroism acknowledged by the enemy, and victorious strategic planned retreats in the desert to trap the enemy. canada goose kensington parka uk
At the time I believed all this, only much later did I learn of the defeats suffered by the Italian army in North Africa. A lot of my new companions were girls, a few of mixed race, from Libya. Apart from the dreaded news bulletins and everything done to a strict timetable, we were treated well. I cannot now remember how long I was there, it could have been three months or perhaps less.
canada goose outlet factory When I returned to Musadino I spoke Italian reasonably well and the humiliation of the first elementary class was over. I was put in the 2nd class. By now though, my clothes were beginning to be in tatters and my sister was rapidly outgrowing hers. I had no shoes nor boots, just bare feet in ‘zoccoli’, these were roughly carved wooden soles held on the feet by a leather strap. This was normal village footwear, the only difference being that I didn’t have any socks. My trousers and shirt were patched and re patched. The winter of 1941 was also the coldest in living memory and at times I used to nearly pass out from cold and hunger. I remember being constantly hungry from 1941 to 1945, although the worst year was 1944. There was a ration system, but seldom were there any goods available to fulfil it in the village. canada goose outlet factory
Milan was only a few miles away, but it might have been a thousand. We passed through in 1940 when we first arrived and visited the Duomo, but Milan had already been bombed, and I didn’t return there until 1945 when I was with the South African Army. It was bombed again several times in 1940, but the really huge devastating raid was in daylight in October 1942. After this we had a stream of refugees, mainly women and children. This had a curious effect on my fortunes suddenly I was accepted by all the village canada goose outlet uk boys as one of them and the poor Milanese boys became the object of our scorn and taunts. We would taunt them in dialect with ‘Milanaiz, spetascez, mangia scerez, a dez a dez’ (‘Milanesi, spetezzatori, mangiate ciliegie dieci alla volta’ Milanese, farters, eat cherries ten at a time).
It was on 28 October (anniversary of the March on Rome, and the Fascist seizure of power) either 1941 or 1942 (I now forget which) that I saw and took part in a great fascist rally in Porto Valtravaglia. The whole school had to attend in black shirts, ‘Figli e figlie della Lupa’ (‘sons and daughters of the she wolf’, very young children, the equivalent of cubs), Balilla (boys from 8 to 14), ‘Avanguardisti’ (boys from 15 to 18) were drawn up in ranks together with soldiers of the 7 Reggimento Fanteria (from the local barracks in Porto Valtravaglia near Lucchini glass manufacturers), along the broad lake front, which was festooned with flags and banners. The Balilla (us) were led canada goose outlet by teachers who were members of the MVSN (‘Milizia Voluntaria per la sicurezza Nazionale’ ‘National Voluntary Militia for National Security) and the ‘Avanguardisti’ were led by officers of the MVSN. In Porto Valtravaglia there was a kindly middle aged doctor, Doctor Baller, small with a paunch. I was amazed to see him and the local chemist as MVSN officers in full Fascist uniform with their stomachs pulled in by blue cummerbunds.
There was lots of smirking and suppressed giggles amongst my school chums. Another vignette which has stuck in my mind was that, at the end of the parade, we were all, except for the soldiers, marched off to church for a solemn mass and a blessing of the flags. All the flags and banners were held by bearers in full uniform including their fascist ‘fez’ headgear or alpine hats. At first it surprised me to see men wearing hats in church at mass and the priest not complaining about it, but suddenly, and I am fairly sure this is not hindsight, I saw the whole thing as a farce.
canada goose outlet toronto address Following his discharge from the army my father went to work as a machine grinder in a factory (Ditta Boltri) in Porto Valtravaglia. He worked 10 hours a day, from 6am to 5pm, five and a half days a week. But after that, nearly every day, he and I would go to the mountains to cut wood for fuel or to cultivate three pieces of land we owned. When he returned from the army he discovered that my mother had run up a huge bill at the only village shop and bakery and he paid this off by felling wood after work for the shop owner, it took him months to do so. By now my father’s eyes were opened. He was told by the village men, gradually as they came to trust him, of the Fascist atrocities from 1920 to 1922, when the Fascists took power, and of the canada goose jacket outlet second wave of terror in 1925; of the ferocious beatings with the ‘manganello’ (a cudgel like a baseball bat), the doses of castor oil they forced their opponents to drink (about a litre), and the murders. He became strongly anti fascist and, later, a clandestine member of the Partito Socialista di Unit Proletaria, as the Italian Socialist Party was then called. canada goose outlet toronto address
A few months after he came home my father went by train to the Po valley rice fields canada goose outlet reviews south of Milan to see if he could buy rice. He returned empty handed, and it was the first and last time I saw my father burst into tears. A few weeks after this, desperate for food, he went to the Po valley again. This time he took me with him. We tramped from farm to farm long, hot, seemingly endless dusty roads. We had many refusals, some polite, some not, some offered to sell us any amount we wanted but at exorbitant prices. Finally we found a farm where we bought rice and maize at a high but reasonable price. The rice was for eating but my father wanted the maize for seed.
canada goose outlet belgium The return journey by train was, no doubt, a nightmare for my father but very exciting and enjoyable for me. We finally got on an already crowded train with many people clinging to the sides. We managed to stand on the buffers between two carriages with our suitcases full of rice and maize, I well remember my father clutching me tightly. We stopped at one point and a long train passed by slowly heading south, it appeared to be an entire German division, flat car after flat car loaded with tanks, and on every flat car German steel helmeted soldiers at the front and back with rifles. This was the first time I saw German soldiers, I was to see many more. canada goose outlet belgium
(The armoured division I saw heading south was probably the newly reformed and renamed Panzer Division ‘Herman Gring, formed from the few survivors of the Division ‘Herman Gring’ in Tunis and scattered elements from France, Holland, and Germany. The new armoured division was worked up in Brittany, France, and then transferred by rail to the Naples area.)
The railway also passed close to a prisoner of war camp and I could clearly see British soldiers in khaki in the barbed wire compound. Some waved and I waved back, I thought they were waving to me, but it was probably to young women on the train.